Existential Catholicism: Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of March 9, 2021

Hi Everybody-

Last week, I wrote:

Billie Eilish divulges high-stakes intimate secrets directly to people who keep the same secrets.

Poetry can make this same deeply intimate connection when readers feel known.

This week, I want to return to the idea of making the reader feel recognized. For me, poetry’s ability to connect deeply addresses a principle of Existentialism the therapist Roger Wolfe displayed on a whiteboard in his office:

I’m talking about item 3. “Separate Reality: unique personal experiences. Aloneness”

As a kid growing up Catholic, I was taught that God could hear my thoughts: that’s a terribly damaging idea for so many reasons, and it’s a relief to now believe it is completely false. But while it held sway, that belief in the divine ear helped me form an articulation of my inner life that tells a good story, makes my case, frames the unexplainable. I am sure  that I share this with others who had a Catholic childhood. 

I can’t blame “wanting to be known” on Catholicism, though: it seems crucial, pre-verbal. I did want some people, if not God,  to hear my thoughts, and that the people never can is a source of sadness. We live in separate realities like the whiteboard says. The thoughts are translated to language, the language is edited, etc.

When someone (often an artist) expresses what I hear in my head, I love them: I must be known. Like a true fan loves Billie Eilish for knowing them.

Poetry is the voice in your head when you’re reading it.

Poetry is the voice in the poet’s head when they’re speaking it.

Billie Eilish is the voice in her fan’s heads.

I think, in trying to talk about a very basic thing that poems do, I just confessed my infantile need to write them. Oh well, Now you know.

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture