Why Do You Need Another Photo of Yourself?

Do you mean that the one currently on my website is fine, even flattering, since both my hair and mood were peaking that day? Yes, but as you know, I don’t really identify with that image.

I need a photo that is more real, truer to the me that might show up if we were discussing the state of the world, or something close to my heart, poetry. Or even, let’s say Catholic poetry, as might be found in the upcoming issue of Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, edited by Mary Ann Miller, Ph.D., of Caldwell University, New Jersey. The first issue, many months in the making, promises to deliver a jolt of highly seasoned work.

In recent news, Mary Ann has asked me to join Presence as an Associate Editor. Hence, the request for the soon-to-be-posted-on-their-website photo. Of far greater urgency than this symbolic photo, though, is my desire to contribute to the journal in whatever way I can. And also to articulate my sense of the journal’s mission, if that’s not too programmatic a word for a necessarily open-ended endeavor.

I have long lamented the lack of a national journal specifically and solely dedicated to Catholic poetry. Catholic poets do not know where to find each other. Readers hungering for poetry by Catholic poets do not know where to look (probably also true for other art forms. Not just poetry). 

This is not identity politics; it’s about fostering artistic growth and integrity within a cultural community. With no easily accessed circle of writers and readers, we can’t flourish. We stagnate. We feel unnecessarily isolated. Stuck. Unable to move forward. Not sure where forward is.

To proclaim oneself a journal of Catholic poetry strikes me as a brave. Especially when the goal is not to exclude other voices, as Presence’s mission statement on the website makes clear. It’s more about clearing a space where specifically Catholic references can be understood and appreciated without footnotes, where the rich intellectual history of the Catholic Church is still relevant. Where the invisible, when approached, is accessed through the visible. I’m tempted to say “made manifest,” but that’s gonna have to be up to the individual poets.

It goes without saying that the poetry itself has to be good, better than good; it has to be excellent. Be it a pantoum of the Nicene Creed, no matter how Catholic, if it doesn’t work as a poem, let it go elsewhere to seek publication. In fact, the Catholicity of a poem is not always a plus. A poem, by definition, uses language, words, holy, beautiful words. By which, I don’t mean lofty words, but right ones and oh so! exciting when they are right. And a good poem has to be grounded in something real, whole-life struggles and glories, not theory or intellectual history. 

I have faith that a journal, such as Presence with its clearly identified focus, can have a big impact. As above, it creates community, the benefits of which can seep out into the wider Church community and maybe even society, as a whole. In an earlier conversation with Mary Ann, I said I hoped to see a prophetic voice emerge. Not something we can go out and solicit, we decided. But nevertheless one that we aspire to recognize when it comes our way.