Picturing Daniel Berrigan's poetry

Before he was killed in World War I—tragically, just days before the Armistice—the poet Wilfred Owen wrote these words as preface to the book he never got to hold in his hands: “The poetry is in the pity.” One could make the case that Owen’s assessment applies to all great poetry that bears compassionate witness to human suffering. It certainly applies to the poetry of Daniel Ber­rigan.

In Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death, photographer Adrianna Amari responds to selected Berrigan poems with her remarkable photographs of statuary in aging Baltimore cemeteries. In a sorrowful time of war—our own time—Amari’s photography is a gift to the weary peacemaker. For here the poetry is indeed in the pity, seemingly inexhaustible, embracing the saints who have suffered and died, as well as the witness who turns the pages.

Berrigan’s poems have long been recognized for their spiritual beauty. Kurt Vonnegut once called him “Jesus as a poet,” and added, “If this be heresy, make the most of it.” Amari’s art may not be as well known, but her striking photographs will surely draw her an appreciative audience. And yet what truly recommends Prayer for the Morning Headlines is Amari’s vision. She has made of her cemetery photographs—the human form in weathered and broken stone, the inevitable creep of weed vines, time rolling in great clouds, drifting in snow and leaf and rose petal—a contemplative place in which to utter the Berrigan poems as prayer. The vision of Prayer for the Morning Headlines is incarnational. Amari recognizes the divine in the human cry of these poems written out of the “Meantime / dare time and wind and war.” She seems to have lingered long in the cemeteries of Baltimore, toting her camera, but seeking more than fitting images. She seems also to have been listening.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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