The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘religion’

A World Beyond the Glass: An Interview with Mary Szybist

April 8, 2014 | by

Image: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Photo: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Mary Szybist may not have been the best-known writer on the poetry shortlist for the 2013 National Book Award, but her book Incarnadine was ambitious and thoughtful enough to overcome this. Her second collection, after Granted (2003), Incarnadine comprises poems focused on the Annunciation. Szybist, who was raised Catholic, uses this intimate moment as an opportunity to explore the relationships between poetry and prayer and to explicate an encounter between the human and “the other”—something outside of human experience, be it nature or, in this case, God.

The National Book Award judges called Incarnadine “a religious book for nonbelievers.” It opens with an epigraph from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, which sums up Szybist’s approach to the project: “The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.” Receiving the award, she said, “There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do.” I spoke with Szybist recently about religion, poetry, prayer, and the meaning of her name.

Incarnadine deals with the Annunciation—the visitation of Mary by the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she will have God’s son—and the implications and meaning of such an event. It’s an encounter between the human and something beyond human understanding. Your book is an attempt to describe the indescribable through poetry—which is something that prayer can do, also.

Prayer is one way to do this—and yes, I have thought about the connections between poetry and prayer for a long time, and sometimes I am even tempted to believe that they are similar engagements. When I was young, I reached a point where I found myself unable to pray. I was devastated by it. I missed being able to say words in my head that I believed could be heard by a being, a consciousness outside me. That is when I turned to poetry.

I have always been attracted to apostrophe, perhaps because of its resemblance to prayer. A voice reaches out to something beyond itself that cannot answer it. I find that moving in part because it enacts what is true of all address and communication on some level—it cannot fully be heard, understood, or answered. Still, some kinds of articulations can get us closer to such connections—connections between very different consciousnesses—and I think the linguistic ranges in poetry can enable that. Read More »

20 COMMENTS

Seeing Is Believing

November 26, 2013 | by

idaholarge

Sandpoint, Idaho.

ROBINSON

No, a mystical experience would be wasted on me. Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision. 

INTERVIEWER

How would one learn to see ordinary things this way?

ROBINSON

It’s not an acquired skill. It’s a skill that we’re born with that we lose. We learn not to do it.

—Marilynne Robinson, the Art of Fiction No. 198

 

NO COMMENTS

“I Would Like to Write a Beautiful Prayer”

November 12, 2013 | by

Martha Sprieser, Flannery O’Connor’s roommate at the University of Iowa (Flannery O’Connor Collection, Special Collections, Georgia College Library, Milledgeville, Georgia)

Credit: Martha Sprieser, Flannery O’Connor’s roommate at the University of Iowa (Flannery O’Connor Collection, Special Collections, Georgia College Library, Milledgeville, Georgia).

Flannery O’Connor was a believer. It was at the end of every story: the appearance of holy ghosts, fiery furnaces, judgment day. It was in the twist of her knife. The way she would jam it in a character’s gut, turn it, then rip it up. To make sure she got all the vital organs. The end of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”—“‘Shut up, Bobby Lee,’ The Misfit said. ‘It’s no real pleasure in life’”—is the most Catholic thing ever.

While she was writing what would become Wise Blood, she was also writing A Prayer Journal. Literally, journal entries written during her time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, addressed to the Lord and asking for his help getting published. “Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate,” she wrote. Also she kind of thought of God as a crazy lover. From November 23, 1947: “Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment.” I am also from the South. I am also a writer. God was never anyone special. No one in my family took religion seriously. Read More »

5 COMMENTS

Kristin Dombek’s “Letter from Williamsburg”

July 26, 2013 | by

Pordenone_Holy_Trinity

Il Pordenone, The Holy Trinity

This essay may sound strange, read by a man—it is very specifically a woman’s essay. But Dombek’s voice is so powerful, every time I read “Letter from Williamsburg,” I hear it in my head. It’s like a song I want to sing along to. In fact, I remember reading the first two paragraphs to our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, over the phone, before the rest of the essay was written. I wanted him to hear how beautifully Dombek modulates her tone from the sublime to the mundane. I only wish I could do justice to the music on the page.

Read the full essay in our Summer 2013 issue.

 

NO COMMENTS

Elijah Returns

March 25, 2013 | by

Passover-MatzohA holiday’s most assiduously followed rituals occur, usually, before the holiday itself: preparing the customary meal, shopping for the requisite gifts, configuring the most acceptable seating arrangements. So much must happen before the sun goes down and the first three stars appear in the sky.

During the month preceding Passover, my father spends several hours planning, revising, and rerevising his remarks for our family’s seder. It’s a tradition that began a few years ago, when his father, deaf and grumpy with age, decided to pass on the task of leading the premeal service. An attorney familiar with speaking in courtrooms, my father is meticulous with his preparations—offhand-seeming ums and you knows are carefully drafted; a stopwatch ticks as he practices his commentary. Generally his seders have been regarded as both witty and efficient, observing all the rituals while getting us quickly to the meal.

But last year didn’t go so seamlessly. As the holiday approached, he was nervous because, for the first time since their divorce, my mother had decided to host the seder. As she has no immediate family in Minneapolis (except her devoted, sympathetic son), this meant fourteen of her former in-laws would convene in her home—a home she shared with her new husband, Kevin, a Catholic from North Dakota whose existence my father was uneasy about.

“I’m not quite sure how to handle it,” he said to me the week before the seder. Read More »

1 COMMENT

The Other Election

November 8, 2012 | by

Computers, phones, radios, televisions, and carrier pigeons are chirping with talk of Tuesday’s hard-fought presidential election. The election is a time-honored American tradition. But long before there were exercises of democracy to occupy our collective attention, Americans were preoccupied with a different kind of election entirely.

The Pilgrims brought their belief in predestination with them to Plymouth, and the Puritans planted the doctrine in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many are called, they argued, but few are chosen. Those chosen by God for salvation receive mercy, while the reprobate receive the justice they deserve.

The question of whether or not one had been elected for salvation filled one’s wakeful days and dreaming nights. Read More »

2 COMMENTS