Re: May 2 – Dan Berrigan, sj ✠ April 30, 2016

Dear John and all,

Thank you for sharing Dan Berrigan’s poem, and thanks to Nick Rombes for the links to old newspaper articles.

A friend mentioned to me that Dan’s funeral mass will be simulcast by America magazine, starting tomorrow (Fri) am at 10 am:

I also want to mention to others that there is a very good book on Dan Berrigan, Anna J. Brown and James Marsh (Eds.), Faith, Resistance, and the Future: Daniel Berrigan’s Challenge to Catholic Social Thought, Fordham University Press, 2012. I was happy to contribute a chapter to this book, that focused on Dan Berrigan’s practice of courage.

And there’s another more recent Detroit connection to Dan. He gave a poetry reading at the Scarab club in 2002. I wrote about it in:

“Dan Berrigan Reads his Poetry in Detroit,” On the Edge: A Detroit Catholic Worker Newsletter (Autumn 2002), pp. 3, 11.

I’d be glad to share the whole review (3 pages) with anyone who writes me. But in the meantime here are three paragraphs from it, two from the poetry section, and another from the Q and A session at the end.

Dan’s brother Phil was in prison as Dan was sharing his poetry with us, so he read several poems about prison: ‘One poem, called “The Wreck that Was,” was for poet Jim Lewison who spent a life sentence in jail, where he ran poetry workshops. He reflected on the frustration of a prison set by the sea, where prisoners could smell the sea water, and see the gulls, but could not see the ocean itself due to a large wall.  He read another poem about prisoners waiting to receive a package. Regarding a prison sentence his brother Phil was serving, in the poem “Penalties,” Dan brought to mind a sight he had seen on the streets of New York City one day (there, one is bound to see amazing sights on a regular basis): a dog with only two legs, one foreleg, one hindleg, being walked on a leash. Reflecting on his brother’s time behind bars, he commented that often life is only “half a loaf.”’

‘Dan read several poems in memory of people whose lives were inspiring to him, or who taught him lessons. One poem was in memory of the recent death of John Howard Griffin, the reporter who had written Black Like Me. One poem expressed the spiritual insights of Julian of Norwich, who saw God as a woman. One poem was in memory of Anhel Quadrad of Cuba, who was imprisoned for his poetry and released only on condition that he recant his poetry. The poem was called “Hope and Pray that This Doesn’t Happen to You.” Filled with metaphors of poets getting their fingers hacked off and their tongues cut, he highlighted the precarious position around the world of those who dare express truth that angers the “powers that be.”’
More upbeat, during Q and A: ‘One young activist from Oakland University asked Dan how the message of peace can be better heard these days. Dan said that he thought the best way was to tell the truth, and to share one’s own story. This kind of approach works much better than “debate,” his least favorite method. In a debate, each person pretends that they are ethically superior to the other.  Instead, story-sharing is “disarming, evocative.”  He shared his experience accompanying veterans committed to peace who went to talk to a Catholic veteran’s group.  When it was mentioned that Phil was a decorated officer in World War II, who had a change of heart, and has since spent over ten years in jail for his actions of conscience against war, the veterans assembled there were visibly moved. So, Dan counsels us to tell others about our convictions in a clear and non-aggressive manner.’

Sincerely, Gail

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