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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’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? 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 the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.


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