Proost poetry collection, closing date for submissions!

typewriterletters

 

Thanks to all of you who have sent in poems for this collection! We will now formally close the submission gateway on SUNDAY THE 18th AUGUST 2013- so if you are going to submit something, get on with it!

We now have poems from about 100 poets from all over the world and I have had a quick scan of most that have come in, and there are some great poems. Some have reduced me to tears- in a good way.

The next task is to break this down with the dreaded yes/no, then categorise it all to see what chapters need more material. We will then possibly need to go back to the people who have written poems we have chosen and ask them if they want to write something else for the categories that need more stuff.

So, we will be getting in touch over the next few weeks.

Just a word again to those whose poems we will not be including in this collection. Please remember that this is not a vote of no confidence in your writing- far from it- please write more! It is simply that we did not feel that your work quite fitted in with the collection. As we said previously we are simply not able to give any more feedback than this about work submitted- for obvious reasons of time, but also because we are not poetry critics – just fellow writers, with all the subjectivity that this brings to bear.

 

I do not agree…

occupy-london-protests

 

A bit of fun this- although laboured and rather too worthy.

I am still trying to write what I am calling ‘poetry of protest’ as mentioned here. This one might be more or less within the rules I set for myself then, but only just. Here it is anyway;

I do not agree

 

I do not agree with economists

Who monetise success

I do not agree that pounds or pence

Ever show us at our best

 

I do not agree the skin we’re in

Should make whom we’re becoming

I do not agree that some are born

To only test the plumbing

 

I do not agree with generals

Their guns can rot to rust

I do not agree, their meat machines

Cause in me disgust

 

I do not agree when those in power

Line the pockets of their friends

I do not agree that might is right

When the poor are thus condemned

 

I do not agree that we should comply

We are formed in evolution

I do not agree that nothing turns

This worlds in revolution

Poetry collection- still looking for submissions…

typewriterletters

 

I am gathering poems for a collection of poetry to be published by Proost.

This collection came from the idea that poetry could and should be a valid expression of our spiritual journeys, our protests, our pain, our longing and our hopes. It also came from a conviction that many people write poems, and even the best of these often have no outlet- no way of connecting with other people.

I had no real way of knowing what people would send, but all I can say is that I already have some fantastic writing. I sat on the train coming back from London reading poems that made me cry- one of the best measures of a poem in my opinion!

However- if you are hovering and wondering whether or not to send something in- please do.

The best poems for this collection are not necessarily the ones written by ‘poets’- rather they are ones written by people who have been opened up by something deeper, and are suddenly able to express this on paper.

There are also some of you who I am waiting for content from. You know who you are – don’t make me come and fetch them!

Transcendence…

Light obscured

Not in the ‘other worldly’ sense, the God who is removed and distant. For me, Transcendence means something hyper-real, something that saturates the ordinary, but which somehow connects us with the divine.

in a previous post I tried to define it like this;

… I mean the experience of God in the ordinary. The incarnation of the maker of the universe within the temporal, messy world in which we live and love.

Transcendent moments fill our lives if we look for them. And the more we attune ourselves to the looking the more we see.

They are everywhere in the natural world; sunsets, new leaves, mushrooms in caves, the lick of new born fur, the light of the moon on still water, the smell of rain on dry earth, the sea that goes on for ever. All these things will happen whether or not we are there as witnesses. But when we look in a certain kind of way a hollow space opens up in the middle of them into which we can meet with something transcendent. Into which we can invite/be invited by the living God.

They are everywhere too where humans also are. In conversations, in touch, in the longing for justice, in the decision to forgive, in the deciding to repay hurt with love, in the listening and in the laughing. Because God is a God of communion. God commands love, and love requires direction. Perhaps above all, the transcendent God is immanent when we come together in community.

They are encountered in art, because art can become a bridge to something beyond our business. Films, books, poems, paintings, sculptures, music.

They can even be encountered in church – for me, especially when we sing, when the chordal voices find the vault of the building and make it vibrate.

I have been thinking about what all this might mean to us again, and wrote this;

.

Unpregnant

.

In the corner of my gaze something moved

I blinked

Reminded of almost imperceptible stars

Sky all black like bruises

Pricked with harsher things

.

Did I form you out of some ancient river bed?

Did I raise you up on poles?

Are you just déjà vu

For the deluded last few

Will science yet prove us all fools?

.

Then the night whispers

Like an unknown breath on puckered skin

Like the scent of sea to a sailor

Like a poem whose words are not yet spoken

Like an unpainted painting

Or a song still yet to be sung

Like a reed still yet to be fluted

Or a string that was never strung

Like the silence when echoes have faded

Like an unpregnant womb

Still waiting

Watch this; “the enclosure act mark 2″…

In the Name of Greatness is Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s winning film in the documentary category of the Intergenerational Foundation young filmmakers’ short film competition in association with the Guardian and the National Union of Students. It is written and performed by Nicki Williams.

It combines a powerful poem with moving images to address questions of debt, greed, consumerism and the need for community.

And it is a new poetry of protest…

Seal…

IMGP4479

Bent like a banana

On her favourite rock

Skin still slick from the sea

Bulging like some old school cook

In an over-stuffed apron

But soon the surf will return like a cast spell

And the fat old girl is an athlete again

The reeds and the wracks wave her by, and she

Sometimes a shadow

Sometimes silvered with the spherical light

Becames a sharp toothed, brown eyed assassin

Imagining a poetry of Christian spirituality…

broken statue

I am still gathering poetry submissions for inclusion in an up and coming poetry collection to be published by Proost- please keep them coming in!

Proost is a company set up by Christians to gather together lots of the creativity coming out of the left field ragged edge of the church here in the UK. In doing this they have been incredibly encouraging to people (like me) whose output is unlikely to find other commercial outlets. The poetry collection was an attempt to broaden out this ethos still further.

In the process of looking at this, I have been forced once again to consider what I might understand as ‘Christian’ poetry, or even ‘spiritual’ poetry.

The tradition of church that I grew up has little time for poetry. The nearest we got to it were the lyrics of songs and hymns- with people like Matt Redman or Graham Kendrick as the most widely known contributors. The subject matter and style chosen for these songs is very limited, and goes something like this;

  • Substitutionary atonement
  • Over use of obvious rhyme structures- face/grace love/above died/justified
  • Over identification with love songs- ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ kind of stuff
  • Substitutionary atonement
  • Lack of room for questions, for uncertainty, for doubt
  • Lack of room for lament
  • Often driven by commercialism- what sells in the American mid west.
  • Substitutionary atonement

These songs became the cultural carriers of our faith- they gave us a proscribed language to describe our understanding of God but this left us only with a set of rather clichéd phrases that we rehashed over and over again- usually strapped to a good tune to make them more palatable.

Hardly surprisingly, those people that wrote poems at all in the churches I went to tended to write poems along these lines too, although this was a marginal practice, as the feeling was that the main forms of expression of faith were preaching the word, evangelising the lost and worshipping through singing.

There is of course a rich tradition of writing poetry in other Christian traditions- Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Asisi, Teresa of Avila, John Donne, Christina Rossetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, Thomas Merton to name but a few. However, most of us do not know the work of these wonderful poets well, if at all. Some of them we know as people of faith, but the relationship that poetry has to the development of their spiritual understanding is far less clear. It is not something that we are schooled to even ask.

Eastern traditions are much clearer about this relationship. The Sufi tradition of poets like Rumi, Sanai and Attar are all famous because they were poets. The words they made arose from their spiritual journey- they were the very process of engagement with the divine, not an accidental by product. Here is a bit of Rumi to make the point, written around 800 years ago;

Say who I am

I am dust particles in sunlight
I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, stay.
To the sun, keep moving.

I am morning mist,
And the breathing of evening.

I amwind in the top of a grove
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman and keel.
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parot in its branches.
Silence, thought and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute
A spark off a stone, a flickering
in metal. Both candle
and the moth crazy around it.

Rose and the nightingale
lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift
and the falling away. What is
and what isn’t.

What makes this poetry so wonderful to us is the freedom that exists in the middle of it- the sense of generosity, wonder and beauty. It opens something up- a window into something deeper. It seems to arise as much from personal experience- revelation even- as from a desire to proselytise or sell a particular idea to us. This is not Christian poetry- but then again, perhaps it is the poetry that we Christians need to be reading.

We often forget that the Bible is a product too of middle eastern mystics, prophets and nomads in their search for God. We forget that around a third of the Bible is written as poetry- not just the obvious bits (Psalms) but we also have searing prophetic rants, apocalyptic weirdness  raunchy love poems, even St Paul seemed to be sneaking lyrics from hymns into his letters.

We needed the Bible to be a legal document, a constitional, foundational tool for life that we could mine for concrete instructional truth- what we got was lots of poetry- although we rarely see it as such. It is an interesting question as to whether reading the Bible as poetry changes how we engage with it.

But back to the point of this piece- which is a search for a new kind of Christian poetry- using language set free from the narrow cliches. An honest kind of poetry- that arises from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that does not shrink from pain, form ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asks questions as much as it answers them. Poetry that holds us to account for our actions- particularly those of us in power. Poetry that is skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these are the last made first.)

Poetry that can become the songs of the Kingdom of God that is woven into the fabric of our world- in each leaf, each ripple, each stratum, each child, each crack addict.

If you should come across poetry like this, you will recognise it for what it is, even if it disturbs you, discomforts you.

And if you do- send it my way!

Iron Lady…

Margaret-Thatcher__2530139b

So far I have held back from commenting on  the death of Margaret Thatcher. She was perhaps the most dominant politician of my formative years, for good or ill. 

I have decided to write for her (or more accurately, for me) a poem…

Iron Lady

The iron lady

Like all things ferrous

Has turned to rust

And the girders that she

Used for bones

Are now ceremonial arches

Under which old ideologies are displayed

Like long dead dinosaurs

.

When I was a boy I ate her pumped up ice cream

But then, despite her chemical munificence

She took the milk from my school

Before, appetite whetted, she

Killed my community

And let loose the Yuppies

To feed on its twitching body

.

Some declare she saved the nation

From British Leyland

Others dance on the grave she made

From the split down middle England

Me, I breathe a rueful sigh

As the Lady

Turns at last

Poetry of protest…

img_3671_student_protest_1

I have been thinking a lot about poetry that is prophetic- not in the sense of telling our fortunes, but more something that tells what we are- warts and all. Poetry that is an honest, engaged, hopeful critique of culture, and encourages us to think deeper.

There is a horrible danger of poetry like this becoming propaganda in the cause of whatever politics/theology/hermeneutic that we espouse. Poems like this are masturbatory- they pleasure only ourselves.  No matter what skill employed they are empty poems, blind to other perspectives. They claim to have answers to questions that are always nuanced.

I posted a poem yesterday entitled Welfare State which was my attempt to write  poetry of protest.

I had been increasingly angered by the actions of the current government in the UK, as they bring in sweeping changes to our welfare system. It all feels so unjust- making the poorest most vulnerable people pay for the excesses of the richest, and justifying this by vilifying  poor people as work shy, feckless. I wanted to use this anger to write something.

What I found though is that angry political poetry easily becomes exactly the kind of poetry I have described above- shallow self serving propaganda.

How then can we write the poetry of protest, of prophetic engagement, of challenge to empire in the face of injustice? I wonder if some of these principles might be of use (particularly for followers of Jesus);

  • If we are going to fight a cause, let it be for those who are the victims of power- the small people, the outsiders, those who the system has forgotten
  • It has to be honest. It has to be based on engagement with real people, real situations
  • It has also to start with ourselves- examining all that is beautiful and all that is broken in us, so that we can see it too in others
  • I think there is still a place for anger at injustice- but this anger needs to be yoked to love, or we become prophets of the clenched fist, not of the open hand
  • Perhaps the best approach is always to seek to humanise- and never to dehumanise (no matter how tempting this can be in relation to enemies of our cause)
  • It should not flinch from looking at ugly things, or be tempted by simplistic romanticism
  • It should be brave, because any protest will involve confrontation of those in power

This is a work in progress for me, but one that I feel keenly. I have this conviction in me that if we have a voice, we should use it – not just for saying pretty things, although there is beauty in this – but also to saying hard things, difficult things.

Art with nothing to say is simply wallpaper.