Christian Wiman on Illness, Love, and Rediscovering Faith

This beautiful essay from Christian Wiman, editor of the venerable journal Poetry, describes how falling in love and diagnosis with a fatal illness revitalized both his poetry and his faith. Wiman writes:

If I look back on the things I have written in the past two decades, it’s clear to me not only how thoroughly the forms and language of Christianity have shaped my imagination, but also how deep and persistent my existential anxiety has been. I don’t know whether this is all attributable to the century into which I was born, some genetic glitch, or a late reverberation of the Fall of Man. What I do know is that I have not been at ease in this world.

Poetry, for me, has always been bound up with this unease, fueled by contingency toward forms that will transcend it, as involved with silence as it is with sound. I don’t have much sympathy for the Arnoldian notion of poetry replacing religion. It seems not simply quaint but dangerous to make that assumption, even implicitly, perhaps especially implicitly. I do think, though, that poetry is how religious feeling has survived in me. Partly this is because I have at times experienced in the writing of a poem some access to a power that feels greater than I am, and it seems reductive, even somehow a deep betrayal, to attribute that power merely to the unconscious or to the dynamism of language itself. But also, if I look back on the poems I’ve written in the past two decades, it almost seems as if the one constant is God. Or, rather, His absence….

four years ago, after making poetry the central purpose of my life for almost two decades, I stopped writing. Partly this was a conscious decision. I told myself that I had exhausted one way of writing, and I do think there was truth in that. The deeper truth, though, is that I myself was exhausted. To believe that being conscious means primarily being conscious of loss, to find life authentic only in the apprehension of death, is to pitch your tent at the edge of an abyss, “and when you gaze long into the abyss,” Nietzsche says, “the abyss also gazes into you.” I blinked.

Wiman came alive again when he fell in love and got married, but then, on his 39th birthday, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer of the blood.

If I had gotten the diagnosis some years earlier — and it seems weirdly providential that I didn’t, since I had symptoms and went to several doctors about them — I’m not sure I would have reacted very strongly. It would have seemed a fatalistic confirmation of everything I had always thought about existence, and my response, I think, would have been equally fatalistic. It would have been the bearable oblivion of despair, not the unbearable, and therefore galvanizing, pain of particular grief. In those early days after the diagnosis, when we mostly just sat on the couch and cried, I alone was dying, but we were mourning very much together. And what we were mourning was not my death, exactly, but the death of the life we had imagined with each other.

Then one morning we found ourselves going to church. Found ourselves. That’s exactly what it felt like, in both senses of the phrase, as if some impulse in each of us had finally been catalyzed into action, so that we were casting aside the Sunday paper and moving toward the door with barely a word between us; and as if, once inside the church, we were discovering exactly where and who we were meant to be. That first service was excruciating, in that it seemed to tear all wounds wide open, and it was profoundly comforting, in that it seemed to offer the only possible balm. What I remember of that Sunday, though, and of the Sundays that immediately followed, is less the services themselves than the walks we took afterwards, and less the specifics of the conversations we had about God, always about God, than the moments of silent, and what felt like sacred, attentiveness those conversations led to: an iron sky and the lake so calm it seemed thickened; the El blasting past with its rain of sparks and brief, lost faces; the broad leaves and white blooms of a catalpa on our street, Grace Street, and under the tree a seethe of something that was just barely still a bird, quick with life beyond its own.

I was brought up with the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God. My experience has been just the opposite: a love of the earth and existence so overflowing that it implied, or included, or even absolutely demanded, God. Love did not deliver me from the earth, but into it. And by some miracle I do not find that this experience is crushed or even lessened by the knowledge that, in all likelihood, I will be leaving the earth sooner than I had thought. Quite the contrary, I find life thriving in me, and not in an aestheticizing Death-is-the-mother-of-beauty sort of way either, for what extreme grief has given me is the very thing it seemed at first to obliterate: a sense of life beyond the moment, a sense of hope. This is not simply hope for my own life, though I do have that. It is not a hope for heaven or any sort of explainable afterlife, unless by those things one means simply the ghost of wholeness that our inborn sense of brokenness creates and sustains, some ultimate love that our truest temporal ones goad us toward. This I do believe in, and by this I live, in what the apostle Paul called “hope toward God.”

Read the whole essay in The American Scholar here.

“Lonely Tier” and “Flash” by Conway

Here are some new poems by “Conway,” a prisoner at a supermax facility in central California who’s serving 25-to-life under the state’s three-strikes law for receiving stolen goods. In his May 2 letter, he writes that he was recently relocated to a new cell block whose yard has a much-appreciated view of the outside world:

“I have moved to another place and the cages we get to go to for yard for four hours two or sometimes three times a week, are in perfect view of the entrance road to this facility, so we get to see cars trucks and motorcycles drive in and out and there are these trees along the outside perimeter that are shedding these seeds when the wind blows, thousands of little paper flowers searching for a home to grow roots, a very nice change of scenery from being behind the wall for so long. I saw a woman ride by the other day on a bicycle and wrote a poem about her, not sure if you would approve though, kind of racy :)”

Lonely Tier

Each night I sleep on this stony bed
passing me by, is a world in my stead
with the sounds of defiance corrupting our day
encroaching that compliance along the way
this cave made daily being dug so deep
hungry and craving we wander and weep
a concrete tomb constructed by tears
secreted from waves of trembling fears
it flows through those gates of wrath
on the golden coast it reaps this path
for a tear is an indestructible thing
the brilliance in there can make angels sing
But, when it’s reaped with bad intent
that lonely tier breeds wicked sentiment
a tear falls in the wind    blows back to me again
as forgiveness for my sin
returns to me as a priceless gem…



She was bent in half as she rode
peddling fast our sublime sweet dream
time flew past under white garments seen
flashing the hint of something in-between
at the speed unattainable you’d need
to ever accomplish that deed.
   But, we all watched her blast
furtive glances traded as she passed
Those in the know, enjoyed the show
igniting our memory of those
fires down below, shaped right
on desire’s one handlebar.
   Who is that lucky star
who opens that locket
shared in the pocket compared
behind curious door, while garments mingle
tumbled wreckless on carpeted floor.
   Always seeking release
or a little more pleased
as those others teased, so much
wished for just a little touch
offered in a flash…

Reminder: Massachusetts Vote on Gay Marriage June 14

Just a reminder to readers of this blog who live in Massachusetts and support gay marriage: The state legislature will vote this Thursday, June 14, on whether to place a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the November 2008 ballot. Now is the time to call or email your state senator and representative, and if you live near Boston, join the MassEquality demonstrations at the Statehouse.

This vote has important ramifications beyond the gay community. Allowing majority rule to restrict the civil rights of a minority is contrary to the spirit of the Bill of Rights. It’s cheap and easy for people with nothing at stake to cast a symbolic vote that disproportionately burdens a few. What authorizes us, the straight majority, to wield this power? As Christians, can we really say it’s our duty to collude with Caesar to correct what some of us consider the sinfulness of another’s private life?

Gay people are not going to form straight families because we’ve taken away their rights. Instead, they and their children will go through life crises without the basic security that we take for granted: a partner at their bedside in the hospital, child custody and visitation, the ability to make medical decisions for loved ones. How has a single straight marriage been saved by inflicting this legal limbo on our neighbors? Read some Massachusetts couples’ stories here.

Bishop Schori Interviewed by Bill Moyers

The PBS program Bill Moyers Journal yesterday interviewed Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA and the first woman to lead a national Anglican church. Schori is an interesting figure. As the interview shows, her background as an oceanographer gives her an appreciation of the diversity of God’s creation. Science also shapes her historical awareness that tradition and expert opinion always evolve in response to new data, and that somehow the enterprise (be it science or religion) can continue through change without losing legitimacy. Moyers’ leading questions got on my nerves; he persisted in framing the issues as us-versus-them, seeming not to hear Schori’s primary emphasis on reconciliation, coexistence and patience.

The transcript and video are both available on the site, along with background material on the conflict over homosexuality in the church. I may be asking too much from television, but I wish the cultural issues didn’t always upstage the theological ones in coverage of the Anglican schism. Apart from her brave stance on gays’ and women’s equality, what does Bishop Schori believe about God, Jesus, the atonement, grace, salvation…you know, those things that were actually important enough to have more than six Bible verses written about them? What are the different positions on these topics within the Anglican Communion, and how do those divisions track the pro-gay/anti-gay split, or not?

Some quotes from Bishop Schori:

“The incredible wonder of God’s creation and the incredible diversity of God’s creation. Things that come in different sizes and colors and shapes and body forms are all part of that incredible diversity of creation that’s present below the waters where we never even see them. And the Psalms tell us that God delights in that.

“My faith journey has been, as a scientist, about discovering the wonder of creation. That there– there’s a prayer that we, in the Episcopal Church use after baptism that prays that the newly baptized may receive the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. The kind of work that I did as a scientist was a piece of that, just a small piece.”


“Religion is at its best, I think, an invitation into relationship. It’s not necessarily a set of instructions for how you deal with every challenging person you run across in the world. It has that at its depth, but it– does not give one permission to say, “This person is out, and this one’s okay and acceptable.” And I– it continually invites us into a larger understanding of that relationship.”


“I do believe [homosexuality is] a moral issue because it’s about how we love our neighbor. It’s about how we live in relationship to God and our neighbors. When I look at other instances in church history, when we’ve been faced with something similar– the history in this country over the– over slavery. The church in the north . Much of it came to a different conclusion than the church in the south– about the morality of slavery.

“And neither side was comfortable with the breadth of understanding that could include the other. In practice, the Episcopal Church didn’t kick out the Confederate part of the church. They kept calling the roll during the Civil War, and when the war was over, they welcomed them back. But in the– in the heat of the moment it’s pretty tough to live with that kind of breadth that can include a position that seems so radically opposed.”


[On the Christian tradition’s difficulty in affirming sexuality:] “I think part of it’s our Greek heritage. You know, our tendency toward dualism, that– you know, one part of a human being or a male human being– exemplifies spirit and– a female human being is somehow lesser and– demonstrates the flesh. “With our long-development of an anthropology that says that heterosexual male is a normative human being. We’re– we’ve only begun in the last 150 years to really question that.

“And I believe that the wrestling with the place of women in leadership, particularly in public leadership, is directly related to the same kind of issue over the position of gay and lesbian people in leadership, in public leadership.”

Abandoned by Liberalism

Today’s post from Hugo Schwyzer perfectly describes both the ethical strengths and the one great spiritual weakness of liberal mainline churches. I’d only add that the needs he describes are in no way limited to teens. The church in question is All Saints Pasadena in California.

This flagship church of American Anglican liberalism is very, very good at encouraging individual exploration. We are very good at raising awareness of suffering in the broader world. We are very, very good at teaching young people how to ask the right theological questions. We are very, very good at instilling suspicion of any person or institution who cllaims to have The One True Answer. We are, most of the time, pretty good at loving kids “where they’re at” instead of where we think they should be.

But we liberal Episcopalians are often not so good at helping kids to come to certainties. Too often, when a young person in pain asks “where is God when I need Him?”, the institutional response is to say “Ah, my child, that’s an excellent question, one asked by many people over the centuries. We invite you to pray and reflect on God in His Mystery and His Apparent Absence, and know that we support you as you wrestle with the Great Dilemma of Faith.” We’re really good, we Episcopalians, at encouraging a process of discernment. (Heck, is there any word we love more than “process”?) We revel in “acknowledging dichotomies” and “appreciating uncertainty” and “holding apparent contradictions in simultaneous tension”. This is great, heady stuff, but it isn’t really helpful to a teen wrestling with the suicide of a friend, an eating disorder, the decision to terminate a pregnancy, their parents’ divorce.

What I try to do in my youth ministry — and what I see at least a few folks trying to do as well — is fuse an evangelical passion for Jesus as Savior and Best of Friends with an appreciation for theological pluralism. In other words, Jesus may not the be the Only Way, but to live in relationship with Him is certainly One Way, and I am unashamed to proclaim that for me, He has turned out to be the Best Way. It’s healthy and right and good to ackonwledge a multiplicity of equally wonderful choices, but at some point (particularly in a time of great existential crisis) it’s helpful to make one choice.

We all know Frost’s poem about the road less traveled. Too often among my fellow liberal Anglicans, I sense a real delight in remaining permanently stuck at the crossroads. One of the penchants I really dislike among some of my friends is the tendency to see the refusal to make any theological commitments as evidence of great wisdom. Some elevate “analysis paralysis” to the level of a high virtue. That’s fine for adults, but it’s not helpful for most teenagers, who, despite their natural suspicion towards authority, really need at least some certainties, even if the primary certainty that a good youth leader can provide is that they are loved.

When you’re a child, you take the path your parents tell you to take. When you’re a teen, it is right and good to become aware of options, of choices — and the church ought to point out that other choices exist. But after we acknowledge that there are other paths, perhaps just as worthy and good as ours (the ocean refuses no river, after all), we need to say definitively: this is our path. This is our way. And we will walk this path with you.

Resolving Realities: GLBT Christians, Love, and Law Versus Grace

David at Resolving Realities makes one of the more thorough arguments I’ve seen for why same-sex love is compatible with Biblical authority. I particularly appreciate how he goes beyond reinterpretation of specific verses to lay out a theory of Christian sexual morality. As the comments thread demonstrates, he wisely refrains from claiming that his is the only plausible reading of the text, merely that the pro-gay reading is one reasonable interpretation and therefore should not be a litmus test for whether you take the Bible seriously (as it has become in the Anglican Church’s present schism). Some highlights (boldface emphasis mine):

It is stunning to me that some Christians are willing to site Levitical mandates as a source of morality. If one desires to give Old Testament law, there is simply no way around justifying the commands, for we see even our Lord declaring, contra the Mosaic code, that “nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean”. Both Christ and his apostles explicitly freed us from the law. Some people try to distinguish between ‘moral’ and ‘ceremonial’ laws, but a clear test for determining members of each category must be presented, for the Torah itself makes no such distinctions. Because of the textual evidence (or lack thereof), and because I am uncomfortable adding distinctions where Scripture sees none, I do not buy the theory that there is a moral/ceremonial distinction to Mosaic law, and I have yet to hear a strong case for such a view. The breaking of any of the myriad laws is lawlessness. If these Levitical commands on male intercourse are binding, so is the Levitical command against menstrual intercourse, and all the other commands on any subject. I cannot explain all of the Mosaic code, and indeed much of it puzzles me, but I do not believe that it was not meant to be a static law given to all people for all time, and as people under Christ we are not to run to it as our guide.


If [Romans 1:26-27] is to be used to condemn homosexuality (or homosexual behavior, pick your lingo), one absolutely must accept the verse’s etiology (i.e., cause) of homosexuality. Paul clearly states that not only the actions but the desires of the people he’s talking about exists because of idolatry and (apparently) heterosexual immorality. For verse 26 begins, unambiguously, with the words ‘because of this’, directing the reader’s view upward to the actions described before. In fact, this brief stint on homosexuality is part of a passage that has nothing to do with sexuality, but a spiral of godlessness in the context of idolatry. To insist by reason of ‘face-value’ interpretation that this passage condemns all people engaging in homosexual sex, and yet not to accept the verse’s face-value cause of such a thing – that is, idolatry and immorality – is the height of selective biblical literalism. And those of us who are gay can tell you that we have not (most of us) engaged in idolatry nor in immorality leading up to the discovery of our orientation. It just is….

If we wish to interpret Romans 1 as condemning all gay people unambiguously (rather than those who, in worshipping idols and engaging in sexual immorality are given over to all sorts of sexual behavior, both natural to them and unnatural), we must also insist that every gay person is the way they are because of idolatry and immorality. You cannot claim Romans 1 condemns homosexual behavior, without recognizing that it also condemns the desire, and you must abandon all thought of biological or even psychological causes of sexual orientation outside of the context given in this passage. To be sure, Paul has nothing positive to say about the matter, and the thought of sanctioned homosexual relations probably did not occur to him, but when we come to Scripture we must come to it in context.


[Another] thing we must understand in developing a sex ethic is what principles we are basing our morality on. There are a lot of rules in the Bible, but what does the Bible have to say about the principles guiding morality?

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:37-40)

Here, then, is the source of all morality. But what about all the rules given, and what about our understanding of law and righteousness?

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’

“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”(Galatians 3:10-13, 23-25)

This is the Bible’s morality: love. And do not think it is a light thing, or that it is a good feeling one may get at the end of the day. Love is summed up in Christlikeness.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10)

So our call to love – at whatever the cost to ourselves – is the ultimate source of all ethics. As both Paul and Jesus say, all the law is summed up in the command to love. If we wish to put forth a regulation to God’s children, we must first be sure, absolutely sure, that this regulation flows from the law of love, which lies – vast, mysterious, wild, untamed, and unknown – at the very heart of God.

Strangely enough, I have heard people say, and even tell me to my face, that the Biblical injunction against homosexuality has nothing to do with love: that love does not enter into the question, but it is just a matter of design, or what God has intended for human sexuality. Can there be any less Christian reasoning for a law? How does this reconcile with the New Testament as a whole? Simply put: it does not. This is an argument from man’s religion, and it is opposed to the grace of Christ and the New Testament understanding of law.


Where then does that leave me? What is in bounds and what is out of bounds? This is tough, but before I go on to enumerate my sex ethic more clearly, let me return to the question so often posed: what about bestiality and pedophilia?

We saw that sex is a unifying experience, and if this is true, bestiality and pedophilia are not only logical contradictions but also lack the love I spoke of earlier. Because sex is unifying, it must unite two beings that are capable of being united. Both members must be able to contribute and receive from the relationship on all levels of intimacy. This includes mental, emotional, and sexual ties. A child does not know what sexuality is, and neither is a child capable of relating mentally or emotionally on the level of an adult, and so pedophilia takes two objects which are by nature not relatable and attempts to unite them. Pedophilia also, in its true form, loses the desire for its object of affection once it matures, and thus violently and necessarily breaks the command of love. I do not speak of particular age limits (three thousand years ago quite large age gaps between a husband and wife were much more accepted, and Scripture passes no condemnation of it), but of the pathological desire to sexually have that which is helpless and immature. Though it is a hazy line, and different cultures assign that line to different ages, it does nevertheless exist. A man may teach a child, for that is what the child needs, and so love the child, but a man may not love a child as a spouse, for the child
is not in nature comparable to an adult.

Bestiality is much the same, for a man can, after a fashion, love his dog, but he cannot expect his dog to fathom the rich sublimity of Chopin or his favorite well-versed poem or a story contemplating the divine. The union that runs between souls must necessarily bring together two beings that can relate along the varying levels of understanding that run within the other. To the human, containing the very image of God (though corrupted), nothing short of human will do. Otherwise the two are unable to relate. Both the perversions of bestiality and pedophilia are self-contradictory, and reduce the ‘lover’ to a mere seeker of personal passions, and the ‘beloved’ to an object or toy; they are naturally predatory. Reciprocity, and thus oneness, is lost, and sex is reduced to a collection of stimulated neurons, beginning somewhere in the nether regions and terminating somewhere in the brain.

But with two human beings, it is indeed possible for the two to sharpen each other, to sustain each other through a broken world such as ours, and to come to a deeper understanding of humanity and each other and the nature of self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. For this is where sexuality leads us: to love, which we see exemplified in Christ – a love that puts its object of affection above itself and before itself. And so far as the relational, emotional, and intellectual unifying of two beings into the creation of a new and communal One, there is nothing lacking inherently in homosexual couples that their heterosexual counterparts have. The ‘complimentarian’ nature of heterosexuality is simply (and wonderfully) a physical difference, and not necessarily a spiritual or relational one, unless we begin to claim that the souls of women and men are fundamentally different before God. No two people are the same – we are all somehow Other to all our neighbors – and it is the working of Otherness into Oneness that is where the difficulty, and the triumph, of union lies. I am not trying to indicate that such a union is easy, nor that it is always a simple matter to turn one’s thoughts and actions to Christ in the face of a seemingly overwhelming and more immediate spousal relationship, but I am presenting the goals and ideals of such a union, its functionality and appropriateness, and the path which it can ideally take in the sanctification of the two.

The stipulation I have set on my sex ethic is that it must take that drive which seems inherent to nearly all of humanity and raise it from a simple biological response to something holy before God and beneficial to its participants. And like all things, it is holy when it brings us closer to God. Simple acts of pleasure (sex) are not enough for this, and neither are simple acts of pain (abstention). It is following the earthly pleasure straight along that path of worship to its source in that infinite fountain of all pleasures that makes earthly pleasure worth anything at all. And it is following the earthly pain straight along that path of loving obedience to its termination in that infinite treasure-store of grace and freedom that makes earthly pain worth anything at all. We must not focus exclusively on the former and ignore the giver for his gifts. But we must also be careful not to focus exclusively on the latter and become ascetics, for any pleasure that God created (like sex) he created to be enjoyed and received with thanksgiving. I am convinced that any other view – a view which denounces pleasure for its own sake – presents a twisted view of God, and is even demonic. Pleasure is inherently a good thing, as it is inherently a godly thing: we must forget these silly notions of an austere and harsh Father in heaven, and instead realize that at his side are ‘pleasure for evermore’. ‘He is a hedonist at heart.’ My ethical dilemma is not whether pleasure is to be enjoyed, but in this world where indulgence and worship of the gift so easily exceeds our worship of the giver, in what context is it that the pleasure can be enjoyed without making an idol of it?

As I’ve already noted, sex by its nature forms a bond between two beings: it creates a oneness from what once was two. But the two were not wholly compatible before their union, both from their individual propensities to sin, and from neutral personality traits and conflicting interests. This is where pain comes in: that pain of altering and denying the Self for the sake of the Other, and in the closeness of union it can be quite intense. But thank God that within union a most intense intimacy is also forged by and through its pleasures (such as sex). It is in this context – the fires of a union between two bodies and two souls, and not in mere pleasure – that sex finds its redemptive and sanctifying value. It spurs the two toward a self-forgetful and self-sacrificing lifestyle, and so makes us into a clearer image of Christ, for his selflessness and his humility were the greatest the world has or shall ever see. Many of my heterosexual friends have said, after being wed, that ‘marriage is the greatest sanctifier’, and I have no reason to doubt their words. Within the pains and struggles that being in a union with another corrupted (though by no means worthless) soul, and in the continual difficult surrender of Self, it is the love and intimacy in which sex plays a part that redeems the act from good to holy.


If we continue to condemn homosexuality, it must be on one of two grounds. The first is an arbitrary rule, based either on nothing at all or ‘because I say so’. This gives us an arbitrary view of morality and an arbitrary view of religion, both of which are wrong and unhelpful for learning the nature of God. The other option is to lift genital differentiation to an almost transcendental realm, a realm where we begin to worship the penetration of a woman by a man simply by virtue of what it physically is. This is not to say heterosexuality is not (or should not be) normal – it most certainly is, and appropriately so. But to esteem it is almost paganistic sex worship. So the claim of moral superiority of heterosexuality rests either on arbitrary values derived from some inscrutable source independent of love, or it is a sort of worship of the physical act itself.

Read the whole article here.

Prison Poetry by Shrong Clemons

The PBS documentary series NOW ran an episode this week about an innovative program in the Sheridan Correctional Center of Illinois that aims to reduce recidivism by combining therapy, education and follow-up counseling for released convicts. In this video clip, former drug dealer and gang member Shrong Clemons, who became a model prisoner during his 20-month stay at Sheridan, performs three of his poems. Watch the whole episode here.

In Memoriam: Sarah Hannah

Yesterday’s Tupelo Press newsletter brought the tragic news that one of their talented authors, Sarah Hannah, had taken her own life. An award-winning poet and literature professor at Emerson College, Sarah was the author of two collections, Longing Distance and Inflorescence, both from Tupelo. The press will hold a memorial service and tribute reading for her at Poets House in New York City in September. Meanwhile, flowers and expressions of sympathy may be sent to her family at the following address: Nathan and Harriet Goldstein, 17 Metropolitan Avenue, Ashland, MA 01721. The following poem is reprinted by permission from Longing Distance:

The Colors Are Off This Season

I don’t want any more of this mumble—
Orange fireside hues,
Fading sun, autumnal tumble,
Stricken, inimitable—Rose.

I want Pink, unthinking, true.
Foam pink, cream and coddle,
Miniskirt, Lolita, pompom, tutu,
Milkshake. Pink without the mottle

Or the dying fall. Pink adored, a thrall
So pale it’s practically white.
A tinted room beneath a gable—
Ice pink, powder, feather-light—

Untried corner of the treble.
I want the lift, not the lower.
Bloodless pink stalled at girl,
No weight, no care, no hour.

Read more poems from this book here.