Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is an important American modernist poet; he also is notable for writing his poetry while serving as the vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, a post which he continued to hold even after winning a Pulitzer in 1955 and turning down a faculty position at Harvard. Stevens is a great model for artists seeking to make art while still holding down a job, and for businesspeople who feel a call toward the creative.

You can find more information about Stevens and more of his poetry at the website of the Poetry Foundation.

Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion
You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,

Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?

Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.

A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,

Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.

You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.
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How sad to hear about William F. Buckley’s death.  It definitely signals the end of an era when politics could be rigorous and still refined.   He made talk shows substantive and gave reasonable rationale for his conservative positions.   Buckley practiced politics as an art rather than a bloodsport.  

I happened to be in Manhattan when this scion of New York intellectual and literary life passed away. For a detailed obituary, one must defer to the excellent coverage in The New York Times (What an appreciative tribute despite The Times’ liberal leanings!). Read it and discover what “sesquipedalian” means. Even in death, Buckley continues to expand my vocabulary!

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Looking for Faith In Lots of Places

For the first time in American history, Protestants are close to becoming the minority religion. A new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that barely 51% of Americans are Protestant. Even more revealing, only 43% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are Protestant.

According to the study, 79% of American's call themselves "Christian," including 24% who say they are Catholic. Another 5% belong to other faith traditions (Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism are the main ones). And 16% aren't affiliated with any religion, including 4% who consider themselves either atheists (1.6%) or agnostic (2.4%).

The 148-page Pew study is one of the most comprehensive surveys of American religious affiliation ever done. What it shows is that America is an increasingly pluralistic when it comes to faith and belief. "The presumption of a Protestant framework for understanding the American character is now a thing of the past," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.

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Marion Jones, Trusted Advisors, and True Heroes

In 2007, the world looked on as yet another sports figure and role model, Marion Jones,  admitted to having used a banned substance while competing.  Following the news about Ms. Jones came the list of fifty professional athletes, many of them baseball players, who had also used banned substances in their respective sports.  Despite the heavy coverage of these events in the media, including discussions of whether or how  players should be penalized for these violations, and how these revelations will change professional sports, the public seems to have reacted with disappointment and perhaps sadness, but not with outrage or shock.  Does this mean that news about players using banned substances is no longer news?  Did the public suspect all along that performance-enhancing drugs were a big part of professional sports, given the many cases that have been made public over the last few years?  In the future, will there be public approval of performance-enhancing drugs, such that the rules may change in the next few years?  And how will future athletes be affected by the norms that are established today?

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Tags | Morality

The President and the NEA

The National Council on the Arts advises the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who also chairs the Council, on agency policies and programs. It reviews and makes recommendations to the Chairman on applications for grants, funding guidelines, and leadership initiatives.

Artist Makoto Fujimura was appointed to the National Council for the Arts in 2002. Recently, Christy Tennant sat down with Mako and asked him about his work with the NEA.

This is the second in a series of five questions about Mako and the NEA.

CT: With the presidential elections upon us, how relevant is the person in the oval office to what goes on in the NCA?

MF: It is important to have the president get behind you in cultural stewardship. President Bush has been an advocate for Dana and the NCA from the beginning. He has a limited exposure to the arts, especially visual arts, but he has a CEO-understanding, that when you hire someone, you release them to do the work you’ve hired them to do, and you reward them for a job well done. Under Dana Gioia’s leadership, the agency has gone from scandal-ridden agency to becoming one of the most creative places to work in Washington.
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Here's to Second Chances

So, I watched American Idol last night.

I fear it might be becoming an obsession.

It was the Top Ten Guys, and it’s the first I’ve heard any of them sing (I missed the Top Twelve Guys last week), so I had no context. I probably could have used some context. I actually wanted to pick up the phone and vote NO a couple of times.

Good grief—I’m turning into Simon Cowell.

I can’t remember the young man’s name, and he seems like a nice enough guy, but, dude—no one should sing “Superstar” like Karen Carpenter except for Karen Carpenter.

I did vote for three of the performers last night (see? obsession!). While I was dialing (and redialing and redialing, trying to get through), I thought about how glad I am that most of life is not like American Idol, where if you mess up once, you’re more than likely done (unless you’ve got teeny bopper girls in your camp—then apparently you can do no wrong and are able to go pretty deep in the competition). Boy, if I had to live my life according to the “mess up once and you’re done” rule, it would have been over for me a long (long, long!) time ago.

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Adventures in Apartment-Hunting, New York Style

Last Saturday, our landlord dropped by to tell us the bad news – the 120-year-old building that houses our little apartment (four hundred square feet of Brooklyn studio goodness) and an identical one on the floor below needs some serious renovations, and as a result, our rent would need to go up and we’d need to move out for an indefinite period of time which could range from two weeks to three months, and there’d be no way of knowing how long that might take. In other words, it was probably time to move.

Two and a half years and two apartments after moving to New York City, I should be an old pro at this. "Where do you live?" is one of two cocktail party conversation staples in the Big Apple (the other is “what do you do?”), simply because it’s a fact of life for everyone – you live somewhere, you move a lot to escape rent increases/vermin/loud neighbors/etc., and the neighborhood in which you live often says something about you. Hipsters and rockers live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the East village; families and literary types live in Park Slope, Brooklyn (our current neighborhood) and Manhattan’s Upper West Side; old money belongs on the Upper East Side; and families, immigrants, and starving artists are scattered all over the boroughs.

Our neighborhood of choice is the West Village, because we work, study, and worship in the Village already. In fact, I lived in the West Village for a year when I first moved to New York, which is how I found my church, which is where I met my husband and many people who have greatly influenced my life and ideas.

So, you might say, what’s the big deal about moving? We’re going from a neighborhood we’ve loved to a neighborhood that is home, and that’s something to celebrate, right? You might be thinking that I’m just a big fat whiner right now.

Have you ever looked for apartments in New York?

The easy way to do this is to find a reputable, trustworthy broker – which, in a city of this many people, can be a challenge – and tell them what you want, where you want it, and how much you want to pay, and just see what they come up with. This can work beautifully, but there are two drawbacks: their fees are usually expensive, even by NYC real estate standards (often 18% of your annual rent), and brokers are notorious for showing you everything except what you asked for. You can’t blame them – after all, they’re trying to show you an apartment you just might take so they can make a living – but it’s more than a little frustrating to spend hours marching around looking at two-bedrooms on the Upper West Side when what you asked for was a studio in the Flatiron District.

Some of us are too cheap or too poor to pay someone else to do our apartment hunting for us. Luckily for us, Craig Newmark invented the ever-useful Craigslist, the number-one real estate listing in New York. Though many of the apartments are listed by brokers, by trolling the list maniacally, compulsively refreshing the browser twice a minute, you can sometimes stumble onto a building owner who is renting an apartment, no fees, just first and last month’s rent up front - if you can provide evidence of excellent credit, a letter of employment, your last three/six/twelve paystubs, proof that you earn at least 40x the rent each year, and a report from the housing bureau.

The listings sometimes include pictures, many of which you discover aren’t of the actual apartment but a “similar” one (which may or may not even be in the same neighborhood). Sometimes they include huge, neon text or garish clip art, which some brokers feel is an appropriate way to attract your attention. (Run in the other direction.)

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In a Red/Blue Political World, Hold your Breath and Turn Purple

Disclaimer: Okay, I have to admit. I’m not, by nature, a blogger. Everyone tells me that blogs should be succinct, supercool, appealing—kind of like essays for people with ADHD.  I am not this kind of person. I am longwinded, not-so-cool, and I can fix my attention on a topic for days until I’ve chewed it to bits. If you’re zipping through your nightly internet routine, looking for the quick, profound little blog, this won’t be it. But please, read ahead anyway.

For the longest time, nothing about politics stood out to me as dangerous, urgent, or even personal. Now I’m not so sure.

Out of the 40-50 new books coming out on the subject of religion and politics in the past year, most plant their flags on one side or the other. Side One: religion does and should play a natural role in the shaping of public policy; Side Two: religion and politics are a messy combo, leading to division and theocracy.  Most discussions are ideological; few are personal. 

 My job is much simpler for I ask only one question:  How can I live out an interior, God-designed relationship with Jesus Christ while being governed by a man-made political system?
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Craig Hazen: Five Sacred Crossings

Craig Hazen discusses his new book Five Sacred Crossings with ConversantLife.com.

Lessons from a Killer Cat

The cat came downstairs while I was writing the other evening. I was busy typing so I didn’t bother to look up, but heard her whining, like she was sick or something. When I finished my sentence I looked over to see that she had some sort of creature in her mouth. The huntress had conquered and she was displaying her prey! She spit it on the ground and begin to purr, proud of her capture. Somehow though, the ‘beanie baby’ tag around the neck of the miniature Canadian goose took some of the fun out of the kill for me. She was prancing and purring as if she’d actually done something worthwhile, but the reality was that she’d used all her cunning and courage to capture a few patches of clothe stuffed with peas. Indeed, our cat, now nearly 4 years old, has been fully domesticated. I offered her some fish this evening from my dinner plate and she turned her nose up at it like is was just so much junk food.
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