Art of poetry illustrated by local priest

By Amanda Carson
December 4, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

A local poet-priest shared a provocative mixture of personal life-defining moments and gentle humor during a recent visit to Cabrini College.

Reciting prose passages and poetry from three of his highly regarded books, the Rev. John McNamee engaged students, faculty and public attendees during an English department poetry reading Nov. 19 in the Grace Hall Board Room.

“I like to play around with words and get fire,” McNamee said.

With vision as his strongest suit, McNamee explained that he is very observant of his surroundings, prior to reading “Madonna.”

“Madonna” focuses on the vivid description of a less fortunate woman, whom he noticed in his rearview mirror.

Using creative license, McNamee explores an assumed lifestyle of the woman.

He then read “Paris: Églíse d”Auteuíl,” which also describes a woman, but from a contrasting standpoint.

The poem illustrates the beauty noticed in a particular woman during Mass.

“Usually you think priests don’t notice pretty girls,” McNamee joked.

McNamee read from his works: “Diary of a City Priest,” “Endurance: The Rhythm of Faith” and “Clay Vessels and Other Poems.”

The variety of pieces read focused on specific time periods during his life.

McNamee provided attendees with necessary backgrounds to his readings.

The poetry reading was an extension of McNamee’s private reading and discussion with Dr. Marilyn Johnson’s students in the honors course, Poets and Priests, McNamee’s visit has and continues to allow students to interact with a contemporary poet they have been comprehensively studying.

This year, Johnson wanted his visit extended to the public.

“Dr. Romano previously suggested that the class study McNamee,” Johnson, English professor, said. “You can obviously see why I like his works, they are relatable.”

“I am out because Dr. Johnson suggested it. I have never been to a book reading before and I thought it would be interesting,” Amy Headly, English and secondary education graduate student,said.

Chris Vesci, Cabrini alumnus from 2001 who also took Johnson’s Poet and Priests course, said, “I always liked him for his wisdom of a priest but still down to earth. I thought it would be good to come back and listen to him read.”

Present were some of McNamee’s former parishioners.

“I have known him for 25 years. He married us. We were both widows,” Jack Connors, former parishioner and an adjunct Cabrini professor in 1997, said pointing to his wife.

For McNamee, however, his writings and Cabrini visits are meant for “enjoyment.”

He intends to provide both personal insight and entertainment through his works.

“If someone came up and said I have a burning passion to write poetry after reading mine, then I have done my job,” McNamee said.

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Amanda Carson

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