LOPEZ: Do you have a favorite of those poems — a real intimate window into your life so far?
NOVAK: I love a lot of them, for bringing back sharp memories otherwise forgotten — pieces snatched from the flames! My favorite two, of course, are the two for Karen at the end. The haunting emptiness, the warmth of laughter, sure knowledge that she surrounds me with care.LOPEZ
: Why should everyone write poetry?
NOVAK: Because at heart everyone has a soul that sometimes sings. The sheer effort of matching this lilt to words is good both for your sense of words and for the intensity with which you will observe things in the future. Poetry sharpens our touches, tastes, the scents we smell. Open a bottle of cologne — is it even close to the one your father sometimes wore? Brings back no memories at all? Poetry grabs onto passing things and fully dwells in them awhile.
LOPEZ: What if you’re bad at it? Does it say something about your soul?
NOVAK: Being first class at it is not the point; I know for sure I am not. One does it for the sheer enjoyment of the thing. It is worth it, and it is worth doing badly. Your life will be more joyful for the effort. And real poets will mean more to you.
LOPEZ: I loved this: “Do not neglect the humblest modes of inspiration. Close your fists around them quickly while in your grasp, seize them in mid-flight. They evanesce into the night.” But who has time?
NOVAK: A wise teacher once told our class: Keep a worn journal by the bed, and write in it every night — five minutes, no more — jotting down the most memorable image (or even insight) of the day. Four minutes if you must. But do it. You will be surprised how this will teach you to notice many vivid images each day, and many insights. Only choose one at night, though, “to snatch from the flames.”
LOPEZ: What is “the sacramental sheen by which the world of our Creation shows itself”?
NOVAK: The world shines like shook foil: Hopkins. The beauty of earth is all around us, if we notice, and in it the glory of God. To be a theist is to say “thank you” with glad heart many times a day.
LOPEZ: What is a “torment of beauty”? Why would it be such a good torment?
NOVAK: Don’t some beautiful sounds, sights, scents overwhelm you? So that you can hardly bear to be still? Beauty of many kinds is at times too much. It is a torment, overcharges inner equipment.
LOPEZ: “I wish that I had truly been a poet, not an amateur . . . so that they might be worthy of the Creator from Whose sweet hands they came. I did my best.” Reminds me of what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about being called not to be “successful but to be faithful.” Is that something of what you had in mind in publishing this collection?
NOVAK: Some real poets have looked at some of my verses. They tell me how poor each is, undisciplined, not really poetry yet, possibly highly charged prose. Too dominated by Hopkins and a few other favorites.
All true, but oh! so much fun, and it has enriched so many other moments of my life, by teaching me habits of observation and joy. And on some special occasions, such as birthdays, a little more elegant than just “short remarks” — as long as a laugh or two is implanted in them.
After reading this volume, two or three friends have written how much they enjoyed moments of laughter, followed by mistiness, a smile here, an LOL, a heart wrench. How happy their notes made me!
(For more on William E. Simon Jr. and Living the Call, read KJL’s recent syndicated column.)
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.