Category Archives: Poems

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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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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Filed under imagination, Music, Poems

A Referendum Addendum!

Thought I’d offer this little reflection on the day we vote. We will need to do lots of bridge-building and reconciling the day after – whatever the result.

You can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. feel free to share

A Referendum Addendum:

After this long referendum
Might I add a brief addendum?
(had these thoughts and thought I’d send’em)
Have you ears to hear? then lend’em:
Are there broken friendships? mend’em!
In/out spats? it’s time to end’em!
Our rights to disagree; defend’em!
All your party garments: rend’em!
Any vows you take, intend’em
to Christ, who gave his gains to spend’em
for our sins, that he might end’em
and elect us to his kingdom
his Mysterium Tremendum

all by grace, not referendum!

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Poem For a Refugee Child

my grandmother's book

my grandmother’s book

I am currently up in Scotland staying with my mother, who is ninety seven, and hearing from her again the wonderful stories of my forbears, wonderers, poets, preachers, artists, and dreamers of one sort or another. After I had given her my new book of poems Parable and Paradox, and read some of the poems to her, including some those about the present refugee crisis, we took from the shelves the book of poems her mother had published in 1922 which included this powerful poem written for a refugee child in Glasgow. My Grandmother taught English and History in a school which took children from the poorer districts of Glagow, and this powerful poem with its deep compassion and empathy for the refugee and the exile, came out of that experience. I post it now both because it is International Refugee Day and also because it is part of my hope that my own country will not forget itself and turn its back on the refugees and on our long tradition of welcome and hospitality. My Grandmother’s book contains poems with their own music, filled with passion and compassion, and includes a series of sonnets for the city she loved. Her’s is a tradition which I am, in my own way, seeking to continue.

The Gean-tree, I should mention is the Scottish name for the wild cherry.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button:

A Child of the Ghetto

IMG_6070

 

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5 Dialogues: 5 Your Neighbour As Yourself

Parable and Paradox hi resHere is the fifth of my five dialogues on the two great commandments. I described the whole sequence in this post. The poems are taken from my new book Parable and Paradox, available from Amazon or on order from any bookshop. do come to the launch at Girton college on 14th June at 5:15 if you are free. This sequence will also feature on my new record Songs and Sonnets. Click here to learn more and support that project if you wish. This final poem in the series reflects on what it might mean to love my neighbour as myself. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Luke 10:27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 

V Your Neighbour As Yourself

 

My neighbour as myself? I cannot learn

To love myself at all. I look away,

The dark glass only shames me and I burn

At what should never see the light of day.

 

I’ll be the judge of that, for in my light

Judgment and healing meet you equally.

The self you loathe is precious in my sight

And I will have you love it into me.

You and your neighbor, both must made whole.

Her heart’s as dark and needy as your own,

So you must love her in her hidden soul, 

The very soul she’s trying to disown.

Love her as you are loved and you will find

Love is your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind.

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