Last week we were once again delighted by the annual “Visiting Writers Series” named in honor of and supported by two long time friends of Fresno Pacific Jean and Louis Janzen. Jean is well known both locally and nationally (and beyond) as a poet with what I think of as a sacramental insight and gift. At least this is how I experience her poetry. I don’t know if she would agree. I just picked up her new prose collection Entering the Wild: Essays on Faith and Writing (2012). The title comes from one of the essays in the volume on writing, the last section of which is on spirituality. It’s in my brief case for immediate reading.
Our poet this year for the Visiting Writers Series was Julia Spicher Kasdorf who read from her recent collection Poetry in America (2011). The title is wonderfully ambiguous, as is much good poetry. Prof. Kasdorf teaches at Penn State and had been with us several years ago in the same series. Her poetry, again in my experience, is playful, sometimes ironic, and very witty. Here’s one sample:
Sun rises late over the frozen graves
across from my porch. Smoke lifts from chimneys.
Snow scrims and clings to everything. Season
of books and chairs, season of bickering….
By the time we get to the books and chairs, we can almost smell the tea or coffee and feel the warmth of the fire, then that “season of bikering” arrives. There was surprise and laughter at the reading a week ago, and much thoughtful listening.
Poets help us see and name things and experiences we perhaps noticed, but couldn’t comprehend. The poet can open our eyes to depths we did not know existed, depths of the good, beautiful, and holy, and depths of evil and pain. They show us the magic of words, sound and rhythm. We can’t plan, calculate and resolve everything. Perhaps there is little we really can. Poetry moves us from problems to mystery in the words of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel. This is one of the reasons all students are required to take courses in the arts, even if they are science and business majors. I think we could do with a bit more poetry.
My thanks to the English department, and especially Dr. Eleanor Nickel for coordinating and hosting the Visiting Writers Series.