Tag Archives: Muse

Night Muse! My reading at Trinity College Chapel

The Antechapel with Newton in the distance!

The Antechapel with Newton in the distance!

Trinity College Literary Society and the Chapel team have recently worked together to put on a series of readings by contemporary poets in the antechapel under the title Night Muse. I was honoured to be one of the four poets chosen to read, closing a series which began with Rowan Williams. I know that a number of my friends, and more widely, other readers of my poetry, would like to have been there, so I am posting a recording of the reading here, together with the poster and a pdf of the beautifully printed little booklet of the poems which Trinity produced for the occasion. Do feel free to download and print that to accompany the reading if you wish. The Antechapel is full of monuments to distinguished former members of the college and I gave the reading standing just beneath the statue of Newton, and gazing across at the great statue of Tennyson. George Herbert needed no statue, for, as you will hear, his spiritual presence was everywhere.

I read a selection from Sounding the Seasons but I also read a number of poems to be included in my forthcoming volume the Singing Bowl, both published by Canterbury Press so I hope this post will also serve as an introduction and appetiser for that book. A click on ‘The Reading’ will take you to the podomatic page where you can listen to, or download the reading. The painting in the poetry folio is by Faye Hall, drawing on a photograph by Lancia Smith.

nightmuseguite poster

poetry folio

The Reading

Tennyson's statue in Trinity -the respectable view!

Tennyson’s statue in Trinity -the respectable view!

the bowl of my pipe by the bowl of his!
the bowl of my pipe by the bowl of his!

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Kindling the Imagination An interview about Poetry and Truth

Kindling the imagination. Photo courtesy of Lancia smith.

A while back I agreed to do an extended interview for the Photographer Lancia Smith’s excellent Web site The True the Good and the Beautiful, which she was going to run alongside some superb photographs she had taken at this years CS Lewis Summer Institute. When Lancia sent me the questions and I began to answer them, I realised that she had such a gift for framing the questions that I was delving deeper and giving better and more coherent answers than I had done before, even in my own ‘notes to self’ about what I was thinking. Her interview, in three parts, covered everything for my childhood, my journey to faith and the first kindlings of my love of literature, to my understanding of balance and variety in life and writing, my attutudes to suffering and depression, and finally delving deeply into the heart of what I am saying in Faith Hope and Poetry and helping me to set out my own poetic credo. I thought readers of these pages might be interested to see the interview so I am posting links to all three parts below, each with a little hi-light to give you a flavour of whats in each section. I hope you will also enjoy a more general exploration of her site. Click on the title of each part to go to that section of the interview.

The three parts of the interview are each illustrated by some of the remarkable Photographs she has taken, one of which I have posted above, and another of which has now prompted some further collaborative work with another artist

Part I Childhood, Faith, and Sources of Inspiration:

What role does inspiration play in your work?  Where does inspiration come from for you? What are sources of Joy?

Now there’s a question! At one level, everything is gift; to live, to breathe, to comprehend, to write, to create. Even when we are ‘working’ at these things with all our might, it is still a gift, still a grace to be alive at all and able to work at anything. So I don’t think of the creative process as a certain amount of hard work topped up by inspiration, I see the work itself as the inspiration. Having said that there are of course times when one is more or less aware of the nudge, the proffer, the gift of words and lines and images, arising as given things from an unguessed at depth and one receives them gladly. I find inspiration throughout nature but especially in images of light and water, light reflecting on water. The lines in my sonnet ‘O Oriens’: “ So every trace of light begins a grace/ In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam/ Is somehow a beginning and a calling;” are literally true.

I think the poetic language about waiting on a muse is something to take very seriously and I think the reality behind every Muse is the Holy Spirit.

Part 2 Balance in life, dealing with darkness, paganism and poetry

How do you overcome the difficulties you encounter in your own life and reconcile their reality with the beauty that you also must bear witness to? How is it that you are able to see what is bitter and not what it ought to be and yet be able to also witness the Beauty that is beyond it?

You are certainly right about the burdens and shadows, and right to say that a creative vocation seems to involve a particular kind of exposure and vulnerability to periods of darkness and depression. I think there are several important truths to notice here. The first is that sometimes tears and grief are the right, and indeed, only possible response to things. The Bible is full of tears and outpourings of grief, and there is no promise that we will not shed them, only that one day God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. And He can only do that because as a human being He has shed them himself, and knows from the inside what the depth of our agony can be. So there is a proper place for the depiction of suffering and the expression of bitterness in Art as in life. We don’t need some anodyne sugary literature saying peace, peace, when there is none. But it is also true that the agony in the Garden and Good Friday are not the end of the story. ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green’, and Love has the last word.

Part 3 Poetry and the role of the poet

Why have you pursued poetry as your venue? Why poetry instead of great fiction like LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia? Those genres draw on ancient theme, myths, metaphor and work to heal and to illuminate. What is the compelling call of poetry and song-lyrics for you?

Well your phrase ‘compelling call’ is just the right one. There is something in poetry itself, in the magic of rhythm and rhyme, which woke me up, and called me. Reading certain poems I would feel something quickening in me, ‘my heart in hiding stirred’ to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poetry, for me, always carries a sense of chant, and it is from chant that we get both, enchantment and chanson, both magic and song.

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Dancing Through the Fire -My New CD

An invittion to my CD Launch

As I start gearing up for the launch of my new CD Dancing Through the Fire, at St. Edward’s Church on Wednesday 23rd November 7:30pm. I thought I’d take a moment to give you an overview of the themes and feel of the whole Album. In subsequent posts I’ll be putting up the lyrics, and links to the recordings of individual tracks. The physical CD will be available from the day of the launch and I am hoping that downloads, from CD Baby, iTunes, etc will be available by that time or fairly shortly after. I will keep everyone posted from this blog and on Facebook. I have already posted some of the lyrics in earlier posts on this blog and I will put hyperlinks to those posts in what follows.

The CD is a collection of 13 new songs, my first ‘release’ since 2007’s The Green Man, and is out on the same label, Cambridge Riffs.  The CD’s eponymous opening track sets the theme for the rest of the album; ‘dancing through the fire’ alludes to some  lines in TS Eliot’s Little Gidding;

From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds

unless restored by that refining fire,

where you must move in measure, like a dancer’

Those lines in turn refer to the great moment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when having been through Hell, and climbed mount Purgatory, Dante comes to the last circle of fire which will purify his love and allow him to return to the garden of Eden and be reunited with his beloved Beatrice, so that they can make a further journey together into Heaven. Dante’s whole poem is about the intimate interlinking of earthly and heavenly Love, and its own smaller way, that is also the subject of this album. After the opening song, which sets the story of Dante’s pilgrimage and ours, to a driving, danceable rocking blues rythm, all the tracks are in one way or another songs of earthly and heavenly love. they cover a pretty wide range of musical styles too, everything from rocking blues through folk to rootsy country, basically all the music I love! An amazing bunch of musicians showed up to help me make this album adding upright bass, cello, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, sax, even hurdy gurdy! i’ll rell you more about them and post some pics in subsequent posts. meantime heres a rundown of the tracks that follow on from the opener Dancing Through The Fire.

Love in the Red tells the story of a couple’s love for each other surviving the present financial crisis,  a crisis which is itself the wreckage of failed love in the earthly city.

A Song For Ruth tells the story of the welcoming love for the stranger, and the solidarity in grief that brought Ruth and Naomi together, in an economic crisis in biblical times.

They Dont Make Movies (Out Of Love Like This) is a song of Married Love and a personal tribute to my wife Maggie

Numbers, comes to grips, as Dante did in the inferno, with the sheer wastefulness of casual violence and the wreckage it makes, so easily and so quickly, of all that Love builds over the years.

Lente Lente, is about the need for peace, rest and playfulness, the slow, beautiful times and places an friendships where Love can be healed and renewed.

Fade Away is a little blast of vintage stonesy rock on the perrenial theme of lost love

Bridegroom Blues; in this song the Bridegroom sings to the Bride he wooed and won and gave his life for. He loves her in all her colours, He knows she’s in trouble, but He is going to pull her through and bring her to her to the Marriage Feast.

The Messenger. I’ve taken another leaf out of Dante’s book for this one.

Moonlight. This is a poem I wrote when I was 17, and set to music when I was 53. The seventeen year old who wrote this romantic, moonlit lament is still in me somewhere, and still needs to voice that mingled sense of love and loss. It seemed only fair for the fifty three year old to give him a chance.

Recipe for Love. a little lightening of the tone here. I sat down to write ‘a song of great social and political import’ but instead this cheeky little song popped out. Love and good cooking always go together.

Rolling in the Hedgerows/Old Tom of Oxford. Now here’s a love song to language and landscape. A poet’s song to his muse who is always a mixture of language and landscape, though in her mystery she is so much more besides. In some ways this is a companion song to The Green Man, with its love of the fields and hedgerows of the English countryside, the place of my earthly pilgrimage. It leads into  the birdsong from the hedgerows and Ferdia Stone-Davis’s beautiful rendition of the English Folk Tune Old Tom of Oxford, on her Hurdy Gurdy

Tiger Love; I close with another poem-turned-song. I wrote the poem late in 1978, when the most powerful love I knew, the tiger in my poem, was intimate human passion, the overmastering passion Dante knew and wrote about in the Vita Nuova. But, like Dante, I didn’t know what was coming next, or who would meet me in the woods, in the middle of my way, the following spring. As Old Tom said :’In the Juvescence of the year came Christ the tiger’!

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A sonnet for my guitar

lightly lifting my gibson, turning air to music

As I (literally) sang its praises in my last post, I thought I’d follow up, in this one with a sonnet about my guitar. I wrote this for our Girton Poetry Group when we had set one another the task of writing about ‘Hollows’ and I began to reflect on the way it is the lightness, space, and emptiness in a musical instrument that gives it its singing voice. Gibson guitars are made in Montana and I had read and enjoyed an article about luthier Ren Ferguson and the team who make guitars there, so some of that awareness entered into the poem too, together with the sense of an acoustic guitar as like a living breathing companion, feminine in its form, a feeling that a good guitar, like a good muse is always teaching you something new about your self and your craft. So here’s the poem. As always, you can here me read it either by clicking on the ‘play’ button (if it appears in your browser), or by clicking on the hi-lighted title of the poem.

Hollows

I lift you lightly, you were made for me;
No box of rain made for the grateful dead,
But breath instead and beauty for the living.
A certain shaping of the mountain air
Censes its secret wood-scent in your hollows.
The high, dry, hallows of Montana
First saw you braced and fretted, resonant
And ready to be sounded into song,
The smallest tremor trembles through your form
And turns the air to music. My full heart
Is poured into your forming emptiness
And given back as passion for another,
Your hollows hold a weight that sets me free
I lift you lightly, you were made for me.

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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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A longed-for day has come at last

It’s been a long time coming. My book Faith Hope and Poetry has been a labour of love over the last decade, written slowly in the midst of the many demands of pastoral, priestly, academic and family life, but it is here at last. I am immensley grateful to the many people who have helped me on this road, not least the sudents whose ideas and questions have always reminded this teacher that he cannot teach unless he is a student too. 

At the heart of my book is a celebration and defense of the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, as an essential means of grasping reality, not a subjective fantasy compensation for the grimness of things ‘out there’.  Each chapter explores a poet or group of poets who are bearing witness, through imagination, to essential truths that I feel are pertinant to our own age but the whole book is about how the language of poetry initiates us into mysteries we could enter in no other way. By way of a taster I am posting here the dedicatory poem and the concluding paragraphs:

De Magistro

I thank my God I have emerged at last,
blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars
bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,

removed the daily veil, and let me see,
as sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
that words are windows onto mystery.

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
in music, from the tower of ivory,
and from the hidden heart, He calls

in the language of Adam, creating memory
of unfallen speech. He sets creation
free from the carapace of history.

His image in us is Imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
upon the letters of His revelation.

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
that leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

you showed me how my halting words might reach
to the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,
and so you taught me what it means to teach.

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove
climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

as fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

Conclusion

           ” This book has been written as both a vindication and a celebration of the poetic imagination; a defence of its status as a truth-bearer and an exploration of the kinds of truth it is capable of bearing. In particular I have been concerned to demonstrate the essential power of imagination to bridge the gap between immanence and transcendence, to mediate meaning between unembodied ‘apprehension’ and embodied ‘comprehension’. I have also been concerned to show that a study of poetic imagination turns out to be a form of theology; that in seeking understand how multiple meanings come to be’ bodied forth’ in finite poems which ‘grow to something of great constancy’ we discover a new understanding of the prime embodiment of all meaning which is the Incarnation. And this new understanding of incarnation in its turn gives us a new confidence in the ultimate significance of our own acts of poetic embodiment. But if poetry as a manifestation of particular embodiment speaks of the immanence of God, then poetry as a means of cleansing and transfiguring vision speaks of God’s transcendence. Throughout this book I have sought to celebrate moments of transfigured vision in poetry, and also to help discern the source of that truth which transfigured vision sees, of that unexpected music which the imagination hears.  In an age of faith it was possible for poets, from the anonymous poet of The Dream of the Rood, who saw the Cross transfigured in light, to Milton invoking ‘holy light’, to find the Source of transfigured vision and to name that source as Christ, the logos and the light of the world. From the mid-17th century onward, things could not be so simple again as poets and philosophers alike faced the challenge of a reductive science that pulled down shutters over the windows of vision, bearing the bleak inscription, ‘nothing else’. We have seen how the poets, to whom the clarification of our vision had been entrusted, fought a rear-guard action, and especially how Coleridge did this both by writing poetry full of clarified, imaginative vision, and also by undertaking the hard, philosophical work necessary to reinstate the imagination as an instrument with which we grasp reality rather than evade it.  We have seen that in order to make sense of the actual experience of writing and reading poetry, he was compelled to rediscover the mystery of God as Holy Trinity.  For Coleridge poetry is not a fanciful compensation for the irreducible bleakness of things; it is part of the evidence that all things are at least potentially luminous with the light of God.  Coleridge was a prophet sent more for our own age than for his; he foresaw the inadequacy of the whole Cartesian/Newtonian model with its foreclosed rigidities and its too-easy submission to what he called the ‘despotism of the eye’.  Now, we live in an age when that rigid system, against which Coleridge was protesting, is being overthrown.  Those blinding shutters inscribed ‘nothing else’ are being drawn up; and now it is not only the major poets in our midst, like Heaney, but also the scientists themselves and the philosophers of science, rediscovering the vital role imagination has to play in their endeavours, who are helping to remove these ‘blinds’.”

This cleansing and training of vision through a revitalised imagination, is a common task for Science, Poetry and Theology. My purpose has been to highlight the essential role, in fulfilling this common task, played by the poetic imagination.

I hope you have enjoyed these extracts and that those of you who have a chance to read it enjoy the book. The publishers page is here

and the English Amazon page is here.

the American Amazon page is here

I’m sorry that, as a modern hardback it is so expensive, I hope, if this edition sells well enough, that they will bring it out in an accessible paperback. Meanwhile you can always encourage your local library to buy it.

M

 

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My Smoky Muse

I’m not what they need in the fitness clubs

theres no place for me in the smoke-free pubs

I could measure out my life in cigarillo stubs

Empty ashes in my highway shoes

So light up another for the likes of me

Light out to some place you might be free

Carry me with you or leave me be

With my Smoky Muse

Bridge: She lives at the top of an old stair well

Her house is on fire but it’s hard to tell

If that kind of fire is from heaven or hell

And it’s too late to put out the fuse

She takes me when I’m feeling like an empty shell

She wakes me in the darkness of a strange hotel

She makes me ill and then she makes me well

My Smoky Muse

The wide boys are whining with their thin white duke

Throw me down to the cooler with cool-hand Luke

It’s the plastic in my life that makes me puke

Nothing’s real enough to refuse

I Make my retreat down some shadowy lane

I Take what it takes to defeat the pain

I can still see her waving goodbye in the rain

My Smoky Muse

Celebrities stabled in a big brother house

I can see more life in a lousy little louse

I could take my life, or take religious vows

But I’m stuck with the news of the screws

Everybody wants to be a party to it all

Every body wants to be a fly on my wall

I just want to get out of here and crawl

To my Smoky Muse

Bridge: She lives at the top of an old stair well

Her house is on fire but it’s hard to tell

If that kind of fire is from heaven or hell

And it’s too late to put out the fuse

She takes me when I’m feeling like an empty shell

She wakes me in the darkness of a strange hotel

She makes me ill and then she makes me well

My Smoky Muse

She knows how I love the way she breathes

The way she shrouds me in wraiths and wreathes

And shares her favours with vagrants and thieves

And leaves them so confused

She comes to me veiled in graceful swirls

I trace the fragrance in her fingers and her curls

Her skin shines pale beneath strange black pearls

My Smoky Muse

She left me with nothing, nothing left to say

I’m gone with the others the ones that got away

Stuck in a cell block with jean genet

Singing the jail-house blues

Chain-smoked my way through the chains of night

Went out in the morning looking for a light

If she breathes on me now I know I’ll be allright

With my smoky muse

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