Donnerstag, 2. August 2018

The Nun Who Wrote Letters to the Greatest Poets of Her Generation / Nick Ripatrazone In: Lit Hub Daily July 27, 2018

In April 1948, Wallace Stevens received a letter from a nun. Her name was Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn, and she was completing her PhD at the University of Wisconsin. It was their first correspondence, and she’d enclosed some notes on his poetry, for which he was thankful: “It is a relief to have a letter from someone that is interested in understanding.” His short response to her includes a curious personal admission: “I do seek a centre and expect to go on seeking it.”
In 1951, after a literary critic detected a sense of spiritual “nothingness” in his poetry, Stevens wrote Sister Bernetta with a clarification: “I am not an atheist although I do not believe to-day in the same God in whom I believed when I was a boy.” Considering the debate over Stevens’s deathbed conversion to Catholicism, his heartfelt letters to Sister Bernetta are tantalizing. What made the poet comfortable sending such honest thoughts from Hartford, Connecticut to Winona, Minnesota?
On Good Friday, 1934, 18-year-old Viola Roselyn Quinn felt inspired by the Chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, a grand church on the campus of the College of St. Teresa. Later that year she entered the Franciscan Sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes, and took the name Mary Bernetta. She would go on to teach at several colleges until her retirement in 1983, and published books of scholarship on Modernist poets.
She also wrote letters. In addition to her correspondence with Stevens, Sister Bernetta exchanged letters with Denise Levertov, William Carlos Williams, Robert Penn Warren, James Wright, Seamus Heaney, and others. She read their work with skilled attention, and they responded to her with sincerity and gratitude. ... [mehr]

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