A Few Things About Me
I am New Mexico’s second poeta lyrico, or traditional lyric poet, the successor of Fray Angelico Chavez, a Franciscan priest, poet, and polymath whose work has blazed a trail for my own. While my British colleagues consider me a poet of the Scottish diaspora, I also possess my mother’s Spanish and French background. My verses therefore reflect the deep spirituality of the Siglo de Oro poets of Spain, the sniffy refinements of the French Pléiade, and the bold temperament of the Scots. As for my faith, it is the unchanging Catholic faith of mis padres y madres who first came to New Mexico during the Reconquista, but also that of my Scottish forebears who converted from Presbyterianism after arriving here at the end of in the nineteenth century.
The St. John’s College Years
At St. John’s College I obtained my B.A. in Literae Humaniores after completing the famous Great Books Program. I read the Nine Lyric Poets of Greece in their original dialects and translated some of the tragic choruses of the Attic playwrights. For my translations of some important sonnets of the French Renaissance (into Middle English), I earned the Henry M. Austin Poetry Prize. Professor Charles Bell, an Oxonian, informed me that some of my sonnets surpassed many of Shakespeare’s. Indeed, a sequence of 154 sonnets I had then completed later received First Place in the Long Poem Section of the Scottish International Poetry Competition.
The Great Prize
A recent article concerning my being the only American to have won the Scottish International Poetry Competition appears in the Times Literary Supplement (London), January 27, 2017, page 40. Indeed, Maya Angelou had tracked me down at my university department and congratulated me for my achievement by phone. A few days later, doubtless by her intervention, a White House official interviewed me to place me on a list of persons of cultural interest, with the note “capable of reciting in public.”
At the Irvine Burns Club in Ayr, I broke from tradition by reciting Norman MacCaig and Hugh MacDiarmid rather than myself. While in Scotland, I was privileged to meet the last of Alba’s great lyric poets, in particular the Lallans bard Samuel Gilliland, who remains my mentor in English lyric verse to this day.
Paris and the Poésie Dite Movement
I obtained my M.A. in French Studies with a minor in Italian at the University of New Mexico, where I had studied classic verse with Monsieur Roger Guichemerre and literary history with Madame Claude-Marie Senninger, both of the University of Paris (Sorbonne). The French Ministry of Culture subsequently hired me to teach English in a traditional French lycée.
While in Paris as Poet in Residence of the Club des Poètes, I was further formed by the city’s last true poet, Jean-Pierre Rosnay (1926-2009), a hero of the Résistance. The poet’s lovely wife, Marcelle, and brilliant son, Blaise, encouraged me along the path of la poésie dite, that is, poetry recited from memory. I was briefly a member of their famous troupe, the Troupe du Club des Poètes. I therefore owe to France’s First Family of Poetry my decision to release the Sonnets for Christ the King in audio format prior to the printing of a hardcover edition.
Mme Colette Lecourt, a woman of the French theatre specializing in verse technique, gave me informal instructions. To supplement my income, I accepted the temporary post of literary consultant for director Vicky Messica’s production of Rimbaud et Verlaine at the Théâtre des Déchargeurs where I also recited French lyric verse on two occasions. Most of my friends at the time were men and women of the Paris stage—including some Sociétaires of the Comédie, so I was very often in the theatre absorbing the verses of Molière, Corneille, Racine, and the Romantiques.
I later went on to study theology as a traditional cleric in Minor Orders (Porter, Lector, Acolyte, and Exorcist) in France, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States. After advancing to the degree of theologian, I left the religious life and subsequently married the beautiful Lady of the Sonnets who has inspired all the love poems to be found in the Sonnets for Christ the King.
The Poet as a Young Man
Some of my highlights
B.A. Humaniores Literae, St. John’s College
M.A. French Studies, Minor in Italian Language and Literature, University of New Mexico
M.L.S. Master of Library Science, Texas Womens University
An ancient Spanish colony, New Mexico has been preoccupied with Christianity’s survival in a remote and unforgiving wilderness where lyric verse has not had time to flourish. Today’s New Mexican “poets” do not even call themselves poets, preferring instead the self-sanctifying titles of “activist,” or “social justice worker.”
Yet, New Mexico boasts two outstanding poets. Don Gaspar de Villagrá (1555-1620), who gives us a full-fledged foundational epic poem in 37 cantos of exquisite Spanish verse in his Historia de la Nueva Mexico (Madrid, 1610), and Fray Angelico Chavez (1910-1996), the priest, poet, painter, and second father of New Mexico history.
While Don Gaspar imparts the grandeur and boldness of our history, Fray Angelico offers profound insights into a Penitente land consecrated by the blood of our Franciscan martyrs. Fray Angelico’s verses are modest, almost thin, captivating the reader by their disarming innocence.
Conscious of my place in New Mexico’s literary history, I have endeavored to make the Sonnets for Christ the King a worthy and significant body of lyric verse not only to edify, but also to console, all readers everywhere.
My favorite thing is to spend a weekend with my wife in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my ancestral city. Together we also enjoy the “turning of the aspens” in the Sangre de Cristo hills, a nice gourmet meal on the patio at Casa Seña, or simply walking along the Rio Grande bosque on an autumn day.
Over the years, we have also had a wonderful time hosting visiting clergy, giving tours of Northern New Mexico, and preparing elaborate dinners for dear friends—although I learned to cook in the seminary kitchens of France and Italy. Fortunately, our native Gruet champagne—the “milk of New Mexico”—always manages to save the day.
“So Long Lives This…” Shakespeare’s Sonnets Live on Stage in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s 2016 National First Folio Traveling Exhibit.
First and last American to win the Long Poem Section of the Scottish International Poetry Competition.
Fluent in French, conversational in Italian, read New Testament Greek and Late Latin.
Am faithful to the infallible principles of traditional lyric verse and reject the crippling dogmas of modernism.