Artist of the Month: Jeffrey Overstreet
Jeffrey Overstreet is a trespasser. He's constantly moving outside of the borders of what church and culture deem to be ironclad, eternal categories (sacred vs. profane, high culture vs. popular culture)—and he has a knack for bringing people along with him. His passport? The imagination. In his writing on film, he has used the mighty megaphone of Christianity Today to challenge its readers to take a more mature, holistic approach to film. His film criticism doesn't count swear words or anatomical parts; rather, it speaks of beauty, paradox, and what it means to be human. Overstreet has pursued this vocation with such integrity and forcefulness that the secular media have picked up on it—precisely because he dares to trespass against the arbitrary categories of what is deemed "religious" and what is considered "public." He brings this spirit of freedom to all that he does, from his many illuminating posts on various online message boards to his writing for Seattle Pacific University's publications to his newest venture: fantasy novels. Even there he's crossing boundaries, bringing a more literary sensibility to a genre that's often mere swords and sorcery. When you trespass with Jeffrey Overstreet, you don't have to ask for forgiveness.
Click here to go to the Artist of the Month page on Jeffrey Overstreet.
A Defense of Ardor by Adam Zagajewski
Born in 1945, Adam Zagajewski is among the most highly esteemed of contemporary Polish poets—a list that includes Nobel winners Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborksa, as well as Zbigniew Herbert. Widely known for such books of poetry as Canvas (1991), Mysticism for Beginners (1997), and Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002), Zagajewski is also a highly regarded essayist. In his most recent offering, A Defense of Ardor (2004), addressing such subjects as poetry, art, memory, and philosophy, Zagajewski argues for the often marginalized ideas of beauty and ardor. Discussing the book’s central focus with Poets & Writers, he explained: “Why ardor? Because, I think, there’s not enough of it in our time. Or, at least in our literature. There’s too much lukewarm irony, too much sophisticated indulgence.” In the book’s title essay, Zagajewski introduces Plato’s idea of metaxu: “being ‘in between,’ in between our earth, our (so we suppose) comprehensible, concrete, material surroundings, and transcendence, mystery.” After discussing what he perceives as a societal fixation with low irony and the merely quotidian, Zagajewski uses metaxu as an idea from which to argue for transcendence in both literature and life: “…ardor precedes irony … Ardor: the earth’s fervent song, which we answer with our own, imperfect song … Beauty isn’t only for aesthetes; beauty is for anyone who seeks a serious road. It is a summons, a promise, if not of happiness, as Stendhal hoped, then of a great and endless journey.” Filled with insight and intelligence, the following thirteen essays range from Zagajewski’s portrait of the Polish painter, Jozef Czapski (“Toil and Flame”), to a letter of instruction to apprentice poets (“Young Poets, Please Read Everything”). Amidst the high aim of his poetics and life, Zagajewski is noticeably humorous, and often humbly self-deprecating. Even in his approach to poetry, he reminds the reader that a sense of humor is essential: “A high style unaccompanied by a sense of humor—a sense of humor brimming with forbearance for our cruel, comic, and imperfect world—would become a chilly mausoleum.” Zagajewski currently lives in Krakow, and spends part of the year in Houston, Texas where he teaches at the University of Houston. Often called a modern mystic, Zagajewski finds the tensions of the poetic life to be inescapable: “I’m a recluse who loves the dialectic of being at the same time within and against a community.” Thankfully for those in the community of readers, this tension has provided a thought provoking and timely book.
To buy a copy of A Defense of Ardor, click here.
Dana Gioia and Gregory Wolfe to Speak
in Washington, D.C., May 5
If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, please come out for a special presentation: “Can Poetry Matter? A Dialogue on the Role of the Poet in Today's World.” The featured speaker will be Dana Gioia—poet, critic, best-selling anthologist and the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Joining him will be Paolo Valesio, Professor Emeritus, Yale University, and Chairman of the Department of Italian at Columbia University, and Gregory Wolfe, Publisher and Editor of Image journal. The event is sponsored by Crossroads DC Cultural Center. The Center describes itself as “a meeting place for people who share a passion for knowing. This passion is aroused by wonder and attraction because ‘out there’ things are, because life is given, always as a new and unexpected event that nourishes our experience. This focus on reality as event (and not on ideas) determines the style of our cultural work. We prize encountering people, because every human being is an irreducible novelty. We want to meet them at the crossroads of life, regardless of any cultural, religious or social boundary. We value beauty, because it sparks the wonder and attraction at the origin of human experience. We are interested in the events that shape our world, because what happens always contains a suggestion, a hint that affects and may change our lives. We cherish appreciating and testing our heritage, because the fabric of our life is woven from all the events that happened before us. Thus, Crossroads aims to be, above all, a place where education takes place, that is, where we may learn to look with openness, curiosity and critical judgment at every aspect of reality.” “Can Poetry Matter” will take place on Friday, May 5, 2006 at 7 pm, George Washington University, Room 113 of 1957 E Street NW, Washington, D.C.
To download the flyer, click here.
For the George Washington University campus map, click here.
For the Crossroads DC home page, click here.
Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent
by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
The naturalist Charles Darwin has the mixed honor of being the great bugbear of creationists as well as the seminal theoretician of modern biology. As such, he’s drawn a range of responses from within religious circles, including sometimes taking the blame for all the evils of modernism. Science has its culture wars just as the arts do—but Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks will disappoint anyone looking for ammunition for either side of that fight. Here, in elegant, lyric prose, Haupt imagines the inner life of twenty-two-year-old Darwin when he journeyed to the Pacific on the HMS Beagle in 1831. The book is lovingly researched, personal, imaginative, and thoroughly anti-polemical. If it has a thesis statement at all, it is simply this: that small things are worthy of our deepest attention. In that sense, this is spiritual writing. In her introduction, she says: “This book is not in any way meant to pose as a biography; it is a gleaning of those instances in Darwin’s life and work that inspire a renewed vision of the relationship between the human and natural worlds, and a glimpse into the various ways these older stories might mingle with newer ones. Darwin’s very personal scientific methods grew out of the observations contained in his field notes, and in their creases he foists upon us his strict but beautiful maxim. Nothing in the natural world is beneath our notice—he almost whacks us on the head with it. Nothing. In a modern scientific era that discards heaps of organisms as unworthy of representation in a scientific journal because of the lack of ‘statistical significance,’ I try to take Darwin’s vision to heart.” Haupt particularly engages with Darwin’s sense of beauty, wonder, and awe as they developed over the course of his life—and in the final chapters (one of which appeared in Image #46), his faith. Readers who love Annie Dillard’s nature writing will find much to admire. Haupt’s prose is so lovely and readable, her observations so keen and poetic that this book should by rights earn a wide audience—and give readers outside the science world and in it a more nuanced picture of one of modernity’s looming figures.
Read more at Powell’s Books here.
Barn Swallow by Margaret D. Smith
Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Darwin might have found much to his liking in Margaret D. Smith's new collection of poems—and not just because of the title. A watcher of birds and other creatures, Smith also turns a grateful eye to nature, using the quiet language of poetry to slow outside distraction to a near standstill. In that devoted attention, Barn Swallow lovingly brings into focus the things that would be otherwise lost to view. Prayer-like in their simplicity, many of these poems hearken to Blake’s Songs of Innocence as they build delicate tableaus of woodpeckers and goldfinches rustling with the wind in the trees, “spinning / dry scent through the grove.” But as with Blake, all is not idyllic here. There is more in Smith’s words than their sparseness first reveals. A lemon tree in her grandmother’s backyard rises Edenic, “so heavy with fruit … To our noses they grew so / holy, too bad we had to pull them down for tea and lemon pie.” In the same poem the sharp turn of experience catches up with the children’s delight at finding baby mice in the nearby ivy. When the mice are “scooped up” by the grandfather’s pragmatic hands and “dumped … in the incinerator behind the garage,” the children instinctively know that no uprising or protest will change the state of things. The wisdom and sorrow of a kept innocence fills these poems, culminating in the image of Jesus in “Skin,” who let the children not only come to him, but “touched the names of each of them with his tongue, / clicking and clucking to make them giggle.” Not ten pages later, Christ’s “loincloth weeps red” and not children but the brokenhearted gather around him with cries to “Reconcile / me, Lord, reconcile.” Other violations point to losses natural and unnatural. A beached whale “head thrown back in a still cry” sends the speaker to “struggle so long / for the sense of it, / banging against dark cages,” asking of her now-grown son, “Did the waves cover you, suck / you from your crib, slip / you singing, back / to your mother?” But throughout, Smith returns to nature as her balm, to trees that make “tabernacles” for “one private bird … spilling / hot bird cries in the temple,” reminding us of just whose eye is on the sparrow.
To buy a copy of Barn Swallow, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brass Weight Press at email@example.com. For more on Margaret Smith, click here.
Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak's Chornobyl -
A Solo Art Exhibition
April 26, 2006 marks the 20-year anniversary of the nuclear plant explosion in Chornobyl, Ukraine. Ten years ago, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak visited the Chornobyl Zone with a Ukrainian radio-oncologist for an officially sanctioned one-day visit of the radiation-saturated, fenced 40-mile wide circle northwest of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. What she saw and experienced, along with much material gathered and documented since 1986, is at the heart of the selection of artwork in her University of Houston-Clear Lake solo exhibition, Chornobyl. The exhibition features mixed media paintings that combine seemingly contradictory and disparate materials and processes-lead and gold, organic and inert materials, hand embroidery and torching. The thirteen works on canvas, wood, and paper, selected from several series begun after 1986 and continuing through 2005, evoke the Chornobyl cataclysm in its many manifestations. Accompanying the exhibit is the artist's essay, recounting her impressions of the Zone and reflecting on ways it influenced her ensuing artwork. Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak's solo exhibition Chornobyl is on view from now through May 31, 2006 in the Art Gallery of the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the Bayou Building , Atrium I, First Level. The gallery is located at 2700 Bay Area Blvd., Houston, Texas 77058. Gallery hours are 8 am - 6 pm Monday through Thursday, 8 am - 12 pm on Friday, or by prior arrangement. Visitor parking is provided in front of the Bayou Building. For further information, please call UH/CL at 281-283-3446.
Avoda: Objects of the Spirit
The Jewish Museum of Florida and Braman Family Foundation present 42 pieces of Jewish ceremonial art created by internationally renowned painter and sculptor Tobi Kahn. This exhibit explores the rise of spirituality in America and the personal relevance of ritual and tradition in daily life. Avoda: Objects of the Spirit will be on display from March 7 – August 20, 2006. The Jewish Museum of Florida is located on 301 Washington Aveune, Miami Beach, FL 33139. For more information, visit http://www.jewishmuseum.com/.
Seeing God: A Call for Entries
Seeing God, a nationally juried show sponsored by The Dadian Gallery of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion and the Washington Printmakers Gallery, announces a call for entries. Selected artists will have their work shown at the exhibition from October 23, 2006 to December 15, 2006.
For more information, click here.
NYCITA: At the Crossroads of Theatre and Faith
Join Christians in the Theater Arts June 15-17, 2006 in New York for a fast-paced journey to the intersection between Christianity and theater. A first-rate group of scholars, pastors and artists will offer intellectual challenge each morning in plenary sessions at Calvary Baptist Church 123 W. 57th Street in the heart of New York City. The afternoon will be reserved for a variety of excursions into the city. Over the weekend, we'll explore every facet of theater, faith, and the experience of working and living in the Big Apple.
For more information,
go to http://www.cita.org/cita.html, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 877-277-CITA.