Saturday, September 25, 2010

Audrey and Dana On Words

(A re-post of Audrey Assad's blog, "A brief word on words.")

Audrey Assad is as fine an artist with words as with her piano and a vocal score. I found this post from her and thought I’d combine it with the Trinity Forum post on Dana Gioia to make an important statement on a neglected subject. Language, including poetry, has fallen into disrepute and disrespect, out of favor with pragmatism because “mere” words have no cash value; reputation-ruined by postmodern skepticism, its smirking accusations of a text as a veil for power play. Language has also been assaulted, in my opinion, by the “clarity” requirements of modern prose which rob us of the best words in the brightest settings. If I have one wish for the rest of my vocational life, it is that God would give me the time, leisure, talent and support to write and, however possible, redeem language.

Audrey’s blog follows. First, here is a link to the Trinity Forum article on Dana Gioia, a Christian academic and poet, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

The article in the Atlantic is well worth the read.

—— — - — - — - — - — -


“Here is the One that I worship;
The Word, who wordless me leaves.
‘Tis in this bright Light that I linger;
A Light that shadowless be.
And I cannot serve another,
For it is I that belongs to He;
He, the One that I worship;
The Word, who wordless me leaves.”

I wrote this on a flight home today, thinking of poetry and song, and how lackluster our language is fast becoming. To this lover of literature, the manners of modernity seem monochrome, even in art. It is truly tragic.

John 1:1-5 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God; He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

I would posit that, if one of Christ’s titles be “Word” — then little words are lent some echo of His dignity, His heraldic solemnity, His creativity. They, and language, which makes use of them, are of grave importance. If we do not steward them faithfully, we will lose sight of the heaven-opening, earth-shaking significance of Christ’s title of “Word”.

God spoke Himself to us.

My poetry is poor indeed; however, I can laurel it with this one small crown, that I care about the words themselves. These little garlands of letter and ink, these clusters of curves and lines, these tightly-knit trusses are my dear old friends, and I am compelled to treat them as such. Far be it from me to deny a word its dignity.

I may not have technique, or even style; but truthfully, I love words. And so, I write,

“Let us wreathe our words
Let us cloak them in courtliness
Let us weave them with cobalt and emerald and scarlet
Let them no longer languish and linger in common dress
No, let us garland our words
Let us garb them in golden thread.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seven Lessons of September Eleventh

Note: This is a re-post from 9/11/08

Everybody has their own memories of the infamous events of September 11, 2001. I was working alone in my office when Kimberly called to make me aware that “something bad has happened in New York City.” She told me the media were reporting that a light plane had accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center, and it was on fire. I was concerned, but not yet alarmed.

Minutes later on the radio I heard what had actually taken place – that the strike on the World Trade Center was deliberate and coordinated with other targeted strikes that same morning. It wasn’t until I got home later that I watched the overplayed video loop where the second passenger jet, under control of an Al Qaeda cell, struck the south tower. Shortly after, both majestic towers were reduced to lower Manhattan rubble. I found myself in shock. I didn’t think it would or even could happen. None of us did.

What have we learned in the seven years since we, as a nation, were violated by the savagery of a few phantoms, whose shadowy presence remains despite efforts to erase them? I offer these seven lessons, which are really reflection-points to consider:

First, we learned that we as a nation were vulnerable. Americans’ retained sense of isolation from the problems of the world – an attitude of naivety many non-Americans consider arrogance – was shattered on September 11, 2001. We hadn’t been significantly attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor. Terrorism happens overseas! To many of us, it seemed like the end of the world was at hand when we saw the collapse of those towers.

Second, we learned we were strong. Almost legendary recounting of individual acts of heroism filled our collective consciousness. The “Let’s roll” spirit underscored our immediate response to the tragedy. Volunteerism resurged, as local police and other emergency workers took a leave of absence and traveled to New York City to participate in rescue, relief and cleanup.

Third, we learned we have both enemies and friends in this world. I’ll never forget the images of the candlelight vigil in London, attended by grief and tears. Other nations mourned with us. Nor will the images of burning flags or effigies of George W. Bush be easily washed away. Since September 11, 2001 the clarity of the line between friend and foe has been smeared by politics. Our military responses have been questioned, perhaps not without warrant. Yet many have lost sight of the fact that the first 2,975 casualties of the “war on terror” happened before any response could be made.

Fourth, we learned something about Islam. We learned that, like any major world religion, Islam is not monolithic. There is variety within Islam and in Muslim cultures. There are “denominations” and factions which collide, sometimes violently. We learned that not all Muslims are terrorists, rather that extremists would dominate Islam as well as the world, if allowed.

Fifth, we remembered what it was like to be at war again. The 1991 action of “Operation Desert Storm” played out like a reality based video game in the consciousness of many Americans. Real losses were minimal. By contrast, the “war on terror” has reminded us we can field a strong army without a draft. The thousands of volunteers starkly contrasts the hundreds of protesters who will neither fight nor support our national response. I suppose it has been so in every war since the Revolution. Free speech is, after all, distinctively American. Both sides in the counterpoint have reminded us that war costs a lot, and we had better be willing to pay the price than to enter the fray with anything less than 100% commitment and resolve.

Sixth, we just learned in a new poll that many outside the United States do not know who was responsible for the attacks. Conspiracy theories, prejudices and plain ignorance are behind the 54% who responded that the U.S. government, Israel, or “other” were behind the attacks.

Finally, we were graphically reminded that we as a nation are utterly dependent on the grace and favor of God for our very existence. We are contingent. Our walls are not impenetrable. Therefore, we must cultivate faithfulness and justice toward the vision and values that make us great, one of which is humility in knowing that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). We need to bow our knees, individually and as a nation, and ask God to help us do what is right in His eyes, to govern justly and to seek peace on earth for the benefit of all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aunt Judy's Chicken Pilau

Growing up in the south doesn't guarantee you'll grow up a Southerner, especially in Florida. I was born here, but reared on the gulfcoast, a blend of northeastern and midwestern culture. But my dad's family were reared in the Florida heartland, Southerners one and all. Aunt Judy was a beautiful southern lady whose cooking, it was said, could heal the sick. (Hyperbole is part of southern culture.) If you'd ever had Aunt Judy's lemon pound cake or her fried veggies, you might think you were healed, even as the cholesterol numbers rose.

But the dish I knew Aunt Judy best by was her chicken pilau. Peppery and soothing, the dish was a contradiction of flavors and effects. I loved it when dad imitated it, but pined for Aunt Judy's version, which I would beg for whenever we planned a visit to her home near Ocala.

Thankfully, she shared the recipe, at least how she remembered it, in a church cookbook before she passed from this life. So you can imagine how surprised I was when, seeking the correct spelling and pronunciation of "pilau," I googled it and found out it's not southern at all! In fact, the word is Persian in origin! It's been shifted and changed in several ways, as has the dish, which is essentially chicken and rice prepared in the stock, depending on the culture: African, Thai, Chinese, etc.

Here's a link to the meaning of "pilau."
Here's a sample of the way it can be prepared in different cultures.
Here's a great-sounding African version.

I have approximated Aunt Judy's version several times, including twice during my recent time-off from The JOY FM. Kids love it, with our without cheese. (I prefer without.) You can make a big pot of it and stretch it over several meals, but of course, because it's chicken, you don't want to hang on to it too long. Don't worry, it will likely disappear.

2 large fryers (3-4 lb)
3 cups rice, washed until water is clear
2 large cans Swanson chicken broth
1/2 to 1 cup cheddar cheese
black pepper

Cook chicken in broth until very tender (about 2 hrs). Remove from broth, de-bone, discard skin (some skin remaining is optional). Strain broth. Measure 6 cups of warm broth and add the rice to it. Cook rice and simmer a while. When rice is cooked, add chicken, lifting rice carefully to avoid mushiness. Add more broth if too dry. Grate 1/2 cup (1 cup if desired) cheddar cheese. Add to pilau with fork. Add black pepper to taste. 

Serve with sweet gherkins if desired. 

Note: some of this is improvised. Play with the ratios a bit until you get it tasting the way you want it to. I doubt Aunt Judy ever made it the same way twice. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What I Did on Summer Vacation

I want to make the last two weeks seem like a real summer break. At this point, the best way to do that is to make Monday, the first day back at work, seem like the first day back at school. I think middle school was the last time I actually had a written assignment to share my summer vacation with everyone. In that spirit then, here's my first-day-back essay:

"What I Did on Summer Vacation"
by Bill Martin

For my summer vacation, I went... (no, strike that. I didn't go anywhere.) I slept in. The reason I slept in is because I stayed up late. Really late. Like an hour-before-I-usually-get-up late. This began almost immediately, proving that a morning radio personality schedule is an utterly artificial thing to me. After more than two decades, my native body clock has not changed.

Another thing I did on my summer vacation was to make a chore list. I made this list at the beginning, so I'd have a maximum amount of time to work on the projects I identified as needing done. I referred to that chore list several times during the first week (before I lost it) so I could refresh my memory of all the things that needed to be done around the house. Now, I need a new chore list, with the first item reading, "Find chore list." I did, however, think about the chore list several times.

I changed several light bulbs.

The second week of vacation, I got much more productive. I continued to think about my chore list and wrote a poem about it. In fact, I wrote several poems, read several poems, submitted several assignments to an online poetry class, listened to lectures from a Yale University course on modernist poets, won a couple of poetry contests, wrote an essay on the implications of the loss of logocentric assumptions in Western culture, worked on prose style and cumulative syntax, downloaded two online courses on the book of Ezekiel, began a study of that book, outlined a class on How to Be Spiritual in the 21st Century, outlined another series of lectures and began an explication of George Herbert's "Redemption," read William Carlos Williams poems to my two youngest boys, wrote two weeks of daily devotions for the three youngest boys, listened to a series on Mere Christianity, and bought a new book on literature from the Goodwill bookstore.

I dropped off several loads of toys, clothes, and household furnishings to Goodwill. That was my excuse to get into the bookstore.

I mowed my lawn.

(Mostly.) I broke my weedeater.

I played in an old guy vs young guy softball game. The old guys won. I'm not saying which team I was on.

I wasn't sore the next day, unlike most of my teammates.

I cheered for Adam and his AllStar team as they finished third in the county cup. Adam started at third base in every game and finished up strong at the plate, hitting a home run over the center field fence in the last game they played. I got critiqued by my wife for the way I talk about baseball.

I threw batting practice for Grady.

I went to a show that Will's band played. I picked up my daughter, Madison, from her youth camp. I watched shows and movies with Adam, Grady and Payton. I cooked lots of yummy chicken pilau (a family recipe). I never found out what "pilau" means.

I drank tea.

I played Bananagrams. Lots of Bananagrams. Lots.

I finally beat Kimberly. At least that's how I remember it.

I didn't get into arguments with my wife. Except maybe about a word (or two) she (may have) used in Bananagrams that isn't actually in any English language dictionary.

That's pretty much my summer vacation. I'm sure I've left some important stuff out, but after all, it's the first day of school and I don't want to spill it all on the first assignment.

A Reconciliation (of sorts)

Dear Blog,

You and I have not been on speaking terms for a while now. When I saw you sign me out of my primary Google account every time I wanted to post here, I felt frustrated. I tried to reconcile the two of you, my primary account and yours, but that failed attempt only increased my feelings of frustration. I concluded that this relationship couldn't go on. I moved on in my heart to another blog. I'm hoping you'll forgive me and we can make this right.

You see, regardless of how much I have complained and tried to fix the un-fixable, you are still my blog. We have a lot of history. We've built some fine things together and made lots of friends. For these reasons I want to reaffirm that I am still committed to you. I have made peace in my mind with the difficulties this relationship presents. I am willing to allow you to sign me out of my primary Google account every time we talk. I have re-formatted your pages, updated your links, and I'm ready to go.

If you agree that this is best, I'll soon be making my first post: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation."

In hope of full reconciliation and a long-standing relationship.