Poet Lawrence Josephs Visits Holy Cross

Elizabeth Connelly ’25

News Editor

This past week, Holy Cross hosted poet Lawrence Josephs as part of their Working Writers Series. As an English major, I was excited to attend and hear from someone who has successfully made a career out of writing. There is a common anxiety among humanities majors and English majors especially about turning a passion for writing into a legitimate career.  I, for one, have always been pulled toward a career in writing. But what does that even mean? How does one transition from scribbling poetry in the margins of a notebook to writing for people who actually want to read your work? 

I attended Joseph’s talk with all these questions swirling in my mind. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Joseph’s focused less on a set career path and more on the calling that a writer has. He declared that writing is not so much a job, but a vocation. In his mind, if you are meant to write, you will. For me that raised even more, somewhat panicked questions.  How do I know if I am “meant” to write? Does a simple desire merit a vocation? And who is doing the calling?  Yet amidst these questions, I also appreciated this idea of a higher calling. It felt like somehow the interest I have always had in books and writing was part of something transcendental, something special.  

This idea is largely part of Joseph’s own identity as a Catholic writer.  Vocations have an important place in the Catholic faith. It holds that God calls each one of us to a participation in His plan through our vocation. A vocation is something individual to each person and can be lived out in a variety of ways. Joseph was able to convey the unique effect that a vocation has of elevating something mundane, like a career choice, to something higher than human.  Before this, I had never thought about writing in the context of a Catholic vocation. 

Thinking about writing and poetry specifically in this way is particularly interesting. Writing has always been a way to elevate intrinsically human feelings. Joseph called poetry a “language charged with emotion.” In poetry, human emotion and experience is condensed into short powerful lines, instead of spread across an entire novel.

 Joseph illustrated this idea through his own poetry, highly influenced by his different identities and background. One of my favorite aspects of his poetry is how he is able to reflect his own experiences while also inviting us into his perspective. For instance, as a grandchild of Lebanese immigrants, Joseph was the first in his family to attend college. A poetry class in the first semester of college is where Joseph’s love for poetry was born. He described the reaction that he first had to reading poetry in that class, and the subsequent desire to emulate this reaction for other people reading his work. I am sure that I am not the only English major at Holy Cross who can relate to this. For me, it was reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Proufrock in the fall of my freshman year that invoked this reaction.  I share Joseph’s experience of wanting to somehow recreate the reaction that I had to Eliot’s writing, to any possible extent.  

I am not quite sure if I am called to writing in the way that Lawrence Joseph describes. But then again, I’m only a sophomore and certainly not a nationally acclaimed poet. If you are  anything like me and worries about the future are creeping in just thinking about a vocation: fear not. As Joseph himself said, “If you are impelled to write, you will write.” And I don’t dare to argue with that. 

Photo courtesy of the Academy of American Poets

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