bad poetry and bad religion


This morning’s office Gospel reading has Jesus saying to the disciples, “Whoever is not against us, is for us.” This got me to thinking about the popular American notion of the early 21st century as voiced by our then president that whoever is not for us is against us.

These are not necessarily the same idea. In fact, it strikes me that there’s a radical difference between these two statements. In the first, one assumes the best about others. This for me is a rule of collegiality. Once I have identified someone as a colleague, I attempt to assume they are competent and coherent.

The second statement confines the other to either following the dictates of the speaker or is assumed to be a mortal enemy.

I never thought of that before.

I was reading in Paula Bohince’s book of poetry this morning, The Children. I was thinking how her poetry seemed to be based largely in almost artificial takes on nature. I like nature poetry generally. I find that a poet can illuminate her/his surroundings in ways that I perceive as the poetic pop of meaning. I wasn’t getting that from Bohince but persisted in reading.

Then I came across her poem, “Gethsemane.” It’s about Jesus in the garden before his crucifixion. I read it and put the book down. I have read so many poems and heard many sermons about Jesus in the garden. I was repelled by Bohince’s poem.

It’s not religion that repels me so much as mundanity. Or at least what I perceive as mundanity.

I have been reading in the book of Samuel in the Old Testament.

It tells the story of David which is one I love.  David the shepherd, David the King, David the naked dancer, David the evil next door neighbor who sends the hot neighbor’s husband off to war to die so they can fuck.


I love his holiness and his screw ups. Whatever his story is, it’s not mundane in my thinking.

I went from Bohince to another poet I am experimenting with reading, Natalie Diaz. To me,  her poetry jumps off the page (instead of floating ethereally and falsely into the air as Bohince’s words seem to do).

I like this and it seemed to be an antidote to the bad religion that sometimes rattles around in my head.


Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silvery cups,
we’re better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
‘xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be
marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.

from “Abecedearian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan order valium from india Seraphymn Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz in When My Brother Was An Aztec.


Yesterday I decided that Jack Micheline was such a profound poet I had to order a collection of his work I am reading. I did so.

Then I read another of his poems this morning that hit me.



There is no separation
between my life and my work. Thank God
let it be one thrust
let it be the light against the dark night
I go again and again to the punishment block
among the deathly crowns of sewer rats
among the sickly intellectuals of words
among the hardened faces of a lost youth
who seek more causes to swallow their pain
who seek in a relentless pace which swallows the sunsets
enmeshed, surrounded by the enemies of art
the artists themselves are but a handful
the falsifiers
the lovers of money
the rich who give nothing to the world
but a child’s unloved face attacking all
defending the virtues of their state
cowards proclaiming the latest fashion
what is a poet’s life but pure rebellion
saintly virtues
and relentless wars of the heart
The rock and roll singers who mimic just words
the modern age crushing all who oppose it
the deadly eyes
everywhere a flower must grow
everywhere there is work to be done
everywhere a flower rises it must be loved and watered
There is a war in the arts
a war for the roses
a war against the dark night
and the triumph is but a single thrust into the sparrows


from North of Manhattan: Collected Poems, Ballads and Songs by Jack Micheline


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