Willis Barnstone’s Journal

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Webmaster’s Note

    I have had the distinct pleasure and honor of working with Willis for the past several months developing this website.  Our chance meeting on a flight from Las Vegas to Oakland, led me down an amazing path into the life and work of one of the world’s foremost scholars and poets.  And it all started with Willis asking me how I liked my new iPad!

How many of us meet someone on a flight, promise to stay in touch and never follow through?  I was certainly one of those people, at 30,000 feet it’s easy to be cordial and attentive, but when the wheels touch down, I want to get on with my life.  Thank goodness I didn’t follow my normal instincts, head for baggage claim, and rush for my shuttle, hoping to avoid eye contact with my new acquaintance.  Instead, as the flight was delayed and we arrived quite late, Willis missed his shuttle back to home near Berkeley.  I offered (very uncharacteristically) to drive Willis home and this was the beginning of a great friendship and collaboration.  As compensation for the trip to his home, Willis “paid” with signed copies of two of his books and I was hooked.

   Each exchange or meeting with Willis left me with more questions than answers.  As an agnostic since college, I understood the passion of religious types, but never could subscribe.  I am a devout skeptic.   What Willis introduced me to was not about religious dogma, instead it was about the poetry, the history and elegance of the Bible.  I’m by no means a literary critic or devotee of great writers.  I prefer action stories and the poetry of Ogden Nash.  Though in my college days I was known as a gifted “limerist.” As I have read more and more of Willis’ works, translations and literary criticism, my interest and questions have grown.  So I decided to ask Willis ten of my biggest questions.  I expected a couple of sentences that the reader would take away as an anecdote; rather Willis (as usual) provided me with in-depth responses that I really wanted to share with others.  The Willis Barnstone Journal will be devoted over the next several weeks to Willis’s answers to my questions.  I hope you enjoy!

--Mark Backes


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