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During National Poetry Month, I’m on the lookout for Catholic poets who might want a bit of promoting. It’s easy for the dead poets – they are safely in the canon, and people can recommend the best of them knowing others have vetted their work (and that they didn’t do anything too embarassing before they died). Then there are the Poets Who Have Made It – the Dana Gioias, Denise Levertovs, Paul Marianis, Christian Wimans and other truly fine poets who really don’t need publicity. I’m looking for those in the middle, whose poetry I have admired, or who have been highly recommended as up-and-comers.
I don’t have any academic credentials to back up my taste in poetry – just my own response to this or that poem I’ve seen. I do have an aversion to poetry that seems to be mere prose chopped into ‘poetic’ looking lines. I dislike super sappy sweetness and sing-song verse. I prefer poets who seem to be conveying a personal experience – even if of some doctrinal truth, or eternal verity – over those who seem to be looking at experience from the outside and using it as material for a class in poetry. I like to be surprised, blessed, challenged to read it again, or to feel a universal ‘yes’ on entering a poet’s particularity of lived encounter with realities – even small ones. I dislike propaganda intensely – using poetry as a vehicle to preach at me sends your poem right to the bottom of the stack.
I discovered some amateur Catholic poets on CatholicPlanet. From this loooong list, I read at least one poem by every poet – whew! I picked a few I’d like to share, and am investigating whether the poets have books out they’d like to have me buy and give away to my readers. I liked:
A Prayer for Humilty, by Diane Allen who has written some books of stories about Padre Pio, but doesn’t seem to have a book of her poetry out just yet.
Exodus Revisited, by W.H. Smaw who hasn’t a book out.
Annunciation, by Stephen Wentworth Arndt, who has translated Dante and put lots of lovely poetry out for free on Catholic Planet, but doesn’t seem to have a volume of his own work out yet.
So, I’ve ordered some other books by Catholic poets, and the following ones are ready to give away to the first person who asks (simply comment here, or email me: Speaker@CharlotteOstermann.com).
Just ask for your free copy of:
Pavel Chichikov’s So Tell Us, Christ (I link here to the books on Amazon just so you can see them, but I will mail you the free copy myself).
Kathryn Mulderink’s To Sing You Must Exhale
Ruth Asch’s Reflections
I like a number of poems already in each of these books. Particularly Chichikov’s Bring Us Up, It Is Near, and As From My Emptiness; Mulderink’s Signals and Didymus; and Asch’s Baptism by Fire and End of a Day. I hope you’ll enjoy these poems and have the poets’ names in your hearts as you pray for artists now and then.
I’m still looking. Do you have favorites? I found Mark Shea recommending Bruce Newman and discovered Philip Kolin somewhere in all my searching. I’ve ordered books of poetry by Christopher Kelder, Sarah de Nordwall and Kevin Casey to give you. I should note that I’ve ordered my own copy, too, of each of these!
Is anyone out there teaching poetry? I have two copies of Place of Passage: Contemporary Catholic Poetry to give away that would be lovely for a survey. They include some deads (Merton, Wojtyla), some stars (Mariani, Gioia), and some up-and-comers, for which I thank the editors, David Craig (who once, in an online poetry workshop, said he’d like to have written a couple of the lines in my poem John’s Song…just sayin’) and Janet McCann.
Naturally, my offer still stands to send up to ten copies of my own A Destiny to Burn to anyone who asks. Bless you for reading one and giving away the others with a word about how critically important poetry is for human being!
One final word: This giveaway will appear in an upcoming update of my 25 Ways to Help an Artist: The Art of Low-Cost Philanthropy. The total cost to me will be less than $200, and that counts as “low-cost” in the world of art promotions. I hope you’ll do it too, plus at least 24 other things, to help along the Catholic artists who are giving themselves back to the Church, through the Church to the world, and to other artists and students of art by doing what they do.
For Groundhog Day, I imagine Catholic bloggers everywhere are weighing in about the movie by that name. It’s so Catholic! How can we resist?
I love this movie, and only regret that it’s not quite appropriate for young kids. It’s an extended metaphor for coming to grips with life’s terrible daily-ness. The main character – a jaded, worldly bachelor doing the obligatory annual report on the groundhog for his TV station – finds himself inexplicably trapped in one day – living it over and over with, apparently, no way out. As the horror of it dawns on him, he tries suicide. When even that doesn’t effect his escape, he turns to despair’s other alternative, hedonistic abandon. When it seems nothing can ever enter his alternate me-verse to lighten its burden, something does.
The human beings around him – formerly mere objects – begin to awaken him to the possibility of finding himself in the unending day by stepping outside himself for their benefit. As he purposes to fill that day with responsiveness to them, the day becomes more bearable. The one thing that can change from day to day, is the self. He gets to retain experience in memory, learn to play the piano, memorize poetry. Whatever else happens in the cramped limits of that day, he is becoming and cohering in increasing dimensionality outside the reach of the trap that holds him in time.
Love for the station’s beautiful producer awakens his desire not merely to serve, but to know and love another person. To plumb her mystery, to be worthy of her, to love her for her sake and not to manipulate or use her, become the goals that lift his unending day into something that approaches transcendence. Alas, though their time together partakes of eternity, it always ends with the day and is lost to the one who has no memory. Two kinds of ‘newness of life’ are in contrast: a horrible, memory-less, ever-new-ness which traps a person in an endless, impotent, fruitless childhood, and a marvelous freshness which by the power of memory coheres within a person, as person.
Into the now moment of chronos he seems fated to endure, kairos bubbles in through this person, in this person. The actuality of a love from beyond enters time, raises itself up within the very being of a man, and in his willingness to detach from all but love (all expectation of reward, fulfillment, future, pleasure) becomes the power that breaks through an awful magic that sought to unmake that man by tempting him to despair. Self is seen and followed to its destiny in the gaze of an Other. Life is acknowledged to be a gift, however hard it is to bear. Mystery breaks in through personhood to trump a lower and limited reality with its super-reality.
Sounds Catholic to me!
So, why plan? Life…it’s what happens when you’re planning something else, right??
Much of my adult life has been spent learning to balance the idealism of planning with the realism of life. If I give up on time management, I lose things that need time in order to build up – like community, tradition, books, gardens. If I can’t roll with the punches of lived life, I’ll end up reacting against reality, instead of responding creatively to it.
Fr. Giussani (yes, those who know me well should have this memorized!) says that freedom is “correspondence to reality in the totality of its factors. My projects, hopes, ideas, desires and energy level are factors, and so are the needs of others, the weather, the response-ability of other people, and all the other externalities that interfere with my idealistic scheduling.
I’ve found that good planning practices provide a structural framework that allows me to maintain interior freedom. That freedom brings capacity to absorb life’s punches and ride life’s waves better. My practices currently look like this:
Right after Thanksgiving I print out my list of Standing Dates, and 12 blank monthly calendars for the next year. Transferring the birthdays, tax deadline, Holy Days, annual and monthly chores and other ‘every year’ dates to the months provides the basic ‘landscape’ for the year. Here are indicated our In School days, and my At Work days, without any details about specific tasks.
Next, I take out the bulging file marked ‘Next Year’ and ‘map’ any commitments to specific dates. Finally, since that file contains everything I’ve hope to fit in ‘next year,’ I sort all the little slips of paper, articles and other to-do reminders into quarterly files – a rough idea of the season when it makes sense to consider scheduling them into real dates. I put “check Q file” on the last Saturday before each new quarter, and then forget about all this. A system won’t work if my mind stays preoccupied with what’s in files for later!
During this relaxed weekend (all leftovers!) I lay out my work priorities for the coming year from a separate ‘Work Basket.’ This sequence keeps home and family obligations ahead of my part-time ‘job’ of writing, speaking, etc…. Doing the ‘next year’ planning now gives me a much more relaxed Advent and Christmas. During December, I can let go of the new year completely, knowing it will come in its time, instead of having that mountain of to-dos looming threateningly on the horizon.
On the last Saturday before each new quarter, I take out the Q file and list each item on the Notes area of one of the next three months. The actual scheduling will not occur until I plan those months. I toss all the slips of paper, keeping only backup material that is needed for an item, such as a coupon, or how-to article, in the Q file – noted by an asterisk on the list of tasks. A few things get pushed into the next Quarter’s file (I use 3-hole-punched plastic envelopes in a binder).
The last Saturday of each month is Plan Next Month day (on the list of Standing Dates, and so now already marked on each month’s ‘map’). I transfer the month to a Weekly layout. Behind the tab ‘Weekly’ is a blank week to copy, and a weekly chores list. (I’ve also used a purchased calendar with both Monthly and Weekly spreads. The key is that the weeks stay pristine and blank until I consciously plan them.) Taped to the back, or behind each month’s tab in the binder, are any slips of paper kept as reminders of tasks to fit into the more finely detailed weekly plans. Anything new that comes in after the weeks are laid out must either be scheduled directly on a particular day, or put off until the next month. You may want to re-read that last sentence!
If it cannot be scheduled within the details I’ve anticipated for these next 4-5 weeks, it is a Next Month task. Either I note it directly on the future month’s map as a scheduled item, or tape a note there to be considered during that monthly planning session. I have to trust my system to keep hold of all this future stuff so that I can walk away from it without worrying about it! I don’t want to get bogged down in the future, or to allow my current weeks to get overburdened. Those near-to-now days and the buffer allowed in them for the intrusion of unavoidable realities must be protected.
On Saturday, I transfer my Next Week to a daily list. This provides one more chance for a reality check, some shuffling and the addition of a dinner menu for each day. Over the years, I’ve sometimes created monthly meal plans, and could pull this week’s menu from that plan and make adjustments as necessary. Today, I’ll also look through The Basket, where all week I’ve been tossing tasks that come in after my week began. The Basket protects my whole week from unnecessary interference, and I trust it to hold all the slips of paper that represent new tasks that arise during the week.
Sunday is Sabbath (you did read Souls at Rest, right??) – no computer on, no email, no schedule for tasks (perhaps a tiny reminder: ‘Dance at 3 today,’ ‘thaw chickens for dinner,’ ‘serve at soup kitchen 1-3,’ ‘HB for dinner.’) Your Sunday may be different – be acted upon more than you act upon the world, please!
The better I get at just doing whatever is on my day’s list, the smoother everything runs. I get into trouble when I rebel against the system at this lowest level, where the heights of idealistic planning meet the smallness of actuality. On my day, the structural elements are in in (such as ‘School Time: 8-12,’ ‘Dr. Appt. 10:00,’ or ‘Blocked for Writing Project’) and flexible-time tasks are in pencil. (I love to erase them when done, thus making my visual ‘day’ more and more open and spacious as I do what needs to be done.)
Information about, or for, other family members appears on my day only if it is my responsibility to manage/remind/supervise them – off to the side of ‘my day,’ if possible, and in a different color ink. Sometimes I take time to play with markers, decorating the six next days and placing them in strangely shaped ‘boxes,’ and at other times I want my days in plain, symmetrical boxes, or on separate index cards instead of on one page. I have found that a little playfulness with the physical ‘day’ can help me approach a ‘next week’ with a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment.
What about all the new to-dos that crop up when I check mail and email, take phone calls, remember something urgent, or get a new idea? Those, if not right now scheduled for a specific date, get tossed into The Basket. They wait until my planning for the next week, when I either fit them into specific days, or send them into the next month, quarter, or year. Most of what comes in during a day is not of an emergency nature, and will only derail me if I let it. Much more is just information to file away after weekly planning – not a matter for scheduling at all.
Physical vs Electronic
I have experimented with electronic calendars and it was a miserable failure for me. I felt lost without the actual handling of the ‘materials’ of my life and the physical maps of time. I felt utterly disconnected from the reality I was trying to order. It didn’t surprise me that the plans I carefully entered into the computer failed to prepare me, as my physical handling does, for realizing those plans in Real Life. There is something about moving tasks around, knowing they are physically stored, touching my own past thoughts and future time, and letting a calendar or list make a space of time a vessel to be filled creatively that requires real paper, scissors, tape, files, markers, pens, and ink!
Well, that’s the basic framework. The details have changed drastically over the years (‘Daily’ chores may now be ‘monthly,’ many new birthdates have been added to the Annual list, my work days are now ‘official,’ I do ‘Bills and Budget’ once a month now instead of weekly), but the basics have continued to serve me well even as I’ve adjusted and improved them. I recommend you gradually begin while the kids are little, but expect very little until the average age of your children is about 10! The test of any organizational system is whether it supports the realities of our human lives effectively. I am able to ‘find time’ for quite a lot of ‘unplanned’ reality within my own near-future-picture, because I keep it spacious and realistic. I invite God to surprise me, and welcome the adventure of each new day.
Whatever planning you do, I wish you freedom in and through it!
Here’s the abstract from the talk I’ll be giving, and the other talks look juicy, too. Bishop Conley will be there, among others.
The Poet as Troublemaker – Why the Church Needs Artists
Like the angel of God who troubled the waters of a pool to bring healing, the Catholic artist leads his fellow man back to wholeness. In his person, the artist experiences the encounter with reality in a unique way. Through poesis, he voices the response of God, re-calling man to himself, re-making the broken world.
His agony is to bear the weight of glory in form, to utter what cannot be uttered, to become at once fully himself and also negative space for the presence of Christ. The world cannot fathom him, has no category for the subordination of self-expression to Truth. And, sadly, the Church may also be confused about her artists – wary of our worldliness, discomfited by our struggles, embarrassed by our vulnerability, and blind to the need for the trouble and mess we make.
So, the Catholic artist feels at times lonely, unappreciated, misunderstood, unloved within her own home. We must, then, understand ourselves more fully, let the calling to be an artist dwell in us more richly, support one another, and provide for the Church the very forms by which she may grow able to receive and nurture our gifts.
Charlotte will open with her poem A Poet’s Apologia, weave in lines from other poems in which she has taken up this theme, and close with Rooster – a rousing call to artists to ‘be the answer’ the world needs.
Each speaker at the Sept 14-16, 2016 Catholic Artists Conference has a bio featured on the Speakers page at http://www.catholic-artists-conference.com/speakers.html Their abstracts appear as individual blogs here at www.Catholic-Artists.org.