Author Name: Arthur Powers
Contributions to Image and Likeness: “Venus If You Do,” “Claudio,” “MS,” “In the Death of Winter”
Bio: Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and spent most his adult life there. From 1985 to 1992, he & his wife worked with the Church in the Amazon, organizing subsistence farmers in a region of violent land conflicts. Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, the 2008 Tom Howard award (2nd place), the 2012 Tuscany Novella Prize, the 2014 Catholic Arts & Literature Award, & many other writing honors. He is author of three books, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines & anthologies.Find Arthur on Amazon.
How did you find yourself inspired to write this/these piece(s)?
By watching my fellow human beings and myself, and pondering the rhythms and meaning of life.
What drew you to writing about Theology of the Body in this way?
I did not consciously write about the Theology of the Body. I wrote about human beings and the way they think and live. As the Theology of the Body admirably suits the way people really are (deep down), it also encompasses my stories.
There is a lot of nonfiction out there on TOB, but the amount of fiction and poetry on the subject is certainly on the rise. What is it, do you think, about fiction and poetry that lend themselves to illustrating the tenets of the Theology of the Body?
Fiction and poetry are much better than non-fiction at conveying experience, with all its nuances and ambiguities. TOB involves intricate and intimate aspects of human nature, and these can be best captured and conveyed empathetically via fiction and poetry.
Some TOB stories and poems can be evangelization tools, and some can be messages of encouragement to those of us doing the evangelizing. Which do you think yours is, and why do you think that’s valuable to its audience?
I do not write my stories to be tools of any kind. I write them to convey human experience – to tell a story. If they are successful, they help the readers understand a little more about life, about the human condition, about the world we live in. Anything that brings us greater understanding also brings us closer to truth, which in turn is reflected in the teachings of the Church.
Let’s first talk about your prose contributions to this project. In “Venus if You Do,” you look at what appears at first blush to be an unlikely topic for our modern times, and that is the worship of ancient gods. How do you think the idea of “strange gods” plays into the illustration of the complexities of human sexuality as seen through the lens of Theology of the Body?
I write all my stories because they come into my consciousness as stories. Like all others, “Venus If You Do” was born without an agenda – it is simply a story. However, reading it as a reader, rather than the author, I can trace out several interesting elements: 1) deviant spirits are real, and if we allow them power in our lives, we will suffer; 2) whether a deviant spirit is an old demi-god, a demon from South American folk religion, or the secular demons of our own society (greed, consumerism, internet addictions, lust) doesn’t matter much – all are able to distort us; 3) the parallel between pagan society and our own is very real – the situation of the Church today is far closer to the situation in ancient Rome than it was 50 years ago.
Then in “Claudio,” you show us what amounts to an extramarital affair that happens only within the imagination. What do you think this story can show readers about the concept of emotional faithfulness and how that applies to forming healthy, integrated human relationships?
Again, “Claudio” was written as a story. But, as a reader, I can see that the story tells us of the potential boredom of marriage, the lure of the romantic stranger, the recognition that real love involves hard work, sweat, daily picking up one’s cross. In the end, Maria das Dores truly sees her husband struggling up from the field after a hard day’s work, recognizes this (semi-consciously) as love, and makes the decision. All love is a decision. But the husband still snores while the imaginary lover walks off quietly in the moonlight.
In your poems “MS” and “HVaughn,” you illustrate the effects of choice on the human body, specifically on the female body. While both poems show radically different choices for their subjects, both end on a note of hope. What can you tell us about the hope you see in the characters and images of both of these poems?
“MS” is based on a real person who made that real decision – I admire her immensely and wanted to record her decision. “In the death of winter…” is also based on a real, tragic happening – one which contrasts technical/mechanical view of life/death with the human/spiritual view. If there is hope – cold comfort – in this poem, it is that, in the end the technical/mechanical self-destructs and the human/spiritual prevails, but much is distorted and destroyed in the process.
What’s another story or poem in this anthology that spoke to you? What in particular in that piece reached out to you?
Dena Hunt’s story, “Pear Trees,” is wonderfully written. Among other things, it brings home how much the sexual revolution has hurt young women – how it has made them servile to the whims of self-absorbed men (and most of us men, when young, are pretty self-absorbed).
Look for discussion questions on Arthur’s contributions on Wednesday, February 22, 2107.