Radical Discipleship: Interview With Rose Marie Berger on Bending the Arch: Poems

ORDER Bending the Arch: Poems.

Radical Discipleship: Bending the Arch is a heavily annotated collection of poems, can you talk about the relationship between the poetry and the history and information in the back?

Rose Marie Berger: It’s a good question. I just finished reading Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets, a 350-page poem examining the Modern era with no endnotes or explanations. It’s a stunning, ground-breaking work. But it requires a lot of work by the reader. Bending the Arch requires a lot from the reader also, but I wanted to lower the bar a little. Make it a little easier and more accessible. There are themes in Bending the Arch that I want readers to explore more on their own. My hope is that the endnotes will encourage readers to dig into the suppressed historical narratives in their own families and regions.

RD:What was the process like for writing the book?

RMB: I wrote the earliest version of “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” (or what was then titled “Saarinen’s Arch”) in 1994, a quarter-century ago, in response to my own sense of cultural dislocation. I am a cultural Californian, a West Coaster, and Catholic who has lived for more than half my life in the culture of the Anglo-Protestant urban East and in neighborly relations with people who mostly migrated from the rural South to Washington, D.C. Since I migrated East from the Sacramento valley, I’ve been trying to get my footing, find my standing ground.

On a trip to St. Louis in the mid-1990s during one of the great spring floods, I dreamed that I was looking west through the Gateway Arch, designed by architect Eero Saarinen in 1947. Instead of seeing the Mississippi River, I saw the Pacific Ocean, two thousand miles away. In an instant, something ignited in me: I wanted to know about the spiritual powers in operation between St. Louis and the Pacific in the age of expansion and extermination, an age which my Irish Catholic and German Mennonite immigrant family took part only three generations ago.

“Confessions of a Westward Expansionist”  also became my masters thesis for my MFA in poetry at the Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. My mentor Dennis Nurkse (Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult) never shirked from the expansiveness of my vision for the work and helped me learn the technical skills I needed to pull it off. …

Read the rest of the interview here.

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