Postmodern Collage Poetry

A blog about writing collage poetry, post modern poetry, multi lingual poetry

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Catholic Culture-Poetic Culture

Over the past weeks I have spent allot of time reflecting on Catholicism which is part of my culture and poetry which is also part of my culture and I am without answers and a sense of foreboding.

This has proven to be a week of reflection and tremors of fear. The election of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) has caused me to reflect on Catholic Culture and how alien this culture must seem to many poets, artists and intellectuals who view this culture as strange and threatening. I find the world of crimson and insense and the Litany of the Saints is as far from most poet's world as the world of the San Bushman.

In his masterpiece the Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton talked about wandering as a child among the ruins of monasteries in Prades France and feeling a deep bond to the stones and the culture that spawned the stones. The sense of a Catholic Culture is an alien thing especially to Americans. Americans are a new people we make our own rules and we don't listen to anyone. America is a nation built on individualism, rebellion against authority, and innovation all things that are not held as high values by the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics in America have been the victims of profound prejudice throughout American history and this bigotry continues to this day but some of the concerns of the anti-Catholics are well founded and are part of a Catholic Culture that has different rules and different mores than the Anglo Saxon Protestant Culture of the USA. The New England anti Catholics have morphed many times into intellectual Anti Catholics but the fact is that in many 'educated' circles its is easier to be taken seriously as Hindu or Muslim than as a faithful Catholic we are strange eccentrics to many Americans.

If you travel to nations that have a profound Catholic history yu can feel the difference, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, France, the Philippines Angola these are all Catholic nations and they have profound differences but they also have profound similarities that make them different from other places. Regardless of piety or lack there of the way in which culture is manifest the way in which art is used in an iconic way the way in which rules are bent and corruption is rampant are all part of a culture that believes in a rolling sense of salvation. Could a protestant culture have produced Picasso, Rivera, Kalho, Mozart, and yes Hitler or Mussolini? Of course it is in only in our incensed halls where these characters are possible.

Catholics believe in Faith and Works, unlike Protestant cultures where you only get one chance in Catholic ones you can sin, be forgiven and sin again and kind of like a perpetual bankruptcy law all is forgiven. The result of this is a culture in which Borgia popes, St Ignatius, Richard J Daley and EJ Dionne can all co-exist in one place mostly at peace.

The fear as a Catholic and a Poet is that this unique culture may be ending with Pope Benedict XVII. What has been Catholicism's strength has been its Catholicity. We as a Church has been able to have liberals and conservatives, a fluidity and debate even John Paul II allowed some of this but Pope Benedict has called for a smaller, faithful church does this mean that there is not room for that debate anymore?

Would Pope Benedict have allowed St Francis and his companions to live the way they wanted? Or would he have suppressed them? Would Pope Benedict have allowed Giotto to revolutionize the human form in paint? Or would he have demanded that Giotto continue to paint like Cimabue? Would Pope Benedict have allowed Fr. Mendel to invent Genetics? I have my doubts and these doubts send a chill over my skin.

So with fear and faith I ask for guidance and ask questions. Are we to be the Church of St Francis, Bartolome De Las Casas, Thielhard De Chardin, Thomas Merton , Dorothy Day, Teresa of Avila, and John the XXIII or are we to be fundamentalists?

Is there room in the Church to be angry but obedient? Or just obedient?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Spring in Chicago

Peter Gizzi wins Guggenheim Fellowship-Robert Creeley Dies-Saul Bellow Dies

Good News Peter Gizzi won a Guggenheim Fellowship with all the garbage that is
published these days by 'poets' it is wonderful that a great poet like Peter is recognized.

Been reading allot of Latin American and Latin European Poets of late. I find all this work so filling and satiating. When reading Vallejo or Montale or Bonvicino the inate Latinness comes through the long linguistic history and the fact that poetry in these languages is still poetry and poetic in a way that poetry in English is not.

The more I read Vallejo the more I think that he is the greatest poet in any language of the 20th century (Said about Neruda who is good but Vallejo is great). I also must say that Clayton E's translations are really top notch.

Chicago had a really great tribute reading for Robert Creeley last week, I read along with Mary Margaret Sloan, Kerri Sonnenberg, John Tipton, Jen Karmin, Robert Von Helsberg and Peter O'Leary, also Chuck Stebelton contributed a piece of audio read by Creeley. John Beer and Joel Craig from the Danny's Series organized it and they did a great job. This was the most gentle
poetry event I have been to in Chicago. I read the canto below from il paradiso the website it is from is listed below from Columbia University, this is Mandelbaum's translation which is superior to many others but i added the Italian.

Oh quanto è corto il dire e come fioco
al mio concetto! e questo, a quel ch'i' vidi,
è tanto, che non basta a dicer 'poco'.

How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set
against my thought! And this, to what I saw.
is such-to call it little is too much.

O luce etterna che sola in te sidi,
sola t'intendi, e da te intelletta
e intendente te ami e arridi!

Eternal Light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing,
Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!

Quella circulazion che sì concetta
pareva in te come lume reflesso,
da li occhi miei alquanto circunspetta,

That circle-which, begotten so, appeared
in You as light reflected-when my eyes
had watched it with attention for some time,

dentro da sé, del suo colore stesso,
mi parve pinta de la nostra effige:
per che 'l mio viso in lei tutto era messo.

within itself and colored like itself,
to me seemed painted with our effigy,
so that my sight was set on it completely.

Qual è 'l geomètra che tutto s'affige
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
pensando, quel principio ond'elli indige,

As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach,
through thought on thought, the principle he needs,

tal era io a quella vista nova:
veder voleva come si convenne
l'imago al cerchio e come vi s'indova;

so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see
the way in which our human effigy
suited the circle and found place in it-

ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.

and my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.

A l'alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e 'l velle,
sì come rota ch'igualmente è mossa,

Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already-like
a wheel revolving uniformly-by

l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars


At a time with so much death- the Pope, Frank Perdue, Robert Creeley, Saul Bellow I needed Dante, hell I do not think that there is day that goes by where I do not read something by Il Poeta.

Saul Bellow died this week and the New York Times fealt free to tell us how Professor Bellow wrote about Chicago but he really loved New York! I am sorry but New York is a great place but Saul Bellow belongs to us, he is Humboldt Park, he is Chicago's great White Ethnic and Jewish voice. When I first read Augie March I was transfixed. Saul Bellow (along with Nelson Algren)
understood the grit and grime and joy of Chicago, a Chicago which in many ways no longer exists. I found this to be the case when I returned to Chicago after being away for 10 years.
Chicago is less rough and less raw than it used to be. The fact that the entire northside from Western to the Lake is now populated by people who use All Clad cookwear and drive Volvo's might have something to do with it. I find more of Bellow's Chicago in the ring of city neighborhoods and suburbs that goes from Skokie through Oak Park to Garfield Ridge to Oak Lawn this ring extending to say Elmhurst and Park Ridge and down to La Grange is more like Chicago, at least the Chicago I knew a crazy mix of White Ethnic, Black and Mexican where people are just people; much of Chicago's center city is now populated by the doyennes of Crate and Barrel and Gibson's Steaks.

Bellow brought out a Chicago that is in many ways a myth but he also made Chicago a great literary city a city like Paris, London and Dublin that can be encapsulated into books and stories. If anyone needs to be buried in Chicago, preferably in Humboldt Park it is this man of our streets.

So it is Spring, the Sox are doing well (we shall see how long this lasts) the weather is warm (We shall see how long this lasts) and life continues to move forward.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Pope I want

At the Myopic Reading Sunday in Chicago Chuck Stebelton asked me if I was upset about he Pope dieing- I guess as the resident Poet/Catholic that was the right question to ask but I am more concerned about who we may get as Pope after this Conclave.

My experience in the Church is one of knowing people who were the real deal- people like Sr. Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking Fame) and Fr. Joseph Nangle OFM of Washington's Assisi Community these types of Catholics are committed to the Gospel and that Gospel is one of simplicity, humility and a passion for social justice.
Priests like Ignacio Harding OFM whom I worked with in Bolivia and Fr Benoit from the Capuchins priests and sisters who are humble, good and Christlike these are the people who have fed me as a Catholic and a Christian and who I am sure are doing the work of God.

Watching all the pageantry in Rome on TV and who can avoid it -since it is all Papal all the time on every channel- I had to retreat to reading and thinking. I read through Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness the other night it was a small respite from all the crimson. I also began to think that what we need is a Pope is who is more like St Francis of Assisi and less like St Ignatius of Loyola, more Church as servant and less Church as militant. A Pope who challenges the fact that we live in a world where the rich and this includes me by the way, use our power to oppress the poor by making them slaves to our luxury. A Pope who is willing to be voice in the wilderness crying out for justice like the prophets.

So who is the Pope I want- it is too much to ask for another Pope John XXIII since there is no longer room in our Church for that type of Bishop.

But a Pope who listens maybe?

A Pope who realizes that 8 out of 10 active Catholics lives in Africa and Latin America and their concerns are about poverty and justice?

A Pope who cares for the concerns of people and justice and less about adding new devotions to the Rosary?

Perhaps it is too much to hope for but Hope is what we are all about as Catholics any Church that can have a St Dominic and a St Francis at the same time in its midst must have something of the divine in its mission.

So we hope.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II again Deo Gratia

Pope John Paul died yesterday at 85.

As a Poet and a Roman Catholic it is worth a pause and a thought on the life of this man who has sat astride our Church for the past 26 years. I think that in the words of St Jerome we need to separate the mud from the water in the life of this man who has done so much good and truth be known some bad things as well I am not going to talk about the bad things, the way we Catholics treat woman is reprehensable, or the pedophilia crisis is horrible but this is not the time for that conversation but it is there sitting right under the surface and needs to be addressed by our new Pope.

I was 11 in 1978 and I grew up in a home that was full bore liberal Catholic; guitar masses, women reading the Gospels at Mass, Liberation Theology and a desire to be "ecumenical". I also grew up in Chicago among many sons and daughters of Poland, hell Chicago has over 3 million Poles and Polish Americans and their pride in John Paul was justified

Pope John Paul II ended all of this and some of it was good and some his reaction was bad. I now find that I do not miss the "folk Catholicism" of that period and I find myself connected to my fellow Catholics in the things that matter, the Eucharist and the Community.

One of the biggest results of John Paul II's centralization of our Church was the end of Comunidades de Base or Base Communities. John Paul II looked upon these Lay groups as Communist and unmanageable. It is true that these groups were very progressive even Socialist in places like Nicaragua and Brazil but when these groups were destroyed a void resulted and that void was filled by Right Wing Evangelical Churches in Latin America, since 1978 120 million Catholics have left the Church in Latin America and many of their new "pastors" are former Base Community activists who opened their own business so to speak. This fruit was not anticipated.

A second failing of John Paul is the fact that intellectual curiosity and questioning was stifled. Theologians like Hans Kung, Yve Congar and Charles Curran were silenced and Theologians like Matthew Fox were expelled from the Church. This is not a proud legacy and is regretable.

But having said this John Paul II led a remarkable life. His was the voice that challenged Communism and gave succour to a part of the World that was enslaved. I realize that many 'intellectuals' cringe at using the word enslaved but the fact is that the fall of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity, and the end of Marxism as a global movement (except in American University Towns, and Cuba and Vietnam) was a great gift to Humanity. Global Marxism killed so many more people than even Nazism and it needed to be placed in the dustbin of history. He opened our Church to the truth about the Holocaust and in our relations with Jews, he apologized for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204! well a guess it is better late than never? John Paul also was a fighter for human rights you can disagree with John Paul II but his positions were consistent, no Abortion, no Death Penalty no War an intellectually clear position with no room for grey in a world which today seems to be completely grey with no black and no white.

John Paul II was my Pope I did not agree with him on Liberation Theology's suppression or the other things done but I was also moved by his words and was moved by his charism.

I went to Bolivia from 1993-1995 to work as a Lay Missioner partially motivated by his vision. I worked with inmates and saw the universality of the Catholic Church everyday with people from around the world. I saw the Gospel in action during that time and also allot of petty Church bs but it was John Paul II's vision of a world where every human person was to be cherished that was everywhere and I was moved by that vision.

So we move forward as a Church and we wait to see who our next Pope will be with anticipation, fear and hope-

Peace to You our dear brother Karol-Deo Gratia