I had always been interested in God. I remember walking around in my Philadelphia suburb (Warminster) in 1964 and noticing that God was everywhere in sparkles around the trees. I was raised as a Lutheran in one of the local churches. Didn't know much about theology and loved the word amen which meant that I could go home. I also loved the way it was said as there was so much peace in the word.
There was a ferocious assault on Christianity that I first noticed when the Beatles' John Lennon bragged that his group was bigger than Jesus. Then over the next few days he scrambled as the media lit into him and he said it was just something that he noticed not that it was true. But was that the first time I noticed the Culture War? I wanted to have long hair and was glad whenever my parents didn't notice that my hair was getting longer. I remember in the barber shop a barber joking with my mother that his spinning barber pole was "psychadelic." My mother laughed. I didn't know what the word meant.
Allen Ginsberg was a close friend of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many other bards of thunder in the 1960s and 1970s. He said that one could find God in LSD on a nationally syndicated show. I got interested. I tried it and thought he was probably wrong. I then went to Naropa Institute to study in the summer of 1977. I was 20. I studied with Ginsberg and tried the Buddhist ways of meditation. I tried to write poetry. I had some poems published in the Partisan Review, and many other small press journals. I couldn't understand quite what I was doing and it all seemed like I was starting off on the wrong foot.
I dropped out of poetry for several decades and studied philosophy. I needed to understand all the different philosophies that were coming at me. After years of study I managed to finally understand what it was that I was thinking. I was a Lutheran. No one had encouraged me to be a Lutheran for decades but I still felt that the Lutheran system had gotten everything exactly right. So fundamentally and in my innermost heart, I hadn't changed a whit from the kid who had gone to the suburban Lutheran church in Warminster 20 miles north of Philadelphia. There were blasts of self-recognition that came when my daughter was baptized in a Lutheran church in rural Finland and other blasts along the way as I read Luther's biographies and started to read his own texts. I made my way to a Lutheran church when I got my job in Delhi, New York. I began to read very difficult Lutheran theological texts with the help of a retired pastor. I finally read the Bible as an adult. I met regularly and corresponded with Lutheran pastors one of whom had even been my college professor without my awareness that he was a Lutheran some thirty years ago at East Stroudsburg State College (now University).
All of those men I worked with are now seventy and I am almost 50 (come next September).
The Culture Wars had made it almost impossible for me to find my way back to my Philadelphia suburb, to my family, and to my God. Now that I have gotten back I have had to reinvent poetry for myself too. The initial result will be published in a chapbook sometime this month or next by PR Primeau's Persistencia Press. I think the title is to be Waiting for the Rapture.
The technique is odd -- part Reznikoff as filtered through Ginsberg's technique -- but the feeling isn't like anything else I've encountered in contemporary poetry. It's three decades of Culture War rubble lifted off my cave so that I could once more walk down the street as I did as a child in Warminster looking at "things" as a Lutheran, or actually as I always have, but was too afraid to confess even to myself. I hope my book will help other poets come out of the Christian "closet."
There is no reason to be embarrassed to be a Christian poet, and we should have the same rights of freedom/speech under the First Amendment as everyone else. Finally I feel that I can publish a book of poems and they will make sense, and between the covers of such a book I can find myself at home.