KCYoder's Religious Diversity Journal

Thursday, January 26, 2006

American Poetry Review Response

As a Religious Studies (nay Phil+Rel) major here at Ursinus College, I found the Letters section of The American Poetry Review (vol. 34, number 6) at the back of the journal to be of significant importance in considering the relationship between contemporary ideas about religion and art. It is validating to my academic discipline that religious issues are cropping up in the poet-community-consciousness. One letter-writer, Jody Gladding, remarks that the turn to focus on religious and spiritual issues in contemporary American poetry is a sign of the Conservative Christian Right gaining the upper hand in some artistic battlefield. The writer holds this assumption that the artistic endeavor of poetry is something of an internal endeavor—evidence of what she calls “free thinking,” opposed to operating in some public discourse about the presence of religion in the artistic consciousness. This signifies to me a general assumption held by many poets and readers alike, that poetry is essentially personally significant; the reader gets to go along for the ride if the poem is lucid or generally applicable. Religion is viewed as some monolithic ideological structure that saps this process of its legitimacy. Hasn’t this author ever read Gerard Manley Hopkins? The writer of this letter quotes Gustaf Sobin as an example of how poetry and art tap into something that is more meaningful and less definable as spiritual or religious. I did not find this letter’s point to be satisfying because it merely suggests that the artistic experience has some internal personal significance that cannot be definable without explaining why this is necessarily separable from religious expressions.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Week 1 Reading Responses

"After all, it was only our life, our life and its forgetting." Li-Young Lee's "For A New Citizen of These United States" is composed in a confrontational kind of style. The content deals with the shifting of cultural environments and how forgetting is the central action in this kind of transformation. The tone of the work suggests that the speaker is resentful or at least critically contemplative of forgetting past experiences...the experience of escaping an oppressive homeland. "The Cleaving" appeals to me because it utilizes some figurative devices that I often employ in my writing. The relationships between eating, reading, the body, the inherent violence of change and how change is an ever-present thing. "As we eat we're eaten." The issue of paradoxical diversity and unity strongly emerges at the end of the poem, in that asiatic and semitic immigrants share in the same kind of cultural excavation while consuming the potent delicacies of tradition. But the immigrant must consume all--Lee's speaker writes about consuming Emerson's racisism as much as the brains of the duck. This mingling is the hallmark of the immigrant sensitive to a culture that engulfs even as it is engulfed, where the borders are murky, and a new cultural entity seems to emerge.

This body of work seems to relate religious experience into a discourse of 'otherness,' of trying to consume and being consumed on new soil. Even if religion is not explicitly the topic of his work, the overtones are apparent in "The City In Which I Love You"; "and your otherness is perfect as my death. Your otherness exhausts me, / looking suddenly up from here / to impossible stars fading. / Everything is punished by your absence." This address to a lover incorporates a religious tone of wonder and grudging worship. This idea of applying a religious significance to a personal relationship grounds the narrator's paranoid otherness in this oppressive city environment--it is the reality that divines meaning in the chaos.