instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Poetical by nature

I am a strong believer in seeing truth where it's to be found, as well as how it's to be found. The truth to be found in a story or poem is just as valid as the truth to be found in a systematic exposition, even if it can't be systematically exposited.

That's why I worry when a new poetry review leads with its dogmatic hook. These guidelines speak the language of debate, not poetry, and no one wants to read poems written by debaters.

I wonder whether the folks behind St. Linus Review realize how unnecessary their concern for doctrinal purity is. Catholicism is incarnational, which makes it a naturally poetical faith. A good poem, artistically speaking, is likely to be a good poem, morally speaking, because Catholicism teaches that art is good.

If I were to write guidelines for a Catholic poetry magazine, they would look something like this:
Beauty. Mystery. Creation. Transcendence. Immanence. Any length, any style.
Now, I have nothing against supporting poets and editors who are "in full communion with the Pope" because they are in full communion with the Pope. I think, though, we should acknowledge the parallel with choosing the housepainter with the icthus in his ad, whose Christian faith is no guarantee of housepainting skill.

Moreover, I think we should recognize that art is a field in which Catholics who are 100% faithful to the Magisterium can and ought to engage the culture without fear or hesistation. Poetry is a briar patch Catholicism was born and bred in, and I'm afraid trying to fence it in, clear of near occasions of sin, helps neither poetry nor Catholicism.