New journal seeks to reflect Catholic view of life, inherently meaningful

Poet Robert Hass at the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey (T. Charles Erickson)

The essayist Brian Doyle once described the Catholic imagination as soaked in a "sensual, magical and alert culture … awake to many other things than just the accepted realities."

It is that alertness to what lies beyond the visible that a new magazine called Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry tries to uncover and decipher. (In the interest of full disclosure, one of my poems appears in the first issue. Presence does not pay for poetry at this time, just provides a copy of the journal to contributors.)

Several literary magazines that explore the intersection of faith and literature already exist. What makes Presence different is that it taps into a particularly Catholic view of art as sacramental, a place where "the presence of the divine can be seen, heard, felt, even smelled or tasted," said founding editor Mary Ann Miller.

Unlike other journals that feature both prose and poems from a Christian perspective, Presence is devoted solely to poetry. The idea for the journal came to Miller as she sat before the ornate altar of St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral in Newark, New Jersey. She was attending a presentation by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass. Hass traced his early poetic inspiration to his days as an altar boy, hearing the rhythmic call-and-response between priest and congregation during the Latin Mass.

The late Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney was asked once about his earliest introduction to poetry, Hass recalled. Heaney immediately began reciting, "Hail Holy queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope."

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