University Professor of English Paul Mariani
'Writers' Features Visual Side to BC Poet's Work
By Stephen Gawlik
University Professor of English Paul Mariani was in a Colgate University classroom teaching about the place of death in a Hemingway story one November day in 1963, when he learned of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"A young man opened the door and announced that Kennedy had been shot. At first I thought, what kind of a stupid pre-Thanksgiving joke was that to pull. But he said it was no joke, that he'd heard it on the radio," said Mariani, who recalls walking across an eerily silent campus that afternoon on his way home.
"I walked home to my apartment to find my wife sitting before our small black and white TV, in tears. Confused images on the screen - a caravan, a sniper or snipers...Then Walter Cronkite removing his glasses to announce that the President was dead."
Mariani's recollection of JFK's murder is one of a host of influences - national, religious and personal - behind his latest collection of poetry Deaths and Transfigurations: New Poems (Paraclete Press, 2005).
It is Mariani's first new collection in nine years and takes as its themes death in all its forms and the quest for new life.
His poems are complemented in this work by the illustrations of his friend for 30 years, Barry Moser, an artist with experience as a designer, printmaker, painter, illustrator, printer, author, and teacher. Moser's works are represented in many collections including the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, Harvard, Princeton and the Library of Congress.
Mariani and Moser will discuss their work as part of the "Writers Among Us" series on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Burns
Library reading room. The series on BC faculty authors is sponsored by Boston College Magazine and the BC Bookstore.
"Lyric poetry is by its very nature elegiac - we write about what in fact is already slipping away from us," said Mariani, recounting a series of difficult deaths over the last few years, the revelation of scandal in the Catholic Church as his own son prepared for ordination to the priesthood and the emotions of Sept. 11, 2001, which brought to mind the murder of the president in 1963.
"Plus the fact of being 65 now, my mother's age when she died," he lamented.
"And what was there over against that? The marriages of two of my sons, and Paul's new life as a young priest. Then the arrival of grandchildren," said Mariani, recounting joyful marriages, friendships, births and his granddaughter's playful antics "serving me imaginary tea."
"What ties [these poems] together is the sense of simultaneous loss and recuperation through the formal constraints and found freedoms of the poems themselves. Again and again we move tentatively from the foot of that altar...to the altar itself, where the stuff of our dailiness, though it remains, is offered up, and transformed into a new musical time while maintaining its time-bound identity," he said.
Moser's body of work includes almost 200 titles he has illustrated or designed, including a version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which won the National Book Award for Design and Illustration in 1983.
"I think Barry is a good foil for my poems. He's dark, gritty, unrelenting, but a real searcher too. A veritable Kierkegaardian figure, one of the most devout agnostics (his word) I know," said Mariani of his friend.
"He's a man of immense artistic talents masquerading as a down-home boy," said Mariani, who is the author of God and the Imagination: Poetry, Poets, and the Ineffable, Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane. •