Once or twice a year I notice the Church picking up its binoculars and scanning the cluttered horizon, looking for Christian poets. For the moment that the search is going on, it is made to look almost urgent. Up until the time that I began really writing poetry I used to busy myself periodically in the same little ritual. Whack through the underbrush of the little magazines, professor, and see if you can find some poets who are on our side. But why? I confess that I understand less and less what this search is all about.

Now that I’m out there in the underbrush with thousands of other published poets, I want to get some focus on the flow of energies among three troubled landscapes: poetry, the Church, and the world in which we live.

I don’t think the Church seriously wants “Christian poetry”—except in the rather vain way in which it is pleased to display a little Christian anything in a secular world. How can we judge its sincerity? Well, look, if you say you want Japanese food, you must first want food; if you want a three-power microscope with oil-immersion lens, it is implied that you already have some working interest in microscopes and what they can do. Likewise, if the Church wants Christian poets, it should be apparent that the Church is tuned to the vision of poetry generally, and finds poetry valuable in its rendering of human experience. But it is not at all apparent to me that this is so.

I know that poetry does have that kind of value. It broadens and deepens human experience. I’m going to promote that argument further along. Right now I only want to question how seriously the Church is looking and longing for its poets.

There are isolated exceptions, but generally the Church gets its data about the world from political ...

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