Tag Archives: poetry

Kathleen Norris, Part Two: SIlence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 36)

In this episode we conclude our interview with poet and essayist Kathleen Norris. In part one of the interview, Kathleen and Cassidy explored topics such as poetry, creativity, silence (of course) and acedia — a spiritual malady that she wrote about movingly in her memoir Acedia and Me

This is part two of a two part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

Katherine Norris on Skype with Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman.

This week the conversation continues with reflection on the value of monastic spirituality, the question of whether religion can be a force for good in today’s world, how even monks can experience an overload of regulation, how toxic silence and self-censorship is a problem particularly for many women, and how a good writer moves beyond simple expression to caring for the reader.

Structuring a life around writing is as crazy as structuring a life around prayer. — Kathleen Norris

By drawing connections between poetry and prayer, or between liturgy and poetry, Kathleen Norris explores how a contemplative heart beats at the center of creativity as well as spirituality. She goes on to discuss the difficulties inherent in recording an audiobook, gives some pointers about reading her work, and offers a few thoughts on the challenge of using poetry while preaching.

At the end of the interview Carl and Kevin join Cassidy and Kathleen (via Skype), to ask a few final questions. She offers a particularly spiritual perspective on who her “silence heroes” are, and reflects on how one of the most important qualities for her as writer has been simple candor.

Liturgy itself is a poem — the daily liturgy of the monastery plus the eucharist, the mass, it really functions like a poem during the day — you know you’re going to be entering this realm again of the mystery and the poetry and all of that, and then you’re going to go and do your chores and do whatever else you’re doing, but there is a certain poetic quality to it, that is really refreshing, and I think that’s one of the big appeals to me — it was the poetry that drew me in. — Kathleen Norris

Katherine Norris and Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 36: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part Two)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018

Paul Quenon, OCSO: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey (Episode 32)

Poet, photographer, and memoirist Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO sat down to chat with Cassidy Hall this past July when she was visiting Gethsemani Abbey.

Author of several volumes of poetry including Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems, Br. Paul is also the author of a newly published autobiography, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. His memoir is a delightful and charming story of monastic life not only as a forum for deep spiritual exploration, but also as the foundation for a life devoted to music, art, and especially poetry.

Cassidy and Brother Paul

Brother Paul entered monastic life in 1958, when he was only 17 years old — back before the reforms of the Second Vatical Council, when the life of a Trappist was even more austere than it is today. His novice master turned out to be Thomas Merton, who eventually became an inspiration to Brother Paul not only as a monk, but as a writer.

In their conversation, Cassidy and Brother Paul discuss his life story, his experience as a monk, as a writer, and as a lover of nature. He enthuses on his special love for the poet Emily Dickinson, and shares the poem of hers which convinced him that she was a mystic (#315). He also offers a ‘sneak peek’ of his current writing, sharing some poems he is currently writing. Through it all, in the heart of his rich and cultured life, silence has been his constant companion.

There is a kind of silence which comes from stilling the mind, and you can develop that capacity, how to not fight thoughts so much as set them aside… if you want to be free, free your mind… instead of fighting the thoughts you just stand above them like on a bridge and watch the water flow by… but then there is a kind of silence that descends upon you, and it’s like the presence… it happens on its own, and that’s really special. You may get that, or you may not get it… it’s not a matter of looking for it, because if you’re looking for it, than you’re thinking of something, you have an expectation and you’re dealing with your expectation. — Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

The opposite of faith is indifference. — Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO

Filmmaker Patrick Shen, Brother Paul, and Cassidy Hall on the porch of Thomas Merton’s hermitage, on the grounds of Gethsemani Abbey.

Episode 32: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey: A Conversation with Paul Quenon, OCSO
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Paul Quenon, OCSO
Date Recorded: July 4, 2018

Silence and Poetry (Episode 18)

We love poetry — and we find that, of all literary forms, poetry seems to most quickly and assuredly bring the attentive reader to the threshold of silence.

“Poets all see silence as sacred ground,” notes Kevin, “because it’s from the silence the poems come.” Together we muse on how poetry puts us in touch with our bodies, our intuition, and how the relationship between poetry and silence is, perhaps, just the same as the relationship between silence and sound that forms the foundation of music.

Much like musicians use notes, poets are the composers of words. They pay such attention to the space between. More then we do in typical writing, typical everyday language, they heed the mystery, they listen to the offbeat, and they use it. They know how to harness it, they know how to hold it open-handed… it’s I would dare to say closer to silence then any other writing is. — Cassidy Hall

Because we are all “poetry geeks” pretty much just as much as we are “silence geeks,” we joke that trying to create a podcast about poetry should take us 200 hours (or more). So this week’s episode is just a check-in, a snapshot of where our journey with poetry has taken us at least for now.

From Mary Oliver’s earthy reflection written in response to a cancer diagnosis, to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska’s playful consideration of how the experience of the mind or soul has an “embodied” or “natural” dimension, to the more ethereal or even transcendent perspective of Evelyn Underhill, the poems we consider in this episode dance between matter and spirit, between consciousness and mystery, between wonder and doubt and insight. And while none of these poems are specifically “about” silence, they all usher us into that place where word and silence kiss.

Silence is embodied, and yet silence is paradoxically also immaterial… To encounter silence implies materiality. — Carl McColman

Some of the poets, authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Silence isn’t a fleeing from the world, it’s a fleeing to the world. It’s actually getting out of your ideas about the world, and actually showing up and being present in the world. — Kevin Johnson

Episode 18: Silence and Poetry
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

Silence and Rhythm (Episode 14)

What is the relationship between silence and rhythm?

Silence as the offbeat: there is no rhythm without the silence. — Cassidy Hall

What are the ways that silence can create rhythm? How can silence enhance the notes of our day; how does silence strain out the noise in our life and directs the way we approach the everyday rhythms of our lives?

I always feel that poetry is like wild language, that it’s language that actually hears the birds, and the wind, and the rippling of the pond, and then is just able to imitate that in human speech… poetry doesn’t care if you notice the words, right? The poet is saying, the words are saying, “If you saw what I saw in my head, if my words were able to give you the vision, then we’re there!” — Kevin Johnson

Our conversation dances between the beat of the heart and the cadence of the lungs; from there we reflect on poets and artists and how both rhythm and silence shape their work; the relationship between silence, rhythm, breath, and prayer; how sometimes the rhythm “falls out” because of self-consciousness (as opposed to the “deeper silence” where we simply relax into a silence akin to forgetting or selfless-consciousness), and how even the difficult times and moments of life might be indicative of simply a bigger rhythm at play.

In between every beat of the heart is a moment of silence. — Carl McColman

And of course, we talk about poetry, and the social ramifications of silence (i.e., how silence subverts our culture’s aggressive materialism) —and much more!

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

For the podcast featuring our friend and co-conspirator Jessica Mesman Griffith, click here: Things Not Seen Podcast #1806: The Communion of Haints 

Episode 14: Silence and Rhythm
Hosted by: 
Kevin Johnson
With:
Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman
Date Recorded: March 5, 2018

Encountering Silence in Relationships (Episode 5)

What does it mean to encounter silence in the midst of our most intimate relationships? Unless you are an absolute hermit, other people factor in your life. From children and spouses, to nephews and neighbors, co-workers and companions, to be human is to be in relationship — and sometimes, relationships can be noisy places indeed.

In this episode we explore some paradoxical approaches to silence — for example, Kevin speaks eloquently of finding the silence even in the midst of a baby’s cry. He goes on to compare the challenges of balancing one’s own needs with the needs of loved ones to the dance of attention in a meditation practice — between awareness of silence and the inevitable irruption of distracting thoughts.

Keep the silence and stillness within. Because it’s always there, right? It’s always there. If you’ve met it once, if you’ve met it twice, if you’ve met it every day of your life, you know it’s there, it’s within. — Cassidy Hall

But there’s also the “inner relationship” — how we relate to our own self. Carl muses on how sometimes anxiety and depression come to call — and can make it challenging to remember that silence is always, already there.

In all our relationships — whether internal or external — silence calls us out of a place of self-focus into a place where we can be concerned with loving others — or welcoming whatever arises in the context of our lives. Silence teaches us that silence is always present — even in the midst of a baby’s cry, even in the midst of rage or fear or bitter loneliness.

We look at the monastic notion of the “school of love,” considering how silence is actually an instructor in the school of love — teaching us how to love others, as well as to love ourselves. But we also acknowledge that in relationships silence can sometimes be a way of avoiding intimacy — where “unheld conversations” can  signify a kind of external silence which masks interior noise. Again, though, silence can be the doorway through which we move to find reconciliation or greater intimacy — even if it means moving through “the fire” of conflict or challenging conversations.

Our conversation includes some thoughts on the sometimes contentious relationship between silence and language, and how poetry represents a way to bridge that particular gap.

What is a poem? A poem is just a useless spray of language. And yet, in that useless spray of language we find beauty, we find meaning, we find insight, we find connection, we find ourselves.— Carl McColman

Among the resources and authors we mention in this episode were poems by Rumi and Thomas Merton, and mention of the work of Cynthia Bourgeault as well as the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers, particularly in regard to the deadly or afflictive thoughts. The following resources can help you learn more:

To learn more about the desert tradition of non-attachment to afflictive thoughts:

What’s the connection between words and silence is that they’re so interpenetrated that you need to have them both. You actually can speak yourself into the silence…  The only problem with words is that we get  trapped in them. — Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Plan?!? What plan?

Episode 5: Encountering Silence in Relationships
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
November 13, 2017