The 29th of June is St. Peter’s day, when we remember the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus ‘the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love. It is fitting therefore that it is at Petertide that new priests and deacons are ordained, on the day they remember a man whose recovery from mistakes and openness to love can give them courage. So I post this poem not only for St. Peter but for all those being ordained this weekend and in memory of my own ordination on this day 23 years ago.
This poem comes from my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press. You can also buy it on Amazon Uk or US or order it in any bookshop. My Canadian readers can get it from Steve Bell.
As always you can her the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title of the poem.
The 16th of June is Bloomsday, the day on which Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses is set. I have never been in Dublin on the day itself but here’s a sonnet remembering my first day in Dublin, in Bewley’s Oriental Coffee house, about to set off on one of the most significant adventures of my life. This poem will appear in the section ‘Local Habitations’ in my new Collection The Singing Bowl which will come out with Canterbury Press this November.
as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title
I look up, hands around my coffee cup,
On Grafton street in Bewley’s coffee shop, Blue Mountain, Java and Colombian
The labels are a journey on their own
Then the aroma as they’re ground by hand,
Beans broken open. Out of every land,
Separate savours float across this room
Of dark mahogany, to a softer bloom
Of stained glass windows, where I sit apart
Warming my hands, and waiting on my heart
To call me to adventure. I have found my voice,
Yeats in my pocket, backpack full of Joyce ,
I’m nineteen, it is nineteen seventy-seven
And Dublin is the very gate of heaven.
Trinity College Literary Society and the Chapel team have recently worked together to put on a series of readings by contemporary poets in the antechapel under the title Night Muse. I was honoured to be one of the four poets chosen to read, closing a series which began with Rowan Williams. I know that a number of my friends, and more widely, other readers of my poetry, would like to have been there, so I am posting a recording of the reading here, together with the poster and a pdf of the beautifully printed little booklet of the poems which Trinity produced for the occasion. Do feel free to download and print that to accompany the reading if you wish. The Antechapel is full of monuments to distinguished former members of the college and I gave the reading standing just beneath the statue of Newton, and gazing across at the great statue of Tennyson. George Herbert needed no statue, for, as you will hear, his spiritual presence was everywhere.
I read a selection from Sounding the Seasons but I also read a number of poems to be included in my forthcoming volume the Singing Bowl, both published by Canterbury Press so I hope this post will also serve as an introduction and appetiser for that book. A click on ‘The Reading’ will take you to the podomatic page where you can listen to, or download the reading. The painting in the poetry folio is by Faye Hall, drawing on a photograph by Lancia Smith.
June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from a formerly thorough atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. Johns Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means servant of Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint: