Tag Archives: form

Salvage

another scrap of paper for the bin?

Here’s a little villanelle about not giving up, seems appropriate for these dark days and tired times. As always you can hear it on audioboo by clicking the play button, if it appears for you, or else clicking on the title. This poem was published in 2013 in my new book of poems The Singing Bowl

Salvage

Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off,
Another scrap of paper for the bin.
So, should I struggle on or turn the light off?

My muse, maybe, has booked another night off
Without her help I can’t even begin.
Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off.

And yet I can’t forget what I caught sight of;
A grace I mustn’t lose, but cannot win,
So, shall I struggle on, or turn the light off?

I’m weighted by the love I most make light of,
I cast aside what’s not yet counted in.
Could I presume to recognise a write-off?

It is despair itself that I must fight off
When giving up feels just like giving in
So, do I struggle on, or turn the light off?

There’s something here to salvage, something right off
Life’s radar, or else underneath her skin.
Since I’m redeemed, (and I was once a write-off)
I’ll struggle on until they turn the light off.

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De Magistra

Here’s a little reverie on Love, Latin, and Learning

De Magistra

You were indeed my teacher, more than that,
Sole Magistra amidst the magisters,
I conjured you that I might conjugate.
Summon me now, and the whole register
Of love and loving answers to your call.
I lift my lines like water from a well,
Spilling in sound, amo, amas, amat,
A puer’s poor libation, at your feet.

My thankless muse, I meditate you now,
Your quick dark eyes still piercing my defence,
Your untouched hand touching the golden bough.
My mistress in the school of eloquence,
Strict arbitress of sentences and fines,

I asked for life, you gave me fourteen lines.

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Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys,

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place.

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace

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Redemption Song

The Hope Players, the company with whom I did the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, are beginning a new play called Redemption Song, written by Daniel Carlson and telling the story of the book of Ruth, from Naomi’s perspective. Daniel asked me to write a song for the play  which could be woven in and out of the performance or sung by the characters. The Song is now on my new cd Dancing Trough the Fire, under the title A Song for Ruth. You can hear it and/or download it by clicking on the cd icon on the right hand side of this blog.Here’s what I’ve written:

Redemption Song (the Story of Naomi)

Sing a song of sowing
Of carrying the seed
A song of hopeful planting
To meet a future need
Sing a song of letting go
Of falling to the ground
Of burying that feels like loss
Still waiting to be found

There are no songs of famine
For hunger has no voice
The poor must scavenge what they can
The rich are spoiled for choice
The stones of fear and anger
Will strike you from behind
For hunger hates the stranger
And cleaves to his own kind

Sing a song of exile
Of loneliness and loss
A song of broken bridges
That nobody can cross
A song of desperation
For words you understand
A song of fearful labour
On someone else’s land

Sing a song of marriage
The grace of bride and groom
The fruitful vine around the door
And joy within the room
A song of love and longing
For the children yet to be
A quiver-full of future hopes
Aimed at eternity

Sing a song of mourning
The shadows and the tombs
The bitterness of broken hearts
And disappointed wombs
Sing a song of empty words
And unexpressed despair
Of reaching out at midnight
For the one who isn’t there

Sing a song of waiting
Of weeping on the earth
A song of expectation
And longing for new birth
Sing a song of patience
Of watching through the night
Sing the hours before the dawn
And sing the coming light

Sing a song of harvest
Of one who bind the sheaves
And one who gleans along the edge
The good another leaves
Sing a song of winnowing
And taking into store
Of Barley heaped like glowing gold
Upon the threshing floor

Sing out before the Lord of Life
Your songs of joy and pain
Sing of the years the locusts ate
That cannot come again
Sing to Him your hopes and fears
Your tales of right and wrong
And He will make your voice a part
Of His Redemption Song

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Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems, Songs, Theology and Arts

Brave Black Squirrel: A Girtonian Ode!

There has been great excitement of late at the Discovery of the Girton Black Squirrel, many sightings, a facebook group, and even a motion from the parish council to adopt the black squirrel as a logo! If Girton had existed in Lord Byron’s day I’m sure he would have been a frequent visitor, and perhaps instead of the bear he kept at Trinity he might have adopted the Girton black Squirrel instead. So, borrowing the Ottava Rima stanza form that Byron used for Don Juan, and indeed the first four words of his epic, I have penned a little ode to the Girton Pioneer (with apologies to Lord B!)

The Girton Pioneer

I want a hero! Byron had Don Juan
As vehicle for all his fantasies
Each pleasure led him on to find a new-one
Inventive always in his ecstasies.
Byron’s  the  hero here,  at least the true one,
Pleasing his friends, teasing his enemies!
But now we’re all post-modern and ironic
And no-one ever dares to be Byronic.

Where shall I find a hero for our age,
A figure to inspire my eight-fold rhyme?
Where is the debater? Where the sage?
Oh who will mend this deep-disjointed time?
Our putrid politicians strut the stage,
Admiring one another, mired in slime,
They only mend their pre-election fences
And charge the said repairs to their expenses.

And what about the heroes of my youth,
The rockers who once moved me heart and soul?
Dylan delivered darts of daring truth,
The Rolling Stones were total Rock’n’roll!
They all wear slippers now, long in the tooth,
(Those years of sex and drugs have taken toll),
Now ageing rockers huddle round an Aga
And leave us in the grip of Lady Gaga.

I find no human hero for my themes
They all fall short, they shrivel, faint and fail.
But lo! A mystic voice spoke in my dreams:
“In Girton’s grounds you’ll find your holy grail
There dwells a creature all the world esteems,
A tribal totem, with a bushy tail!
Bright and dark, and wild and free and feral
An epic hero: Girton’s Brave black Squirrel!

Here is the hero for our modern times
Here is the one to set the world to rights
Here is a subject worthy of your rhymes
No silly superheroes in their tights
Could rid the world so well of all its crimes!
Put Girty, Girton’s squirrel up in lights.
I see the headline now, you’ll see it then:
“The First Black Squirrel enters Number Ten!”

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A Quartet of Sonnets for St. Edwards

I have been working on, and have now completed, a quartet of sonnets for and about my beloved church of St. Edwards in Cambridge, though I hope they will have wider resonance beyound the place where they are rooted.

I am taking a leaf out of George Herbert’s book A Priest to the Temple, his poems like The Church Floor and The Windowes begin with the outward visibly part of the physical church fabric and move through it to show the spiritual ‘inside’, the ‘heaven in ordinarie’. My  sequence of four takes you on a journey eastwards towards the heart of our mystery from the font by the West door of the church, a place of beginnings, to the lectern and the pulpit,, the places where  we hear the bible and hear it opened for us, as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus, to the altar,(my poem is about our sixteenth century communion table) where for us, as for those disciples on the road, Jesus is known  in the breaking of the bread.

I believe in the incarnation,and therefore I believe that the spiritual is  known in and through the physical. I love and celebrate in these poems the particular physicality of ancient stone and wood in these time-worn objects, font, lectern, pulpit,table. I hope however that there is enough of the universal in what I write for something of what is in these sonnets to be helpful to anyone coming to any font, lectern or communion table anywhere. If you find these verses helpful please feel free to copy them and make what use of them as you like in your own church and church life.

This little sequence is in turn part of a much bigger project, to do a book of poems and pictures in collaboration with the wonderful artist Rebecca Merry, which will take the reader on a journey through the liturgical year and the sacraments, telling afresh the great sequence of Incarnation Death and Resurrection.

A preliminary note on Latimer’s Pulpit

Of the four the only one which is perhaps peculiar to St. Edwards is the pulpit. Ours is known as Latimers Pulpit,  for Hugh Latimer the great Saint and Martyr preached there often, and it was in this pulpit that he preached the famous sermon of the card, to which my sonnet alludes.

In that sermon he imagines that we are losing a card game with the devil. One after another he lays out the black suit of our sins, he holds all the cards and is ready to take the ‘trick’ of our souls, but Christ leans forward and lays on top of all those sins the trump card that wins us back; the king of hearts, for in a universe where God is love, then love is always trumps. At the end of the sermon he exhorts his hearers to do for others what Christ has done for them. When people deal you cards of malice, hate, or envy always and only reply by trumping hate with love. His great love, even of his enemies, shone through when he was burned at the stake for his faith in 1555. It is an extraordinary experience to touch the wood, and to stand in that pulpit and preach as I do each week. But setting the pulpit sonnet aside, I hope that readers both in and beyond St. Edwards may find something helpful for their own journies from the font, past the lectern to the altar, and through life.

Four Sonnets for St. Edwards:

The Font

Old stone angels hold aloft the font
A wide womb, floating on the breath of God,
Feathered with seraph wings, lit with the swift
Bright lightening of praise, with thunder over-spread,
And under-girded with their unheard song,
Calling through water, fire, darkness, pain,
Calling us to the life for which we long,
Yearning to bring us to our birth again.

Again the breath of God is on the waters
In whose reflecting face our candles shine,
Again he draws from death the sons and daughters
For whom he bid the elements combine,
As old stone angels round a font today
Become the ones who roll the stone away.

The Lectern

Some rise on eagles wings, this one is plain,
Plain English workmanship in solid oak:
Age gracefully it says, go with the grain.
You walk towards an always open book,
Open as every life to every light,
Open to shade and shadow, day and night,
The changeless witness of your changing pain.
Be still the lectern says, stand here and read
Here are your mysteries, your love and fear,
And, running through them all, the slender thread
Of God’s strange grace, red as these ribbons, red
As your own blood when reading reads you here
And pierces joint and marrow…
So you stand
The lectern still beneath your trembling hand.

Latimer’s pulpit

Latimer’s pulpit, you can touch the wood,
Sound for yourself the syllables of grace
That sounded and resounded through this place;
A quickened word, a kindling for good
In evil times; when malice held the cards
And played them, in the play of politics,
When knaves with knives were taking all the tricks,
When Christendom was shivered into shards,
When King and Queen were pitched in different camps,
When burning books could stoke the fire for men,
When such were stacked against him –even then
Latimer knew that hearts alone are trumps.
He gave the King of Hearts his proper name,
He touched this wood, and kindled love to flame.

This Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

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Huzzah!

The Cambridge Companion to CS Lewis, co-edited by Michael Ward of Planet Narnia fame is at last beginning to emerge into the light of day! It is now properly listed in the CUP Catalogue and you can read about it HERE. It should be out and on the shelves of the bookshops,and the warehouses of  Amazon in the spring. Its very wide ranging and original and I was especially pleased to be asked to write the chapter on Lewis as a poet. I think Lewis is a much better poet than is commonly thought, but has been unjustly neglected by the mainstream literary establishment largely because his supposed antipathy to TS Eliot. but its more complex than that. In the chapter I argue that Lewis  and Eliot, who became real friends towards the end of of their lives have more in common then either was at first willing to admit (including of course their adult conversions to the christian faith). I try to show that even, (and especially) judged by Eliot’s own criteria Lewis emerges as a more accomplished and important poet than he is usually given credit for. I also make some comparison between Lewis and some significant poets who have emerged since his death, particularly Phillip Larkin and Paul Muldoon and show how he anticipated some of their forms and themes, and how reading them can send us back to Lewis with a new appreciation. I look forward to the controversy that some of these ideas may cause!

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los tres amigos; a tale of three villanelles

Los Tres Amigos, or A Tale of Three Villanelles

I was recently asked by two friends to judge a friendly villanelle competition.

Davey Talbot (yes, he of http://www.PoemaDay.org) had written a splendid meditative piece touching on Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It, whilst Michael Ward (yes, he of http://www.planetnarnia.com/) had put together a wonderfully ebullient series of scriptural allusions (somewhat in the manner of Herbert’s ‘Paradise’) and puns on fish!

The poems were written as an ordination gift to their mutual friend, Andrew Cuneo, who has just become a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I received and admired them both, but what was I to do? The river poem and the fish poem succeeded in such different ways I hardly had common criteria for comparison.

Here are their poems and my response. Perhaps our readers can make their own judgment, or better still make their own poetic response:

I Fish The Big River
after Norman Maclean

by Davey Talbot

I fish this big river,
Always flowing westward.
More men will come after.

I’ve walked every acre,
Memorized its nature.
I fish this big river.

It’s bluest come winter
After it has rested.
More men will come after.

Its life is in color.
The brown trout run is good.
I fish the big river.

Beer waits in the water
At a shallow bank-head.
More men will come after.

Its current is grammar;
Under the rocks are words.
I fish the big river.
More men will come after.

Ichthus

or

Whale Catch Sole Catch Pike Catch Plaice

by Michael Ward

‘There’s a catch? To convince you that I am divine
I must prove it?’ He said, {Matt 12:39
‘Except for a wail I will give you no sign.’

We are dab-hands at fishing: why should we incline
To net people instead? {Matt 4:18ff
‘There’s a catch to convince you that I am divine.’

We’re five thousand famished; you tell us to dine
On two herrings? They’re red! {Mark 6:30ff
‘Except for a soul I will give you no sign.’

How long must we flounder around in the brine
If you know where to head? {John 21:1ff
‘There’s a catch to convince you that I am divine.’

You eat broiled fish? This is way out of line:
On a pikestaff you bled! {Luke 24:42
‘Except for a pike I will give you no sign.’

You’re pulling me right off this nice perch of mine:
Cut the twitch on your thread!
‘You carp and have scales on your eyes, I divine. {Acts 9:18
‘Except for a place I will give you no sign.’ {John 14:3

Well, Gentlemen, I have thought long and hard. These are two very fine poems, very different and yet in many ways complementary.

The current of Davey’s poem carries his vivid images which are left haiku-like to do their own work and grow to symbols in the reader’s mind, and I especially like the clarity and simplicity of its movement between colours, between blue and brown; it goes and flows as it should, like the river.

Michael’s poem by contrast is the fish; lithe, compact, muscular, – constantly flashing and jumping in the play between its own possibilities, a net of Herbertian wit that brings in a fine catch of whale, dab, herring, sole, flounder, pike, perch, carp, and plaice. (Pike was a nice glance at Herbert’s cask “which on the cross a pike did set again abroach”.) Anyone who loves the Logos – two natured, one personned, – will love the pun, the power of words to be two at once.

This two-at-oneness brings me to the nub. How am I to choose? Each of these poems is successful but in completely different ways. Davey’s is organic, flowing from within; Michael’s is fine wit struck from without. Davey’s is the river and Michael’s the fish. Can we have one without the other?

Unable in my own powers to choose, I decided to consult my Muse. Having invoked Her, I put to Her this formal question: “Which should come first, the fish or the river?”

Gentleman, here is her reply, and I hope you will both be pleased with it:

Which Comes First, the Fish or the River?

by Malcolm Guite

Since every gift comes down from the All-Giver,
How can I choose between the Giver’s gifts
Or say which should come first, the fish or river?

He scatters first, and then calls us to gather,
To lavish on his work our smaller crafts
And sail our praise upstream, back to the Giver.

He gives His gifts when we are met together,
Not in our splits, our schisms, and our rifts:
We cannot prize the Fish and not the River,

Divide the two and say ‘which would you rather?’
We float through time on fragile little rafts,
But time and life alike flow from the Giver.

Away upstream, it all flows from the Father:
The stream is His own Spirit, giving gifts;
His Son, our brother, joins us in the River.

He is our ‘both-and’ God, not ‘or’, or ‘either’;
He gives full measure: steady, heady draughts!
The Giver must come first, always the Giver,
We prize alike His gifts: both Fish and River.

So, as I interpret Her gnomic utterance, I think that’s first prize to the Maker, who gave each of you such conspicuous poetic talent, and a joint second prize, to each of you, sub-creators, through whom the logos-fish and spirit-river are at work in complementary ways.

Malcolm

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