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NEW YORK CITY, January 21, 2018 — Dr. Joseph Salemi has published a formidable review of Joseph Charles MacKenzie’s Sonnets for Christ the King in the Spring 2018 issue of Trinacria—widely considered America’s most exclusive poetry journal—in addition to three sonnets from the sequence.
Dr. Salemi opens his review in referencing the many obstacles facing openly religious poetry nowadays, chief of which is what he calls “a savagely truculent hatred of all organized religion.” He continues:
Christianity is the general object of this hate, but traditional Roman Catholicism is a specific and ferociously loathed target. Anti-Catholicism is as common and widespread among Western elites today as anti-Semitism was in the Germany of 1940.
Dr. Salemi’s review offers one of the best descriptions of the Sonnets for Christ the King to date, recognizing that MacKenzie is “intensely and unapologetically Roman Catholic,” something which could be said of some of the best poets of the 20th century, including G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. The description is useful in giving readers an overall picture of the sequence:
Its seventy-seven sonnets form a sequence of prayers, meditations, devout recollections of individual saints, scriptural and liturgical reminiscences, and even doctrinal argument. Many of the poems have Latin titles, and each of them is followed by a reference to a particular day in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. Indeed, the last fourteen sonnets in the sequence are meditative disquisitions on the Stations of the Cross. In some respects, going through this remarkable collection is similar to reading a breviary.
One of the qualities of today’s Ars Poetica Nova poets, is a certain erudition, a vibrant love of languages and history. Dr. Salemi, a professor of classics at New York University and Hunter College, is considered the father of the Ars Poetica Nova movement in the United States. It is from the perspective of the classically educated philologist that he writes:
MacKenzie is no amateur. He is startlingly well read in the classics, patristic literature, Thomistic philosophy, Spanish and French poetry, and much more. His aesthetic practice is rigorously linked to his theological and metaphysical principles. The resultant poetry—like MacKenzie’s opinions—makes no concession to popular taste or trendy faddishness.
Dr. Salemi is the first to recognize that the Sonnets for Christ the King are the work of a rare regional poet, a true Nuevomexicano, “with a genuine historical past from a real culture—not some pseudo-identity fashioned by a left-wing academic diversity committee.” Salemi states that MacKenzie’s poetry is…
…rooted in the Alabados, or medieval Spanish songs of religious praise that are carefully preserved in the remote area of New Mexico where MacKenzie still lives, and where the Franciscan Penitente practices of los conquistadores survive among the older families.
In discussing how MacKenzie’s work will be received in the context to the current literary crisis arising from a century of anti-intellectual modernism in the arts and human letters, Dr. Salemi boldly asserts that…
…our Poetry Establishment (represented by major journals, government agencies, foundations, state societies, arts councils, English departments, and assorted flunkies) doles out praise, prizes, and grant money to mindless pap, emotional drivel, experimentalist frauds, and the hustlers of race-class-gender identity politics. […] Almost every working poet goes along with the racket as a matter of course, lest he experience silence and ostracism.
Dr. Salemi starkly contrasts yesterday’s conventional, academic establishment poetry, also known as “conformist poetry,” with the exciting new poetry of the Ars Poetica Nova, or Nouvelle Poésie, as he concludes:
But let us view things sub specie aeternitatis, as MacKenzie does. The garbage art written, celebrated, and rewarded by po-biz nonentities and their fellow poseurs will pass into oblivion. It will sink into Ingersoll’s ‘tongueless silence of the dreamless dust.’ But genuine, authentic, historically rooted work—as exampled by the Sonnets for Christ the King—will remain as solid and uncorrupted as a gold coin in a Spanish shipwreck. It may lie for centuries in the hulk of galleon, but will be found someday, and still shine as bright as the New Mexican sun.
Trinacria, our nation’s foundational poetry review of the Ars Poetica Nova, is a recommended resource for graduate and undergraduate English instructors wishing to deepen students’ knowledge of today’s most significant literary phenomenon. It may be accessed at www.trinacriapoetry.com.