In a multi-faith
landscape, this book reveals how sexuality and spirituality are intimately
|WORLD RELIGIONS - EROTICISM - LOVE - MYSTICISM - POSTMODERNISM|
The poetic form does not merely contain a sentiment as a glass contains water. Rather speak of the grail containing wine; the meaning of each is intensified by the other. In poetry the form and the sentment are as intimately related as the body and soul.
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The Interpretation of Desire
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Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire is a collection of 154 original sonnets and glosses. Shakespeare’s Sonnets number 154 and I want to be compared to the best.
Lovers of all kinds turn to Shakespeare for his depth of emotion and richness of thought, even though most of the sonnets were written to a beautiful young man and some to a mysterious dark lady. With copious commentary, these fresh sonnets similarly range through many moods from youthful folly to maturity, from infatuation to insight, often with images from the world‘s religions, to explore the sacred beauty of sex and love. Because the sonnets are arranged by parts of the Mass, and identify the spiritual with the erotic, some may consider the book blasphemous.
Epigraphs (from Catullus to Steely Dan) introduce most sonnets, and notes explain terms and allusions from many spiritual and philosophical traditions (A to Z, American Indian to Zoroastrian, Fa Tsang to Paul Tillich, Nagarjuna to Wittgenstein). Notes also explain references to science (xylem tissue to the Higgs boson).
The book begins with a Frontispiece (a tune I’ve written for one of the sonnets), a Foreword, and an Introduction (10,000 words about desire, love, sex, and the sonnet form). Appendices outline how these sonnets fit into an overview of world religions and describe the historical circumstances of Shakespeare’s sonnets. An author’s biographical sketch and several testimonials are included. Hebrew texts such as Jeremiah, Dante’s La Vita Nuova, T S Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and Nabokov’s Pale Fire are precedents for this mix of poetry and prose.
April 26, 2014 was the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's baptism (his birth date is unknown), and this book is a way of honoring Shakespeare's own struggles with his beloved young man and the mysterous dark lady.
The book's market includes readers of poetry, LGBTQIA literature, gender studies, and world religions.
The particular approach to sexuality
and spirituality might be summarized this way:
For eighteen years the professional weekly religion columnist for The Kansas City Star, Vern Barnet has been honored by Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and other groups. With three others, he wrote and edited the 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers, published by Radcliffe in 2013. His articles, reviews, and poems have appeared in many publications. His interest in poetry was heightened as an undergraduate when he studied with US Poet Laureate Karl Shapiro.
He has taught world religions and related subjects at several universities and seminaries, and served on the faculty of the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” sponsored by Harvard University’s Pluralism Project and Religions for Peace-USA. He has been featured in national media, including a half-hour CBS-TV special in 2002. His civic activities have been recognized with local and national awards, and a “Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award” is given to a distinguished Kansas Citian each year.
He completed his doctoral work in 1970 at the University of Chicago and the Meadville-Lombard Theological School where he studied with historian of religion Mircea Eliade. Ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister, he served parishes in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas before dedicating his career to interfaith understanding in the Kansas City area.
Now minister emeritus of the Center for Religious
Experience and Study (“CRES”), which he founded in 1982, he is an active
Episcopalian layman. Harvard’s Pluralism Project profiles him on its website:
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WHAT Vern Barnet has somehow
managed to do in Thanks for Noticing is to produce remarkably evocative
and provocative poetry even while sending the readers off to interfaith
—Bill Tammeus, recipient of many awards, including from the American Academy of Religion and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. His books include A Gift of Meaning and They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. Formerly with the Faith section of The Kansas City Star, he now writes for The Presbyterian Outlookand the National Catholic ReporterCOMMENT
WHEN I started reading Vern Barnet’s sonnets, I was uncomfortable — the words are so graphic, so erotic, so real, so blatant. I wondered if I dare share this collection with close friends — would I, a heterosexual male, be embarrassed? So I read them again, and the notes, and reread the Introduction; and Vern’s honesty about sacred sexuality moved me, at times, to tears. Perhaps these sonnets will help to release our culture from the grip of selfish love and secularized sex so we can more deeply appreciate the holy gifts of love and sexuality.
—The Reverend David E Nelson, DMinCOMMENT
THANKS for Noticingis a revelation — and a tour de force — unique in lyricism about the love of one man for another. Vern Barnet’s 154 sonnets are supported by an extraordinary framework of epigrams and notes rich in the lore of many religions, cultures, and mythology over thousands of years. The sonnets’ sexual explicitness might be read at several levels: as an intimate sharing of experiences and reflections over a lifetime; as vicarious opportunities to love another person; or, if one is comfortable mixing sexual imagery with religious dialects while conceiving of God as both within oneself and as the great mystery of reality without, then also as an expression of divine love.
THROUGH the lenses of the
world religions, Vern Barnet’s one hundred and fifty-four original sonnets
intimately and comprehensively explore the broad theme of love in the subtle
light of sanctifying attentiveness, a focus in Buddhist teaching. “Simply
beholding, without agenda, is the only way we can truly see [and love]
another person” — this I underlined in the Introduction, even before I
got to the sonnets.
——Sunyananda Dharma, Guiding Teacher of the Dharmakaya Buddhist AssociationCOMMENT
I KNOW Vern as a fellow minister
whose presence always expands my consciousness way past my Southern Baptist
history. I often thank him for his ministry as a kind of unofficial (and
sometimes official) host in Kansas City and beyond for all spiritual paths.
I like his sense of respect for my spiritual journey, the same I know he
gives all others. I commend this gracious man to you.
—The Rev Paul R. Smith,COMMENT
AN EARLY CONNECTION with Vern
Barnet was a shared interest in the Islamic and Middle-Eastern roots of
our “Western Civilization” and the open secret of this centuries-long
—Gerald Trimble, Celtic world music performer.COMMENT
MANY of William Shakespeare’s
sonnets were written to a young man he loved. Although famous now for his
plays, his longer poems, like “Venus and Adonis,” are what made him
immortal in his own day. But among his friends, his smaller, tighter poems,
the sonnets were passed around first, which I think fitting for such
intimate works. And these shorter poems are the very hands which open a
window into his deeper heart more than anything else he wrote. Many modern
critics dismiss the erotic content of those sonnets by insisting that men
just used more colorful language in those days, meaning, “It’s not really
erotic.” But when I as a gay man first read them, it was impossible for
me to see how anyone could see them as un-erotic. I felt more at home in
my own skin just reading them. I felt relieved. They surprised me and seized
—The Reverend Mark Belletini, DD, who chaired the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook commission; author of Sonata for Voice and Silence and Nothing Gold Can Stay.COMMENT
CONTEMPORARY American Culture
has secularized the sacred when it comes to love and sexuality. Vern has
employed the unique sonnet style with a fine artistry to express the sacredness
of what it is to be created by God, in “the image of God,” and “but a little
lower than God.”
—The Reverend Robert H Meneilly, DD, minister emeritus, The Village [Presbyterian] Church, Prairie Village, KSCOMMENT
Dear Vern, As a friend and
fellow Shakespeare lover (I quote him in my closing arguments as a trial
lawyer), you asked me to read your book of sonnets in the Shakespearean
tradition. I have done so and must briefly comment, unlike Polonius!
—Cynthia Clark Campbell, Campbell Law FirmCOMMENT
Vern Barnet has long been a leader in Kansas City, promoting interfaith understanding. I am glad he uses his knowledge of world religions to advance discussions, even of controversial areas, including the powerful emotions of love and spirituality.
—Alvin L. Brooks, former City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem of Kansas City, MO, founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime
MY FRIEND, Vern Barnet, is
indeed the trickster. He who says, “No boxes can contain love’s sacred
play,” smiles, winks, does a backward somersault, turns the corner, and
we follow and catch him jamming appendages of love’s sacred play into sonnet
—The Rev Mark E Hoelter, Washington, DC. Unitarian Universalist Community Minister and Certified professional coach, International Coaches FederationCOMMENT
IN A SOCIETY which conditions men that closeness can only be experienced in THE act of sex, Vern Barnet in his earlier and gently pioneering Love Without Desire, spoke to us with style and grace of love, closeness, healing attention, friendship and agape. Here again we see the pioneer use the sonnet to evoke thoughts, feelings, questions, and healing, calling us to a journey that explores both old and new territory through truly "beholding" the ones we meet on the frontiers of that journey.
—Robert N Minor, PhD, University of Kansas Religious Studies, formerly chair of the Department; author, Scared Straight, Bhagavad-Gita: An Exegetical Commentary, and six other books
STATELY plump Buck Milligan
came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and
a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained
gently behind him. He held the bowl above and intoned, “Introibo
ad altare Dei.”
—Sister Donna Ryan, RSM
PEOPLE tend to throw around
the phrase, “Renaissance Man” with reckless abandon. I do not, and I want
to make this point particularly clear when I say that my friend Vern truly
is a Renaissance Man. Theologian, activist, pastor, writer, teacher, scholar,
embracer-of-all-things-interfaith-and-recently- baptized-Christian, musician,
poet . . . . Like Chaucer’s clerk, gladly would he learn and gladly
teach. A lifetime of noticing (does not all good scholarship, after
all, begin with noticing?) led to this remarkable collection of sonnets.
And if that were not enough (dayenu!), the reader is gently, humbly
taught by the notes that Vern includes with each. In Vern’s presence –
flesh and blood and in his written word – we can’t help but find ourselves
noticing right alongside him. And in noticing, find ourselves sharing the
gratitude which informs the whole of Vern’s life, which we lucky ducks
get to experience in full measure when we dive into what he has chosen
to share with us.
—The Reverend Susan Sommer,
rector, St. David's Episcopal Church, Glenview, IL
I’m no sonnet connoisseur,
but was drawn into Vern Barnet’s collection, Thanks for Noticing: The
Interpretation of Desire. He offers 154 sensual and subversive expressions.
Why 154? Writes the wily Barnet: “I want to be compared to the best.” Shakespeare
published 154. Our contemporary sonnet poet, by nature, a modest soul,
reveals, even courageously, his sensual longings through this old art form.
Secure in faith and with considerable self-awareness, he enjoys pushing
boundaries, breaking old religious taboos. Barnet has had a love affair
with sonnets for years and now comes clean, feeling it time to share yet
another expression of his mystical faith, or, as he describes his exploration
of God-given desire: “the spiritual meaning of sexual yearning.”
—Tom Fox, Publisher, National Catholic ReporterCOMMENT
Vern Barnet’s sonnet collection, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire, melds academic presentation with literary art form, creating a whole work that would please the Bard of Avon. Barnet establishes useful context throughout the work, employing epigraphs and footnotes that guide the reader on a literary journey and allow the reader to experience the subject through the form of language. His masterful sonnet choices and the unique organizational strategy of the collection weave a tapestry of transcendence, allowing one to share aspects of the physical and spiritual world, merging an evolving sense of human desire with the divine. I have no hesitation in endorsing Barnet’s bold work of art.
—Dennis E. Thompson, Professor of English and Humanities
Nam castum esse decet pium poetamIN THE tradition of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, these poems explore fleshy and spiritual meanings of love and art. Shakespeare's sonnets are of uneven quality, and many of mine fail; but Shakespeare's struggles to come to terms with his infatuations and obsessions — with a beautiful young man and a mysterious dark lady — enlarge us even in his lesser sonnets; just so, my inferior efforts may have some worth.
I have reworked nine sonnets from the seventy in my 1992 collection, Love Without Desire: Sonnets About Loving Men. That book explored a theme central to Buddhism: non-attachment. This new book moves toward a Sufi appreciation of appetite, suggested by Ibn Arabi's Tarjuman al-Ashwaq (The Interpreter of Desires). Arabi was inspired by Nizam, Dante by Beatrice, and Shakespeare, often in a troubled way, by his young friend.
This book's title, Thanks for Noticing, suggests the importance of the attention we give each other. The phrase comes from the sonnet to a friend who asked to sleep with me as a way of working through his heterosexism. ("Sleeping" sometimes means sex, so it may be necessary here to say the request was literal, not euphemistic; until recently, men often slept with men with no thought of sexual behavior.) He had never slept with a guy before and was used to his girlfriend in bed with him. He noticed some differences.
Like Coleridge at 17, I was intrigued by the difficulty of the sonnet form. As an undergraduate, I studied with US Poet Laureate Karl Shapiro, and as a graduate student with the preeminent historian of religions, Mircea Eliade.
In the decades since, my praying has become hundreds of sonnets; this collection is a "medicine bundle" of some of them, and the following INTRODUCTION helps to unwrap them. The sonnet sometimes maneuvers its message in three phases: first naming a concern (the octave), then an insight on the concern (the first four lines of the sestet), then a resolution (the concluding couplet).
In some cases these phases resemble a three-part version of a "hero's journey" theorized by Joseph Campbell, with whom I had numerous conversations. These phases can be described as separation, initiation, and reincorporation, based on a "coming of age" pattern described by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep. In the lyric sonnet, the journey is spiritual, not literally geographic. The initiation may be an illuminating trial; through suffering one may gain deeper understanding of others and of oneself. Such wisdom may lead to compassion. The reincorporation, the return, from the inner personal experience to the community of which one is a part, is essential to the completion of the journey. In a sense, offering these sonnets, many of which are now humiliating, completes the journey
What I mean is that too many of these sonnets recount adolescent infatuation 50 years ago, limerence, and other forms of indiscretion. As Shakespeare wrote (Sonnet 72), "For I am shamed by that which I bring forth . . . ." I would like to present myself as sober and judicious; but if I have attained any hint of maturity, it is only by working through such petty and embarrassing episodes. Even if I forgive him, I may not like the fool who wrote some of these poems, but at least he is somewhat honest, and noticing bits of the jerk's journey may help others. This book is a confession of my inadequate love of God.
I hope the sonnets speak for themselves. But how to hear them? The INTRODUCTION below provides two clues. The first section, ? DESIRE, introduces how I think about the spiritual meaning of sexual yearning. The second section is a short course on how ? THE SONNET works, in history and in form.
Clues for individual sonnets may include an epigraph to suggest a complementary or ironic context, and notes and glosses at the bottom of the page may help with unusual words and sometimes comment on the verse structure. Just as the printed score is not music but rather a direction to produce the composer's ideas, so poems, and especially sonnets, are meant to be read aloud. It is not the image on the page so much as the melody in the ear that makes the sensible sonnet sound its truth.
Kansas City, MO
2014 April 26, exactly 450 years
after Shakespeare was baptized
006 List of Sonnets in Thematic Order
In stock now, October 2015
$16.95 paperback; 6"x9", 13oz, 224 pages
Frontispiece, Commentary, Appendices, Index
LC: PS3602.A77567 T53 2015-- Dewey: 811`6—dc23
PCIP: 1. Erotic poetry. 2. Gay erotica. 3. Gender identity.
4. Sex—Religious aspects. 5. Postmodernism (Literature)
Listed with Library of Congress,
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U N D E R C O N S T R U C T I O N
This short Concordance draws together some themes
and implications of the sonnet pages only (pages 51-204) -- titles,
epigraphs, sonnets, and glosses / notes.
8 Noticing a Birthday, 22 Standards, 23 Examination, 33 Birthday Course, 70 Attraction, 71 Hence, 75 New York, 112 The Hajj, 113 Sacred Play, 124 Destiny, 130 Your Choice, 140 Your Next Visit, 145 Birthday Eden
American Indian themes
Eucharist.-- 20 Relaxed, 28 Intimate Commitment, 30 Shakespeare’s 73 Redux, 52 Toledo, 65 Poetic Failure, 78 Advent, 79 The Quest for the Historical Jesus, 81 Easter Vigil Baptism, 94 Epiclesis, 122 Sacred Site 1: Cathedral, 125 Banquet of Paradise
God, god, divine
OTHER ( Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu,Sikh,
Myth and reality
Sexual expression, male-male
Shakespeare See Anglican/ . . . .
change this > to this
5 ET BENEDICTUS > ET BENEDICTUS
7 113 Sacred Play 163 bold =
9 line 1 '
17 line 1 6:19.
20 line 7 nutriants > nutrients
21 line 10 treated as women > treated women
22 line 4 up woman cannot be priests > . . . women
31 that Creative > that Vision and Creative
34 use the more common spelling Spencer > Spenser
48 penultimate paragraph,
49 after The Cloud
51g hadith > Hadith-i Qudsi (Makatib-i Abdu'l-Baha, vol 2, Cairo, 1330, 2-55).
53s line 8 , quiet, > of still,
59s line 13 lying > playing
59s line 4 pinned now > pinned, now
60s line 3 better:
ASpiritual > God: A Spiritual
reverse order of identification of epigraphs
66g Veil theology: [T]hou art God, thy glory veiling, so that we may bear the sight. —The Hymnal 1982 [Episcopal], 336:2.
67s line 3 guy, > guy
71s line 9
stream of blessings > rush of riches
72s line 1
> I prize not pedigree, not wealth, not strength,
73s line 1
> Arising from the ocean, we are brief
74s line 14 changes > braces
75s line 1> To
take you I'll not try, nor twist, for I
78s line 4 our
82g Dance > Dance
87g Fahkruddin > Fakhruddin
88g insert line 12 to know you We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge and when the love is sufficiently disinterested and sufficiently intense, the knowledge becomes unitive knowledge and so takes on the quality of infallibility. —Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, p95.
93g Jallal al-Din > Jelaluddin
95g .. > .
99g Island, p35, seems > Island, p35, which seems
100g Fakhr al-Din Iraqi > Fahkruddin Iraqi
101s line 5 roar, roar, roar > roar amid
103s line 13 These > With | remove dash
106g Teresa > Teresa"
108s line 7
lack > lack,
112s line 10
now > now,
113s line 14 spirit that I > art that I then
118s line 3 commands
120s line 3 find
122s line 2 you!
type face in 3d and 4th epigraphs
to believe > never . . . believe
129g shadow: "Flare up like a flame/ and make big shadows I can move in." —Rilke (Barrows-Macy), Book of Hours, p88.
130s line 4 through > though
132e/g “Unless a kernel
of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it
dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) http://www.greekbible.com/
133s line 10 all > red
134s line 8 getok
is it like this if there is supposed to be a God?
136g Nitaro > Kitaro
137s line 8 subtle
from the > subtle cross from
138e use Book Antiqua for
Idem . . . .
139g fibers. > fibers. Tree . . . dry: see Isaiah 56:3, “Let no eunuch complain, 'I am just a dry tree.'”
140g Turtullian > Tertullian
142g add The third EPIGRAPH is from Peter Abelard (079-1142), translated by Kenneth Rexroth
144g monothesitic > monotheistic
this I know. > to and fro.
gib > gibt
149s line 9 remove
151s line 10
night, > night.
153g To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god. --Jorge Luis Borges
154s line 2 do > set
156s line 2 countless
158g use the more common spelling
159s line 11 through
time for pledge >
164g penultimate line an specific > a specific
166g Clairveau > Clairvaux
167g p160. Play > p160. Key: See "key" in the intimate and sensual Shakespeare''s Sonnet 52. Play
170s line 1 My friend
> My mate
170s line 11 My friends > My lusts
171g Blab . . . speaks: WIlliam Irwin Thompson argues that the Hopi cherish "the twin mysteries of sexuality and speech. Since the First People cannot speak, . . . they cannot reproduce. Both the seed and the word are forms of information; the seed is the word in water and the word is seed in the air." The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, p26. World: “The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama. His pesonal destiny was bound up with its destiny, and this relationship gave meaning to his life. This type of consciousness . . . involves merger, or identification, with one's surroundings, and bespeaks a psychic wholeness that has long since passed from the scene.” —Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World, p2.
174g >The EPIGRAPH is from The Secret Gospel of Mark, verses 8 and 12. Probably used in Alexandria in the early Second Century, the Gospel was found in 1958, its text included in The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version, 1992. Studies like those reported in Biblical Archaeology Review 2009 Nov/Dec, Vol 35 No 6, suggest it is genuine. See also Mark 14:51-52 and 16:5.
175g alexandrine > alexandrine variant
179g See also > Contrast Shakespeare
183s line 14 but brings no > and brings time's
184s line 5
shove > shrive
185s line 7 enemy >
186s line 3 unfurled > and curled
192s line 3
discorse > discourse
195g Shout: God is a "shout in the street." —James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 2 Nestor.
196g Luscious: "The pleasure attached to explicit sexual portrayals in words or pictures should be accepted as the powerful ally of any effort to teach the responsible use of so beautyiful a thing." —L William Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today,p245.
202g Clairveau > Clairvaux
line 6 tree > shrub
207 . . . Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Karl . . .
209 Cite also the three divisions of world religions, in the scheme developed by The Encounter World Religions Centre in Toronto, the Balance, Indian, and Middle Eastern traditions; and Robert Arkinson's three categories of indigenous, Dharmic, and Abrahamic religions in The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness.
Dennis E Thompson to the bullet list
221 delete the second appearance of "the Friends of Chamber Music" in the left column
Sacred Play 163 bold =
Selected Sonnets from Thanks for Noticing read by
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The mystical union of man,
woman, and God that takes place during passionate love-making is the focus
of these poems. Vern’s own words, better than my own, capture the essence
of this poetry. He states: “Love transforms sexuality from desire for satisfaction
to desire merely to behold, which leads to the most intimate participation
with the other, the fusion or identity of goal and process in pure sexuality.
The climax becomes not merely a physiological spasm but an intense knowing,
a beholding. No wonder love-making may include the exclamation, “God!”
—Neal Vahle, author/editor, Mill Valley, CA
As humanity welcomes the Third
Millennium, it is finding itself in a constant struggle of redefining definitions
and roles. Old frameworks and solutions are fast failing, and people everywhere
are being driven to open their minds to new perception.
Ah what a day at Harmony Woods
In four hours I am on Troparion
So dear Sonneteer Coyote Nigun