Issue 04: Benedictio

Single Issues > 2007 > Issue 04: Benedictio





Jennie Mejan: Frankenblessed Patrick Baron: Caresses of Divisions Brett DeFries: At the Waco Baptist Church, Litany With Braille Michael M. Marks: anger like Billy’s bedspread Jason Jonker: Ms. Vredevoogd, Calvin Christian Jr. High Diane Tucker: Recipe, The Sudden Rain Josh Kalscheur: When the Communion Wafer Fell to the Ground, At Jesus Station, Purgatory Aby Kaupang: self-pectations , heavier light leaves, A loner refurbishes some tangle in the loveseat Jonathan Larson: sun step P.D. Gray: goldfish Stephanie Walker: Manna, Among My Father’s Belongings


Chris Miner: Self-Interview of a Video Artist


Linda McCullough Moore: Crows and Ravens Lawrence Dorr: Thirdonesacharm Daniel Gallik: His Angst Said, “Depression And Daughters Cannot Be Dismissed Esoterically.” Tony Woodlief: <“>The Grace I Know

Visual Art

Latifah Al-Attas: spectroscopy, room Christopher Miner: Self Portrait, Auction, Burning Bush, Best Decision Jack Maxwell: Jacob’s Dream Sunrise, Ascending and Descending: Jacob’s Dream

EXCERPTS from Issue 04: Benedictio


Editor’s Note : Benedictio

What does it mean to receive the benediction, the priestly blessing, the ending, or in Greek, the good word? How do we lift our faces to meet His? Are there such things as literary benedictions? And if so, how do we create them, how do we add our small blessings to the definitive artistic canon?

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee…

Those raised in the Catholic or Protestant traditions are probably most familiar with these words from Numbers, the way the priest or pastor calls us to stand, raises his hands up and outward and simultaneously blesses and dismisses the congregation. The repetition and holiness of this moment often quiets the coughs and shifting in the pews; my husband usually grabs my hand and breathes in, like this is the last good breathe of air to consume.  And I am usually struck with chills, with shivers of peace.

The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. 

While researching our theme I found myself reading the Shemoneh Esrei, the eighteen Talmudic benedictions, and pausing over the eighth. It is a prayer prayed for healing, suddenly apt considering the submissions we had received, many of which were good words full of pain, of well-said grief, trauma, and even horror.  This was not what we had expected.

8. Heal us, O L-rd, and we shall be healed; save us and we shall be saved; for You are our praise. Grant a perfect healing to all our wounds.

It seems to be a quarterly lesson for us to suspend our assumptions, to consider that the only consistency in our “themes” may very well be this suspension.  Perhaps because of the wars, the climate, the unrest and the urgency of now, for many of our contributors, benedictio was a blessing through pain—calling for ruminating, chewing, but also swallowing.

Your words were found and I ate them: Jeremiah 15.

In For the Time Being, Annie Dillard notices something about these eighteen Talmudic blessings. She says, “That number, meaning ‘life’ in Hebrew, corresponds to the eighteen vertebrae we bend when we pray.”  Perhaps this is what it means to rise now–to stand with our wounded faces tilted upward, with all eighteen vertebrae, both receiving and creating the benediction, adding to the canon, healing, shivering. Blessings,

Brianna Van Dyke



Patrick Baron

Caresses of Divisions

Walls that play host &#160 to curled up words that recall wildflowers &#160 in busy places distant from roads &#160 yet rich in humanity that once existed &#160 outside of technicolor memories beyond within behind &#160 eruptions of edges the protection of niches &#160 a tree fallen a rock cracked open &#160 a ridge that suggests brick and mortar &#160 the caressings of divisions that bring things into focus &#160 give a sense of perspective some scale &#160 to a place to its limits. Patrick Barron is an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His books include Italian Environmental Literature: An Anthology and The Selected Poetry and Prose of Andrea Zanzotto, published this year by the University of Chicago Press.

Josh Kalscheur: PURGATORY

Josh Kalscheur


Like AA meetings, I’ll begin each sentence &#160 with what I’m ashamed of and the things that I love: the arched back &#160 of a married woman, the grind and drive of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, &#160 how a Lexus can change your life. God will show up like a parole officer, &#160 to check pockets, ask if I’ve tried to leave, if the wavering rain is His fault, &#160 if I’ve let my blood run lukewarm. After introductions, questions: &#160 Will I have my choice of beige houses? Can I salt my tofu, pepper my eggs? &#160 Can I find the one-way streets? Will it be London everyday? &#160 Is bisexuality the way forward? Will the gloriosas be dried out, &#160 but clinging to color? The shoulder shrugs, &#160 the pauses, the shifting of feet, &#160 the mumbling, they all just drone like crumpled phrases, &#160 Who knows? Maybe then, maybe now, &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 &#160 Maybe? That’s where I’ll be then, almost tripping, &#160 taking the roundabouts, pacing myself, looking for someone &#160 who has a complete sentence for me… Josh Kalscheur‘s work is forthcoming at The New Delta Review and published at Words On Walls. In Fall, 2006, his poetry was nominated for an AWP award. Josh resides in Northfield, Minnesota where he studies and writes poetry.


Aby Kaupang

A loner refurbishes some tangle in the loveseat

How tonight is language anything but tincture. punctured? Lovely too—the loner refurbishes some tangle in a loveseat. A river forced under returns. It wants to undrown. To iIntroduces its milkteeth. So invisible, the clay hours groan. When stillness slips to gift’s visage, a crash slithers, an estimated reach exhales. &#160 &#160 &#160 tounges and fiddleheads &#160 &#160 &#160 curling find &#160 &#160 &#160 fiddleheads tounges &#160 &#160 &#160 unfurling come The loner is an awful salesman. Actually, the condition of water prediluvian. Its heaving, drawn up. Leafing. Lonely waters. Suddenly flowing and wronged. Lovely, the respondent, you, are the lamb spilling out— Aby Kaupang’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Matter, Verse, and Oregon East. A chapbook, Scenic Fences, was just listed as a finalist for the Laurel Review / Greentower Press Midwest Chapbook competition. Also, she has been twice nominated for AWP Intro Journals Project and once for the Academy of American Poets Prize.


Stephanie Walker

Among My Father’s Belongings

We undertook the goliath task of sorting through his possessions— our father’s life through his things— parsing them out like rations of memory. Here was every birthday card and crayoned letter, mixed in among every kind of saw and shovel, a wooden carving of a shepherd, and there, in the dark corners of his desk, his chemo pills and five smooth stones. The pills he refused, as David had done with Saul’s gilded armor—their faith lay instead in a hope for psalms and in those stones, polished by the current of an Israeli brook. We rolled them over in our hands. That day, we left a little heavier, stones in our pockets for our own raging giants. I thought of those stones when old-testament hail fell, grief-heavy and fist-sized, on my late summer garden. The winter vegetables, which I had hoped for like the rain and patience that promised them, were gone. I pulled their severed vines weeks later, tugging, following them like a prophecy across the path, into the shade of a sturdy bush where I discovered five green and golden-red acorn squash, smooth and cool—five rare and singular mercies. Stephanie Walker lives in Minnesota with two very charming cats and one occasionally charming man. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast and Swivel and is forthcoming in So To Speak.


Christopher Miner

Self-Interview of a Video Artist

Because of the limitations of presenting video art in printed form, we contacted Chris for an interview, hoping to get a little more insight into the medium and artist. Chris sent us a packet full of information, press releases, accolades, and a self-interview “for ideas, or whatever,” he said.  We were initially taken aback by this step, but considering that Chris is the sole figure and voice in many of his videos (one of which is aptly entitled “Self-Portrait”) it quickly became quite fitting of his work. For, it seems that Chris is both interested in the self and a kind of artistic economy—of paring things down and removing the intermediary. With this in mind, we decided a self-interview seemed entirely appropriate and equally lively and amusing as Chris tackles “the contradiction of man” and even calls one of his own questions an unfair generalization. So, we proposed using the self-interview. Chris said he was in. The following is Chris Miner’s interview with himself.   CM: Why do you think most Christians have a hard time with art, or aren’t that interested, in general? CM: I don’t know if that’s a fair question, because it’s such a generalization and there are always exceptions out there you don’t know about.  I definitely know a lot of “conservative Christians” who don’t have a place in their lives for art or anything that doesn’t fit squarely into their worldview.  These are the people who claim to be right about everything they have an opinion about and who wouldn’t use the phrase “I don’t know” under any circumstances. &#160 &#160 &#160 By nature, art is subjective, so there has to be a willingness in the person to explore new territory (visually, experientially, emotionally).  Understandably, that’s a difficult thing for close-minded people and unfortunately a lot of them pit conviction against the act of seeking.  Not all people of faith are like this, though.  There are a lot of Christians in the world who clearly aren’t what people stereotype as “close-minded conservative Christians” – so I guess it depends on which Christians you’re talking about. &#160 &#160 &#160 Shelby Foote said something about this, that “art is by definition a product of doubt.  I don’t think God would be hard on artists.  We are the outsiders for the saints, we go beyond where they won’t go and tell them what we’ve found.  If we burn for that, we’ll take pride in our burning, our pain:  the triumph won’t be God’s.”  I respond to that idea. CM: Have you ever heard the phrase “bad Christian art’? CM: Yes. But I think “bad Christian art” is no different from other bad art, in that it’s typically just an illustration or expression of an idea that the artist already believes to be true (about the world, himself, or whatever his subject is) and just wants to convey to the viewer.  A lot of times the more interesting work is the result of some specific conflict that the artist was willing to endure and suffer through, understanding that he doesn’t know where the process is going to take him.  He believes that place at the end of the process will be more interesting than wherever he originally set out from.  At least, I think that’s what a lot of artists hope for.  I know it’s what I hope for. CM: How did you get interested in video art? CM: I studied photography and creative writing at University of Tennessee in Knoxville and then went to graduate school in photography at Yale a few years later.  I realized in graduate school that I wasn’t very connected with my subject matter.  I photographed people I didn’t know and used photography as an excuse to go out and try to get involved in someone else’s experience, always someone I would see while driving around.  I was interested in the process of discovering things I didn’t know . . . but I wasn’t that connected to what ended up in the pictures. CM: Like what for example? CM: I basically just drove around in my car with my camera and would see what I could get mixed up in.  Diane Arbus was a big influence on me early on.  I loved the idea of her riding a bus in New York and trying to meet people and go home with them to photograph them.  I’d ride around in my car and pull over for any situation that I didn’t have any business being in––somebody’s family reunion I saw from the road once or someone whose car had broken down.  I just tried to get in their world, the stranger’s world, whatever it was. &#160 &#160 &#160 But it was pointed out to me in grad school that the stories I was telling about those experiences were more interesting than the pictures themselves, so video ended up being a way for me to put more of myself into my work, because it’s time-based and I could use music, sound, narration, etc.  For a photographer, it feels like cheating because you’re not limited to a still image in the end.  Photography is more demanding to me in that way. CM: What are your influences?  You’re living in the South now after living in New York for a while, is it hard to not be around the art world for inspiration? CM: I’ve never really been that inspired by other art in terms of my own work.  That’s probably a character flaw, but I’ve come to accept it about myself.  I definitely miss being stimulated, visually, in New York, just in terms of the quality of my personal life, but I feel like my work is more influenced by film and fiction than anything else. CM: What filmmakers and writers have influenced you?  CM: It’s a pretty standard set of influences for a Southerner.  I love Walker Percy and have read all his work a few times now.  I don’t ever get tired of his world.  Also, I take a lot of safety in his lifestyle of living in the South and trying to make work here.  He had family money, though, which changes everything.  Earning a living is a curse against my work, just because it takes so much time.  I would kill to be able to spend forty hours a week on my work instead of at my job, but I try to deal with it as best as I can and just sacrifice in other areas of life in terms of my time.  Usually that just means spending less time with friends and family. &#160 &#160 &#160 I think it’s easier for writers, though, not living in New York, because to whatever extent you do need to surround yourself with other people who have gone before you in your field – it’s easier to own books in Mississippi than it is to watch video art.  But other than Walker Percy, I really love Richard Ford and Raymond Carver.  In terms of film, I was really influenced by Ross McElwie’s Sherman’s March.  I watched it during my first week of graduate school and I must have had a conversion experience when I saw it, though I didn’t know it at the time, because now I can see it’s influence in a lot of my work. CM: So what does fiction have to do with your video work? CM: I started writing short stories in college and taking creative writing classes at the same time I was getting interested in photography.  My subject matter didn’t really cross over much.  I wrote a story that ended up being published in New Stories from the South put out by Algonquin Books.  I felt like my life as a writer was secured forever after that, until I realized that it was basically the only decent stand-alone fiction piece I’d write for ten years. &#160 &#160 &#160 The connection to video is that I started writing narrations for some of the longer pieces at some point, which I use as a conventional voice-over.  I try to meld the images and language together so that they come across as a singular experience to the viewer. CM: What’s your ideal response to one of your videos? CM: Well, the worst response is for someone to be able to get up and walk away from it (or walk past it) and not be stimulated enough stay and watch.  I just want the viewer to have a unique experience with the piece that they wouldn’t be able express in words too easily.  Depending on what the piece is about, the nature of their response would differ.  I just want the viewer to be moved in some way. &#160 &#160 &#160  I’m definitely not interested in determining the exact nature of their response.  The idea of specificity is very talked-about issue in photography and it’s very important to me, in terms of my content and what the viewer actually sees and hears in my work.  The more specific I am with what I give the viewer (visually or otherwise) the wider the range of possible response––the more accessible the piece is, usually. CM: Is there and overall theme or pervasive issue that ties all your work together? CM: Maybe the idea of contradictions—how two seemingly contradictory things can co-exist and not cancel each other out.  It comes up a lot in Christianity, obviously­­—Christ as man and God at the same time . . . God is loving, but also just, etc.  Mainly, I’m interested in the condition of man in that regard––fallen and forgiven at the same time­­­­––the old man and new man living inside the self. CM: Can you give a specific example of this? CM: The Auction video does this, I think.  It’s basically a 7-minute performance piece where I took the generic phrases of the alter calls I heard growing up in the Baptist church and used them to create an auction (like a cattle auction) from behind the pulpit of a church.  The idea is that the viewer is both mesmerized and drawn into the sounds, but also pushed away by the belligerent content. CM:You make the distinction between video art and film. What’s the difference? Why video over filmmaking? CM: The distinction, as it most relates to my work is about the duration and the narrative structure of the piece.  Most video art is short and doesn’t have a literal story, like most films do.  Films/movies are generally longer, with a clear narrative structure.  An art video can be anything that’s shot with a video camera. Some of my longer work could fall into either category, depending on where it’s being shown.  I have some half-hour videos that have clear narrative structure to them.  For video art it’s probably a little longer than average and a little more literal in terms of the story, but in the context of a film screening, it’s a little short and not as straight forward, in terms of the narrative. &#160 &#160 &#160  The Burning Bush video is a good example of an art video that could never be mistaken for film.  It’s just a 5-minute loop that shows a male figure standing in a field at twilight watching a sparkling fire continually burn in front of him.  This would be a very boring (and short) “movie”, but it’s not made to be seen in a movie or theater context.  I’ve shown this piece in the storefront window of a gallery, facing the street, so that it could be seen from outside.  I wanted to the viewer to be drawn into the moment, where the figure is clearly waiting for something to happen (though nothing does) and the fire just continues to burn and never goes out. &#160 &#160 &#160  I wanted the title to connect the video to the story of Moses hearing God’s voice in the burning bush in the Bible.  The difference being that Moses had a transformative experience in front of his burning bush, while the figure in the video is perpetually waiting in silence, just like the viewer watching the video.  I wanted the piece to connect with that experience of waiting for revelation – which is specific and different for everyone, some mix of longing, anticipation, disappointment, wonder . . . Back to the question, though, about why video over filmmaking, the Burning Bushpiece is a good example of that for me.  Filmmaking typically involves other people (actors, technical crew, financing, etc) and that doesn’t really appeal to me.  I like the control and limitations of doing everything myself with just a video camera and a computer. &#160 &#160 &#160  There’s so much that changes throughout the process of making each piece for me and I can’t imagine having other people involved in that.  The Burning Bush video started out with me going into a field at my dad’s deer camp to get some footage of me firing the gun aimlessly at some giant white birds that are always flying around near the lake there.  (Egrets, maybe?)  I knew I wouldn’t hit them with the pistol, but I liked the juxtaposition of man with gun trying to kill something beautiful, but not really trying that hard to kill it.  I liked the idea of being motivated by something that doesn’t make sense. &#160 &#160 &#160  So I got some footage of that and it looked completely ridiculous.  It looked like a guy standing in a field shooting at birds––and nothing more, the meaning didn’t really translate.  As it got darker outside I found some fireworks that I had left in the back of the four-wheeler and just shot some footage of myself setting them off.  When I got back home and watched that footage it all looked pretty useless too, except for this one ten-second clip––with the fountain of sparks firework going off– that looked so beautiful to me.  I kept playing that clip over and over again and realized that I could edit it so that the fire just burned continually.  I thought that moving image was very powerful. CM: You’ve shown your work in gallery settings and at MoMA and other museum theaters, what’s the difference? CM: As an art object, video is weird because it doesn’t really exist anywhere.  It’s a tape–it’s not like a painting or a photograph.  So, how you show it is really important.  When you watch it on a ninteen–inch TV, from four feet away, by yourself, in a dark room, you have a totally different experience than watching that same video projected on a wall, thirty feet wide, in a gallery, with twenty other people walking in and out of the room or whatever. &#160 &#160 &#160 Some videos can be hard to manage in a gallery setting if you want the viewer to actually see the entire piece, uninterrupted, from start to finish, because people can walk in and out of the gallery at any point.  So, to answer your question, the screenings at MoMA (Museum if Modern Art) were nice because the videos were shown in a movie theater, with a captive audience, which is normal context for film people, but is not as common for video art. CM: Why did you leave New York? CM: I just believe I will make more work down here, long term, without having to deal with the complications of living and making a living there.  Money goes farther here, you have more time, less stress, less distraction.  I spent a lot of time in front of my computer making work in New York, and in the end, didn’t get out as much as I should have.  The great thing about living there is that on Friday night after work, when you do get out of your studio, you could do anything you wanted.  You have to be a little more ambitious in Mississippi or you’ll end up at Chili’s at 7:30 eating an onion blossom like everybody else in the state who doesn’t know what else to do with themselves. CM: So what do you do on Friday nights? CM: The worst thing we’ve done is gone to Chuck-e-Cheese.  We thought it’d be fun to play skeeball, but it was horribly depressing.  The whole place smelled like kids and sweat and grease.  There was grease everywhere on everything.  Also, someone had stolen most of the skee balls.  The best thing we’ve done, though, is play bingo at the American Legion.  It’s the oldest American Legion post in the country.  Post #1.  It’s an amazing place––and they have a bar.  I won one hundred dollars last week on my birthday.  Playing bingo is fun, but hopefully I’ll make a video there at some point. Christopher Miner was born in 1973 and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. His exhibitions have included a solo show at Mitchell-Innes and Nash gallery in New York in 2006 and Bellwether Gallery in 2003.  Other exhibitions include The New Museum of Contemporary Art’s Videodrome II and the Queens International at the Queens Museum of Art in 2004.  His work was featured in PS1’s Greater New York 2005 and has been screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as Tate Britain and other international venues.  Miner is currently represented by Mitchell-Innes and Nash in New York.



Chris Miner: Self Portrait Chris Miner. “Self Portrait”. 2000. 13 minutes.


Chris Miner: Burning Bush Chris Miner. “Burning Bush”. 2002. 5 minutes. Christopher Miner was born in 1973 and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. His exhibitions have included a solo show at Mitchell-Innes and Nash gallery in New York in 2006 and Bellwether Gallery in 2003.  Other exhibitions include The New Museum of Contemporary Art’s Videodrome II and the Queens International at the Queens Museum of Art in 2004.  His work was featured in PS1’s Greater New York 2005 and has been screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as Tate Britain and other international venues.  Miner is currently represented by Mitchell-Innes and Nash in New York.