Emily Dickinson’s Desk

Emily's desk

Emily’s Desk

Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table.  I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.

Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)

 

Emily Dickinson’s Desk

So slight and spare a square of wood
Sustains so great a muse-
How plain and flat the door is made
To such a subtle maze.

Perhaps the limits of this desk-
-It’s strict restraint of space-
Informed the poet’s take and task
And turned restraint to grace.

Here in this narrow paradise
She pledged and kept her troth-
And trimmed her lamp and trained her verse –
And- slant-wise- told her truth.

 

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A sonnet for St. Benedict

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On July the 11th the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the gentle founder of the Benedictine order and by extension the father of Monasticism. A moderate and modest man he would have been astonished to learn that his ‘simple school for prayer’, his ‘modest rule for beginners’ led to the foundation of communities which kept the Christian flame alight through dark ages, preserved not only Christian faith, scripture, and culture,but also the best of Classical Pagan learning and culture, fed the poor, transformed societies, promoted learning and scholarship, and today provides solace, grounding, perspective and retreat not only to monks and nuns but to millions of lay people around the world.
Here is my sonnet for Benedict, drawing largely on phrases from the Rule, I dedicate it to the sisters at Turvey Abbey. It appears in my new book with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl

The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Benedict

You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found

You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace,
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space
That we might be beginners in God’s grace.

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Parable and Paradox: A Biblical Index

Parable and Paradox hi resI am pleased to know that Parable and Paradox is finding a wide readership, and I know that a number of readers hope to use the book as a resource in worship and preaching. To that end I thought it might be helpful to provide a full Biblical Index. For all the sonnets on specific sayings of Jesus, I provide the text of the saying directly before the sonnet in the book itself, but there are of course many wider Biblical references and people preparing to preach or pray from a particular text may wish to look it up here and see if there is a poem that might help them.

Those wishing to know more about the book and my hopes and purpose in writing it, might like to read the in-depth interview about it conducted by Lancia Smith Here

Here is the index:

Parable and Paradox: A Biblical Index

 

Genesis:         1:1 -2:3 Seven Whole Days pp: 79-82

18:1-16 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre p: 22

32:22-32 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel p:23

 

Exodus           3:13-15 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55

 

Matthew        4:17 Repent p: 29

4:30-32 The Lest of All Seeds p: 34

5:3-12 Beatitudes p: 30

5:29-30 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

5:42 As If p: 31

6:9-13 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp: 65-71

6:24 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43

10:34-35 A Sword p: 40

10:40 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

11:15 ‘He Who Has Ears To Hear p: 28

13:3-9 The Sower p: 48

13:31-32 The Least of All Seeds p: 34

13:33 Like Unto Leaven p: 32

15:21-28 It’s Not Fair! p: 35

18:5 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

18:8-9 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

18:23-35 Forgive as We Forgive p: 69

19:30 First And Last p: 72

24:29-31 World’s End p: 73

25:40 A sonnet for the Unseen p: 11

25:41 Refusal p: 74

26:52 By The Sword 49

28:20 I Will Be with You p: 78

 

Mark              1:15 Repent p: 29

4:1-9 The Sower p: 48

4:24 Good Measure p: 47

7:24-30 It’s Not Fair! P: 35

7:31-37 Be Opened p: 36

8:4-8 The Sower p: 48

8:31-33 Get Thee Behind Me Satan p: 38

9:36-37 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

9:43 Better To Enter Life Maimed p: 41

10:21 Sell All You Have p: 42

10:31 First and Last p: 72

12:28-31 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54

13:24-29 World’s End p: 73

 

Luke               2:21 The Naming of Jesus p: 27

6:20-23 Beatitudes p: 30

6:29-30 As If p: 31

6:37 Imagine p: 46

6:38 Good Measure p: 47

9:48 Whoever Welcomes p: 37

10:27 Five Dialogues on the Two Great Commandments pp: 50-54

10:25-37 The Good Samaritan p: 44

11:2-4 Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer pp 65-71

11:33 Beatitudes p: 30

12:51-53 A Sword p: 40

13:18-19 The Least Of All Seeds p: 34

13:20-21 Like Unto Leaven p: 32

13:30 First and Last p: 72

16: 9 & 13 The Mammon of Unrighteousness p: 43

21:25-28 World’s End p: 73

23:24 Father Forgive p: 75

24:17 Emmaus 1 p: 76

24:25-26 Emmaus 2 p: 77

 

John                3:16-17 So Loved The World p: 33

6:35 I Am The Bread Of Life p: 56

6:68 The Words of Life p: 39

8:12 I Am the Light of the World p: 57

8:58 Before Abraham Was I Am p: 55

10:7 I Am the Door of the Sheepfold p: 58

10:11 I Am the Good Shepherd 59

11:25 I Am the Resurrection p: 60

11:43 He Who Has Ears to Hear p: 28

12:24 A Grain of Wheat p: 63

14:1-3 Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled p: 64

14:6 I Am the Way the Truth and the Life p: 61

15:5 I Am the Vine p: 62

 

Acts                9:1-19 Paul Blinded Being Led Into Damascus p 24

 

Romans         2:1 Imagine p: 46

 

Colossians 1:15-17 Everything Holds Together p: 1

 

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Thank God for ‘Doubting’ Thomas!

July the 3rd is the Feast of St. Thomas the apostle. Sometimes known as ‘doubting Thomas, but maybe honest Thomas, courageous Thomas, even Tenacious Thomas would be nearer the mark!
I thank God for St. Thomas, the one disciple who had the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but didnt dare say, the courage to ask the awkward questions that drew from Jesus some of the most beautiful and profoundly comforting of all his sayings. “We dont know where you’re going, how can we know the way”? asked Thomas, and because he had the courage to confes his ignorance, we were given that beautiful saying “I am the way the Truth and the Life” Here is the poem I have written for St. Thomas, and also a sermon I preached on St. Thomas called ‘Touching the Wounds’.

As I repost this poemI am glad to know that my editor at Canterbury Press Christine Smith will be ordained priest this weekend and will be celebrating her first communion on St. Thomas’s day, so I wish her every blessing.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

I am greateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the thought-provoking image above, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem and you can hear the sermon on my podcast site by clicking here: Touching The Wounds

St. Thomas the Apostle

 

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”

Courageous master of the awkward question,

You spoke the words the others dared not say

And cut through their evasion and abstraction.

Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,

You put your finger on the nub of things

We cannot love some disembodied wraith,

But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.

Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,

Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.

Because He loved your awkward counter-point

The Word has heard and granted you your wish.

Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine

The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

 

oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
the wounded God whose wounds are healing mine

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Silence: Remembering the Somme

As we all remember and reflect on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which is now published in my book Sounding the Seasons.

On Remembrance Day in 2011 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.

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.

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A Sonnet for Petertide, and the Silver Jubilee of my priesting

 

The 29th of June  this year is a Silver Jubilee for me: the 25th Anniversary of my ordination as a priest i the church of England. The 29th is of course also 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 25 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.

St. Peter

Impulsive master of misunderstanding

You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,

Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove

That each denial is undone by love.

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A track from my new album!

Saying the Names by Faye Hall

Saying the Names by Faye Hall

I am delighted to say that we are well on with the project of recording my new record Songs and Sonnets, produced by Roy Salmond and Steve Bell. As a taster I thought I would share with you one of the poems on the record; Saying the Names. It was the poem which inspired the Faye Hall Painting that adorns the cover of the record. I had written the poem out by hand for her and she in turn incorporated these hand written lines from the poem throughout her painting, which I hope you can see in the image above. We are nearly, but not quite ‘there’ in our attempts to raise the funds to make this album’s production and release possible and if you would like to go over to the Gofundme Page‘, take a look at the video which tells you more and decide whether you would like to support it, that would be great. The record has both spoken word and song, and some of the poems also have a gentle musical or soundscape commentary as you will hear when you listen to this one. I hope you enjoy it. You can listen to the poem on Roy’s Soundcloud Page by clicking on the title, or from my files by clicking on the ‘play’ button. I have also given you all the words of the poem on this page. It was first published in my Canterbury Press book The Singing Bowl

 

Saying the Names

Dawn over Amble, and along the coast

light on the tide flows to Northumberland,

silvers the scales of herring freshly caught

and glowing in their boxes on the dock,

shivers the rainbow sheen on drops of diesel,

and lights, at last, the North Sea fishing fleet.

Tucked into harbour here, their buoyant lines

lift to the light on plated prows their names,

the ancient names picked out in this year’s paint:

Providence, Bold Venture, Star Divine

are first along the quay-side. Fruitful Bough

has stemmed the tides to bring her harvest in,

Orcadian Mist and Sacred Heart, Aspire,

their names are numinous, a found poem.

Those Bible-burnished phrases live and lift

into the brightening tide of morning light

and beg to be recited, chanted out,

for names are incantations, mysteries

made manifest like ships on the horizon.

Eastward their long line tapers towards dawn

and ends at last with Freedom, Radiant Morn.

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