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Art for God’s Sake (and Mine): A Conference Breakout Preview

Here’s another preview for one of our NYC conference breakout sessions. This one is from Mischa Willett, author of the poetry collection Phases. 

When I exceed the reach of the FM signal, driving in some part of the country, and the stations fade out and switch, I scan quickly for a new set. And I can always tell when I’ve passed a Christian music station, not because of the lyrics, or because of a lack of appeals for someone named “baby” to alter a current course of action, but because of the sound, somehow. I don’t think the sound is worse, particularly—I love CCM in fact—but it is distinctive. What am I hearing? A brightness? A cleanliness of production? A forwarding of the vocal track? 

That’s what reading a lot of literature by people of faith has been like for me. Apart from a few examples, I find it, I don’t know, wholesome in a way that’s grating. Maybe the earnestness bothers me. In my poems, I wanted to get away from all that, while still very much attending to first things. 

In this breakout session, I’ll be reading poems from my book Phases, which has recently been called “alive with the strenuous Christianity that makes Donne and Hopkins such a pleasure to read, even in these post-Christian times.” 

What is strenuous Christianity? How do we get our literature to be alive with it? This session is best for people who want to think about what a Christian vision of the arts might look like. 

You can read more about Phases here, and check out some of Mischa’s poems, which we’ve posted here. For more, join us at Calvary St. George’s church in NYC on April 27th, at 3:00pm. 

Click here to register for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference! We hope to see you there!

Song for Picking Up–Tony Hoagland

Every time that something falls
someone is consigned to pick it up.

Every time it drops or rolls into a crack,
blows out the window of the car

or down onto the dirty restaurant floor
—a plastic bag, a paper clip, a cube of cheese from the buffet—

and there somebody goes, down upon their hands and knees.
What age are you when you learn that?

After Dante finished the Inferno, someone
cleaned up all the ink and crumpled paper.

After the surgeons are done with the operating room,
someone makes it spic and span again.

After World War One, the Super Bowl,
a night at the opera.

After the marching feet of all humanity
come the brooms and mops, the garbage men

and moms, the janitors.
One day you notice them.

After that, you understand.
After that, then, no more easy litter.

No more towels
upon the hotel bathroom floor. You bend over

for even tiny bits of paper;
or bitterly, you look back at your life—like Cain,

upon the body of his brother.

The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy

This poem comes from the recent anthology Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman.

Anne Lamott and What Dies (and Grows) in the Creative Struggle

Anne Lamott and What Dies (and Grows) in the Creative Struggle

If you write, you’ve probably read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She is the shy, neurotic, wise, funny, dread-locked, recovering alcoholic, who is a font of sanity and encouragement for many of us engaged in the compulsion of writing. Anne grew up in a family of atheists, but came to faith and got sober — […]

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

This poem was originally published in the Food & Drink issue of The Mockingbird. In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split, we stopped phoning Donna for her recipe for sugared baked beans; forgot Lorraine crocheted the soft blue […]

Richard Wilbur – Ecclesiastes 11:1

R.I.P. to the man Alan Jacobs said is “the best American poet since WW2.” Stay tuned for a fuller in memoriam…

We must cast our bread
Upon the waters, as the
Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us
After many a day.

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River’s flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

My Neighbor's Mailbox - Robert Cording

My Neighbor’s Mailbox – Robert Cording

One of the three gems we got from him in this Love & Death Issue. My Neighbor’s Mailbox is the usual silver color, oversized Wonder Bread shape on which he’s stenciled “Welcome Family and Friends.” My neighbor and I are friendly. I appreciate the way he’s often tuning up an engine or working around his […]

Two Poems by Brandon Courtney

The following poems were originally published in Tin House’s recent “Rehab” issue and are written by US Navy veteran Brandon Courtney (with featured art by Guy Catling):


Without a shipboard morgue,

we kept the dead Iraqi

in the dairy box—his corpse

supine beside the eggs (more…)

Recovery – Czeslaw Milosz

As Milosz’s biographer, Andrzej Franaszek, says:

“In the spring of 1943, [Czeslaw Milosz] wrote a cycle of twenty short poems entitled The World: Naive Poems . . . a sequence of little cameos from childhood, images which would not be out of place if hung above a tiny bed, showing a guardian angel watching over a child and its night-time journeying. . . . Here we have the world, discovered with the eyes of a child and, at the same time, as it ought to be, given to human beings to live in – a world filled with sacred order, as if the poet raised a building of sense in spite of the nightmare surrounding him [ in occupied Poland], setting existence against nothingness.”

Here’s one from those twenty, entitled “Recovery” (ht KW).

“Here I am–why this senseless fear?
The night is over, the day will soon arise.
You hear. The shepherds’ horns already sound,
And stars grow pale over the rosy glow.

“The path is straight. We are at the edge.
Down in the village the little bell chimes.
Roosters on the fences greet the light
And the earth steams, fertile and happy.

“Here it is still dark. Fog like a river flood
Swaddles the black clumps of bilberries.
But the dawn on bright stilts wades in from the shore
And the ball of the sun, ringing, rolls.”

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

The Bible in One Hand, the Novel in the Other

Call it a nerd’s dream-come-true. A few months before I attended their three week summer seminar called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching,” Calvin College mailed me a rather large box filled with all manner of books — novels, poetry, short stories, journalism, biography, and children’s literature. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was bunking next to Gilead, […]

Prayer Is Like Watching for the Kingfisher – Ann Lewin

Prayer is like watching for

The kingfisher. All you can do is

Be there where he is like to appear, and


Often nothing much happens;

There is space, silence and


No visible signs, only the

Knowledge that he’s been there

And may come again.

Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,

You have been prepared.

But when you’ve almost stopped

Expecting it, a flash of brightness

Gives encouragement.

“Derecho” by Gerry LaFemina

Here’s another new one from Gerry LaFemina, author of Little Heretic, which is available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

Derecho by Gerry LaFemina

The wind, as if in heat, knocks
at the windows. So much hunger even
on this cul-de-sac with its full
garbage cans & buzz-cut lawns. Street-
lights blush but keep staring. A whole
community of voyeurs & exhibitionists,
the church prudes with their gossip,
coffee, & pastries after gospel
lessons from the pulpit. The storm
remembers the old prayers, too,
those pleas for intervention; it bears
the answers in dust & leaves,
mini cyclones of debris.
An electric aftertaste that lingers.
All this love & lust. All this
lonesomeness. First days after
the Feast of Saints, the Feast of Souls,
yet still a few weeks from bounty.
If god is a vengeful god let him
come when we call his name,
shuddering. Shutters bang
in the gale, magnolia branches
rattle the panes so we’re afraid
for a moment that the glass &
the moment behind it, might shatter.