Something Serious At Stake

In his prefatory essay to the premier issue of First Things in March 1990, editor Richard John Neuhaus stated that the purpose of the journal would be to discuss the relationship between “religion and public life.”  Pastor Neuhaus also said that the journal might have been defined as a journal of religion and culture, culture being “the cognitive, moral, aesthetic, and emotive air that we breathe.”  In his Preface to Grace Notes, former First Things editor Joseph Bottum discusses the place of poetry in the journal:

When First Things began, the decision was made that poems should be included, even while many other journals were trimming or even eliminating verse.  The founding editors, Richard John Neuhaus and James Nuechterlein, decided that general readers ought to consume poetry if they were going to be concerned about American public life.

Sadly, Bottum notes, the publication of a major poem by an important American poet is no longer a “public event,” whereas in an earlier time “poetry was a player in the public conversation.”  The purpose of publishing poetry in First Things is to try to bring poetry back into that conversation—back into, as Neuhaus put it, the “public square.”

Grace Notes is a collection of verse by over 70 First Things contributors during the...

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