Friday, August 31, 2012

L.L. Barkat’s “The Novelist”

She’s lost
her tea basket
she’s losing
her lover


she should
dare to write
a novel

Or at least a novella.

Laura works for a marketing agency. She writes poetry, and sends poems to Geoffrey, her lover of 28 months and 28 hotel rooms. She knows Geoffrey is bound to walk away at some point; she senses the relationship won’t last. She carries baggage, family baggage, from the past. Her Twitter friend Megan has dared her to a novel, and so far all Laura has been able to write is “The End.”

And all of this swirls and stews, jumbles and brews into The Novelist, a novella by L.L. Barkat. The work is both a novella and, between the lines, a discussion of and meditation upon writing and the writing process.

Barkat, the author of a memoir (Stone Crossings), a book on creativity and writing (Rumors of Water), a collection of poetry (Inside/Out), and a spiritual exercise book (God in the Yard) has turned her hand to fiction, bringing to her story the same spare, almost stripped-down and laser-like reflection that she brings to her others works, including the poems. Perhaps especially the poems, as The Novelist might be considered an extended poem in a prose format – and an extended poem about writing.

As we travel through Laura’s landscape – her interior landscape – we find writers like Mario Vargas Llosa, Marilynne Robinson, Tim O’Brien, and James Scott Bell; poets like Adrienne Rich; non-fiction writers; and even a few references to “that Barkat woman.” We find poems, too, for Laura is, after all, a poet, doing what poets and writers do to make sense of the world around them – and that is to draw upon their own lives and experiences to try to create something true. Or at least something that will help pay the bills.

Writing comes from life, not only living life but grappling with the whats and the whys and the hows. That is what Laura is doing in the The Novelist – grappling with her life, even as it is being transformed around her.

Where did she put that tea basket?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Word Candy Wednesday (on Thursday)

May It Never Be!

I’m certain there must be more people who’ve had the same experiences, but I have the distinction of having been baptized twice, once as an infant and once as an adult. The infant baptism was a sprinkling; the adult baptism was a full immersion is the tank behind the pulpit platform. So whatever way is the “correct” way, I think I’m covered – infant, adult, sprinkled, dunked. (My wife was baptized in a river when she was a child, and still recalls the snake that swam nearby.)

For my adult baptism, I was given a Bible, the one used by the church we attended – and it was the New American Standard Version. Up to that point, I had grown up on the King James Version (the old, original KJV) and had read significant parts of The Living Bible. The NASB became my friend for the next five years, until we bought the New International Version.

The NASB had a phrase that I found enchanting and intriguing, and it was one found in Paul’s letters, particularly Romans. The phrase was “May it never be!” It sounded so odd, especially when I would say it aloud. I could easily envision it being one of the word frames in an old silent movie.

In the NIV, “May it never be!” was translated into the more prosaic and understandable “By no means.” The NASB must have left an impression because I still find myself thinking “By no means” sounds, well, boring when compared to “May it never be!”

The verse that is at the heart of Chapter 4 of The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which Tim Challies has been the discussion for the past several weeks, includes this phrase:  “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2).

The apostle Paul was refuting the notion that the gospel promotes irresponsible and sinful behavior – the more the sin, the more the grace, so keep on keeping on and watch grace grow!

Well, not exactly. Paul says we have died to sin, and Bridges makes three point about that death: the death occurred in the past; this death occurred even if the believer isn’t aware of it; and we’re dead to sin through our union with Christ.

One major thought struck me as I read Bridges explain what “union” meant – both a representative or federal and a vital or spiritual union. I had heard this explanation before. I had heard pastors expound on it and Sunday School teachers explain it. I had read about it.

But that was decades ago. I had not heard it since. It’s not exactly a popular topic. The concepts, though, are critically important, because they explain why Adam’s sin was everyone’s sin and why Christ’s atonement was atonement for all. As Bridges writes, “Adam was our federal representative in his sin; Jesus Christ was our federal representative in his earthly life and atoning death.”

But have we stopped teaching this critical Christian truth?

May it never be!

Tom Challies is leading the discussion of The Discipline of Grace over at Informing the Reforming. Please visit his site for additional thoughts and links.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What I Learned in Catechism

I was raised in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and that meant two years of catechism in 7th and 8th grades. Every Tuesday and Thursday during the school year, 4 p.m. would find me and other junior higher waiting outside the door of the pastor’s office for catechism class to begin. Both grades met at the same time, which meant in 8th grade you repeated what you had studied the first year.

We sat in rows of light brown metal folding chairs in front of the pastor’s desk. Without anyone ever communicating the message, we knew the 8th graders said in the back rows and the 7th graders in front. There were usually about 25 of us, half from each grade. Our textbook was Luther’s Small Catechism. (Would you believe I still have my original copy?)

The end point of catechism was confirmation (wearing white robes) and first communion. What we were doing, or what we were trying to do, was to learn about God.

And we did learn. A lot stuck – more than I expected. I still remember the first verses we memorized – Romans 8:38-39 (“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons…”). Our Bible was the King James Version. We learned the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. We learned the Ten Commandments. We studied the life of Jesus. We had assignments, just like school.

When it came time for confirmation (and the dreaded questioning by the pastor in front of the entire congregation), only four of our original 12 or 13 were left. Moves out of the city or to other parts of the city had taken its toll on our class. So there stood Rosalie, Theresa, Susan and Glynn, wearing our white robes, waiting for each of us to be questioned. The girls were smiling, because they somehow knew that the only boy in the group was going to get the tough questions.

They were right. I got the tough ones. But the pastor knew his students, and he figured I would come through with the right answers. And I did, sweating the entire time, but I did.

Catechism was mostly about head knowledge. But head knowledge was important. It awoke something in me that grew very slowly in high school (I almost joined a Baptist church, much to my mother’s horror), suffered a serious setback the first three-and-a-half years of college, and then one cool January night in 1973 migrated from my head to my heart.

As A.W. Tozer might say, I had been led (sometimes dragged) to God. “At the heart of the Christian message,” he writes in The Pursuit of God, “is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence.”

And that’s what happened. I pushed into that conscious awareness.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading and discussing Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Removing the Veil,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines. Next week we’ll conclude the discussion of this chapter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anywhere else

It is not the call of the Quarter,
or Jackson squared upon his stone horse,
of the smell of beignets and café au lait,
or washing down a muffaletta with
Barq’s root beer at Central Grocery,
or the lines at Felix’s Oyster Bar,
or the streetcar jerking past mansions
on St. Charles, or the food, the glorious food,
food unlike anywhere else on the planet, or
the music spilling onto Bourboned sidewalks,
or the suburban schools and shopping centers
that look like anywhere else, or the sneaking
into the ball fields at Holy Cross, or running
atop the levees of the Ninth Ward, or
the accents unlike anywhere else
and the people creoled into a human gumbo,
or the understanding that when the storm
comes form the south the winds first come
from the north.
It is none of these things.
Or perhaps it is.

My hometown faces yet another hurricane. This time, family are more secured. But the city faces yet another storm, yet another assault upon its existence. I believe it will endure. That’s because I’m a native New Orleanian, and we never knew any better.

This poem is submitted to Open Mike Night at dVersePoets. To see more poems, please visit the site.

Where did he come from?

No big news to report. I’m slugging my way through the manuscript of A Light Shining, the successor to Dancing Priest. I’m almost at the end of addressing the suggestions from the editor and the reader.

Once that’s finished, then I write a new character into the manuscript. I already introduced him in a very short story here, and I’m still trying to figure out who he is, where he comes from, and more importantly, where he’s going in this manuscript.

It’s odd how things like this happen. The editor suggested an additional character, and I set the idea to the side for a while. And then as I was editing the introductory part of the manuscript, there he was, sitting at a table in a restaurant – and watching.

Shiver. I just gave myself the creeps. The character is not friendly. At all. But he will play an important role in the story of Michael and Sarah, the two main characters in Dancing Priest and the main characters in A Light Shining as well.

I continue to work on a novella, aiming at about 25,000 words – meaning I’m about half way. I know how this story ends, and what happens between where I am now and the ending. It’s a love story, a most unlikely love story, and one of the two main characters is an attorney. I can’t believe I’m writing a story about an attorney who’s a sympathetic character.

More to come.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Rocky Places of Marilynne Robinson

The ongoing debate and discussion about Christian fiction versus fiction ebbs and flows. It calms down, only to erupt as writers argue and debate whether there should be a distinction or not (and this seems to be an issue only for Christian writers). It’s interesting, and thought-provoking, but it can lean to the tiresome with repetition. Then a writer like Eric Wilson will publish an open letter, asking it if it’s time for Christian fiction to die, and blow the lid off all over again.

Then there’s Marilynne Robinson, who, I think, makes Wilson’s point in spades.

Robinson is a writer of what could only be called serious, literary fiction. Her fist novel, Housekeeping (1980), had the good fortune of being noticed and reviewed by Anatole Broyard in The New York Times Book Review (he was afraid it would go unnoticed so he reviewed it himself). She went on to write non-fiction and essays, and published her second novel, Gilead, in 2004. Home, a kind of companion to Gilead but not a sequel or “prequel,” was published in 2008.

I first “met” Robinson through the movie version of Housekeeping. It’s the story of an irregular, more-than-slightly offbeat aunt who comes home to care for her two young nieces, whose mother has committed suicide. Actress Christine Lahti played the aunt, and she played the character perfectly. I read the book after seeing the movie. As much as I liked the movie, I forgot it as I read Robinson’s prose.

Housekeeping was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Gilead won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. As good as Housekeeping is, I find Gilead even better.

In the story, it’s early 1950s Iowa. Minister John Ames, 77, is dying, and he’s writing a journal of his thoughts and history for his son, who is 7. How a 77-year-old minister came to have a 7-year-old son is part of the history. Ames’ father and grandfather were ministers, and his grandfather was a sympathizer of abolitionist John Brown and often packed a revolver during his sermons. Ames’ father embraced the Quakers; Ames himself is ministering to a Congregationalist church.

There are three things one sees about this story from the start.

First, the writing is extraordinary, almost a “poetic prose.” It is absolutely beautiful and often breathtaking.

Second, the structure of the story is unusual. It’s in the form of a long letter or extended journal. It is a first-person account of an elderly man who is honest enough with himself to tell a story without making himself the hero.

Third, the story is about relationships, and particularly the relationships of fathers and sons, those “rocky places” which is what Gilead means. (Historically, Gilead is a region in northern Palestine, east of the Jordan River; it was known for both its rockiness and its balm, a resin collected from its evergreen trees and used as an ointment).

The relationships include one character outside the Ames family, John Ames Boughton, who’s the son of Ames’ best friend but thinks of Ames so much like a second father that he calls him “Papa.” And these father-son relationships don’t follow a conventional story line; they twist and turn and surprise. The story that Ames tells is the story that history and ancestry matter, because the past shapes the present and the future in ways both obvious and subtle. That Ames’ grandfather was a John Brown supporter will matter a great deal a century later.

Gilead, to me, is one way to look at the Christian fiction versus fiction argument. It stands outside the genre of Christian fiction; it sits firmly within mainstream publishing. And yet it is a profoundly Christian novel, written by a Christian (who teaches at the Iowa Workshop for Writers), with Christian themes and concepts  and language and characters often juxtaposed against non-believers or those who have rejected the faith of their youth. And like so much of what we experience as Christians, there is a moment of forgiveness and blessing that is so quiet that it’s almost missed. When you’re startled into realizing what has happened, you go back and reread it. I did that, several times.

In fact, I found myself stopping and rereading passages of Gilead several times. The language alone is that excellent. The story, of recognizable people in recognizable relationships, is that good. In an interview with the Paris Review, Robinson wasn’t speaking of herself but she could have been when she said, “Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.”

That’s exactly what happens in Gilead.

This article was originally published by The Christian Manifesto, but the site was redesigned and the archive (with all of my posts) disappeared. So I’m occasionally reposting some of the articles I wrote for the publication.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Word Candy

I've been playing with this Word Candy app, and I think I like it.

Empty Bottles

I drink the wine
the wine outside the bottles
the wine uncontained within
glass, the wine a fiery tongue
speaking unknown words
burning my throat, searing
my soul, this wine,
incendiary wine-words.
Why are the bottles

This poem is submitted to the dVerse Poets prompt of paintings by the Durch artist Borg de Novel. To see more poems submitted, please visit dVerse Poets.
Painting: Bottles by Borg de Nobel / Used with permission.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

Most of us are too young to remember (even me), but there was a time when a new technological change upended the publishing industry – it was called the paperback book, says writer Andrew Shaffer. Anita Mathias considers writing and prayer and writes a letter to a young, aspiring writer. Adam Blumer finds a sure cure for writer’s ego.

Then there are some striking photos, like an image of how time may have started and one of a sunset that I still find haunting. And five paintings by Van Gogh – re-created with spices. And what’s behind a song called ‘Winter in New York.” All great stuff.


Critic’s Choice” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read” by Andrew Shaffer at Mental Floss.

Writing and Prayer” and “A Letter to An Aspiring Writer” by Anita Mathias at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

I Got This” by Kathy Richards at Katdish.

When you give a mom a coffee” by Amanda Hill at Hill + Pen.

How a Hater Stopped Me” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

A Cross in My Hand” by Matthew at The Already Not Yet.

A Sure Cure for Writer’s Ego” by Adam Blumer at Meaningful Suspense.

How to be a good team member” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.


The Picnic Table” by Megan Willome.

Dead Pier” by M.J. Duggan.

Witness the Withering” and “Home-Grown” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Adelia Prado” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Paintings and Photographs

Pond” and “Time Starts” by Timothy Good at Good Photography.

Sunset” by Nancy Rosback at a Little Somethin’.

Breath” by Jack Baumgartner at The School of the Transfer of Energy.

For a Season” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

5 Van Gogh Paintings Re-created with Spices” by Kerry McCollam via Abraham Piper at 22 Words.


I’m with You” by Mario Frangoulis.

Photograph: O2 Arena London, by Monica Galante via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, August 24, 2012

“Dragonmarch” by Ian Thomas Curtis

I’m hooked on a story, and what a story it is.

Last year, I read and reviewed Dragonsong by Ian Thomas Curtis, the first in a series of novels with the general title of The Canticles of Andurun. The novel falls into the fantasy genre, but the story was so exciting and I became so caught up in it that I blew right past “fantasy” and instead focused on what it really was – a great story.

Now comes the second volume in the series: Dragonmarch. Second novels in a series can sometimes disappoint, unable to sustain the momentum of the first novel.

Dragonmarch does not have that problem. If anything, the story is becoming even more riveting.

Justias Eventine is a young man in a village in the land of Kallandaros, a sprawling continent largely controlled by dragons and the clerics who serve them, although “soldier” is a more apt definition than “cleric.” For 200 years, the dragons and clerics have allowed the old noble houses to maintain some semblance of authority, but that is beginning to change, and the dragons are beginning their moves to eradicate all of humanity.

In Dragonsong, Justias and his father William help an injured cleric, who is fleeing the order. Because of that help, the people of the village are killed and the two Eventines become something of outlaws. Eventually, Justias does something that no one believed possible – he kills a dragon. He becomes the dragon slayer – the one foretold who would arise to overthrow the rule by the dragons.

In Dragonmarch, representatives of an order known as the Men of Valor determine that Justias is indeed the one foretold, and he is crowned king, igniting a series of events involving the clerics and their allies, the old nobility and its determination to destroy the new king, and the assembling of armies to march upon the main stronghold of the nobility and so begin the final war of the dragons against humanity.

The story is fascinating. It’s a large, complex tale, more an epic than a single story, with several narrative threads deftly woven together into a cohesive whole. Dragonmarch is a story of faith and hope, betrayal and death, a realistic story in which the good often die and the bad seem to fund new ways to survive and flourish. It’s a world full of dangers, but a world in which a few brave men and women are willing to fight evil. And their courage attracts people to fight alongside them.

These are large themes painted across a large canvas that is the world of Kallendaros. I’m constantly amazed by the attention to detail, as Curtis shapes and reveals this world and its denizens. And the suspense builds through a series of skirmishes and minor battles, swordfights, an attack by a goblin army, a dragon set loose on a cleric-controlled city (the dragons are as much into treachery as the humans are), and a plot to assassinate the new young king.

The novel has a cliffhanger ending, which left me shouting “No! I need to read the next chapter!” I’m definitely hooked on this wonderful, imaginative story.


My review of Dragonsong

My interview with Ian Thomas Curtis: Part 1 and Part 2

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Painted Cigar Box

In college, when my pledge class went through the fraternity’s initiation week, we had to carry around a cigar box painted white with the fraternity letters in blue. We were required to put in the box anything an active member told us to put in. One of the things I was given for my box was a copy of Campus Crusade’s “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet.

Technically, actives weren’t supposed to evangelize pledges during initiation week, but I wasn’t going to make a scene. The active member asked me if I knew what the gospel was, and I quickly responded with an answer that shocked him. I could actually articulate the gospel message, thanks to having memorized it when I was in catechism class several years before (I had a reputation for memorization skills).

The active, who was a Christian, didn’t know what to say. He likely expected me to fumble for an answer or look dumb. More to the point, my normal behavior – LSU was known for being a party school – wouldn’t have led anyone to the conclusion that I knew the gospel message.

Two-and-a-half years later, when I had become a Christian, I thought back to initiation week, and realized that my memory skills had outstripped my heart knowledge. And now I that understood what it really meant, I could still articulate the gospel but knew I was an infant when it came to living it.

In The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges gives one of the most complete and succinct explanations of the gospel that I’ve read or heard. More importantly, he points out that the gospel is as important to the believing Christian as it is to the non-Christian.

In many respects, the gospel is not only God’s “good news;” it is also how we are to live our lives. Using Romans 3: 19-26, Bridges cites seven critical elements of the gospel as contained in the Bible passage:

  • No one is declared righteous before God by observing the law.
  • There is righteousness from God that is apart from the law.
  • This righteousness from God is received through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • This righteousness is available to everyone on the same basis, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • All who put their faith in Jesus Christ are justified freely by God’s grace.
  • This justification is through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
  • God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. 

My articulation of the gospel during initiation week was not quite that full or eloquent, but it did cover most if not all of the key elements.

The cigar box is long gone. But I kept the copy of the Four Spiritual Laws, and if I remember correctly (my memorization skills aren’t what they used to be), it is in a small jewelry box in our basement.

Over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion on The Discipline of Grace. To see what he and others are saying about this chapter of the book, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself,” please visit his site.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Life as Money Changer

American history question: in which U.S. historical document do you find the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence?

It’s the Declaration of Independence, although a lot of us think of happiness as a constitutional right. Jefferson wrote the phrase “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We should take note of the fact that he didn’t say happiness; he said the pursuit of happiness. But we tend to gloss over “the pursuit of” and instead justify all kinds of activities, actions and opinions because we cling to this notion of happiness. “God just wants me to be happy,” is an often-expressed sentiment.

Actually, I think God just wants us to be faithful. And Jesus didn’t say “Follow me and you will be happy.” He talked more in terms of division, hardship, the hatred of others and death.

I think of that story set in the temple.

It’s the final week of Jesus. He’s entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt, to the sounds of the people’s hosannas. He knows where it’s all going to end, and where’s it’s all going to begin.

One of the first things he does is to go the temple and cause a riot.

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matthew 21:12, New International Version).

I’ve always focused on the specifics of the story – not the application. It’s about those thieving money changers, dove sellers and other merchants, working in collusion with greedy priests.


Well, maybe not.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer draws a different picture.

“We must in our hearts live through Abraham’s harsh and bitter experiences if we would know the blessedness which follows them,” he writes. “The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out from our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled the money changers from the temple.”

Oh. It’s not about the money changers, or the temple, or the priests, or only about them.

No, that story has another point.


Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re discussing Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. To see other posts, please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Arsenal

I construct my fortress carefully,
with words and verses, catch
phrases and platitudes, theologies
of my imagination, to articulate
or simply utter, in growling tones,
to fend off the evils outside,
discovering too late that I’ve
imprisoned the evil within.

This poem is submitted for the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. To see more submissions, please visit Peter’s site.

This poem is also submitted for Open Link Night at dVerse Poets. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time today.

Illustration: The St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, constructed in 1869 at the St. Louis County Insane Asylum, is located on Arsenal Street in St. Louis and for years was known as the “Arsenal Street Asylum” or simply “the Arsenal.” Today, it seeks to help people return to society, as opposed to keeping them away from society.

The Poet of the Workplace

When I became part of a company’s speechwriting team, a friend kept pressing on me the need to read poetry if I was really serious about being a speechwriter. He gave me copies of the collected poems of three great modernist poets – T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens. It didn’t take much convincing; I could easily see that poetry and speeches – truly fine speeches – have much in common, in terms of form, flow, cadence, voice, rhythm and how they sound to the ear. Differences exist, to be sure, but there is much I could learn, and did learn, about speechwriting from poetry.

I was familiar with Eliot and Thomas from my formal education years. Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) was something of a revelation. A businessman, with the heart of a poet. A corporate attorney. And one who turned down academic offers from Ivy League universities to stay with the Hartford Insurance Company.

To continue reading, please read my post today at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Flannery O'Connor and the Avoidance of Celebrity

I can pinpoint the year I first read Flannery O’Connor. It was 1976, I was 24 going on 25, and a new person had joined the Public Affairs Department at Shell Oil where I worked. She came from a well known Houston family, had lots of eccentric relatives and was an extraordinarily fine writer. She and I talked about Shell, the oil industry, relatives, literature and writing; most of all, writing.

She was shocked that I hadn’t read Flannery O’Conner.

I started with Three by Flannery O’Connor, which included The Violent Bear It Away, Wise Blood and A Good Man is Hard to Find. From there I went to The Complete Stories, and then to Mystery and Manners, which included her essays and speeches. Finally, I read The Habit of Being, her letters collected and published in 1979, 15 years after her death from lupus.

There are all kinds of stories about Miss O’Connor, some true and many apocryphal. One that could be true or untrue is that John Kennedy O’Toole left New Orleans to drive to Georgia to see her, learned she had died some years before, and killed himself, leaving his manuscript for his mother to worry over. His mother did, made a huge pest of herself, and finally convinced Walker Percy to read it. The manuscript became A Confederacy of Dunces and won the Pulitzer Prize.

O’Connor’s works were – are – extraordinary. She is often considered a Southern writer, and she is that in the sense she was born and lived in the South. But she is more than that, too.

Her writing bears the likeness of William Faulkner but in a wholly original way. She is a kind of heir to Faulkner, particularly in the sense of having challenged the norms of literature and writing.

But, as if not more importantly, she is also the heir to G.K. Chesterton. Like him, she was Catholic. As author Bret Lott points out in an essay on O’Connor in the most recent issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, she is a Catholic writer even more than she is a Southern writer, and that’s something not normally taught in the English classes where her stories are studied.

Lott says something else in his essay (not available online, unfortunately) that strikes me as profoundly true: you will not find her in her stories. When you read one of her stories, you forget who’s written it; the point is the story, not the author. In an age of instant and often fleeting celebrity, her stories still resonate – and one of the reasons may very well be that she refused to be one. For her, the story, not the author, was the story, and she was not very patient with questions about what stories meant or what different aspects or elements or plot devices or characters were really about. She would tell such questioners to “read the story.”

She had a model for this, of course, and that was Jesus. He spent 33 years on this planet, and then physically removed himself from the Christian narrative – the narrative that he is still the point of. In many ways, the fact that he’s physically removed makes the mystery all the greater and all the more important, and he’s left us his story to study, to tell and to live. And one day he’ll return to complete it.

It was that mystery that defined O’Connor’s writing. She’s been dead for 48 years, but her influence has, if anything, grown in the intervening years. She left us with a number of remarkable stories, stories that “tell” just as well now as they did when she first published them.

This post was originally published by The Christian Manifesto, but they revamped the site and the archive disappeared. So I’m occasionally reposting a few of the articles.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The corn died this summer

The corn died first, then
the soybeans, thirsting for the rain
that didn’t come. Farmers watched
the early morning, noon, 5, 6 and 10
o’clock news knowing that nothing
was changing except hope.

And occupying my postage stamp
of a yard I scurried from grass
to gardens to trees to grass and
back again, a perpetual etcetera
of water and hoses, sprinklers
and soakers, and constant motion
of water and hope.

The red buds died in the boulevards
this summer, and the Civil War tree
in the park, three of my rosebushes
but only one limb of the crabapple.
Hope endures.

This poem is submitted to the dVersePoets prompt of the dog days of summer. To see other poems, please visit the site.