Monthly Archives: November 2017

Love, Remember: Poems of Loss, Lament, and Hope

I am happy to say that my new Anthology ‘Love, Remember’ will be published this Thursday, the 23rd of November, and that there will be an Official Launch at Heffers on December 14th at 6:30pm to which everyone is welcome.

My new book is a collection of poems, accompanied by prose commentary and meditation which is intended to accompany and articulate the journey through grief and lamentation towards hope. The book is intended as an antidote to the oft-quoted passage by Henry Scott-Holland, that ‘Death is nothing at all’. Death will swallowed up in victory on the last day, but for now it definitely is something, something dire and difficult, and we are all choking on it. I will return to Scott-Holland, and a surprising discovery I made about his famous ‘poem’, in my next post, but for now here are the opening paragraphs of my new book, setting out its scope. I hope that this book will be a real help to all of us on that journey.

This book is written to give voice both to love and to lamentation, to find expression for grief without losing hope, to help us honour the dead with tears, yet still to glimpse through those tears the light of resurrection. It is written in the conviction that the grief which we so often hide in embarrassment, the tears of which some people would want to make us ashamed, are the very things that make us most truly human. Grief and lament spring from the deepest parts of our soul because, however bitter the herbs and fruits they seem to bear, their real root is Love and I believe that it is Love who made the world and made us who we are.

 

Why should we need to make the case for giving place and even permission to our lamentation, our grief and our tears? Surely, such grief is the most natural thing in the world and should be met always, with compassion, and even a kind of admiration for the courage bereaved people show in expressing and even summoning the painful memories of those they have loved and lost. Yet we live in a culture that averts the eyes from death and is embarrassed at every reminder of mortality. We live in a culture of the ‘quick fix’, the easy answer, the so-called ‘power of positive thinking’. Once we had a positive tradition of mourning, a time set aside for it, with all its own customs and rituals, sympathies and consolations. We once had a culture that gave us a time to weep as well as a time to celebrate: now, we are rushed straight to the celebration and even that is no consolation for we all have to pretend that there is nothing to be consoled about.

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Silence; a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As we approach Remembrance Day I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which is now published in my book Sounding the Seasons.

So here is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily wrote this sonnet. Since I first posted it, here, and on audioboo, it has become the single most viewed and heard, of all my posts, and strangely, looking at the stats I have found that almost half of my total ‘views’ have been from Germany, something that I find strangely moving. I also notice many ‘views’ and listens from Afghanistan. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it  minutes after having composed it, by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title.

The striking image above is ‘Poppy Day’ by Daliscar and the one below is ‘Silent Cross’ by Margot Krebs Neale

Silence

November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

Silent Cross by Margot Krebs Neale

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Filed under Current affairs, literature, Poems, politics

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

You chant again the telling charm

You chant again the telling charm

Today, on the anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death I am reposting the poem I composed for him last year.

King David is the archetypal sacred singer, the psalmist in whom and through whom every passion can be lifted into poetry, and lifted through that poetry to God. His psalms sound Praise and Lament together, the wounds and glories of Eros and the wounds and glories of  Agape. It has often seemed to me that Leonard Cohen was a latter day David, as he too addressed the Lord and said

‘From this broken hill,

all your praises they shall ring

if it be your will

to let me sing.

I composed this poem about his passing in the mediaeval Rondeau form. The Rondeau is also the form used in the poem In Flanders Field and it seems a fitting form for this occasion. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

This poem, originally posted on this blog last year, was published in February of this year in The Christian Century.

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

 

Like David’s psalm you named our pain,

And left us. But the songs remain

To search our wounds and bring us balm,

Till every song becomes a psalm,

And your restraint is our refrain;

 

Between the stained-glass and the stain,

The dark heart and the open vein,

Between the heart-storm and the harm,

Like David’s psalm.

 

I see you by the windowpane,

Alive within your own domain,

The light is strong, the seas are calm,

You chant again the telling charm,

That names, and naming, heals our pain,

Like David’s psalm.

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‘GKC’ on ‘Thought For The Day’

– (C) BBC – Photographer: Rolf Marriott

GK Chesterton would have been a perfect contributor to the Today Program’s ‘Thought For the Day’ His wit, originality, brilliant shifts of perspective, his whole dazzling combination of absurdity and grace would have been perfect for it. But no doubt even if the great man had been at his coruscating best in the Today Studio, John Humphrys would have been as smug and condescending to Chesterton as he has been to the likes of John Bell and Jonathan Sacks, the great communicators of our day, and declared himself to be ‘bored’. Why? Because its ‘religion’ and we all know, without needing to know anything about any religion, that ‘religion is boring’.  Humphrys’ unfortunate and graceless tirade against Thought for the Day, published in this week’s Radio Times has met with a brilliant and considered response by Nick Baines, a TFTD contributor, in his excellent blog ‘Musings of a Restless Bishop. It was interesting to note that Archbishop Justin Welby also responded warmly to Nick’s piece and praised him for it.

Nick Baines deals with the substantive points, but though I don’t usually go in for topical satire, I wondered what GKC, in his mishcevious Ballade-making mode, would have made of all this and have composed, in his spirit, the following Ballade of  the Bored Presenter. As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

 


Ballade of the Bored Presenter

 

Thought For The Day! let it begin!

My new perspective on today

Three minutes on the state we’re in

A breath of spirit through the clay

A chance for those to have their say

On whom such constant scorn is poured

We listen, lifted on our way,

Except John Humphrys who is bored

 

For after all the slant and spin

The petty postures and display,

Two second sound bites, bleak and thin

We yearn for thought, Thought For The Day

Jonathan Sacks shows Wisdom’s way

And John Bell rings a rousing chord

We all find courage for the fray

Except John Humphrys, who is bored

 

They don’t have any votes to win

Or points to score on polling day

They simply know the place you’re in

And stand with you and help you  pray.

Some thoughts may fly and some may stay

And some we stand up and applaud

And some we grapple with all day,

Except John Humphrys who is bored

 

Prince you have spoken of the day

When Gates will open wide and broad

And we’ll ascend that splendid way

Except John Humphrys who’ll be bored.

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