Poet James Merrill once described his fellow writer Elizabeth Bishop as “a genius masquerading as an ordinary woman.” I thought of that line after spending two days this past summer working on a profile for PBS-TV’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly on the Quaker folk singer Carrie Newcomer.
Newcomer has been described as a “prairie mystic” (she lives in Bloomington IN) and as “a minister of the wide-eyed gospel of hope.”
She sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell, one of her early idols, and her lyrics, like Mitchell’s are deeply personal, but in a way that plumbs the sacred in the everyday. I think calling her an “Ignatian folksinger” wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Newcomer’s recorded 14 CDs in recent years, and my profile on her for PBS corresponded with the publication of her first book of poems, “An Impermeable Life,” which is also the title of her latest CD.
In addition to the TV segment for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I also interviewed Newcomer for WGLT Radio about her writing process. I love one of the things she said in that interview about our modern-day propensity for multi-tasking: instead of trying to see how many activities we can juggle at once, what if we just focused on one activity at a time?
Judith Valente is America's Chicago correspondent.