Yearly Archives 2021

(Welcoming) Mary Oliver’s “Spring”

As this space reflected on upon her death just over two years ago, Mary Oliver was at once among our most celebrated and accessible poets. Oliver was (and remains) the darling of a certain kind of spiritually inclined nature lover who revels in the unfettered ecstasy of being in the great outdoors, often alone, breathing deeply of chill morning air, much more inclined to be gazing slack-jawed under a cathedral of trees than sitting in church pews. (And if it were the latter, it would have to be Unitarian Universalists or lefty Christians rather than Garrison Keillor-style Lutherans, and it would be the late service, after the morning’s tramp though the woods…)

Despite the imprimatur of a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and a National Book Award eight years later, Oliver had her critics. Her basic theme—“Oh, how I love this world, read this and get out there and love it, too!”—was expressed in rhapsodic-but-straig...

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Iceland’s Awesome Volcano and “The Idea of the Holy”

When restaurants open fully up again and we can begin to enjoy all the familiar rituals such as our server exclaiming “Awesome choice!” when we order the chocolate truffle rather than crème brûlée off the dessert menu, I will suppress the urge, being the generally kind person I try to be in most every circumstance not involving Ted Cruz, to snag my phone out of my pocket and click onto the You Tube channel featuring the video footage I am going to show you below.

That will include refraining from even light-hearted but definitive commentary along the lines of, “Oh, you poor sheltered child, you don’t know from awesome! HERE is Awesome!!”

I am moved to share these sentiments after spending a good part of my morning marveling at the sheer, well, awesomeness of the volcanic eruption that began lighting up the mountains some 25 miles outside the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik on March 19...

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On Not Fearing Infinity: Theodore Roethke’s “The Far Field”

There come times in every life when we turn a corner. Big notable birthdays, graduations, jobs. Recoveries from accidents, addictions, illness, broken relationships. Blinding insights into Where We Have Erred and What We Must Do.

Significant deaths—of mentors, parents, siblings, dear friends.

The resilience these losses require.

And then we come to facing the loss of very own selves into the great beyond, there to be grieved over by others (or so we hope!), the living, breathing, animated self we were now gone silent and still at last..

At one level—and early stages of life—we can barely imagine a world without us in it. But the imagining impinges on us as we age, those notable birthdays becoming all the more notable still...

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Brilliant Songs #21 : Gene McDaniels’s “Compared to What”

Consider these lines from the early 1960s pop classic, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay”:

He took a hundred pounds of clay
And then He said “Hey, listen
I’m gonna fix this-a world today
Because I know what’s missin’
Then He rolled his big sleeves up
And a brand-new world began
He created a woman and-a
Lots of lovin’ for a man
Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did

And now these, five years later, from another hit, “Compared to What”:

Slaughterhouse is killin’ hogs
Twisted children killin’ frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin’ logs
Tired old lady kissin’ dogs
Hate the human, love that stinkin’ mutt (I can’t stand it!)
Try to make it real, compared to what? C’mon baby now!

Might it strike you as improbable that one artist played a major role in both of these songs, the first which he sang to a hit that peaked at #11 on the R&B charts, the second which he wrote but was beyond happy and surprised to see another artist take to ...

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A Dignified Dying in Love: Harry Macqueen’s “Supernova”

Hardly any of us want to leave this earth before reaching a ripe old age with plentiful living and loving in our memory storehouse and some inclination toward finally letting these noble but frayed vessels of ours go. Premature death always cuts us to the quick, exposing not only our own vulnerability, but also our sense of sadness and outrage when it takes someone we love and will miss.

The recent BBC Films release, “Supernova,” out a few weeks in theaters and as of yesterday on Amazon Prime, explores this theme in particularly poignant fashion, riding the superb acting coattails of Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth as Tusker and Sam, a longtime couple in their ‘60s coming to grips with Tusker’s early onset dementia.

He simply will not allow Sam’s life to be dominated by caring for someone who will not even recognize him in the near future, the richness of their past buried forever within the occlu...

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