The Holy Shroud (oil on canvas)
by Giovanni Battista della Rovere (ca. 1575–ca. 1630)
(Galleria Sabauda in Turin, Italy: Inventory No. 724)
On 5 July 2022, I announced a call for entries for Issue 15 of MacQueen’s Quinterly, a heads-up for folks via the MacQ website and on social media that the MacQ-15 ekphrastic writing challenge would open on 23 July.
The subject of scrutiny would be the Turin Shroud, a priceless piece of linen that some people assert is an astonishing Medieval forgery only 700 years old—while others believe it’s authentically the 2,000-year-old burial cloth of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.
In particular, I was hoping to receive literary works that would explore what Italian physicist Paolo Di Lazzaro calls “the question of questions,”* regarding the figure on the Shroud:
“How was the image produced?”
Backlit Transparency of the Ventral Shroud Image
(Barrie M. Schworz Collection of photographs, STERA, Inc.:
Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association)
To make things only a smidge more challenging, I added this requirement to the contest, based on my fondness for Q words: Each entry must include at least one word (in English) that begins with the letter “q”—with extra points awarded for additional Q words.
Huge thanks to the intrepid folks who actually accepted this challenge. During the entry period of 30 days (23 July thru 21 August), MacQ received from 15 writers a total of 17 pieces, including seven fictions, two nonfiction commentaries, three poems, four prose poems, and one very interesting poetic hybrid that combines four forms.
From those entries, I selected eight pieces as finalists, and from that pool of finalists, one winner for the cash prize plus publication in MacQ-15. The remaining seven finalists are also published in this issue.
Cover of Sindon magazine (2020)
International Center of Shroud Studies
(High-definition photograph of Turin Shroud, showing
the face of a man who was beaten, scourged, and crucified)
Each of the eight is memorable in its own way. A few brief comments to illustrate:
1. In Roberta Beary’s tale narrated by an imaginative podcaster, I very much enjoy the clever turns of phrases, along with the liberal sprinkling of more than a dozen Q words. “Her nostrils quiver, a sign she is paying attention” is only one of several places in the story that make me chuckle. And I also appreciate the subtle references to a certain 17th-century Spanish hidalgo.
2. Roberto Christiano’s poem explores the nature of truth, questions which questions are most pertinent, and comes to a pointed conclusion about contemporary Christians.
3. Linda Nemec Foster’s poignant triptych captivated me from the opening lines and images. And her perceptive, beautifully written reflections continue to resonate personally and spiritually.
4. Hazel Hall chronicles her “wrestling” match with the big questions, in an unusual poetic combination—nonfiction prose, two tanka (five-line poems), two senryu (three-line poems), and a variation of cherita (six-line poem). A heavenly hybrid, and to my mind a fine way to describe an inner quest which unfolds during a Saturday workshop.
5-7. Daryl Scroggins entered three pieces that I find irresistible. In his story “The Fungible Nimbus,” a topsy-turvy image makes me gasp with horror—and then laugh out loud. His other story, “Roadshow,” has me smiling and nodding until the final images, whose loveliness then makes me weep out loud. (Oh, my heart.) Which is only magnified by Scroggins’ touching prose poem. Such wonderful writing in these pieces.
8. And finally, I think the 800-word poem by Jonathan Yungkans is a marvel, in more ways than one. To begin with, it’s vocabulary-expanding. The Q words! Of course I adore them. (“Quarma” is my new favorite.) Not only is this poem peppered with 30 English words that begin with the letter “q,” but it also features 11 Latin Q terms, and one French.
And then there’s the fresh imagery (one of several examples: the description of Death—a striking metaphor that I won’t spoil here for our readers). Not to mention the wit, the mystifying and mind-stretching logic, and the intensity of the narrator’s questioning.
For me, this is a cerebral poem that has required multiple and careful readings, yet also a spiritual work that delivered quite the reward emotionally and viscerally, the first time through. And each subsequent reading has affected me the same way. Yungkans hits a homer with “Blanket,” I believe, outta the ballpark.
Much gratitude to these six authors for enriching my days with their poems and stories!
Winner ($200, USD):
It Belongs to Each of Us Like a Blanket [poem] by Jonathan Yungkans
⚡ The True Story of the Reproduction of The Holy Shroud and the Convent School: Brought to You by Yours Truly, Creator of the Quaeritur Podcast [microfiction] by Roberta Beary
⚡ The Question of Questions [poem] by Roberto Christiano
⚡ [Turin Shroud Triptych]: “Prelude”; “The Making of the Shroud: Fourteen Visions (After the Fourteen Stations of the Cross)”; and “Afterword” [micro- and prose poetry] by Linda Nemec Foster
⚡ A Question of Faith [hybrid prosimetrum, with tanka, senryu, & cherita variation] by Hazel Hall
⚡ Roadshow [microfiction] by Daryl Scroggins
⚡ Love Touches All Love [prose poem] by Daryl Scroggins
⚡ The Fungible Nimbus [microfiction] by Daryl Scroggins
For those who would like additional info:
See Guidelines for complete details about “The Question of Questions” writing challenge.
See Contest Portal for links to results from six previous writing competitions hosted by MacQueen’s Quinterly, and three by her predecessor journal, KYSO Flash.