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Whenever I read biographies of writers (which, given my job as an English professor, is probably more often than the national average), I’m always interested in their friendships. I remember wondering as a girl what it must have been like to have gone to school with Charlotte Bronte, to take a walk with Jane Austen, to talk about just about anything with George Eliot? What kind of pride and delight must there be to know that your friend was putting such amazing things into the world? How fun would it have been to celebrate them (one of the true joys of friendship!) as each new publication appeared?

I’ve come to understand what pride and delight and joy indeed as I’ve grown older and had the privilege of having so many deeply talented friends. One of the most talented is someone for whom many of you have expressed much appreciation, particularly for her gorgeously written prayers here on The Twelve: Jane Zwart. This summer, unsurprisingly, Jane has had a veritable cornucopia of things published–and because she is so very gifted with words, they’ve been both poems and prose.

So this morning, in that spirit of celebration, I offer two of them. The first: a wise and winsome review of Christian Wiman’s new book He Held Radical Light, entitled “The Wound Incarnate: Death, Art, and Immortality” and available here.

And secondly, from Triquarterly Review, “A Sidling Fire,” a poem that deserves to be read without additional blather from me. You can hear Jane read it in her own inimitable style here.

And after you read this blog, find a way to celebrate one of your friend’s talents today. How lucky we are to get to walk alongside folks making the world more lovely, to witness instances of “Christ play[ing] in 10,000 places.”

A Sidling Fire

My oldest asks how one knows
when things that aren’t metal or people
get old, and he is four, so I do not say:
Books fox. Clocks lose time. Flowers
molt and bricks mislay their edges.

I do not say, as decay takes
the toothsome pumpkin, so days
starch worms and rubber bands
beyond all human use. I do not say that apples
prune, holding cider under their skin.

Nor do I mention leather (it puckers, then
suppurates) or dinner mints (candied dust, to dust
they must revert). And never worker bees (turned idle
and mean by first frosts) and never motors
that won’t turn over or motors that idle too high.

Sixty seconds in, and I am trying to guess
what snaps the floss that lights glass bulbs
and why dress pants go shiny at the knees,
dullness being more common: sun blots the color
from curtains, and frescoes pale, aging angels.

Of course it startles me, how ready I am to explain
that when old cameras leak light, a sidling fire takes
first a grandmother, then a child. But I don’t say it.
Instead, it depends, I say. And toys, he says,
how do you know when toys get old?

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


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