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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

I’ll Bet You Money That the Song Was “This Year”

By on July 17, 2011

Ben turned around and offered me his fist. I punched it softly, even though I hated that greeting. “Q!” he shouted over the music. “How good does this feel?”

And I knew exactly what Ben meant: he meant listening to the the Mountain Goats with your friends in a car that runs on a Wednesday morning in May on the way to Margo and whatever Margotastic prize came with finding her.

John Green, Paper Towns

Photo by Whiskeygonebad http://www.flickr.com/photos/badwsky/ Creative Commons License

Emily Dickinson on What Is Poetry?

By on July 9, 2011

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

From a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson

In my essay on what it means to be an Inveterate Poet, I quoted from an essay by C. S. Lewis in his book God in the Dock :

The silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal, but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled them to do so. When we are frightened by the greatness of the universe, we are (almost literally) frightened by our own shadows: for these light years and billions of centuries are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myth, falls upon them. I do not say we are wrong to tremble at his shadow; it is a shadow of an image of God. But if ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized which does so. To puny man, the great nebula in Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness.

Obviously Lewis (and Pascal) understood what it meant to “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” What art, literature, music…or just everyday observance has taken the top off your head recently?

The Secret Life of the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: Jumbo

By on May 31, 2011

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

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This essay is part of a series on the dreamscape aspects of Jerome Charyn’s novel, the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. Read the introduction to this series. Click the series name above to see all the entries.

* * * * * * *

To shut our eyes is Travel.” – Emily Dickinson, 1870.

“…if memory serves, & if it does not, then I will let Imagination run to folly.” The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson (17).

(numbers in parentheses refer to pages in the novel)

* * * * * * *


After the death of her father, Emily is haunted in her dreams by a “Monster…with a ruffled, unfamiliar form, yet owning my father’s dark eyes.” Unable to call this Monster “Pa-pa,” she names it “Dark Eyed Mister,” and ponders whether it be an emissary from heaven or the Devil (281-2). Because of its hideous form, she settles on a hellish provenance, but is confounded because the apparition speaks sweetly, with her father’s sense of humor. It is clear that Emily’s dilemma is not theological. God and the Devil are as much her poetic devices as are sun and flowers and birds. For Emily, they represent the great paradox of life, how that which is most beloved can be at the same time that which is most terrible to us.

As her mother descends into paralysis and dementia, Emily herself becomes a Phantom in her own home. She caters to her mother’s delusions that “the Squire” would be home for dinner, but she indulges the fantasy as much for herself as for her mother’s benefit. She admits that her only route to Pa-pa was through Mr. Dark Eyes, but Mr. Dark Eyes refused to answer her call. Yet Pa-pa will come to her at the end of this section, and with momentous consequences.

One night the Monster appears to her in a dream, urging her to go up to the Evergreens (her brother’s house next door), a place she had been avoiding for years. She arrives to find her nephew Ned in the throes of an epileptic seizure. Her brother confesses that he, too, had been visited often by their father in his dreams.

Antony & CleopatraThe visit brings her back into contact with her sister-in-law Susan. Emily confesses internally that she has suffered a crush on Susan for years. Imagining Susan to be Cleopatra, Emily casts herself as Shakespeare’s Enobarbus, “who loved his Cleopatra from afar and breathed in Egypt’s purple smoke” (291). Of Enobarbus, Hudson’s The Works of William Shakespeare says, “Enorbarbus is rather the noblest character in the play. His blunt, prompt, rough-spoken sagacity, mingled with a certain slyness of thought, a racy infusion of humour, and a pungent, searching irony of discourse, interpret with remorseless fidelity the moral import of the characters and movements about him” (citation). Is that not an apt description of our Emily? (more…)

Bulltown Strutters Mini-Documentary Video

By on April 13, 2011

Back in October I became one of the founding members of Durham’s newest community band, The Bulltown Strutters. Patterned after the famous “second line” bands of New Orleans, but drawing inspiration from street band traditions around the world, we have been playing and strutting to Dixieland, old time standards, spirituals, and even Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” at various community parades and events in and around Durham, NC, including a regular second Tuesday of every month Dixieland jam at Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse in south Durham.

But the absolute highlight in the life of our band so far would have to be the recent Marry Durham ceremony. Starting from a casual conversation where one Durhamite proclaimed that she loved Durham so much she could marry it, Marry Durham grew into an enthusiastic community-generated festival where over 2000 Durham citizens took vows to support and care for their beloved city. But like any wedding, it was also a time for fun and festivities. As soon as the wedding ceremony was over, the Bulltown Strutters led a recessional parade around the block. Later in the afternoon we performed in the Motorco garage, but not before causing a street party within a party to break out on Rigsby Avenue.

Today professional videographer Rodrigo Dorfman released a beautifully-edited mini-documentary that perfectly captures the spirit of that day, and the community spirit that is the Bulltown Strutters.

Introducing IandIBook.com: Official Site of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns

By on April 13, 2011

Purchase Inspiration and IncarnationThis blog hasn’t been about theology or religion for some time now, but I do want to give a shout out to IandIBook.com, the new official site of the book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns.

Dr. Enns was one of my Old Testament professors at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and has since become a very close friend. Inspiration and Incarnation is his attempt to grapple honestly with the difficulties that a detailed study of the backgrounds of the Christian Old Testament presents for Evangelical theology. Enns was not the first to notice the three areas of difficulty he covers in the book–competing theologies within the OT, similarities to other ancient Near Eastern religious texts, and the odd ways the New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament texts–but he sets forth a unique proposition to try to preserve a belief in the OT’s divine inspiration. In a nutshell, he proposes that in a way analogous to the Christian teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man at the same time, the Bible we have is at the same time very human in its production but divine in its origin. In other words, Enns thinks that God is perfectly fine with what appears to us to be a “messy” scripture; that He was comfortable with giving his revelation to his creatures in and through the limitations and world experiences of the ancient cultures who first compiled and wrote it down.

If you have any interest in such issues, Inspiration and Incarnation is essential reading. It is written at a level easily understood by any educated lay person.

Purchase Inspiration and Incarnation: The Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

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