Friday, February 24, 2012

On newspaper goodbyes – and the persistence of poetry

I’ve said goodbye at numerous newspapers in my lifetime, each as distinct from one another as it is possible to be. After almost nine years, I’m leaving the Catholic Standard & Times and today was my last day. It has been an extraordinary learning experience (and, no, I don’t mean just learning to spell baldacchino, or to tell the difference between a zucchetto and a biretta).

There has been tumult and laughter; hundreds of column inches to pare away and last-minute must-run standalones; adrenaline-pumping breaking stories; and enduring friendships forged over coffee and page proofs.

Pretty much as in every newsroom.

Except, this one has had poetry.

I was surprised the first time I realized CS &T and Phaith columnist-chemist-theologian (how's that for a trifecta?) Michelle Francl-Donnay followed the links in this blog and read my poems online. I was even more surprised to find out not only did she like the work, she made her chemistry classes at Bryn Mawr actually read all manner of contemporary poetry.

Yesterday, she showed up with a book of Jane Hirshfield poetry for my goodbye. “The Supple Deer,” she told me, has a line that reminds her of the work (the gristle and grace) of editing: To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

Then this morning, Matthew Gambino, the director of the CS&T and Phaith magazine, surprised me with three books of poetry, among them Billy Collins’ Nine Horses, and Red Bird by Mary Oliver. I opened both at random and marveled at the way the stanzas fitted themselves to the circumstance in which I was reading them.

The third volume of poetry (Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art) I didn’t have to open at random, because Matt had already singled out a passage for me to read:

If you would be a poet, write living
newspapers. Be a reporter from
outer space, filing dispatches
to some supreme managing editor who
believes in full disclosure and has a
low tolerance for bullshit.

I love it.

It seems to me that newsrooms must have, at their heart, poetry. And the stories conveyed – word by word, line to line, in clipped cadences – are the same ones we chase in art and in prayer.

I’m looking forward to the distinct cadences and metric of the Spanish-language newsroom I’ll be joining next week.

I trust there'll be poetry, so I'll sign off with these lines from Neruda's poem "I'm explaining a few things" (translation is mine):

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
And the poppy-covered metaphysics?
And the rain that sometimes beats down
words, filling them
with openings and birds?
I'll tell you the news….

1 comment:

  1. It sounds as if you've had a largely positive experience at your place of employment - how lucky for you! So few seem to be able to state that today.

    And, good luck in your new job! It sounds right up your alley. I look forward to reading more of your work, and reading your political analysis.

    Best, as always!


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