This Advent program of poems and music came into being thanks to Gail Roussey, of Campus Ministry, and in collaboration with Cynthia Caporella, the Director of Music at John Carroll University. Thanks to the musicians (listed at the end of the program) and Lydia Munnell, who read the scriptural epigraphs of the poems. (I have yet to send these poems out, as they are a departure from my work, and I'm not quite sure if they have fully emerged as poems.)
This is the note to the poems included in the program:
Antiphons for Advent
Years later, I now believe that the psalms and readings and prayers I heard as a child in Mass were among my first experiences of poetry—a language that draws us into its song, that claims us, even when we don’t understand all its meanings. The longer I write, the more I admire the durable language of Scripture. Despite its translations from distant languages, its vivid evocation of the sacred flows in and between the lines. I am still awed when I read the poetry of Isaiah:
The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
A word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
He opens my ear that I may hear…
These poems were begun during Advent 2008, when I wrote a poem every day, in the season of darkness, of anticipation and hope. Reading Scripture, I tried to have a dialogue with the stories, taking up ideas and phrases and turning them over and through my own life. In the process, I found myself writing two kinds of poem: meditative poems (often about my own immediate life), and prayer poems (poems that attempt to speak to the divine).
The first type of poem meditates on Scripture through my immediate surroundings—the increasingly dark and cold weather, being a dad to two young children, and witnessing from a distance the wars over our horizons. In this new millennium, I continue to be struck by the vulnerability of human life in the face of oppression and devastation around us, in us.
The second type of poem comes out of my desire to write prayers that could be shared with people of faith, but were entirely my own. I have puzzled over prayer as long as I’ve been repeating my prayers from catechism. The word “prayer” comes from precaria—a root shared with the word “precarious.” In prayer, we seek a kind of sturdiness that the world often does not offer.
The notion of the “antiphon” struck me as precisely what I was after, in both these types of poems. “Antiphon” comes from the Greek: ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice". The notion of an opposite voice, a voice in opposition, appealed to me as one who struggles in faith. Actual liturgical antiphons are responses, usually sung; the “O Antiphons” are sung at Vespers in the last seven days of Advent. These poems are my personal antiphons, sung first to myself, and now shared with you in the silence of print and through my own voice.