LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner: Saying the Unsayable

Jill Peláez Baumgaerter is Professor of English at Wheaton College, where she began teaching in 1980; six years ago she was appointed Dean of Humanities and Theological Studies. She holds the B.A. degree from Emory University, the M.A. from Drake University, and the Ph.D. degree in English from Emory. She is the author of several books of poetry: My Father’s Bones (Finishing Line Press, 2006), Finding Cuba (Chimney Hill Press, 2001), Namings (Franciscan University Press, 1999), and Leaving Eden (White Eagle Coffee Store Press, 1995). She has also published a textbook/anthology, Poetry (HBJ, 1990); and Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring (Cornerstone Press, 1998). She has been a Fulbright scholar, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is the winner of the White Eagle Coffee Store Press’s poetry chapbook contest, the Goodman Award, an Illinois Arts Council Award, and the Illinois Prize of the Rock River Poetry Contest. She is past president of the Conference on Christianity and Literature and serves as poetry editor of The Christian Century.

You can read two of Jill’s poems here:

Her article called "Poetry: Why Bother" here:

And a review of her book, Finding Cuba, here:

LeAnne: There’s so much I want to cover with you, Jill. First of all, tell me why you write poetry and then describe your latest chapbook, My Father's Bones.

I write in order to figure out how to say the unsayable, to put into language that which goes beyond language, to make myself pay attention.

My latest chapbook deals with loss. Its center is the twelve-poem sequence, “Requiem,” which was written in the weeks and months after September 11 which coincided with the death of my godson, a very special young man. In “Requiem” I write meditations on the parts of the funeral mass, so it is highly liturgical, and what I learned in writing it was that the liturgy takes you on a journey and brings you up on the other side of the cross.

LM: As poetry editor of The Christian Century, what advice do you have for aspiring poets?

Avoid cliches and abstractions, be disciplined, pay attention. Upset the ordinary and always connect with something larger than yourself. And don’t send off poems until you have revised them at least ten times.

LM: Why should Christians read good literature?

Good literature is the word made flesh. It enlarges our experience. Since most of us live pretty provincial lives, it introduces the world to us and allows us to live vicariously through the lives of well-drawn characters. We learn how to live and how to love and how to die in good literature. It exercises our imaginations and that is very important for Christians because without imaginations we cannot have faith.

On Thursday more from Jill Peláez Baumgaertner.

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