Kathleen Norris, Part One: Silence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 35)
October 9, 2018
Cassidy Hall speaks with self-described "evangelist for poetry," Kathleen Norris .
Kathleen Norris and Cassidy Hall
A self-described "evangelist for poetry," Kathleen Norris explores the spiritual life in both intimate and historical ways, through her award-winning poetry and luminous works of literary nonfiction, including Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, The Cloister Walk, and Acedia and Me. In addition to her distinguished literary career, she is a Presbyterian layperson and a Benedictine Oblate.
"There's natural noise, like wind, that contributes to silence. It may be loud, in fact, but it's not mechanical noise, it's not human generated noise. It actually feels more like silence than not — like rain, or ocean waves, or wind in grass and trees. That has a silent quality to it." — Kathleen Norris
This is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part two.
Norris launches into her interview by recounting stories of introducing children to silence, moving on to muse about "the terror of the blank page" and how silence is not always a comfortable presence. She muses on how the structured life of a monastery has been a blessing to her both as a contemplative and as a writer; how her earliest encounters with silence were bound up with family dynamics; and how silence became her ally as a young poet in college.
"Silence sometimes shows you what you're really suffering from... just to sit there and let the silence sink in, and often that's when you discover what it is you're really worried about, what you're really suffering from, what your real concerns are, because when you're busy in the world either with activity or a lot of verbal stuff going on, you're ignoring some of those deeper things, and sitting in silence for a while, it will start to surface." — Kathleen Norris
Her conversation with Cassidy (Carl and Kevin join in later in the conversation, and will appear in part two of this interview) covers a wide range, from musing on the relationship between silence and the sounds of nature, to the ways in which silence can touch on situations like depression, vulnerability, and acedia. She muses on how noisy cities are (she spends some of her time in Honolulu) and reflects on how people in our culture have created a "coccoon of noise" that seems to arise out of an existential fear of silence.
"Acedia basically means not being able to care, even to the extent that you no longer care that you can't care. It's this really weird mixture of restlessness, boredom, despair... I agree with the desert monks that it is a major human emotion, the same as anger or greed or envy; it's just been ignored." — Kathleen Norris
Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:
Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me
Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace
Kathleen Norris, The Virgin of Bennington
Kathleen Norris, Falling Off
Thomas Merton, Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
David Dwyer, Ariana Olisvos: Her Last Works and Days
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems
George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" found in Essays
William Stafford, Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems
Jane Flanders, Timepiece
Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems
Denise Levertov, The Collected Poems
Ann Porter, Living Things: Collected Poems
Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias
Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead
Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer
The Desert Mothers, Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness
Robert Wise, dir., The Sound of Music
Gregory the Great, Dialogues
Kathleen Norris on Skype with Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson. Listen to part 2 of this interview to hear their conversation.
Episode 35: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018