Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Book of Mev

“The Hebrew socialist revolution against the fascist national Golgotha”*

Notes on Eliot Katz, The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

Example of George Steiner’s championing learning by heart: Ginsberg knew  hundreds of poems from memory [20]

In Dear Layla and Book of Mev: The multiple instances of  Clara’s “beautiful friendship,” as in theme of interpersonal solidarity, Part 3 of Howl  [84]  Maria Goreth and the elderly, Nora’s letter, Teka’s eulogy, Carla and Perry,  Sabine and Danesha, Layla and Perry…

Book of Mev and Dear Layla: Hold it all, again—don’t have to choose one or other—realism or surrealism, narrative or anti-narrative, elevated diction or American speech; can embrace multiple interests and mix them in original, personal, and surprising ways.  [90]  Kerouac’s advice: “Something that you feel will find its own form.” Read the rest of this entry »

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How to Have Fun

Mev taught me something very important: She taught me that when you go to Ted Drewes you could mix all different kinds of frozen custard flavors together. I would never have dreamed of some of the possibilities she tried. Mev loved ice cream and she loved desserts – the richer the better, the more varied the better.

—Teka Childress, eulogy from 1996; quoted in The Book of Mev

A Beautiful Kaddish by Andrew Wimmer

I was writing in my Naikan notebook this morning, reflecting on some of what I’ve received from Andrew Wimmer. I remembered his “review” of The Book of Mev, and am happy to share it here.

This book contains multitudes.

Among other things,
 some beautiful faces, a spear through the heart,
Chomsky transformed,
and a bunch of hearts and minds wrapped in a tumor.

This is a book about the untimely death
 of Mev Puleo, a promising photojournalist, 
theologian, and seeker of the truth.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”
And mourn they do.

If you want hagiography, the life of the smiling girl with the camera who goes to Latin America and
 saves everybody, forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Bliss with Books: A Fall Writing and Reading Course

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward.  We have nothing to give them.  They have loved reading.’”

—Virginia Woolf

____________________

In this fall writing and reading course we will explore ways of deepening our reading practice, reflecting on our reading history, and sharing with others  the fruits of our reading.  Themes we will consider include:  courtesy and answerability, the canon and the syllabus, intensive and extensive reading, commonplace books (paper and digital), learning by heart, skimming, browsing, planning and spontaneity,  slow reading, a saturation  job, being a scholar of words, Kafka’s Axe, grateful dependence on translators, the joy of recommendation, and more.

Each session will  feature one or more themes, and allow time for individual writing, paired exchange, and open forum. We’ll also discuss Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading.

Between class sessions, participants will post reflections, lists, questions, responses, and recommendations at a class blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Thirty Years Ago

Mev, roof of Jesuit Hall, SLU, circa 1987, photo by John Kavanaugh

Dear “Hermana Ann”   by Maria Vazquez-Smith

Maria is taking a class with me based on The Book of Mev.  One of the weekly themes was Direct Address, and Maria wrote the following and gave me permission to share it.

Dear “Hermana Ann”                                                                                         September 12, 2017

Hello, my name is Maria Smith and I am a 2013 graduate of Saint Louis University. It has been a true honor getting to know you through The Book of Mev (as in your friend, Mev Puleo. Her husband,  Mark Chmiel, wrote a beautiful book that you’d enjoy. It includes people like you that make me proud to be a SLU alum). This afternoon, I read an excerpt that features you being interviewed by Mev. During the time of the interview, you were both in El Salvador, perhaps sitting outside somewhere. While I read the interview, I was sitting outside my office. I had just finished eating lunch and was taking a moment to breathe and sit in the sun before returning back to work. Read the rest of this entry »

Those Blasts of a Trumpet

I’ve recently finished reading Robert Richardson’s engrossing biography, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. The author regularly highlights the exuberant reading Emerson did throughout his life. Robertson not only identifies authors and titles of what Emerson read; he also notes how Emerson read. Twice, Robertson quotes Goethe, a dramatic influence on Emerson: “What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account any thing that strikes us… every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.” Emerson was a proponent of skimming books:  “The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you.”  Read the rest of this entry »

“Be in Love with Yr Life” — A Online Summer Writing Course with The Book of Mev*

From time to time I’ve learned how some readers of The Book of Mev recognize themselves in Mev Puleo’s words, say, from her letters and journals. They remind of the French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote: “In reality every reader is, while she is reading, the reader of her own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable her to discern what, without this book, she could perhaps never have perceived in herself.”

In this late summer-early fall writing class, I invite you to read (or reread) and write off of stories, themes, and questions from The Book of Mev. We’ll explore topics like being present, community, accompaniment, faith, spirituality, the state of the world, the state of the soul,  friends, mentors, teachers, creative arts (e.g., photography), travel, breakdowns, breakthroughs, illness, celebrating, grieving, letting go, poetry, El Salvador, Palestine, Haiti, schools, gospels, letter-writing, gratitude, bearing witness, and much else.

We go  for eight sessions,  from Sunday 20 August to Sunday 8 October.  Each Sunday I will email participants an agenda  to direct reading, writing, and sharing in the week ahead.

Time Commitment:  You’ll need approximately 1 to 2 hours a week, more if you have the energy.  It’s not necessary to do an entire agenda in one sitting; feel free to space it out over the week. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing the World/1 [from The Book of Mev]

The second week of that Summer Program at Maryknoll, Mev made an announcement after one of the morning sessions that she was going to present some of her photographs in a slideshow/meditation on a night when there was no scheduled speaker.  Curious about what made this self-promoting impresario tick, I wanted to attend.  Her slideshow, with taped instrumental music to establish a contemplative mood, was a welcome relief from the intense, sometimes strangely cerebral presentations during the day about global liberation theology, the suffering of the poor, and the consequent responsibility of U.S. citizens.  She presented a series of her photos from her travels in Brazil, Mexico, Haiti and Russia, and, as I confronted the faces of Mev’s subjects, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems, Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Please Call Me by My True Names,” especially the concluding lines:

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Her meditation lasted about 15 minutes, leading the group of 20 into an awareness that our discussions during the day ultimately were about flesh and blood people, with names, faces, histories, heartaches, resilience and desires.  Afterwards, feeling hesitant to speak directly to Mev, I went up to my room and began to write out Nhat Hanh’s poem, since I had learned it by heart years before and often used it for a morning meditation. I also wrote a note of thanks to her for the presentation, and I pinned the note and poem for her on the community bulletin board.  This was safe, spiritual flirting.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of a Reader’s Response, 4.4.2017

Some time back I received the following from Fred Zweig after he read The Book of Mev

“Mark, I finished reading your book yesterday.  It has it all:  a beautiful love story, heroic idealism, clarity.  It is awesome in many respects.  I am 93 years old and consider myself pretty tough-minded but it is the only book I remember reading that made me cry!  Congratulations on your achievement.

With great appreciation,

Fred”