Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Early Poetry of Langston Hughes

In 1924, a young Black man named Langston Hughes (1902-1967) arrived in New York City. Born in Joplin, Missouri, he had lived in a considerable number of places and traveled as a sailor to even more. But it was to New York he came, and it was there he would not only make his literary name but lead what came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. 

Two years after his arrival, he published his first poetry collection, The Weary Blues. Almost a century after its publication (and now off copyright), it continues to sound like contemporary poetry. He writes about his experiences, his people, his travels, music, the South, and his family. The words and ideas are all projected through the lens of race; this is a Black man writing and living in 1920s America. He had experienced Mexico, America, Europe, and Africa; he knew the cultural and social differences. And he writes powerfully, with simple language that often grab you by the throat.

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

Monday, February 27, 2023

"Authority and Freedom" by Jed Perl

It’s increasingly difficult to read anything, see anything at the movie theater or on television, or visit an art museum or other cultural institution without being assaulted at some point by politics, and primarily (but not exclusively) leftist politics. It’s as if poets, novelists, artists, cinematographers, television script writers, and other culture creators have caught some kind of mass psychosis which mandates they inflict the rest of us with it. The sometimes-astonishing thing is how uniform the thinking behind it seems to be.  

Longtime art critic Jed Perl offers some resistance to this phenomenon. In Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts, he argues that art transcends politics, that it has its own internal dynamic that sets it apart from whatever might be the prevailing political ideology of the moment. 


The value of art, he says, can be found in “remembering what attracted us to literature, music, and the visual arts in the first place, often when we were kids…They took us out of ourselves; they felt irresponsible, irrepressible, liberating.” Put another way, we got carried away, transported to another time and another place.


Jed Perl

He describes how artists are always caught between the poles of authority and freedom, and how the tension between the two is what leads individuals to create art. He explores the idea of vocation or calling (which has its origin in religion). He says that the arts “have a paradoxical place in our world. They’re essential because they stand apart.” And he examines what he sees as the cyclical nature of the understanding of the arts, that there have been only two brief periods in the last 150 years in the United States and Western Europe where the arts were understood as having their own significance. (And the current moment is not one of the two.)


Perl has held a number of important positions in art criticism, including being the art critic at The New Republic for 20 years and a contributing editor at Vogue for 10. He is also a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. He has also published several books: Paris Without EndGallery GoingEyewitnessNew Art CityAntoine’s AlphabetMagicians and Charlatans, and a two-volume biography of Alexander Calder. He lives in New York City.


Authority and Freedom is a short book – 161 pages including 11 pages of footnotes – but it’s an important book. It ranges across the breadth and depth of art, and not only Western art. It considers the place of our in our civilization and our individual lives. And it says that, often despite our best conforming efforts, art stands outside ideology.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Fourteen years

After Galatians 2:1-10

Fourteen years,

a time to prepare.

Fourteen years,

a time to reflect.

Fourteen years,

a time to study

and pray and be


The time passed,

the time arrived,

the time to begin

what one is called

to do, a new life,

a ministry, a purpose

anticipating change,

movement, travel,

hardship, misunderstanding

and persecution,

and accepting it

because it was a call

to be answered.

The man had learned

much after fourteen



Photograph by S Migaj via Unsplash. Use with permission.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - Feb. 25, 2023

“Many journalists who hold progressive beliefs are no longer interested in reporting on or exploring stories that they think could injure the people who they share beliefs with.” So writes Clemente Lisi at Get Religion, a site devoted to exploring how the news media cover religion. This particular story is about an FBI memo that you never heard about, one that said so-called “radical” Catholics were dangerous and a threat to American public life.  

I just read that there are already more than 300 titles listed on Amazon that were “written” by ChatGPT. Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft writes about a literary magazine that has had to close submissions because of a flood of AI-produced articles and stories. The future of writing is here, and we have no idea how to deal with it.


Speaking of the future already being here, we seem to be moving closer and closer to possible war over the Ukraine. Washington won’t acknowledge it, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s real. The Critic Magazine in the United Kingdom published an editorial this past week, saying that serious choices are going to have to be made soon.


More Good Reads




Hands on the Wheel – Aaron Smith at Cultural Savage.


I Need to Tell You About My Interesting Brother – Ted Gioia at The Honest Broker.


Poet and Philosopher David Whyte on the Deeper Meanings of Friendship, Love, and Heartbreak – Maria Popova at The Marginalian.


Things Worth Remembering: How Boris Pasternak defied Soviet tyranny with a Shakespeare sonnet – Douglas Murray at The Free Press.


Eros – James Matthew Wilson at First Things Magazine.




Church History Isn’t Boring (You’re Just Doing It Wrong) – Doug Ponder at Sola Ecclesia.


The Danger of Pursuing a Perfect Church – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.


Is the Earliest, Most Complete Hebrew Bible Going on Auction? – Kim Phillips at Text and Canon Institute.


British Stuff


A medieval tale of the jester, the priory and the hospital: book uncovers church's history for 900th anniversary – John Goodall at The Art Newspaper.


News Media


The Respiration of Internet Culture: A theory of how the internet works – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.


Can the NYTimes Save Itself? A Good Sign – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.


Writing and Literature


The Best Plot Twists in Mystery – Rupert Holmes at CrimeReads.


Roald Dahl Can Never Be Made Nice:  Rewriting his novels is about corporate safetyism, not social justice – Helen Lewis at The Atlantic.




The War in Ukraine in Eight Photos – Peter Savodnik at The Free Press.


Narrative Warfare: How the Kremlin and Russian news outlets justified a war of aggression against Ukraine – Atlantic Council.


American Stuff


Meet the American who fought and bled at the Alamo but lived to tell its heroic tale: Slave Joe – Kerry Byrne at Fox News.


Remembering Gone with the Wind in World War II – Sheritta Bitikofer at Emerging Civil War.


The Mission / How Great Thou Art – The Piano Guys

 Painting: Man Reading on a Sofa, oil on canvas by Louie Burrell (1873-1971).

Friday, February 24, 2023

Preparation time

After Galatians 1:11-24

The star for the prosecution

show, transformed, became

nothing, disappeared from

the stage, vanished into 

the deserts of Arabia and

Damascus. No stage,

no spotlight, no star billing.

A few conversations, and

then a renewed time 

of quiet, reflection, fasting,

and preparation, listening,

not speaking, my fame

once spoken of and revered 

or feared now vanished

into the mist, except for

a word here, a rumor there.

The prosecutor is now

the preacher, occasionally

and quietly.


Photograph by Angel Mendez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

"The Fragile Cage" by Scott Hunter

British mystery writer Scott Hunter is known for his Irish Detective series, featuring Brendan Moran of the Thames Valley Police. Hunter has published nine novels and a collection of short stories about the detective, recovering from a near-fatal automobile accident, and his police colleagues. One thing you can be assured of in a Brendan Moran story is lots of action, lots of bodies (sometimes including the police officers themselves), and a dark view of the human character and mind.  

With his latest novel, The Fragile Cage, it's 1968, and Hunter introduces a new detective, Detective Constable Cameron Kyle. Except we almost don’t get to be introduced – Kyle has suffered a bullet injury to the head (grazed but part of the bullet entered the skull) and his partner killed outright. The two were investigating a house after a tip-off, and they walked into something of n ambush. The story begins in the hospital, where Kyle is spending several weeks recovering physically and psychologically. The detective his colleagues knew – the policeman almost too nice and unassuming to be a cop – has taken on something of an alpha-male, aggressive, and borderline psychotic personality.


While he’s officially on leave and almost at the point of leaving the force permanently, he finds himself drawn into a case involving an imprisoned crime lord, who’s made his escape from prison with what looks like the help of a social worker – Kyle’s ex-girlfriend. Then Kyle’s supervising officer is killed – in Kyle’s apartment. And a shadowing Italian from London seems to be inserting himself into the escaped crime lord’s fiefdom.


Scott Hunter

If you like a mystery story with considerable action, a good dollop of violence, police often operating on both sides of legality, and a few cliffhanging scenes that will make you claustrophobic even if that’s never been a problem, then A Fragile Cage is just right for you. 


Simply put, Hunter spins a good story. This one was difficult to put down.


The Irish Detective series includes Black DecemberCreatures of DustDeath Walks Behind YouA Crime for All SeasonsSilent as the DeadGone Too Soon, The Enemy Inside, When Stars Grow Dark, The Cold Light of Death and Closer to the Dead. Hunter has also published the novels The TrespassThe Ley Lines of LushburyLong Goodbyes, and The Serpent & the Slave, and the memoir Rattle and Drum.  In addition to writing fiction, Hunter is an IT consultant and musician. He lives with his family in England.




My review of Black December by Scott Hunter.


My review of Creatures of Dust by Scott Hunter.


My review of Death Walks Behind You by Scott Hunter.


My review of Silent as the Dead by Scott Hunter.


My review of Gone Too Soon and A Crime for All Seasons by Scott Hunter.


The Enemy Inside by Scott Hunter.


When Starts Grow Dark by Scott Hunter.


The Cold Light of Death by Scott Hunter.


Closer to the Dead by Scott Hunter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Little of the Story of Wilhelmina Bosch

She wasn’t famous. She didn’t do anything that would make historians sit up and take notice. But there is a story attached to Wilhemina Ostermann.  

She was born on Dec. 5, 1833, somewhere in Germany. We know who her parents were – Johann Ostermann and Lucie Hoffman Ostermann – but that’s about all we know. We can presume, but it’s only a presumption, that she had siblings. In the 1850s, Wilhelmina (and likely her parents) came to the United States, part of the second great wave of German immigrants to America in the 19th century. German immigrants had come to Louisiana since the 1720s (New Orleans was founded in 1718), many settling in what was called the “German Coast,” a few miles west of the city. Today, the small town of Des Allemands testifies to that early German presence – the name is French for “The Germans.”

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Poets and Poems: Dana Gioia and "Meet Me at the Lighthouse"

Flashback to 20 years ago: I had a cousin who’s about 15 years older than I am. Out of the blue, she began calling. I had become the keeper of the family Bible, and she needed information from the family records section. Several phone calls ensued. I was slightly tickled at how ardent she was about pursuing family history. Years later, I understood. I was doing the same thing, chasing down certain death notices, military listings, and cryptic notices left by others on Family Search and Ancestry.com. (And when did I join those web sites?) 

You reach a certain age, and certain things become more important than they once were. This is not unusual; in fact, it’s a common development once you reach you 60s. Art becomes more important. So does great literature (the stuff that’s lasted). And genealogy, as if we need to know where we came from before we become just another record in the family Bible.


Ask Dana Gioia (1950-). Better still, read his new poetry collection, Take Me to the Lighthouse: Poems. It’s not a nostalgic collection; Gioia is too clear-eyed a poet to start looking backward and remembering only the good parts. But it is a collection about family, about memory, about growing up, and about what once was but is no longer.

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

Monday, February 20, 2023

"The Pickwick Murders" by Heather Redmond

If they are developing a series, most mystery writers today aim at writing the books in the series as standalone books. You can’t be sure how a reader will find your novels, so you work hard to tell enough of the series back story without either giving a reader a reason not to buy the earlier books to confusing or puzzling the reader. It’s true for general fiction as well; I can testify to the difficulty of writing a series with each book striking the right balance. 

British mystery author Heather Redmond has a series of novels – The Dickens of a Crime series, featuring none other than the Inimitable himself, Charles Dickens. When I bought The Pickwick Murders, I assumed something I shouldn’t have – that it was likely the first in the series, given that The Pickwick Papers was the first of Dickens books that collected the magazine serial publication into one novel. 


As it turns out, it’s the fourth in the series, preceded by A Tale of Two MurdersGrave Expectations, and A Christmas Carol Murder. And while The Pickwick Murders works as a standalone, it would have been better to have read it in its order of publication. There is missing background, especially about the villain of the story, that would have made the narrative more understandable. 


It's 1836. Dickens, engaged to Catherine (Kate) Hogarth, works as a newspaper reporter. His popularity is in the ascendant; his Sketches by Boz have made him an almost household name and it’s due to published in book form within weeks. Dickens is on assignment outside of London, covering an election for Parliament between a reformer and Sir Augustus Smirke, a somewhat loathsome Tory suspected of making off with a young servant girl. That charge is brought forward during the electioneering, and Dickens duly covers it for his newspaper. 


Heather Redmond

Back in London, Dickens discovers he’s been invited to join The Lightning Club, which he thinks is just the ticket for a young man on the rise. But when he shows up at the rather spooky museum for his initiation, he discovers he has to navigate a maze, mostly in the dark. And at the center of the maze is a murdered man, one Samuel Pickwick. When the police suddenly arrive, Dickens realizes he’s been framed. He’s taken to jail and then to Newgate Prison, which he’s previously written about but never thought of himself as a potential inhabitant.


Now it falls to Kate Hogarth to save her fiancĂ©e. What’s suspected is a case of revenge by Sir Augustus (who won his election and is a very powerful man indeed). But it’s more complex than that, and Kate finds herself being led all over London on a kind of literary treasure hunt – but one that could end in her beloved’s hanging.


In addition to the Charles Dickens novels, Redmond has also published more than 25 other mystery and romance novels under than name of Heather Hiestand. She lives in Washington State with her family.


The Pickwick Murders is a fun story, utilizing a number of names that will be familiar to fans of Dickens. But I would read it in the order it appears in the series.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

I tell my story

After Galatians 1:11-24

I was the zealot,

the persecutor,

the destroyer, aiming

not to control or limit

but to eliminate and

obliterate forever

this aberration,

this heresy, what

I knew was the enemy.

I was zealous, zealous

for what I’d been taught,

the traditions handed

down, the tradition that

had saved us. And then,

a moment of light,

a blinding light, a voice

calling me, summoning

me from my wilderness.

My zeal vanished,

replaced and transformed.

An old man dies.

A new man is born.


Photograph by Universal Eye via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - Feb. 18, 2023

Sometimes, fiction imitates life, and other times, life imitates fiction. Consider Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote some terrifying and disturbing short stories. One of them, at least, did not spring from his imagination. Dean Jobb at CrimeReads explains what inspired Poe to write “The Black Cat.” 

I laughed until it hurt, and them I kept laughing. Philomena Cunk’s programs have apparently been around for years, but now you can watch them on Netflix. What’s so funny? As Alexander Larman at The Spectator points out, her programs perfectly satirize our era of idiocy (or, as a political figure recently pointed out, we are not divided between left and right; we are divided between normal and crazy). 


More than 40 years ago, I read the story of Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov. The author was a writer in the Soviet Union who managed to escape to the West in 1970. He brought the microfilm of his novel with him. What he wrote, often called a documentary in the form of a novel, was the story of two days in September 1941, when German forces killed more than 33,000 Jews in a ravine in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Kuznetsov had to flee with his story, because the Soviets didn’t want the story told. George Parker at The Atlantic describes the masterpiece no one wanted to save.


Jed Perl is considered one of the best art critics in the United States. He’s written a book, a short one, called Authority & Freedom, a defense of the arts against the current onslaught of relevance. Robert Boyers at Salmagundi talks with Perl about the book.


More Good Reads




Toward a Renewed Public Protestantism: The Beginnings of a Manifesto – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.


Writing and Literature


A Cross-Cultural Bridge of Kinship and Mutual Appreciation: The Moving Correspondence of Albert Camus and Boris Pasternak – Maria Popova at The Marginalian. 


Sense and sensitivity: Some readers need thicker skins – Rosemary Jenkinson at The Critic Magazine.


A.A. Milne Reads from Winnie-the-Pooh in a Rare 1929 Recording – Maria Popova at The Marginalian.


Life and Culture


Have I Experienced Racism in America? – Samuel Sey at Slow to Write.


A Wild Christianity – Paul Kingsnorth at First Things Magazine.


A Dictionary of Dumb Ideas: Tradition vs. Convention – Benjamin Myers at Front Porch Republic.


Gasoline Car Review – Geoff Greer.


The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling – Megan Phelps-Roper at The Free Press.


News Media 


Why Russiagate was the media’s Vietnam – Ashley Rindsberg at The Spectator.


American Stuff


Painting Our Principles – Donald Bishop at American Purpose.


James H. Foster: “I Wanted to be Free” – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.


British Stuff


John Thomas Smith’s Antient (Ancient) Topography – Spitalfields Life.




“The Signs” and “The Secret” – Norma Pain at Society of Classical Poets.




Recovering the War Dead of Ukraine – Julius Strauss at The Spectator.


IPI data: Putin's war against Ukraine is also a war against the media – International Press Institute.


Even when he is silent – Andres Daniel Davila and VocaLibre

Painting: Girl Reading a Newspaper, oil on canvas (1890) by Louis Anquetin (1861-1932).

Friday, February 17, 2023

That didn't take long

After Galatians 1:6-10

You heard it, you learned it,

you internalized it, and

in no time at all,

you deserted it for what

you thought was

the next new thing,

shiny and bright,

enticing you away

from the right and

the true. That didn’t

take long. What can

you be thinking? 

Someone walks in the door,

claiming to have the latest

revised version of the truth,

and you rush like children

to grab the candy? 

On the person who misleads

you, a curse. On the person

who accepts the distortion,

a curse. Ask the questions:

are you seeking the approval

of man, are you serving

the one, or are you serving



Photograph by Ehimetalor Akhere Unubona via Unsplash. Used with permission.