Bez & Co- October 2022 Issue

Table of Contents:

Book Recommendation-
Pilgrim by Mary Tarantini• Daniel R. Jones

Fiction-
Piecemeal Peace • Jeffrey Wald

Poetry
In the Holy Spirit • Phil Flott
The Moth • Gabriel Parker
Like Sparrows Satellite • Daniel Jones


Book Recommendation: The Pilgrim by Mary Tarantini

Mary Tarantini has become a mainstay here at Bez & Co. Her poetry leapt from the page since the first submission she sent my way. She writes in an unembellished but fervent manner that rings with conviction. Her verse has a decidedly intimate tone, but she still manages to appeal to a broad audience.

So it’s no surprise that others have started noticing her verse, too!

A collection of Mary’s poems is out now from Wipf & Stock.

In Pilgrim, Mary Tarantini showcases some of her most breathtaking and deftly crafted poetry. As the manuscript’s name implies, this is a collection of unadorned, simple poems, as accessible as they are profound. Still, the poems here hold the power to surprise the reader. Tarantini deftly crafts lilting, sonorous verse with a breathtaking prosody and unique word choice. This collection is a treat for the reader, as it is simultaneously gorgeous and sincere.

If you have enjoyed Mary’s poetry as much as I have…or especially if you haven’t yet had the chance to read her verse, check it out here! 

-Daniel R. Jones


Piecemeal Peace

OK, I admit, I shouldn’t have cussed in front of the kids, especially on account of we were all dressed up and just about headed out the door for Mass. But come on, hear me out.

There I was, sitting on the john, taking a, well, you get the picture, reading a little Gerard Manley Hopkins, that line “piecemeal peace is poor peace” from his poem “Piece” really striking me, because it was exactly how I felt at that particular juncture, on account of having had three drinks the night before, and too much puppy chow, the combination of which always gives me a tremendous gut ache and puts me in a terrible mood the next day. And if that wasn’t enough, breakfast had been horrendous, not so much the food, I having avoided the food on account of the gut ache. But the company, eight screaming children, being less than pleasant for a Sunday morning, and Sunday being the Source and Summit of the week, so it is said, although I wonder sometimes if that is more of a metaphor, like Hopkins’ “skylark scanted in a dull cage,” rather than a statement of reality. Whatever the case, I had escaped to the upstairs bathroom for some much-needed relief, gastrointestinal as well as psychological. And sure, I probably spent a couple more minutes on the john than was absolutely necessary, but remember I was reading Hopkins, not a Playboy or even GQ, which I am informed many men my age take to the john with them. And consider too that I’d just cooked 49 pancakes, and cleaned up three OJ spills, and broken up four fist fights, and cleaned two poop diapers from the same kid, that child having evidently gotten into the puppy chow as well the night before, and then picked up 58 stray Lego pieces (I counted them all, on account of having stepped on one, a Luke Skywalker holding a lightsaber, that cut my foot making me bleed on the newly installed light blue carpet, which, I might add, I was never in favor of in the first place, but we’re not here to keep score, right?) So I might be forgiven for wanting a moment of peace on the john, even piecemeal peace, which of course I did not find, on account of the gastrointestinal issues joining me in the john, but even more so, a full five children likewise joining me, each taking a turn barging in to grab some necessary item, like a book, or a doll, or a board game, which left me thinking why are books, and dolls, and board games being stored in the bathroom in the first place? And here’s the real gem of it all. Each kid loudly proclaimed upon entering the bathroom “Ewww, dad, why don’t you ever lock the door?” To which I wanted to reply, “Why don’t you ever knock?” But I decided not to waste my breath, instead pointing to the missing doorknob, it having been busted off by yours truly when the 2-year-old locked himself in the bathroom and proceeded to flush diapers down the toilet, his parents (myself included), not noticing (or, perhaps gladdened by) his absence from the dinner table until toilet water began dripping from the ceiling onto the dinner ham, on account of the marvels of modern absorption technology, even though said flushed diapers were the cheap Costco brand, not Pampers, the Mustang of diapers, which tells you how far modern absorption technology really has come. In any event, please be proud of me for keeping my inner cool after the first four darlings came in. But then, admittedly, I lost it when the last one entered, but again have mercy, because it was Johnny, and Johnny and I had been butting heads all week and I’m pretty sure he busted in not because he needed anything but just out of spite. And then I yelled “Leave me alone. Get out. Everyone downstairs,” which perhaps was not fair to my wife, she being downstairs and, likely, herself trying to hide from the kids. Which probably she was, because about one minute later she yelled up, “Joe, you’re sitting on the toilet reading Hopkins and hiding from the kids again, aren’t you?” Which made me think, does she really expect me to take two or three of them into the john with me? But then I remembered that this is exactly what she was required to do when she had to use the john, on account of the serious separation anxiety three of our kids have. So I didn’t have much ammunition on that front, but was still boiling mad, not even having finished one Hopkins’ poem. I finished up, and walked downstairs, but when I got to the kitchen I stepped on another Lego, this time Darth Vader who was much sharper than Luke Skywalker, and I flipped a lid then, yelling “Can’t a dude take a shit in peace around here?” And the older kids’ eyes all got big as they looked at one another and tried to hide little smiles but my wife, she was not stifling any smile at all, so I tried to recover by saying, “Everyone, to the van, let’s go, we’re late for Mass!”

We all got into the van, a big, brown, 15-passenger Ford E-350, and I turned around and glared at the kids, saying something like “Nobody better say a word. We’re taking quiet time. Prepare your hearts for Mass.” And I put that monster into reverse and pushed down on the gas and, I’ll admit, sort of gunned it a bit, which is embarrassing, considering it was a brown 15-passenger 12-year-old van, and not a Mustang or even a Honda Accord. We cruised backyard down the driveway and at the end I sort of twisted the wheel quickly to turn onto the street when we all suddenly heard a tremendous banging sound, on account of the trash and recycling bins still being on the side of the curb even though the garbage guys came on Tuesday and it was now Sunday but I’ve got a lot on my plate, including picking up Legos and making massive batches of pancakes and I hadn’t even had 10 minutes for Hopkins all week so maybe I can be cut just a little bit of slack? But as soon as I crushed those bins, Dominic, my three-year-old, who’s a funny little bugger if ever there was one, loudly exclaimed “Holy shit!” All of us went dead silent then, including Dominic, who looked around shifty eyed, wondering what kind of shit he might be in now. But then I couldn’t help but bust a gut laughing, and my wife started laughing too, and soon everyone in that van was laughing. And then we drove to Mass.

Only thing was, Dominic had discovered what he now considered to be the funniest damn expression there is, which is perhaps fine when you’re traveling in a big, brown 15-passenger van with a bunch of nitwits and bad parents, but perhaps not so fine during the elevation of the most Holy and Sacred Body and Blood of Christ during the most Holy and Sacred Sacrifice of the Mass, the very Source and Summit of our Life. I suppose I could chalk it up to “just being one of those days,” if in fact this didn’t feel like every single one of my days. But then again, at least I don’t have hemorrhoids like my man Hopkins, right? Although my wife often reminds me, cruelly I think, that soon I will if I continue to sit on the john for 30 minutes at a time hiding from the kids and reading Hopkins.  

Jeffrey Wald


Jeffrey Wald writes from here and there, but will always consider himself a North Dakota writer. His stories have appeared in publications such as The Windhover, Plainsong, Aethlon, Oakwood, and Collidescope.


In the Holy Spirit

It wasn’t a computer chip under the skin
but similar:
Something small slit all my molecules,
pervaded the depths of my plasma.
I wonder-full-y wanted to wish well
to all my brothers and sisters,
us daughters and sons of him.

So my new nature –
completely compatible
with deeps in me,
from which rose
warm electric streams
of tall sugar cane
with which I washed
the blue air of this world.

Such the first night,
the second week,
we are in a month,
I love this past year…

Phil Flott


Phil Flott is a retired Catholic Priest, due to action of the Holy Spirit in his life. The last two years he has been very active with poetry. He feels it is a ministry to the Body of Christ.


The Moth

You wander upon a boy setting the simplest of all things upon the dirt, overturned,
A glass: one that must have held water to quench sweat poured out
Upon dust and upon great blades of grass that now strike like fireworks
Shooting into a magnanimous sky, and one that would, must! 
hold the substance of that transient liquid between us and another world
But now, 
but now it holds the merest whisper of the darkness upon two little wings
like two kisses for each cheek and you see in it, in that creeping moth
the tiniest corpuscle of the light, like a seed and you wonder if you can see anything at all

Then you wonder first, how such a beast, 
such a hoary beast to be plucked from the cloak of Age himself
ever would find its way into the light of a day 
that breaks itself across your back like a board and you 
are here only to feel the splintering

And it is a hard rain as it splinters
Soaking, flooding, drowning the glass before your eyes
and yet you breathe it in with your irises and
taste the color upon the painting of your soul
and the boy like the memory of a song long forgotten
yet heard as a breeze twines its way through the dead trees of a dead winter

You wonder if the moth knows that it drinks its life away
edging ever so slowly back into its abode 
like a troll that grasps at the mouth of its cave running,
running, running from the coming sun while a speck 
inside its chest burns like a cinder to be caught out in the 
coming sun;
yet when it arrives it comes not as the conquering king
but in chains, rags, the passing glimmer 
of a dying man like a mote through the rooms 
he used to touch and the bits 
he used to feel and the life 
he used to have

You wonder if it can see its likeness in its starry cage
Or if the clime it has is all that it can view and
In the light of even Polaris herself, arrayed 
In all the passing seasons is a fog
of the mind of the body and 
she seduces you away from the skull upon your back

Does he know? Could he guess that you could 
with all the godlikeness of the mathematician
calculate the breaths he had left? Or will the pin
come as a surprise to him, as he hangs
as he hangs 

Gabriel Parker


Gabriel Parker is an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University majoring in Creative Writing. He has had fiction published by the Underscore Review, FoxPaw Literary, Ripples in Space, and in an anthology by Grey Wolfe Publishing. He can usually be found deep in the bowels of the campus library holding back piles of books with one hand and typing away with the other. You can find him on Instagram @gabrielparkerauthor or online at gparkerauthor.wordpress.com


Like Sparrows Satellite

Like sparrows satellite
a bird of prey,
all beak and fervor
and filoplune feathers;

It’s coming on again.
Snatches of poems
yet to be written
buzz about my head like gnats.

Tulip poplar buds reach through
shadowbox slats of cedar fence.
I knew the 3 pound grey mass between my
ears would try to find meaning there.

Leave me alone, you middle-weight
poet brain. You journeyman guru.
I didn’t ask for story or song,
I’m just out for a walk.

I don’t want these twisted tendrils
prying an embellished metaphor
for an already saturated market.
I want Beginner’s Mind:

An ordinary stroll
devoid of association
and mining my mind
for something faux-profound.

With all the Impostor
Syndrome of Saint Peter,
I almost prayed it:
Go away from me, Lord.

But this poem is proof positive
I’m your obsequious sycophant.
Make me one of your monkeys,
your infinite monkeys, pounding away

on a typewriter, fresh ribbon
and 20 pound copy paper at the ready,
that I might, by some happy accident,
produce the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

I have so little to do with it, after all.

-Daniel R. Jones


Bez & Co- January 2022 Issue

Table of Contents:

Poetry-
pseudesthesia • Daniel Jones
Saint Peter • S.E. Reid
Pray For Us Mothers • Mary Tarantini

Book Review-
Cuarentena • Stephen Lang [Wipf & Stock]

Advanced Book Review and Interview-
I Close My Eyes and I Almost Remember • Matthew J. Andrews

pseudesthesia

Here goes our phantom limb of hope.
We both feel something
which hasn’t existed in years.
A flutter, a tremor, a quaver, for me.
For you, a nagging ache.

-Daniel R. Jones

Saint Peter

the small dead fir
had hidden behind a taller hemlock
until the storm
brought it to its knees,

tipped near the top
snapped
head downward
shaggy and undignified
against our driveway.

that’s where the dog and I found it the next morning,
puffs of breath in the cold sunlight
we walked around it,
admiring how it had hidden there
until this moment of revelation;

the dog investigated its top-most branches
seeking out bird-hymns and bug-psalms
as yet unsniffed;

but my nose could only find the sweet scent
of the dozens of usnea lichen that had grown
soft and fragrant
slowly eating away at the dead limbs;

and I thought: what a fate
for your true beauty
to be witnessed in this death,
shaggy and undignified,

a testament
upside-down.

-S.E. Reid

S.E. Reid

S.E. Reid is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living on a patch of wooded wetland in the Pacific Northwest with her craftsman husband and her big black dog, Finn. Her nonfiction work has appeared in the now-retired Plants Are Magic magazine in the UK as well as the current issue of Being Human magazine, and her short fiction has been published by webzine Mysterion. She regularly posts her poetry and short prose on Instagram. When not writing she loves to cook nourishing food, read widely, and tend to her vegetable garden. Website: http://writersereid.wordpress.com

Pray For Us Mothers

A cardinal alighted upon a branch
Outside my window pane
Red against a piney green – 
I called you by your name

Your name is ever on my lips
My first gift to my first love
Bestowed before you breathed your first
With every dream I could ever dream of

I never should have lived to see
The day that you were taken from me
Pray for us mothers who bury their babes
Kneeling by gravestones now bearing their names

– Mary Tarantini

Mary Tarantini
Mary Tarantini, TSSF, is a poet, mother, high school English teacher, and a professed member of The Third Order Society of Saint Francis. She holds a BA in English and a MA in Theological Studies. Some of her poems have been published in The Franciscan Times, the newsletter of The Third Order Society of Saint Francis.

Review of Cuarantena by Stephen Lang
[Review by Daniel R. Jones]

Besides the obvious tragedy of the climbing death toll, the outbreak of COVID-19 gave way to a myriad of other, more subtle tragedies. The trajectory of the entire world seemed to turn on its heel, overnight. The routines we so tightly clung to were disrupted and thrown askew. And somehow, born out of all that chaos, was Cuarentena, Steve Lang’s second collection of poetry.

You may remember this author from our inaugural issue, released exactly one year ago today. His poem “Humility” appeared in that issue. “Humility” can be found in this collection as well, alongside 39 other well-sculpted poems that plumb the depths of human experience.

Lang’s preface tells us that our English word “quarantine” comes from the Venetian word “quarantena,” which literally translates to “forty days.” A ship entering the port of Venice had to spend 40 days in isolation in the days of the Black Death.

And while most of these poems are not directly “about” the pandemic, they all stemmed from it.

On the one hand, you could liken these 40 poems to the 40 days Christ spent in the desert: they’re stark, raw, and often take an unflinching gaze at the most painful parts of our humanity. An example of this can be found in Lang’s short poem “Late Afternoon Sunlight.” He writes:

Late afternoon sunlight

On a cloudless day
in El Salvador

So pure
And placid
And appaling

Upon cracking the spine of Cuarenta, Lang’s attention to craftsmanship and wordsmithing become immediately obvious. His images are so deftly crafted that they’re sure to haunt his readers with an uncanny feeling, long after the book is set aside. One fascinating example of this comes in the poem “Littoral,” which inverts a saccharine “Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul” type anecdote and fleshes it out with a more austere and poignant sense of abandonment.

But yet, for all the dark shades present, Lang rounds out the picture with lighter tints. The wide-eyed surrender into the Kairos of the present moment can be seen in “Ser/Estar.” Indeed, throughout the entire book, the effortless vacillation between Spanish and English (Lang wrote these poems in El Salvador) adds a level of intrigue and musicality to the poems.

Although an English-only poem, “Orchid” shows off Lang’s abilities to craft a sonorous poem as well as any in this book. He writes: “…Pink slippers lurid/ Adder’s mouth/ Resupine/ All wanton inflorescence/ Labellum swollen fused/ In Vanilla inner whorl…” The cadence and vibrant imagery of the flower creates for a gorgeous reading experience.

But perhaps my favorite in the collection is the poem “Cuarenta.”It’s a rumination on the number “40” as much as it is an exploration of our own quarantine. Rather than spoiling a perfect piece of writing, I’ll only say that it manages to be the most profound poem I’ve read on the subject of our post-Coronavirus world.

If, coming out of the past couple of years, you—like me—ask yourself, “What more can be said about this pandemic?” The answer is “Cuarenta.”

And in a broader sense, one that spans much more than just COVID-19 and the global backlash to it, Stephen Lang has much to say to you in Cuarentena. The subject-matter is wide and engrossing, the language is vivid and lyrical, and the author doesn’t shy away from taking on the most difficult of topics. Grab your copy at Wipf and Stock’s website or Amazon today.

Daniel R. Jones

Interview with Matthew J. Andrews

Daniel: First and foremost, Matt, thanks for taking the time to chat. Right there in the blurb, it’s announced that I Close My Eyes and Almost Remember is “born of spiritual crisis.” Without prying into your personal life, can you talk a little about that? How did events in your own life inform the creation of these poems?

Matt: In short, the “crisis” at hand was a real disconnection with the Christian faith, which had once permeated every aspect of my life. I grew up in church, absorbed all the right teachings, even contemplated seminary, but within a matter of years I found myself on the brink of apostasy. I had a lot of things pulling me away, but at the heart of them was the fact that I had grown disillusioned with the Bible, what we often put at the centerpiece of the faith. I grew to no longer trust it, to place its stories more in the category of “myth” than “truth,” which had a domino effect everywhere else.

I spent many years adrift before I felt compelled to revisit my faith, and poetry was a big part of that process once I did. The poems in this collection were written as a way of reengaging with the stories of the Bible, of trying to breathe new life into something that had become stale and lifeless, of making these communal narratives feel personal again. I spent about two years writing poetry in this way, just creating out of the need within me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had a collection on my hands.

Daniel: Speaking of “spiritual crisis,” this book is filled to the brim with biblical figures facing such a dilemma! The collection is described as being filled with characters that “struggle with their place in the grand narrative.” What I find interesting is that some of these struggles are emotional (i.e. the picture we see in “Ezekiel’s Wife,”) while other struggles could be described as cognitive or “thinking errors.” (I’m thinking particularly of the eyebrow-raising methods suggested in “Boanerges.”)  When you wrote these poems, how did you choose the particular struggle each character faced?

Matt: Most of these poems sprang up pretty organically. As I read through the Bible again (and again and again), it became sort of a spiritual discipline, something akin to the practice of Lectio Divina. Rather than trying to force anything, I tried to let myself notice what I was taking away from my reading: what characters am I relating to, what images are resonating with me, and what emotions am I experiencing as a result? I then built poems based on honest answers to those questions. It wasn’t until I looked at these poems as a whole that I understood just how much I was writing about the challenges these characters must have faced, the burden that comes with being compelled by the hand of God.  

Your examples are interesting, and I think they point to the variety of ways people struggle with faith. On one hand, the story of Ezekiel’s wife (detailed in Ezekiel 24, for those who are unfamiliar) is told so quickly that it’s easy to overlook it, but it’s a troubling story with a real human cost and some hard questions about servitude and justice. It’s hard not to read that story and have your heart sink into the floor, to feel like Ezekiel was a victim. “Boanerges,” inspired by James and John offering to call down fire and destroy a Samaritan village in Luke 9, is a very different kind of struggle, one based more on the corrupting power of a faith held too closely to the chest, where the main character looks more like a villain. In the end, both are very human stories, and I certainly find pieces of myself in both of them.

Daniel: The carnal, more base desires are at odds with higher, more spiritual purposes in this collection, just as they conflict in Scripture (and indeed, in our everyday lives.) The Bible is filled with broken people who use songs, hymns, and poetry to process the disparity between spiritual reality and the way they feel. This is probably most evident in the Psalms of King David. To what degree does writing serve this purpose for you? Do you see writing as a sacrament of worship or a method to process the events of your life?

Matt: Writing poetry is definitely a process for myself, a way of wrestling with the things that weigh on me. And as a man with propensities for doubt and cynicism, I have many things weighing on me! This is not to say that I don’t also write poems that venture into the area of worship, but even when that happens, I feel much more like I am exploring the depths of something I don’t quite understand than making declarations that come anywhere close to sacramental.

Daniel: You said that poetry is a “way of wrestling with the things that weigh on me.” Israel, of course, means “wrestles with God,” and anyone who does even a cursory reading of the imprecatory psalms can see that King David used poetry to work through some tough emotions. How does one make this an edifying exercise? As we all know, when dwelling on the tough aspects of life through the arts, it’s easy to become self-indulgent or lead ourselves into a worse headspace than when we started. What’s your take on this?

Matt: The job of the poet is to interrogate and probe, and I think that’s key to avoiding the holes you described. When wrestling and writing, I try to take a step back and create some distance, to give myself space to ask questions: Where do these feelings come from? What do they mean in terms of my relationships with others, or with God? How would I feel if things were different? I think writing from a place of exploration keeps you balanced. 

In retrospect, I’m seeing now that working through issues via biblical characters automatically creates some of that distance by channeling myself through their experiences, sort of like giving a kid a toy to play with in therapy. As a result, the poems end up a strange hybrid of myself and the characters.

Daniel: Are there specific poems in this book that you hold particularly dear? If so, how come?

Matt: “Isaac at Twilight,” which focuses on the aftermath of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, holds a special place for me. Some of that is thematic – the father-son dynamic comes up a lot in my writing, and this story in particular has always been a very difficult one for me to stomach – but a lot of it is because it took such a long time to get right. It’s not a long poem (12 brief lines and 44 words), but it was stubborn; it started out as two poems and then took a lot of finagling and adjusting once they came together. I consider it a triumph that it exists at all.

Daniel:  I Close My Eyes and Almost Remember is your debut collection. Though the book isn’t yet released, do you anticipate a second chapbook in the future? What can readers expect from you in the future, and where can they find your work?

Matt: I certainly hope this is the first of many books from me! I am actually hard at work finishing and compiling a second chapbook, which I intend to be a collection of surrealist prose poems based on the songs of Bob Dylan. Once again, I didn’t intend on putting a collection together, but I had a goal to listen to the entire catalog of Bob Dylan (39 albums!) in 2021, and I suppose it just kind of bled out of my brain and onto the page. I’m hoping to have that wrapped up by early 2022. Beyond that, I’m not sure, but readers can always keep up with me on my website (http://matthewjandrews.com/) or on Twitter (@2glassandrews). 

Daniel: That sounds fascinating! As a fan of Bob Dylan as well as sprawling prose poems, it sounds right up my alley. Are the poems ekphrastic–that is, a direct sort of “reader’s response” to Bob Dylan’s catalog, or based more loosely off the themes in his songs?

Matt: The poems are all pretty loosely based on the themes in his music and events in his life, with each poem grounded in a song and every one of them featuring Bob Dylan as a character. They’ve been fun to write, and as a group they explore that strange relationship between the artist and the audience, as well as between the artist and the people in their life. I’ve had a few of these published individually, and these three poems in Pithead Chapel do a pretty good job of previewing what to expect: https://pitheadchapel.com/its-all-right-the-thin-man-and-with-god/.

Review of I Close My Eyes and I Almost Remember by Matthew J. Andrews
[Review by Daniel R. Jones]

I Close My Eyes and Almost Remember is Matthew J. Andrews’ upcoming debut chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Anyone familiar with Scripture will recognize the figures scattered throughout these pages: the prophets, kings, disciples, and warriors, herein.

I’ll admit, I was reluctant to review this collection, initially, for this very reason. Poems aimed towards reimagining biblical figures are notoriously difficult to pull off. Too often, the author takes so much creative license that their theology suffers. Or else the author swings to the other end of the pendulum, taking no risks, and writing a poem that is ineffective due to its lack of nuance or creativity.

I Close My Eyes suffers from neither of these maladies.

The subject-matter is approached respectfully and reverently. Even still, each piece feels unique and inspired.

Sometimes, this creativity comes in the form of a clever play on words. For instance, in “A Toast,” Matt writes: “Drunk at the bar, Pilate slams his glass/ on the table to broadcast his emptiness.”

The decision to frame this image as Pilate broadcasting his emptiness rather than the glass’s emptiness is as clever as it is profound.

In “Onesimus,” the titular character contemplates going from one type of slavery to another. Paul reminds Onesimus that “You are no longer your own.” Onesimus counters with “I have never once been my own.” Our narrator struggles with varying forms of “entrapment” in the poem, and the writing is razor-sharp, contemplative, and thought-provoking.

The chapbook has a pleasant cyclical motif, as well.

In the very first poem, “The Sixth Day,” we see God feeling a “compulsion” to create, and that feeling is satiated by the creation of humankind. It’s only fitting, then, that in the final poem, “The Gardener,” we see a mirror image of the Almighty: the poet imagines the Lord at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, his eye straying to the void bursting with possibility. He feels the inkling to create again.

In reading this collection of poetry, I found that same inkling rising in my own chest: the desire to not just digest the material, but to let it impel me towards a creation of my own. And to be frank, I can’t give any chapbook a great endorsement than that.

-Daniel R. Jones

J.R.R. Tolkien vs. Flannery O’Connor- Escapism in Fiction (Craft)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Suppose you were to take out a notebook and a pen and list off the best Christ-following authors you could think of from the 20th Century. 
Chances are, the names “J.R.R. Tolkien” and “Flannery O’Connor” would both be listed on Page One.

But despite their larger-than-life status as novelists and forerunners of Christian thought, both authors had a decidedly different take on the creative life. Consider, for example, the following two quotations, which represent almost diametrically opposed truths about writing:

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” -J.R.R. Tolkien


I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” -Flannery O’Connor

So what gives? How is it that Tolkien advocates for escapism in writing and O’Connor denounces it? Which is correct, artistically speaking? Which is the right mindset, spiritually?

The answer, of course, is nuanced. 

Let’s start with the artistry aspect. It helps to look at the distinction in writing styles between Tolkien and O’Connor. It’s hard to imagine two writers so entirely unalike: Tolkien, the Oxford-educated, high-fantasy-obsessed polyglot, was famous for his epic and elaborate tomes. O’Connor, on the other hand, was Southern Gothic through and through, and her most famous works were short stories that explored the grisly reality of human nature.

Is at any wonder that their fiction reflected their views on craft? 

Since both writers contrast so drastically, it’s a more useful question to ask whether they succeeded in their particular aims. Luckily, the answer to this question is much easier to answer: it is a resounding yes. Both J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor have received much critical acclaim and popularity. Their works have stood the test of time, and serve as insightful literature that speaks to the human condition. Undoubtedly, both were–and are, successful. 

The two took drastically different artistic approaches, but both shared common themes: unexpected grace, (compare Tolkien’s concept of the “eucatastrophe” and the character “Bevel” in “The River,) the duality of humankind (consider Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings and Julian in “Everything That Rises Must Converge,”) redemption of a deeply flawed individual (think of “Boromir” and “Gollum” in The Lord of the Rings and “the Grandmother” and “the Misfit” in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”)

These shared themes that run throughout the corpus of work these two literary heavyweights are not a happy accident. They can be traced back to the same source: they were both profoundly impacted by their love for Christ and their Catholic faith. So while they took two contradictory approaches to the creative life, the similarities that bound them were significant enough and elucidated well enough to make them both correct.

Perhaps a final quotation can best illustrate this point. C.S. Lewis, who famously disliked T.S. Eliot’s poetry, acknowledged that the two served the same God. As such, he said about Eliot: “I agree with him about matters of such moment that all literary questions are, in comparison, trivial.” 

May we all take such a mature view.

Seven ways to read more books and hit your New Year’s Resolution this year

With New Year’s Day closing in quickly, many of us have resolved to read more books. For some, this may look like the 52-book challenge (a book a week,) while for others, it might be a modest three books for the entirety of the year.

Whatever your goal is, I thought I’d share my tips on how to stay committed and (hopefully) achieve the resolution you set out to complete:

1.) Mix up your genres.

Most of us read deeply, but how many of us read widely? You may be polishing of your 18th sci-fi novel for the year, but it couldn’t hurt to branch out a little. Not only will this make you a better reader and human being, it’ll also break up the monotony and help you achieve your goal.

2.) Mix up your mediums.

Similar to number one. Variety is the spice of life- it’s a cliche for a reason. So why not shake up your reading routine? Listen to an audiobook while on a long drive, read a few pages of a great business book on your Kindle on the bus, and settle down with a paperback just before bed.

3.) Read two books at once.

This borders on sacrilege for many, but for me, it’s always worked. When you hit a rut in one book, it helps to switch books and keep moving forward (rather than picking up your phone or watching Netflix.) The key is to read two books that are thematically different enough that you don’t confuse the stories in your head.

4.) Create a ritual.

It doesn’t hurt to designate at least some specific time to reading every day. Perhaps you’ll commit to reading one poem before bed. Maybe you’ll assign 15-minutes of your lunch break to cracking open the new bestseller. In any event, create a routine and stick with it.

5.) Don’t be afraid to throw in the towel.

If there’s a book that’s truly abysmal, don’t be afraid to give up on it. A good litmus test for determining whether you should give in can be answered with a simple question: do you dread reading? (Tip number three is good for this!) If you’re actively avoiding reading because the book you’re in is such a slog, it’s okay to move on.

6.) Conversely, occasionally punch above your weight, in the literary sense.

Does Ulysses feel insurmountable to you? Does Moby Dick seem to be a behemoth of a book that you could never read cover-to-cover? Do it anyways. Glean what you can and give yourself permission to not “get” all of it. *No one* actually “gets” all of it.

7.) Don’t compare yourself to others.

It’s best to not view reading as a competition. If you’re reading and thinking deeply about your reading, every book is value-added. So check your ego at the door. Toward that end, if it’s getting in your way, delete your Goodreads account.

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That’s all I’ve got! I hope this list helps someone achieve their resolution in 2020. As always, happy reading!