New Novel-Length Poem Available for Pre-Order

True to the schedule laid out in my New Year’s resolutions, I am pleased to announce I’m self-publishing The Sylphid and the Sage. It is available for pre-order now, and will be released on Amazon on March 1, 2021. In truth, the fairy-tale set to verse has been several years in the making for me. It is a sprawling, novel-length poem, written in heroic quatrain. It serves as both a whimsical story set to loose iambic pentameter, as well as a heartfelt allegory on sanctification. Admittedly, this book is pretty esoteric, and won’t be for everyone. But if you love poetry, fantasy, and allegory, this may be right up your alley.

Here’s a quick blurb:

“Three Sages make up the governing authority in the city of Selvus. The open-secret, though, is that none of these supposed wise men are actually learned or intelligent, at all. When one of the city’s Sages dies unexpectedly, it’s time to elect a new leader. But a mysterious fairy-like stranger arrives, promising the Selvans a better way. But can she be trusted?”

Check it out here, today!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bez & Co!

I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I appreciate your support, and I’m excited for what 2021 will bring. Next week, I will debut our inaugural issue of Bez & Co as an online literary journal. The creative work is phenomenal! Please be sure to check back in next week for an issue full of poignant, Christ-honoring writing from around the globe.

God bless you,
Daniel

What’s New in 2021?

At this time of year, Santa isn’t the only one “making a list, and checking it twice.” As the embers cool on 2020, people are drafting up New Year’s resolutions to make 2021 a better year than last. And while that might not be a tall order for most, there have been some highlights from 2020 in my “writing life.”

I had a chance to publish my first poetry collection through a traditional publisher this year. I held my first book-signing, and got to play “author” for a day.  I enjoyed conversing with many of you here on WordPress regarding art, spirituality, and writing. I’m grateful to the Lord for each and every one of these opportunities!

Even still, I’ve made my own list of goals for the coming year. I thought I’d take some time to let you all know what to expect from me (Daniel) and this website (Bez & Co.) in 2021, Lord-willing:

1. Bez & Co. as a literary journal is officially kicking off in January 2021. Since I opened submissions, I’ve received countless poems, short stories, essays, and photos. I’m happy to report that many of these were incredibly enticing pieces of art. It will be my honor to run our first issue in January! It’s my hope that following a successful kick-off, I’ll be able to make this online literary journal a paying market in 2021.

2. I’m going to self-publish two new books this year. One of these books will be one of the longest poems in the English language. The other, oddly, will be a prose version of the same story.  I’m aiming to release the poem around March and the novel in December.

3. The novel I’m writing will be the first step into my foray into writing prose regularly. Though I’ve written three novels in the past, I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a novelist. With that being said, I’d really like to improve my prose, and I intend on writing and releasing some novels toward that end.

So, why self-publishing?

Many years ago, it was my goal to get a book traditionally published. To me, it was important to get at least one book under my belt that was “affirmed” enough in the industry to be published traditionally. Thankfully, with Wrenching of the Hip, this has been accomplished. Now, I’m pivoting to something that fits my long-term goals more closely.

By self-publishing, I can produce some more esoteric offerings that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch (such as, my very lengthy narrative poem told in heroic stanza.) I can keep 100% creative autonomy on the writing I’m publishing. Of course, the royalties are considerably better than traditional-publishing, as well. 

Lastly, and most importantly, self-publishing most closely aligns with my long term goal: starting a small press that honors Christ and furthers the Kingdom of God. The lessons I’ll learn through formatting, marketing, and promoting my work should pay dividends in trying to do the same for others’ work. 

What about you? What are your goals for 2021?

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.

Talking Shop: Dead to Oneself; Alive to the Work

by Daniel R. Jones

I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendell Berry for quite some time. His books often exist at the confluence of multiple topics: conservation, agriculture and husbandry, poetry, and his own faith. Berry is the son of a lawyer, and perhaps as a result, he always writes with crystal-clear diction. He is also a farmer, and so he writes with that archetypal hint of familiarity and down-to-earth warmth. 

Recently, while reading A Small Porch, which includes both poetry and an essay on the topic of Nature (with a capital “N,”) the following passage leapt out at me:

How does an instructive poem instruct? The answer seems obvious – by containing something worth knowing – but there is one condition: It must teach without intending to do so. In support of this I offer a sentence by Jacques Maritain, who said of the cathedral builders: “Their achievement revealed God’s truth, but without doing it on purpose, and because it was not done on purpose. The point, I believe, is what the cathedral builders were doing on purpose was building a cathedral. Any other purpose would have distracted them from the thing they were making and spoiled their work. Teaching as a purpose, as such, is difficult to prescribe or talk about because the thing it is proposing to make is usually something so vague as “understanding.”

And later,

Just so, an honest poet who is making a poem is doing neither more nor less than making a poem, undistracted by the thought even that it will be read. Poets, or some poets, bear witness as faithfully as possible to what they have experienced or observed, suffered or enjoyed, and this inevitably is instructive to anybody able to be instructed. But the instruction is secondary. It must be embodied in the work.

I believe there is a truth to be gleaned about the Christ-follower as a co-creator here. 

The cathedral-builders described by Maritain bring to mind Bezalel and Oholiab, the namesakes of this website. Those men were described in Scripture as “filled with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every craft to design artistic works…” (Exodus 31:1-5, HCSB.)

I believe what Wendell Berry is after here is that as artists, we are often better able to reveal truth— God’s truth – by getting lost in what we are doing. Rather than following a step-by-step, prescribed process, we are better able to accomplish our artistic vision by, well, forgetting about it.

This might sound a little mystical. Maybe it is. But put simply, I think it cuts to the heart of where many of us go wrong when we try to create a “Christian poem,” or a “Christian painting,” etc. I believe a lot of creatives who love Jesus sit down, and say to themselves, (maybe not in so many words,) “I am going to create something beautiful with a Christ-honoring message. I’m going to create something edifying, with a definite moral.” 

And to be clear, this is a noble goal. 

But sitting down with a pre-meditated intention for the theme of your work is rarely the bet way to accomplish that goal. Most art can’t be reverse-engineered in this way: picking first the desired effect you’d like to make on your audience, then choosing the theme accordingly, dressing it in a plot, and finally adding in characters and dialogue. Such approaches to art can stifle the life out of the work. At very least, they certainly deprive it of its mystery. The end-result often falls flat.

In a thought-provoking conversation published in the New Yorker, Berry paraphrases the artist David Jones, saying “to be dead to oneself is to be alive to the work.”

Call it self-abandonment. Call it getting “lost in the moment.” Call it the dissolution of ego.

Whatever you call it, there’s a recurring notion that high-caliber, Christ-honoring art is less about meticulously checking off a prescribed list of boxes to shoehorn a creative work into the category of “Christian art” and more about seeing the work through to its completion—staying true to the work at hand. The final product is often an homage to the Creator, unquestioningly glorifying Him, anyway. 

In a sentence, art that glorifies God most often comes out of a natural overflow of who we are in Him.

I think Wendell Berry’s word serves as a good reminder: Let’s get out of our own way. In so doing, we may succeed in not only creating better art, but also accomplish that loftier goal stated by John the Baptist: “He must become greater; I must become less,” (John 3:30 NIV.) 

The Second Greatest Commandment

(by Daniel R. Jones)

He wasn’t bleeding by the side of the road
to Jericho, or ransacked
by a group of marauders

or bruised
or naked
or left for dead.

He just needed a ride home from work.

He didn’t bother asking.
He’d already asked a couple times this week.
His eyes did the asking:

“I know you’re a Samaritan,
but will you be good?”

But my last cup of coffee and my Aleve
were wearing off in tandem,
and my wife and son were seated, already,
around some quickly-cooling Stroganoff.

Father,
brother,
forgive me.

The Numinous in Lovecraft: A Christ-follower’s Thoughts on Horror

Jewelers refer to the brilliance of well-cut diamonds as their “fire.” There are a variety of factors that allow a diamond to sparkle: the quality of the cut, the clarity of the diamond’s surface, the carat size.

The same can be said, I think, of literature. A writer’s brilliance can be determined by a number of things: the quality of craftsmanship, the clarity of the message, the sheer enormity of the story.

But ultimately, the written work, like the diamond’s fire, is only as good as the light pouring through it. Often, I’ve marveled at the multifaceted worlds of some luminous writer, and thought to myself, “What beautiful intricacy, but what a dingy light.”

I regret to say this was my reaction to much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.

As I’ve culled through the mainstays of his work, I must admit, I’ve been blown away by the cohesive universe he built around the Cthulu mythos. Previously, I’d read “The Dunwitch Horrors” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” Recently, I’ve delved into “The Call of Cthulu” and “At the Mountains of Madness.” Most of Lovecraft’s corpus of work weaves seamlessly into the fabric of the Cthulu universe–populated by “Old Ones,” multidimensional beings, and non-Euclidean geometry.

But the aspect of Lovecraft’s work that most interests me most is his particular attentiveness to the numinous.

I’ve written in depth about the concept of the numinous in the past, which can be broadly defined as the “uncanny” or “wholly other” impression left upon human beings by the supernatural. In spiritual terms, the numinous is the aspect of holiness beyond the grasp of human’s rational mind. But in Lovecraft’s pulpy, weird tales, the numinous takes on a much more ominous connotation. His works are replete with beings and knowledge that exceed humanity’s reach. These alien beings overwhelm and mystify Lovecraft’s protagonists, driving them to madness, homicide, or suicide.

What makes Lovecraft’s stories so chilling is that they have a basis in reality: the numinous devoid of benevolence is unsettling.

It’s one thing to think of God in terms of the numinous. As we read scripture, many of us have grappled with the thought of “fearing God.” We may wonder if the Hebrew or Greek word for “fear” connotes the same feelings of trepidation as the English one. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain that when we experience the numinous aspect of God, we “feel wonder and a certain shrinking.”

But no matter how you define the “fear of God,” we as believers in Christ can ultimately put our trust in Him because we know that his intentions toward us are good, and that He is loving.

Not so with Lovecraft’s creatures. The numinous divorced from holiness becomes something utterly profane. They’re not supernatural, but instead become something preternatural, and eventually even subnatural.

In Lovecraft’s works, he imagines entities from other realms beyond humanity’s understanding–aliens as malevolent as they are beyond us, and that is what makes his work truly horrifying.

Inspiration from Hafiz: A Hole in a Flute

Sometime, Christ-honoring poetry can come from unexpected places. Consider, for instance, “A Hole in a Flute” by Hafiz, a Sufi poet from the 1300s:

A Hole in a Flute

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through.
Listen to this music.

I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus.

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through
Listen to this music.


 

Though it cannot be argued that Hafiz was a disciple of Christ, this poem speaks vividly of the Lord’s enlivening πνεῦμα (Greek “pneuma”–breath, or spirit.) The poem calls to mind the words of John the Baptist, when he said “He must become greater, I must become less.”

If we study closely, we can see clear evidence of the Image of God being reflected in His creation, whether the author of said words had a full understanding of Christ’s role in eternity or not.