Awards and appeals in prose and poetry
When John Wilkins, our journalistic cousin in London, was recently honored by the queen, we asked NCRs poet laureate Arthur Jones to muse a bit about it:
(MBE: Member of the British Empire. This most minor of the queens awards is an honorific worn as initials behind the name. The queen confers the title -- along with a medal -- at Buckingham Palace. The Beatles received their MBEs in 1965. John Lennon sent his back in 1969 because of British involvement in the war in Biafra.)
One thing Ive learned from this page is that third time lucky is more than a cliché. People need to be reminded of things not twice but three times. When I first appealed for applicants for Keeping Faith , nearly nothing happened. When I tried a second time, there was a very gratifying response. With this third appeal we hope for an avalanche of entries. This is a unique opportunity to honor some soul you know who has made a difference, made a gesture, stood out from the crowd in some way. Get in touch with Teresa Malcolm and tell her about your favorite person.
Last issue, commenting on the brouhaha caused by our story (NCR, June 19) on the Philadelphia archdiocese and its archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, I cast a mild rebuke in the direction of editor Robert Rosenthal whose Philadelphia Inquirer had refused to run the story written by its own staffer. Its only fair to report that, in a subsequent meeting, reportedly with 45 of his writers and editors, Rosenthal made a gallant effort to come clean. In effect, Rosenthal retracted comments made about the articles author, Ralph Cipriano, and admitted he would have run the article, according to a report about the meeting published in the Philadelphia City Paper, an alternative weekly. Rosenthal also promised, according to the City Paper, that there would be no journalistic sacred cows in Philadelphia, including the archdiocese.
Poets dont turn out epics like they used to. As the world turns faster, people want their poetry pithy. And the pithiest poetry youre likely to find is the haiku.
Haiku originated in Japan: three lines of managed syllables intense with content. As this poetic form came west, the syllables loosened up a little, but the format is still very tight. As in:
What we do to our Mother Earth
This is from Tersely Yours II: Haiku Poetry in Defense of Nature for the Coming Spiritual-Ecological Age, by Vic Hummert (available from 122 Rosedale, Lafayette, LA 70508). Hummert, a former Maryknoll priest and missionary to Hong Kong, has long been an environmental activist. His little poems cry out to the nation to wake up:
We are water thinking
Haiku is cryptic. Its brevity has something of a shock impact on consciousness, writes ecologist and theologian Fr. Thomas Berry in an introduction to Tersely Yours II: It evokes a response before a person can engage in any logical process of apprehension. It provides inspiration before resistance can be activated. This stealth approach is especially necessary in a complacent world going for the gusto while the environment goes into a tailspin:
Rejecting climate change
An ancient genre, maybe, but topical as today:
Since they are fading fast
Long before Holy Books
Never one to console the complacent, Hummert the salty prophet is salt of the earth.
No one will ever say Fr. Joe Gallaghers was an unexamined life. The Baltimore priest, now retired, has been writing books and articles for a long lifetime. They are full of poetry and epiphany and insight, holding reality upside down at arms length and shaking it until a new version comes out. For example:
Does life persist beyond the grave?
Thats the first poem in his new Statements at the Scene (100 pages, $10, The Bench Press, PO Box 50027, Baltimore MD 21211). This is followed by A Work of Superirrigation:
The cleanest feet in Christendom,
Those two are taken from the Lighter Scenes section, which is followed by Shifting Scenes, Scenes Unseen, Behind the Scenes and much more. The Philosophical Scene, for example, includes Bifocal:
A lifetime: too short
The next poem is called Courage:
A law of courage
Gallagher, who wrote a column for The Baltimore Sun for many years, writes frequently for NCR, most notably his end-of-year peregrinations through the events and pronouncements of the previous year.
Writes Josephine Jacobsen, former poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, about Gallaghers poetry: It perceives the constant ironies of life and the way in which the beautiful can flash out of the mundane, like a brilliant bird from a shabby bush. He has the great clown-instinct, which perceives the enormous intimacy of the funny with the sad and even the grim.
The poems are not all just frisky and fun. Some, such as Missing, are heavy as life:
He takes a lot of trips.
Its hard to stop quoting Gallagher, who also says this: The pessimist thinks the earth is flat; the optimist thinks its bubbly.
-- Michael Farrell
National Catholic Reporter, July 17, 1998