Bearing Witness

Two Wednesdays ago, I attended a lecture by Professor Christine Froula about the Circe chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Evanston Public Library on Orrington.  The library, which also hosts the RHINO Poetry Forum on the last Sunday of the month, has launched Mission Impossible: Ulysses, a project where residents read Ulysses during one year.  Professor Froula emphasized that in leaving Ireland and using his own life as the fodder for this literary works, Joyce was bearing witness to the effects of British imperialism and the Catholic Church on the Irish psyche. I thought about writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Elie Wiesel, who also “bear witness” in their writings; because, in Wiesel’s words, “…to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…”

Bearing witness without succumbing to an excessive sentimentality is difficult to manage, but RHINO poet Larry Janowski succeeds  brilliantly in the poem BrotherKeeper in his book of the same name.  In his review of BrotherKeeper (Puddin’head Press, 2007), Ed Hirsch calls Janowski an “unwavering truth teller” who answers the question, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” in the affirmative. Janowski uses newspaper accounts, the trial transcript, interviews, his own near drowning to bear witness to the senseless death of Eric Morse, ending with an exhortation to his readers: “catch him, catch him.” If there’s no safety net, what else can we do but catch little boys falling from the sky?

Larry Janowski appeared in RHINO 2010 and he read BrotherKeeper at the 2010 RHINO Release party.

~Moira Sullivan, Associate Editor

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