Smithsonian magazine has announced the finalists in its annual photo contest. You can see them at the Smithsonian’s site, where voting for the Readers’ Choice Winner is open till May 6. All the photos are worth a look.
In a recent issue of the Century, I interview Kent Haruf, whose novel Benediction has garnered a nomination for the newly minted Folio Prize in the United Kingdom and recent reviews in The Guardian (by Ursula Le Guin) and the Telegraph. Haruf has made a life out of fine and careful reading, as well as writing. I asked him for recommendations on five books that have helped him become more fully human.
The Sportsman Channel touts its newest series, Amazing America with Sarah Palin, in a three-minute video making the rounds on social media. The video, a recording by “the most patriotic band in America,” Madison Rising, contains rousing lyrics, while a variety of activities flash by in rapid succession: men fighting fires, men shooting guns, women shooting guns, men running with bulls, men riding down zip lines, cars racing, and Sarah Palin on a dogsled pulled by pink-booted sled dogs.
Here’s my question. What if there was a poem That didn’t know what it was about until it got To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t To play with imagery and cadence and metrical Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just Keep going in order to find out that the poem is About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix. If I had been the boss of this poem I would have Made it so they can manage things, or I could be The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father; But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about, It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter: No one knows what’s going to happen, and there Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage. Some poems you can leave when they thrash too Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson Here about literature, about how you have to sing Without knowing the score . . . something like that. All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.
Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).