Tomorrow (Wednesday 12th of October) I shall be doing a poetry reading at St. Edward’s Church in Cambridge from my new book Parable and Paradox, and I thought I would share here a sonnet that I have come to realise is fairly central to the whole collection. As I wrote the fifty sonnets on the sayings of Jesus I came to realise how often he appeals to our imagination, asks us to imagine what it would be like if things were done on earth as if in heaven, as if the kingdom had come, asks us to treat each other now as if we already saw each other in the glory of heaven, asks us to live now and practically from the depths of a generous love that most of us can only imagine. These thoughts came into focus in this sonnet, ‘As If’, when I came to realise the other side of the equation; that in Christ God already treats us as if we were saints, already loves and cherishes us as if we were already home in heaven. And the ourt being loved already is what enables us to love in return, in the here and now.
As always you can hear me read the poem by pressing the play button or clicking on the title. but do also come and hear me read it live at St. Edwards at 7:30pm tomorrow
Here is a poem called Spell, which I re-post for today’s National Poetry Day, as it celebrates the magic powers of language itself. I have written in a previous post about the ‘daily miracle’ of our language and literacy, the magical way that words can summon up images, images that bring with them whole worlds, all the hidden correspondences between Word and World, a magic witnessed by the way a word like spell means both to spell a word and to make magic, the way chant is embedded in enchantment, the way even the dry word Grammar turns out to be cognate with Glamour in its oldest magical sense. But if all language is a kind of spell, it is a Good Spell (or Gospel as we later shortened that term). For Christian Faith points to a single source, in the Word, the Logos of God, for both the mystery of language and the mystery of being. Christ is the Word within all words, the Word behind all worlds.
Certainly many Christian writers have reflected on the paralells between the Genesis narrative in which God says “Let there be..” and each thing he summons springs into being, and the way, the uttering of words, the combination and recombination of a finite set of letters, can call into being the imaginary worlds, the sub-creations, as Tolkien calls them, that God in his Love has empowered us to create. It seems that being made as ‘Makers’ (the old word for poets) is one of the ways in which we are all made in God’s image.
Of course, because we are fallen we can abuse this gift of sub-creation, we can abuse language itself, making the very medium of creation a means of destruction. I have explored that shadow side of language in my poem “What IF…” But now I want to celebrate the God-given power and mystery of language, the magic of naming, the summoning powers entrusted to us in the twenty-six letters of our alphabet., in a sonnet I have simply called “Spell”. As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or pressing the ‘play’ button.
One of the set readings for this Sunday, whose theme is hospitality, is the beautiful opening of Hebrews 13 which reads:
Let brotherly love continue.Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
This passage of course contains a deft allusion to the story of how Abraham and Sara entertained three strangers in the wilderness and in so doing opened their tent and their hearts to the Lord who then fulfilled his promise to bless them with a child. In my new book Parable and Paradox I have a poem about that moment in genesis which you can read and listen to here.
But the phrase in Hebrews ‘angels unawares’ was also the inspiration, and indeed the title of a song of mine which I have included on the new record Songs and Sonnets, which will very soon be available through iTunes etc and for order on the web.The song reflects on the many and various ways God sends his messages and his messengers to us. But as a reflection for tomorrow I thought I would post the lyrics here and also give you a chance to listen to one of the earlier mixes of the song, the final version of which is on the record. If you would like to use these lyrics or the song itself as part of a service please feel free to do so. I hope you enjoy it
Some people say that life is just a given thing
but you and I both know by whom its lent
and that its right here in the dirt
where we’ve both been loved and hurt
that Love Himself has come to pitch His tent
sometimes we’re in the fields of holy roses
other times we’re rolling in the tares
breaking bread and sharing wine
did I feel your hand touch mine
or did we both touch angels unawares?
Abraham’s down by the oaks of Mamre
and Joseph dreams beside an empty barn
theres a woman by the well with dreams no man can tell
though a broken man might keep her safe from harm
Theres someone else inside this fiery furnace
and Jacob’s gazing up those endless stairs
we are wounded on the road, but we share each others load,
and make each other angels unawares
Everybody backs into the future
everyone’s just feeling for it blind
sometimes we get lost and the threads of our lives get crossed
but I’m sure glad yours got tangled up with mine
the day is gone and I know I should be going
theres barely light enough to say our prayers
ah but give me leave the while for to turn and see you smile
I ought to begin this post by apologising for the strange little missive of indiscriminate gobbledygook which some of you may have glimpsed on these pages and even received in your emails. This was neither a rash experiment in free verse, nor, as some surmised, a bad translation of Welsh, but was in fact the free and random creation of the phone in my pocket! The mischievous little device not only switched itself on but also opened my wordpress app and managed to post its randomness to the world at large – perhaps my phone will in the end be due for its own literary prize!
But to return to something more deliberate, here is the second instalment of my North American Adventures. After my teaching stint at Regent and my joint reading with Luci Shaw my wife Maggie came out and joined me for 10 days holiday up in the mountains at Whistler where a kind friend had generously lent us his holiday house. Whistler is most famous as a ski resort and the scene of the Winter Olympics but it is also delightful in the summertime and home to a thriving colony of black bears some of whom we were fortunate to see whilst we were there. We hiked on trails, went wilderness canoing and took the impressive ‘gondola’ ride up to the top of whistler mountain and had a lovely walk up on the snowy heights.
Poetry: The original Olympic sport!
I wrote no poetry whilst I was there, in a sense I felt the mountains were already doing it for me, but I took in great store of beautiful images which I hope will impress themselves into verse at some time in the future. I took occasion whilst I was up there to stand on the winter olympics podium and reinstate poetry as an olympic sport!
Another hi-light of this BC sojourn was meeting again with Roy Salmond the producer of my new CD ‘Songs and Sonnets’, which I know a number of you have kindly helped on its way through a crowdfunding page. and Behold! Roy had the CD fresh in his hand when we met. So it is in the world at last and there will be a more formal launch next month about which I will write in due course. I’m very happy with the result. Here is one of the poems I recorded for the CD ,which also contains songs and poems set to music:
With the indefatigable and ever-generous Jerry Root!
Then, when the holiday was over we drove down to the States and took the ferry to Orcas Island where I spent a happy few days at the Kindlingsfest, speaking about the notion of Sabbath and rest and meeting with old friends. Amongst these was Jerry Root who had brought me the gift of an American College Football T-shirt bearing the legend ‘Fear the Poet’! This is a genuine football supporters’ shirt, apparently the emblem of the Whittier College football team is the poet after whom the college is named
Then began the next part of the adventure, a flight to Alberquerque and a wonderful week in Santa Fe and the chance to meet one of my favourite bands of all time: Over The Rhine! more about that in the next post.
I’m just back from an exhausting, but stimulating, expedition to North America in which I travelled from Boston to Vancouver, from Seattle to Albuquerque, from Santa Fe to LA and then home, so I thought I’d share a little of my adventures on the way.
The adventures began flying in to Boston so as to speak at the CS Lewis Foundation‘s Eastern Regional conference in Amherst. The Conference was on the theme of Lewis and Truth in the Public square and I gave a keynote address, preached a sermon on the Sunday and led a seminar on poetry as well as giving a reading/performance of my songs and sonnets. There was an impressive mix of people from many walks of life and many different churches all drawn by the common strand of Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and the sense that his plea for the Faith as offering truths robust and relevant in the ‘public square’ and not just a private ‘lifestyle option was well worth exploring. A highlight of that conference for me was a visit to emily Dickinson’s house still preserved just as it was. Seeing the tiny desk on which she wrote such great poetry inspired a new poem in me which I have given in a separate blog post here.
Then it was a flight to Vancouver to spend a week at Regent College teaching a course called ‘ Poetic reflections on the sayings of Jesus’ which gave me a chance to develop the themes and ideas set out in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox. One of those themes was the way in which Jesus, in all his teachings, appeals directly to the imagination, as well as to the reason. In parables and paradoxes he asks us to imagine what the kingdom is like and to begin living, even now, as if we were already in it! Two poems in the new collection, particularly bring that into focus: ‘ As If’ and ‘Imagine’. The latter poem is also my own response to John Lennon’s song of the same name! As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button so here they are:
Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.
Imagine if we took these words to heart,
Unselved ourselves and took another’s part,
Silenced the accuser, dropped the grudge…
Do not condemn, you will not be condemned.
Imagine if we lived our lives from this
And met each other’s outcasts face to face,
Imagine if the blood-dimmed tide was stemmed.
Forgive and you yourselves will be forgiven.
What if we walked together on this path,
What if the whole world laid aside it’s wrath,
And things were done on earth as though in heaven,
As though the heart’s dark knots were all undone,
As though this dreamer weren’t the only one?
With Luci Shaw at Regent College
My week at Regent ended with a wonderful invitation to join the poet Luci Shaw in one of her poetry readings, and so I had the opportunity to read to Luci in person, the poem I had written for her and published in Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button. Here it is:
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)
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