Questions from Rose
Questions from Rose
Q: Can you talk a bit about the role of Christianity in this book, and in your work in general?
A: I never deny or make light of the fact that I am a Christian, and yet I abhor the term Christian Poet. I think the term is arrogant, and a Christian should strive to be just the opposite.
One of the major ways in which Christianity changes a person is by offering hope (along with mercy and grace). One of my goals as a writer is to make clear the many aspects of hope that are available to human beings who live in the actual physical world that we see, so I aim to write truths that are evident to Christians and non-Christians alike. Christian Poet implies that the purpose of the work is to convert. This is a book written by a person who is a Christian and, therefore, has a Christian worldview. But it is not a book of devotional poems or a book whose intent is to convert. My goal is to unite not convert.
Nature is often a quiet witness to the glory of God, never insisting that its dogma (or even doctrine) is singular or complete, only that God is its maker. My goal is to unite with nature and other human beings in a symphony of praise and to show the need for everyone to join in. To unite in peace, human beings must stop denying the sin in our world, both past and present. “The cross without a savior [is] seriously dangerous.” The cross with a Savior thereon is salvation, indeed, but when we twist the Bible to prove how right we are, we become very wrong. “Love one another” must be shown rather than told by agreeing to destroy racism, sexism, and homophobia and come together as what we are: people. “So let us proceed to gather ample wood.” (“Deep Purple Shadow”)
Q: Just going from the title of your book, and from the burning cross on the cover, I somehow opened it up not expecting a book of poems based in nature. Gradually, I came to understand the title…. There are moments of shocking, seemingly senseless violence, which break into what seem to be almost idyllic natural scenes – except / until…. For example, the overturned car in “Just Saying;” the drowned man in “The Bridge That Was” – and oh, many more. One of my favorite examples comes in “Facing East, Facing West” – the final stanza:
I face west, and a pot of ruddy mums –
not the hardy kind – outside the curtained window,
where, by December, they will have withered
and quite possibly have died.
I think one of the things I like here is the humor – it makes the death to me at least, more devastating, even though this one is not human, “just” the death of plants. (Is that less serious? :)) Or perhaps because you’ve made them human with the preceding lines – or potentially human. I found this one very moving….
Ah, yes, so my (main) question! I was wondering if you could talk about the role of death in your book. It seems to me to be both cruel and final and leaving no mark – yet it’s often the narrator who opts to leave no mark, for example in the last poem, s/he erects “no marker as reminder” after burying the dead rabbit – “knowing anything tells the real story better than / flags and flowers, no matter what your hypothesis is.” The “real story” seems to be about movement and change (“the cumulous clouds” that are floating by)…. What’s the role of the afterlife here?
A: Ah, but beauty is a disguise for the power and subtlety of the danger. We are numbed to violence, lulled into believing it is normal and that things must remain as they are. We forget or deny that our nation was conceived in war (violence) and that racism (in the violence of slavery) is our nation’s “original (collective not personal) sin.” White people are happy that “things are better,” yet we do not yearn for true equality by wiping out poverty, violence, and all prejudice.
We do not strive for social and economic equality.
There is humor only so that we who have discovered the “serious danger” will not implode. Violent though we be, we are human, funny, and capable of change: Thus, hope prevails. We must not take ourselves too seriously. People who recognize the “danger” are no less funny and no funnier (or maybe sarcastic) than anyone else.
For the Christian, heaven is a change of venue. One may fear the pain of dying but not the result of death. The real story in Seriously Dangerous is about how we treat one another on this earth. The real story is about violence permeating our lives so that we no longer see it as bad. The real story hints at actual, peaceful heroes who do exist alongside the military personnel. The real story is about why children should grow up to remember their childhoods. The real story is about why memories and families matter. The real story is one of hope.
Q: Still on death, 🙂 I want to ask you the question posed by the final stanza of “Funeral in the Woods:”
What shall I make of this hope in the dark?
What shall I make of the dark in the hope?
A: Actually, the questions posed in these lines are more about life than death. If we are honest, we must admit we have more questions than answers. This is an example of how mystery works in poetry.
Q: Are writing poetry, observing nature, and worshipping God (whichever one you believe in / if you do) – all acts of devotion? Are they similar do you think?
A: Yes. And yes.
In my earlier book, Better With Friends, I dealt with how we make memories and thoughts into prayer. In Seriously Dangerous, a violent undercurrent lurks—always ready to strike—beneath nature’s raw, God-fearing beauty. Or is it the other way around? Maybe beauty truly is the truth that awaits us and will come forth when we least expect it. Maybe hope is hiding behind our dark, violent culture. Maybe a stern warning will change us this time. Our past and our present are seriously dangerous. We must face this fact, if we want to become whole.
Q: How do you use a word like “contumacious” in a poem (“In Retrospect”) – and get away with it? 🙂
A: You know, poet Dennis Sampson advised me—when I was student at Wake Forest, and he was a Visiting Poet—that this was the perfect place to let “vocabulary soar.” We then decided together on the perfect adjective, but before I could revise, I forgot what it was: Thus, contumacious.
Poetry is about playing with words; it is about sound as well as meaning. I never can remember what contumacious means, and I really don’t care.
Q: If you like, could you talk a little about the ordering of the book, and how you came to divide it into four parts?
A: First I must say, Seriously Dangerous was aggressively edited by someone who lives in Canada. I do not even know the editor’s sex much less his/her name. The editor, to whom I will always be grateful, removed about 2/5 of the manuscript’s poems, weeding out weaker and redundant poems. He/she did not alter the order of the poems or the division into four parts. These were my own.
The single poem, “The Danger of Pretense,” placed before the four sections, warms of that which is unseen (ignored).
The first section, “Just Saying,” the poem “Seriously Dangerous” makes the claim, “the cross without a savior / cannot burn away filth & dross.” In other words, violence cannot drive out violence. We need change.
In the second section, “Where Light Is Going” deals with flashes of light in the darkness: “It would be easier to speak as others believe.” It would be easier to go along living amid the violence and ignore it. But “who can fly to where light is going?” No one can, unless he/she knows The Light and where He is going. Even then, one is less than fully sure.
In the third section, “Spin, Spin, Spin” tells us of our “[loss] of the faith of the daisies,” but shows us hope. Drake, the man in “Essence of Orange,” goes back to set things right by bringing home a stray dog, after he “saw Jesus in a pancake.”
The fourth section, “Shifting Paradigm,” does not set everything right but does claim that “anything tells the story better than / flags and flowers.” Seriously Dangerous is no comedy with a happy ending but rather an on-going story in which violence is the villain and people may change for the better. It is a story of a world with more questions than answers: a world is in which we must choose how we live.