poetry

Discussion Questions: Arthur Powers

apowers200x200Contributions by Arthur Powers:

“Venus If You Do”

“Claudio”

“MS”

“In the Death of Winter”

See our interview with Arthur here.

Discussion Questions

  • What should be the relationship between artistic creations and the ideas/ideals the author believes in?
  • How do you feel when a story or poem is obviously pushing a certain message?  Does this feeling differ if you agree or disagree with the message?
  • How can fiction bring someone who may not agree with you toward being more open to your point of view?

Interview with Contributor Arthur Powers

apowers200x200Author 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.

About Arthur’s Contributions to Image and Likeness

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.

Interview with Contributor R. Elaine Westphal

authorimageplaceholderAuthor Name: R. Elaine Westphal

Contribution to Image and Likeness: “My Pot of Gold”

Bio: R. Elaine Westphal holds a BA degree in English Education, is retired from a career in supervisory management and is currently an active community volunteer. She enjoys quilting, singing, classic movies, and relaxing to classical music. Nature walks are her inspiration for her creative writing. Along with writing poetry, she also enjoys writing articles about local history and nature subjects.

How did you find yourself inspired to write this piece?

One of my favorite ways to be inspired to write is to commune with nature. My daily walks give me solitude and peace to reflect on and/or create new ideas.  Everything has been created by God and since mankind is made in God’s image and likeness, one not only relates to the “seen” but also the emotions of the heart—the “unseen.”

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 often reveal and express the emotional side of a person.  Nonfiction gives us the theory, but fiction and poetry plays out this theory in daily living circumstances and feelings that make the whole notion a three-dimensional experience.

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 believe my poem is an evangelization tool.  In the search for “rainbows” in our lives, their beauty can be found in nature in any season, but the real and only place to find “rainbows’ a promise of hope, is in our hearts.  There we experience all our emotions and from that, grow in gratitude for God’s care, blessings and goodness we have all received.

In your poem “My Pot of Gold,” you illustrate the role human suffering plays in personal growth.  What part does the value of suffering play in how we live the Theology of the Body?

“My Pot of Gold” also has a more subtle approach to value of suffering and searching for inner peace.  In our youth, we try to find all our happiness externally of ourselves. As we grow more mature, we see that the real peace comes from within.  Instead of self-fulfilled enjoyment, we see more value in the love we have in our hearts that we can share with others.  Then we find that because we’ve searched inside ourselves, we can love one another with the dignity God has endowed each of us with.

What’s another story or poem in this anthology that spoke to you?  What in particular in that piece reached out to you?

Being a cancer survivor, the struggles portrayed in “Victorious” by Kathy Huth Jones really touched me.  She so aptly portrayed the human suffering experience of facing your own mortality and finally coming to grips with the way suffering can bring one to a deeper level of the bond of love that already existed.

Discussion: “Victorious” by Katy Huth Jones

khjones200x200“Victorious” by Katy Huth Jones

See our interview with Katy here.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think most couples truly understand the marriage vows when they promise to love one another “in sickness and in health?”
  • How can the threat of death and loss make love more precious between a husband and wife?
  • What are some ways married couples can learn to appreciate one another more without waiting for a life-threatening situation to bring them closer together?

Interview with Contributor Katy Huth Jones

khjones200x200Author Name: Katy Huth Jones

Contribution to Image and Likeness: “Victorious”

Bio: Katy Huth Jones grew up in a family where creative juices overflowed and made puddles to splash in. When not writing or taking photos, Katy plays piccolo and flute in a regional symphony. She lives with her husband Keith in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Their two sons, whom she homeschooled, have flown the nest and live creative lives of their own. Best of all, she is a cancer survivor. Find Katy on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,YouTube, and Amazon.

About “Victorious”

How did you find yourself inspired to write this/these piece(s)?

Nuclear-bomb strength chemo temporarily robbed me of life in every way, but it brought my husband and I closer than ever because we realized how fragile and precious were our lives together. This poem was my attempt at capturing those powerful feelings as we renewed our oneness.

What drew you to writing about Theology of the Body in this way?

The desire to share the preciousness of marriage, especially when it’s so easy to take our spouse for granted.

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 can put a comfortable “distance” between the subject and the reader who might find it difficult to talk about, and paradoxically engage the reader on an emotional level.

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 would consider my poem encouragement, especially to others in a similar situation.

If I had to describe your poem “Victorious,” I’d call it a celebration of the marriage vow to love in sickness and in health.  How well does that description fit?  Can you speak to the healing power of poetry, both in the writing and the reading of it?

That’s a great description of the poem! Poetry has great healing power. Writing it is a safe way to express difficult emotions and work through the tremendous upheaval cancer and other life-threatening situations bring upon the patient and the patient’s family. Reading poetry is also cathartic to those seeking healing, because it affirms the patient’s feelings and lets them know they are not alone in their journey.

 

Look for discussion questions on “Victorious” on Wednesday, November 21.

Discussion: “Thou” and “Nice” by Gerard Webster

gwebster200x200Pieces by Gerard Webster

See our interview with Gerard here.

Discussion Questions

After reading “Nice,” talk about how the minor aggravations of day-to-day married life and the false attraction of the “other side of the fence” get in the way of seeing the big picture of our lives—of the lasting (and ever-lasting) values.

 

After reading “Thou,” can you describe in your own life how the slings and arrows of life have actually made your marriage stronger? Would your marriage have been as strong as it is now without those trying times?

In what ways does love grow as external beauty “wears and tears and rubs thin?” How does love’s “aging” deepen its roots?

Contributor Interview: Gerard Webster

gwebster200x200Author Name: Gerard Webster

Contributions to Image and Likeness: “Thou,” “Nice”

Bio: Gerard D. Webster is the author of two Catholic novels, In-Sight and The Soul Reader. He is the co-founder of the first local affiliated chapter of The Catholic Writers Guild, the St. Johns Chapter, in Jacksonville, Florida. His past experience encompasses a broad background—as a Peace Corps Volunteer, a soldier, an international businessman, and an addictions counselor. Most of all, he is a husband to his wife of 45 years, a father to their five children, and a grandfather. He wrote the poem, “Thou,” many years ago to honor his wife, Anne.

About These Pieces

How did you find yourself inspired to write this/these piece(s)?  

I wrote the poem, Thou, to my wife Anne about 25 years ago. Anne started teaching again after our youngest started school. I was in night school for my Master’s degree while was also working full-time as an addictions counselor and part time driving a laboratory delivery van. We were so broke at that time that we couldn’t pay attention. Because of all the stress and pressures of our lives, I wrote the poem to Anne to reassure her of my undying love for her. I never intended to publish it. Only when submissions for Image and Likeness were being sought did I think of the poem again. I asked Anne if she would mind if I submitted it. She thought it would be a good fit. She then retrieved the original copy of the poem from where she had placed it—like a treasure—for safekeeping 25 years ago. She knew right where it was because—from time to time whenever life threw us a curve—she would pull it out and read it again.

The short story, Nice, was written specifically for Image and Likeness. About a year after my father passed away, a well-meaning relative was trying to “comfort” my mother by repeating how sad it was that she lost her husband. To which my mother responded: “Oh, don’t feel bad. That’s how every good marriage ends.” I never forgot that. When I  tried to think of a story to submit, that phrase kept coming to mind. So I wrote the story around that theme: that the death of one of the two partners is the way every good marriage should end. The irony is that the phrase, “’til death do us part,” implies both a sad end to an earthly life together and a crown of victory for a marriage so successfully concluded.

What drew you to writing about Theology of the Body in this way?

To me, there are two ways to depict the value of something: one is to show, by contrast, the ugliness of its opposite and the other is to show the beauty of the thing itself. The poem, Thou, was not written for Image and Likeness. It was written for Anne. But in trying to put into words how much she meant to me, I found a reflection on the beauty of marriage itself.  On the other hand, the short story, Nice, gave me an opportunity to contrast an outwardly successful but shallow life of fleeting relationships to a challenging but deeper married life anchored in the vow “‘til death do us part.” In the poem and the short story, I wanted to focus more on the beauty and permanence of marriage than on the distortion of it that we too often see in our modern culture.

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?

I enjoyed learning about Theology of the Body through reading the many non-fiction works out there. It has certainly given me a cerebral understanding of God’s plan and logical arguments against the counterfeits proposed by secular society. But, just as the body needs a heart as well as a brain, we need to emotionally experience the beauty of TOB as well as understand its theology. Fiction and poetry speak very much to the heart.   

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?

If I had to try to categorize them, I’d call them the evangelization of attraction. It’s the most natural thing in the world to be attracted to beauty and revolted by ugliness. In both the poem and the short story, I hoped to paint a scene of beauty—the beauty of the lifelong commitment of two people deeply in love and who transmit that love through the sacrament of marriage.   

If I had to describe your poem “Thou,” I’d call it an illustration of the classrooms to be found in the school of marriage.  How accurate a description is that, and what do you think or hope readers can see of themselves (or what they have learned/need to learn) in this poem?  

That’s a good description, even though I never thought of it that way. Thou was written to and for Anne—as a testament to the amazing transforming effect her love had on me. I heard a saying once that “Men don’t raise children. Children raise men.” Her steadfast love, through tough times and good, as well as the responsibility for five other souls we brought into this world, sculpted me from a rough rock of undefined shape to something closer to the image and likeness of our Maker. I hope that the readers can see something of that chiseling effect on themselves—as well as a vision for what they can become—by reading how Anne had such a powerful influence on my life and the lives of our children.

Then in “Nice,” you give us a story of a season of change common to all lasting marriages, and that is that dreaded season of discontent. What do you think the Theology of the Body teaches us about weathering such a season?

It’s very easy today to become bewitched by the flashy, successful, wealthy, popular counterfeit “loves” our culture presents as ideal. True love doesn’t always look as glamorous when it involves working a second job, changing dirty diapers, fixing a leaky sink…or hanging on a cross. But the sacrificial element is what defines true love and gives it meaning. When Anne and I were first married, we watched an episode of the TV program “Love Boat.” A couple got married by the captain on the ship at the end of the show—and their “vow” to each other was to remain married “for as long as we both shall love.” What kind of a vow is that? It means nothing. Even though it looked good on a cruise ship or on a beach at an island resort, how was it going to stand up to the rigors of daily life—dirty socks, flat tires, kids with the flu, and an old house in need of paint? TOB helps see through the ephemeral counterfeits to the real love that God has for his people—and sacramental marriage and family that is a reflection of that love.    

What’s another story or poem in this anthology that spoke to you?  What in particular in that piece reached out to you?  

Two stories were particularly memorable for me—and for very different reasons: Venus If You Do by Arthur Powers did a great job of contrasting true love and marriage to the siren call of “serial conquests.” The insertion of Greek mythology and tying a pagan goddess to the demonic domination of a man was particularly insightful.

Pear Trees by Dena Hunt stood out for its shock value. At first I questioned the language and assault at the end of the story; but then I realized that the reaction of the man in gray flannel could not have been triggered by anything less invasive. This was a daring but very effective story. It certainly stood out from the others and forced me to think my initial reaction through.

Look for discussion questions on “Thou” and “Nice” on Wednesday, October 26.