Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lazarus time 2

After John 11

It isn’t the timing,
it isn’t the healing,
this Lazarus time
when we wait
when we endure.
The waiting is the plan,
a part of what is
greater, what is
larger, what we do not
understand, It lies
beyond us, this answer,
this knowledge, and we
rage in frustration
at this waiting that
tempts the impulse
within us, not outside us.

Related: Lazarus time.

Painting: The Raising of Lazarus, oil on canvas by Vincent Van Gogh (1890); Van Gugh Museum, Amsterdam.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Good Reads

A week about profound things.

For the past year, photographer Elliot Ross has been photographing the life of Colorado wheat farmer Jim Mertens. His photographs, and Mertens’ life, tell a profound story. An equally profound story is the poem by Maureen Doallas, an elegy for the photographer Leila Alaoui killed by the terrorists who attacked the hotel in Burkino Faso.

A mom cares for terminally ill babies. Fear and remembering as a gift. A son’s eulogy for his mother. Good things. Profound things. It makes one grateful to be alive.


Forty-Three Years After Roe, Hope is Alive – Robert George at First Things.

My Eulogy for My Mother – Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Eight Lessons Christians Learn from Facing Trials of Many Kinds – Elizabeth Moyer at Faith, Work & Economics.

Art and Photography

The Textures of Winter – Tim Good at Arts by Tiwago.

Jack Baumgartner and the School of the Transfer of Energy – Elizabeth Duffy at Image Journal.


Robert Wagner – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

“Elegy: #leilaalaoui” – Maureen Doallas at Rattle Magazine.

If I had no voice – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.


Are There Too Many Writing “Experts”? – Mike Duran at Novel Rocket.

In Praise of Avocational Writers – Alton Gansky at Novel Rocket.

7 Ways to Get Inspired – Mary Harwell Sayler at The Word Center.

Life and Culture

The Sky is Red – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

British Stuff

Kitty in Boots: Who is the New Beatrix Potter Character? – BBC Radio 4 (video) (Hat Tip: Janet Young).

Shine on Us – Josh Wilson with a little help from his friends

(And if you look closely, you’ll see Brandon Heath, Andrew Peterson, Steven Curtis Chapman, and a few other familiar faces.)

Painting: Clause Monet reading a newspaper, oil on canvas by Pierre Auguste Renoir (1872); private collection.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Trees, in fog

Sunlight fading,
late afternoon,
twilight time,
thick woods, cold,
growing colder, path
forgotten, lost,
stepping into fog, light
then thickening, smells
wet, decay, rot, new
growth, muffled sounds,
then amplified, muffled,
then loud, near, then
silence, deafening:

This poem was inspired by a discussion of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

Photograph by Wallpaperscraft.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Judging by the values of another century

I was reading Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors, which by necessity has a heavy emphasis upon the religious turmoil in 16th century England. I say “by necessity” because the reign of the Tudors coincided – was directly connected to – the English Reformation. Henry needed a male heir, and so he eventually forced the matter (he did wait quite a few years, however, before he married Anne Boleyn, hoping the Pope would grant a dissolution of his first marriage).

Religious affairs in England – influenced by Luther’s Reformation in Germany – inevitably became entangled with dynastic concerns and political affairs. And a lot of deaths. Ackroyd notes that 308 people were executed during Henry’s reign for violation of the Treason Act of 1534; 300 Protestant martyrs were killed during Mary’s much briefer reign; and 200 Catholics (including 123 priests) died during Elizabeth’s reign.

And then Ackroyd says this: “The historian here often pauses to deliver a lament on human bigotry, but the temptation should be resisted. It is not possible to judge the behavior of one century by the values of another” (emphasis added).

What a quaint idea, I thought. What a refreshingly quaint idea. In that one short statement, Ackroyd lays waste to one of the dominant themes afflicting universities in particular and society in general in the 21st century.

He’s not saying that something like the Holocaust shouldn’t be judged by today’s values; it was judged by the values of the 1940s and every decade afterward, and rightfully so. But he is saying that we in our 21st century smugness think we are so much more knowledgeable, so much more tolerant, and so much more intelligent that those who lived in centuries past.

My response to that sentiment is this: Consider the leading candidates in this year’s election for President of the United States, in both major parties, and then tell me how much more knowledgeable, tolerant and intelligent we are. Or better still, follow a disagreement on Twitter – any disagreement.

No, Ackroyd is right. We may have more information at our fingertips, but access to information does not equate to knowledge, and it certainly doesn’t equate to wisdom.

We should read read history with a good measure of humility. The human condition has not changed much over the centuries, if it has changed at all.

Illustration: The depiction of the burning of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the stake in Oxford, England in 1556, during the reign of Queen Mary; from the Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (1563).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night”

We’re back in Grantchester, near Cambridge and its famed university.  And Canon Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester,  has his hands full with mysteries and romance, in Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night, the second volume of the Sidney Chambers/Grantchester mysteries by novelist and mystery writer James Runcie.

The basis for the television series Grantchester (shown on PBS in the United States last year), the Sidney Chambers mysteries are filled with questions and statements of faith, doubts, romance for Sidney, and distinctly nefarious things going on in and around Cambridge (which may soon threaten to rival Oxford for the number of fictional murders). This second volume of six stories covers several years, from 1955 to 1961.

Ostensibly, Chambers is helping his good friend, police inspector Geordie Keating, help solve crimes. But in this volume, the good canon takes more of a sleuthing role than his inspector friend.

In “The Perils of the Night,” a Cambridge professor falls to his death while trying to climb one of the university’s tall towers. It looks like an accident, but it is it? In “Love and Arson,” a photographer’s studio burns down, and a host of incriminating photos with it. “Unholy Week” concerns what initially looks like the accidental death of another Cambridge don (like I said, they’re dropping like flies; it’s as bad as Inspector Morse’s and Inspector Lewis’s Oxford). In “The Hat Trick,” a game of cricket is the way to a painful death and the facing down of racial prejudice. “The Uncertainty Principle” comes very close to home for Chambers, with him having to investigate his close friend Amanda’s fiancĂ©e. And in “Appointment in Berlin,” Sidney travels to West Berlin (this is 1961) to visit Hildegard Staunton, who may (or may not) become Mrs. Chambers. Instead of a restful respite from the rigors of Cambridge, he finds himself thrown into a prison in East Germany.

Janes Runcie
Through each story, Runcie also develops Sidney’s romantic attachments. Amanda is an old friend who simply can’t imagine herself marrying a canon. Hildegard, whose husband was murdered in one of the stories in the first volume, Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, has moved back to Germany, but she and Sidney keep exchanging visits. (By the end of the sixth story in this volume, the romantic “mystery” is resolved and Sidney finally marries.)

Runcie has two more volumes in the series, The Problem of Evil and The Forgiveness of Sins, so there is more great fund (and entertaining reading) ahead.

Top photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Using T.S. Eliot to Explain PTSD

East Coker is a village in Somersetshire. In 1667, Andrew Eliot emigrated from the village to the New World, and specifically the American colonies. A little more than two centuries later, one of Andrew’s direct descendants was born in St. Louis, and would grow up to write poetry. He would name one of his poems “East Coker,” for the village of his ancestors. The poem was one of four “quartets,” originally published individually as pamphlets in England during World War II. The four would eventually be published together in America under the title of Four Quartets.

The poet, of course, is T.S. Eliot, who is more associated with what we describe as “modernism” than virtually any other poet. (Other modernist poets include Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens.) Modernism has much to do with the changes that racked Western society and culture following the Industrial Revolution, the population shift from rural to urban areas, the scientific revolution, and World War I. Context had changed; culture had changed. Society was disjointed, a kind of “waste land,” to use Eliot’s phrase, collectively suffering what we call today “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” People had become “hollow men.”

It is these modernist images from Eliot that we find embedded in East of Coker, a novella-length work by U.K. writer Andy Owen.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph: T.S. Eliot in the 1920s, when he wrote The Waste Land.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3

It’s an odd work, this autobiography Mark Twain undertook in the last few years of his life. And the third and final volume published by the University of California Press only compounds the oddity.

First, and most obvious, it is anything but a chronological account of Twain’s life. To be fair, Twain repeatedly says he is not writing the standard autobiography. He’s writing what he might call a more personally pleasurable account – some recounting of his life, observations about current events that may or may not have anything to do with his life, the inclusion of stories he likes to tell and ones told by others that he liked, notes of daily household activities, wholesale inclusion of his speeches, and occasional frank (often brutal) observations of some of his contemporaries and friends, coupled with an admonition that this wasn’t to be published until sometime well after his death.

Second, it resembles not so much an autobiography as it does one of Twain’s public speeches or performances. He wanders and meanders; he surprises; he takes you down a rabbit hole that may or may not have a point or a connection to a larger story, but the hole is always entertaining. He wanders in his memories of a lifetime, and issues and personalities of the time in which he is dictating this story (roughly 1906-1909).

Third is the ending. Long before he covers even the major events of his life, he suddenly announces on Christmas Eve 1909 that the autobiography is finished; he is done, And the reason is poignant. His adult daughter Jean, who had suffered from epilepsy, dies in 1909. His sole surviving child Clara has married, and his reason for the autobiography – to provide for his two remaining children – has disappeared.

But what stories he tells in the process!

Twain had announced he was finished with international travel. Then he receives a letter from Oxford University in 1907, saying he is to receive an honorary degree. He throws his decision not to travel out the window and hastens to England.

The day before he receives the degree (along with such other luminaries as Rudyard Kipling, Auguste Rodin and Camille Saint-Saens), he gives a speech in London, where he characteristically notes what the newspaper placards are proclaiming: “Mark Twain Arrives, Ascot Cup Stolen.” Tongue-in-cheek, he denies there’s any connection – and brings down the house in laughter. While he’s in England, he attends a garden party hosted by King Edward VII at Windsor Castle – the small-town boy from Hannibal, Missouri, has come a long way, indeed.

A rare photograph of Twain in color
He also recalls being in New York City in 1867 (I warned you the account wasn’t chronological) to visit with a former shipmate aboard the Quaker City when he traveled to the Mideast to write stories for a newspaper. The friend brings his sister with him, and together they attend a reading by Charles Dickens – the account of Steerforth’s death in David Copperfield. While the reading was dramatic (Dickens was famous for his overwhelming readings), Twain has nothing but the fondest memories – because the friend’s sister was Olivia Langdon, who would become his beloved wife of 34 years until her death in 1904.

He notes meetings with well-known politicians and industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and the deaths of close friends like Joel Chandler Harris. He seems to be dictating with a sense of inevitability; he is reaching the end of his life although Twain himself likely didn’t know how close it was, just a few months after his daughter Jean, on April 21, 1910.

Toward the end of this third volume, when he is closing down the work, he includes this line: “Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely shows above the sky line of the hills.” It is a fitting sentiment for this uniquely American writer.


Top photograph: Mark Twain walking to receive his honorary degree at Oxford University.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lazarus time

After John 11

We wait for the healing
from this sickness;
the healing does not come.
Sickness, terminal, but
it can be healed,
we know. We do not
know why the healing
waits, why it does not come.
It is cruel, seems cruel,
is cruel,
this waiting, this cruelty
we impose on ourselves.

Illustration: Early Christian depiction of the raising of Lazarus.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Good Reads

This past week, the movie “13 Hours” was released, a story of what happened at Benghazi in Libya in 2012 when the American ambassador and several others were killed. This was the “incident” for which the State Department and the White House originally blamed an anti-Muslim video, which, in today’s politically correct language, was “mis-spoken” (what a few people still call a lie).The CIA issued a statement about the movie, denying there was any order for security personnel to “stand down” and not intervene. But too many other people are saying there was indeed such an order. Variety has a fairly balanced account.

Some good photography, good stories on faith, good poetry – it was, all in all, a good week online. And my friend David Rupert posted a video – produced by East Catholic High School – that is a good reminder to all of us to stand firm and be bold against the currents running through our cultural elites.

Art and Photography

Christmas Past – Tim Good at Arts by Tiwago.

Stairway: Windows in the City of Freud – Merisi at Vienna for Beginners.

Christmas Swimming – Lady Fi.


The “Right” Church – Loren Paulssen at World Narratives.

Sorry, The Bible Doesn’t Promise to Make America Great Again – Russell Moore at The Washington Post (Hat tip: Jared Gilbert).

There But for the Grace of God Go I – Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Stretch and Expand or Wither – Mary Harwell Sayler at The Word Center.

Conservatism Will Not Save Christianity – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.


Small Forgotten Poems – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

There are days – Natasha Head at The Tashtoo Parlour.

Abandoned Black Graveyard Next to The Country Club – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran's Well.

Life and Culture


The Balkanization of Fiction – Mike Duran at deCompose.

The End of Prayer Shaming – East Catholic High School

Photograph by Circe Denyer via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, January 22, 2016

I touched a glass

I touched a glass clear,
without blemish, so cold
it burned my hand.
My hand remained;
I could not withdraw it,
I could not go back,
I could not seek faith again,
I could only go forward,
my hand to the glass,
burning, feeling emptied,
feeling filled,

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Consider a few of the famous fictional detectives domiciled in the city of London: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes; Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey; John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell; Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion; and P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh to mention a few. Holmes arose in the late 19th century; the others were all 20th century, and especially the golden years of mystery and detective fiction, roughly the 1920s to the 1940s.

London has also experienced its fair share of famous murders and mayhem, with Jack the Ripper being perhaps the best known but by no means a singular occurrence.

Put all of that together, and it’s inevitable that a collection of crime and mystery stories set in London should be published.  The British Library, as part of its British Crime Classics series, has produced Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, edited by the highly regarded mystery writer Martin Edwards.

The collection is comprised of 17 stories that are about as varied as the genre of mystery and detective novels. Arranged approximately by the date they were published, the stories cover a period stretching from the 1890s to the 1950s, and this include the Golden Age era. A few of the authors are still known today – Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle and Austin Freeman, to cite three, but many have been forgotten, a sad commentary that this volume attempts to correct. In their day, these authors and their books were wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and elsewhere as well.

Martin Edwards
The plots and themes are diverse. A serial killer is shooting victims at exactly the same time every Tuesday – on the London tube. A doctor’s fixation with a married lady ends in ironic tragedy. A women finds her life threatened – because she can read lips. A valuable pearl necklace has been stolen, with the only clue a metal box designed by a prison inmate. A man seeks the help of a detective, fearing for his life, and then he’s murdered. A middle-aged woman tries to help a penniless young man – with disastrous consequences. The owner of a stationer’s shop is murdered in his easy chair. A young woman new to London agrees to help the police catch a killer, and ultimately has to rely upon her own wits to survive.

One story seemed to come close to home. In the story of the serial killer operating on the underground, the tube line involved is the district line – the line we typically took during our vacations to go east toward the city of London or west to Knightsbridge and Kensington.  And one of the bodies is discovered at the St. James’s Park tube station, which was our base of operations.

The stories are intriguing in themselves, but they also offer a lens into the times in which they were written. Edwards has done an excellent job in his representative selection.

And the stories are great fun to read.

Photograph by Derek Quantrell via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Daniel Maclise and the Waterloo Cartoon

Artist Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) was one of the significant artists of the Victorian period in Britain, but he is mostly known today (at least, outside of Britain) for his drawings in the original editions of The Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes by Charles Dickens, as well as a portrait of Dickens painted in 1839 (see below). The two had met in 1836, introduced by their mutual friend, John Forster.

Daneil Maclise, 1857
Dickens was the better known at the time they met, his reputation buoyed by the popularity of his Sketches by Boz. But by 1840, Maclise’s reputation was growing as well, particularly with his acceptance into the Royal Academy of Arts. He painted numerous works throughout his lifetime, but his two monumental achievements were two large murals in the houses of Parliament, “The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher” (1858) and “The Death of Nelson” (1864).

The two paintings are oil on glass, a technique Maclise learned in Berlin after being urged by Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) to study it. For each, though, he created monumental drawings, which were referred to as “cartoons.”

For the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the Royal Academy exhibited the Waterloo cartoon, which is almost 10 feet tall and more than 42 feet wide. When I saw it in London last fall, it was somewhat eclipsed by the big Ai Weiwei exhibition that had just gotten underway. But I found my way to the side gallery where the cartoon was exhibited, through a doorway from the gift shop past some stairs and then across a small atrium. There was no entry fee if you had a ticket to Ai Weiwei.

The cartoon depicts the meeting General Blucher of the Prussian Army and the Duke of Wellington, shortly after Napoleon has been defeated outside Brussels. It includes a range of officers and soldiers from both sides, living, wounded and dying.

The drawing’s size is overwhelming. It’s a work of art all of its own, essentially in black and sepia tones. I had the good fortune of being there when a small group was led into the room for a special short lecture on the cartoon by one of the Academy’s curators. No one minded that I stayed to listen.

The exhibit of the cartoon closed January 3, but the Royal Academy has a special web site that allows you to explore the drawing and its background. The Academy has also published a short book, Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon, by Annette Wickham and Mark Murray-Flutter. Murray-Flutter is the senior curator of sporting firearms and weapons at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Wickham is the curator of works on paper at the Royal Academy, and the one whose short lecture I was able to hear. As short as it is (all of 48 pages, including illustrations), the book provides considerable details about Maclise and the creation of the drawing and the painting.

Maclise died in 1870 after a distinguished artistic career. Charles Dickens gave one of the eulogies at the banquet held in Maclise’s memory at the Royal Academy of Arts. It was Dickens’ last public appearance; a few weeks later, he, too, was dead.

Illustration: The Waterloo Cartoon by Daniel Maclise, on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Poetic Voices: Jen Karetnick and E. Kristin Anderson

We find all kinds of things to write poems about, like food, and cheese, and the rock star Prince. At least, we write about food and Prince when we are really writing about something deeper.

Jen Karetnick is a poet and author who has written (and co-authored) books about food, like a recipe book for mangoes, entitled to no surprise, Mango. Food is an important part of our lives, for more than the obvious reasons of sustenance and survival. Food is part of culture, for good and for ill.

In Brie Season: Poems, Karetnick has assembled some 60 poems which are ostensibly about food, but go deeper into the culture that frames what we call food and the human emotions that come into play.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2

It’s a good thing that Mark Twain explains how he dictated and composed his autobiography, as noted in the first volume of The Autobiography of Mark Twain published by the University of California Press: “…start it at no particular time of your life; wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale; and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.”

Otherwise, you would find yourself getting lost. This becomes even more true in the second volume of the autobiography. From what I can tell, the third and final volume is much the same. This is no standard autobiography, but then again, Twain probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.

In fact, I’d say this is indeed a writer’s autobiography, throwing aside writing convention. He dictates (the entire work was originally dictated to a typist) as he thinks. He’s following on stream – talking about his brother, Orion Clemons, for example, and how Twain accompanied him to the Nevada Territory in the 1860s. Orion had a job – secretary to the governor. Twain did not, so he became a reporter. But he gets deep into the discussion about Nevada when he describes the just reported 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and then we’re soon reminiscing with him about his work on the newspaper there.

This works fine if you have an editor to straighten it all up after you. The editors of this mammoth publishing project wisely decided not to do that, so that what you see is indeed what you get – vintage Mark Twain, storyteller par excellence, not above embroidering a little if it makes a better story.

So he describes his work as a reporter at the San Francisco Morning Call and his friendship with a fellow reporter, Bret Harte (there was a time when high school students read Harte’s short story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” in English class, but I rather doubt it’s taught any more). He sounds affectionate, until many pages later, when he returns to Harte, and he is not affectionate at all.

So in between descriptions of his life, you find yourself suddenly confronted with his musings on the character of god and the Bible, his absolute passion for international copyright laws, and even a chapter-length discussion on the supremacy of the house-fly. This is Twain, and in some strange way, it all works.

He quotes liberally from his daughter’s Suzy biography of him that she had been writing – in the 1880s. And he notes the last entry she made, which ends with an incomplete sentence. Suzy died sometime later. And he includes an extensive discussion of how his daughter Clara kept the news of his daughter Jean’s illness from his wife, Olivia, who herself was declining and would soon die.

Olivia and Clara Clemons, 1895
These are not asides. Twain was profoundly affected by the death of three of his children and his wife. Clara would be the only child to outlive him, in fact. And yet he plays more the reporter in these cases; he simply states fact, omitting the emotion and the huge grief he felt.

Like the first volume, this volume, too, is filled with the names of famous of the time. Twain traveled in rather privileged circles; he was America’s most famous writer and doors everywhere were open to him (this volume also includes a rant about President Theodore Roosevelt, and if you’re familiar with Twain at all, you know one of his rants could be downright venomous).

By the time he was dictating this biography, most of the people he had grown up with, had been friends with, and whom he knew intimately as friends were gone. And one has that sense of the elder statesman, looking back, looking forward and looking at the here-and-now, and knowing he is the last of a particular breed. He himself would probably have rejected the elder statesman title and said it was simply a matter of outliving everyone else.

One volume to go.


Top photograph: Mark Twain in the Nevada Territory in the late 1860s.