TFT Christmas card 2014…

So, another year… This will be my 8th ‘Christmas card’ I think. Happy Christmas to you all!

May you all know the blessing of simple things.

May you be drawn close to those who love you, and may you love in return.

This year I offer you a picture from here, and one of my poems, from here.

Soon, Jesus, Mary and Joseph would become refugees…

51a6191e6

The stable, BC

 

Hold me close, my gentle love

The night is cold and hollow

Make me a cave

Within your arms

And deep within I’ll

Burrow

 

See that floor all trodden down?

Let it be our carpet

Make me finest silk

Like buttermilk

From this feed-sack

Blanket

 

Let’s whisper dreams of things to come

When we are done with caring

When what we have

Will be enough

With a little spare for

Sharing

 

The light from stars is far away

It takes a long time falling

So just for now

It is enough

To hear your gentle

Snoring

 

 

 

 

Indigo, a history lesson using poetry…

indigo-bg

If I was to choose a favourite word, I might have chosen this one; Indigo. I have written about this before (here) when I said this;

I think it reminds me of something half remembered from primary school- a reading set of books that only the keen readers ever progressed to taking home.

Or an ink pen whose innards bled blue blood all over my fingers.

It describes colour, distance, depth. It contains a promise of space beyond space- like a night sky.

Gregory of Nyssia, a 4th Century mystic, likened the move towards God as to a journey into holydarkness. He suggested that the deeper and further we go, the more darkness we find in the light. For him, God is unknowable- a dark purple mystery, drawing us on- calling us to explore further and further…

Indigo.

In we go.

Then I discover something I did not know about indigo; and that is that like sugar, tobacco, mahogany and many other exotic luxuries that we have come to believe should be ours almost by right, indigo has had a terrible cost.

See for yourself;

 

Indigo

BY CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI

Benegal, 1779-1859

The fields flame with it, endless, blue
as cobra poison. It has entered our blood
and pulses up our veins
like night. There is no other color.
The planter’s whip
splits open the flesh of our faces,
a blue liquid light trickles
through the fingers. Blue dyes the lungs
when we breathe. Only the obstinate eyes
 
refuse to forget where once the rice
parted the earth’s moist skin
and pushed up reed by reed,
green, then rippled gold
like the Arhiyal’s waves. Stitched
into our eyelids, the broken dark,
the torches of the planter’s men, fire
walling like a tidal wave
over our huts, ripe charred grain
that smelled like flesh. And the wind
screaming in the voices of women
dragged to the plantation,
feet, hair, torn breasts.
 
In the worksheds, we dip our hands,
their violent forever blue,
in the dye, pack it in great embossed chests
for the East India Company.
Our ankles gleam thin blue from the chains.
After that night
many of the women killed themselves.
Drowning was the easiest.
Sometimes the Arhiyal gave us back
the naked, swollen bodies, the faces
eaten by fish. We hold on
 
to red, the color of their saris,
the marriage mark on their foreheads,
we hold it carefully inside
our blue skulls, like a man
in the cold Paush night
holds in his cupped palms a spark,
its welcome scorch,
feeds it his foggy breath till he can set it down
in the right place,
to blaze up and burst
like the hot heart of a star
over the whole horizon,
a burning so beautiful you want it
to never end.
 
 
Note
Paush: name of a winter month in the Bengali calendar
The planting of indigo was forced on the farmers of Bengal, India, by the British, who   exported it as a cash crop for almost a hundred years until the peasant uprising of I860, when the plantations were destroyed.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, “Indigo,” from Leaving Yuba City: Selected Poems (New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1997).

We Who Still Wait- advent poetry/art/meditation project…

We who still wait

Our advent collaboration, inspired and curated by Si Smith, and involving Photographer Steve Broadway, Ian Adam’s meditations and poems by me is now available!

You can get hold of it here in dowload for now, but hopefully you can order it in actual paper soon too. (It would make a lovely Christmas present I reckon, in fact some of you might be getting just that!)

Any help with the social media spreading the word thing would be appreciated as ever…

Here is the blurb from the Proost website;

This beautiful Advent product evokes the sense of waiting and watching at this season. Its available here as a download for £3.50.

Expect beautiful poems, challenging punchy prayers and thoughts and some beautiful photography in this devotion resource aimed at taking you through the 25 days of December up to Christmas Day.

From the book, this is from Elizabeth:

They say every flapping scrapping life is 
A brand new miracle
– I see them all in the street
Displayed there by their miracle makers
For the rest of us to worship.

 

Four great artists have come together to make this book happen.  Chris Goan, Ian Adams, Steve Broadway and Si Smith have brought their collective creative wisdom together to shape a wonderful book and it’s one we’re very excited about here at Proost.

In addition to this version there is also a Bonus Edition available which includes all of Steve’s original photographs for personal use.  That edition is £5.

A hard copy of the book is currently being created and will be made available shortly.

We who still wait; new advent resource…

 

We who still wait

I have been part of the creation of a new advent resource/book thing that will be out soon.

Si Smith had the idea and curated it, bringing together photography from Steve Broadway, meditations from Ian Adams and poems from yours truly. There is a set of each to take you all the way through advent, available first as a digital download, but soon available as a book also. It has been a real pleasure to be in such creative company…

It will be available on Proost soon- I will let you know when it is out, but it will be part of several lovely things intended to be used during advent- check out the latest Proost newsletter (I will forgive the fact that they missed me out of the blurb for the new book!) that gives a bit of a broad spread of what is there. Si’s wonderful artwork features in several of the pieces…

for now here is one of the poems;

Elizabeth

 

They say every flapping scrap of life is

A brand new miracle

– I see them all in the street

Displayed there by their miracle makers

For the rest of us to worship

 

But I am earth

Not sky

I am dry desert soil

Blown around in the ordinary wind

I am empty

And can never be full

What use have I with all this holiness

If I am never whole?

 

Meanwhile in the temple

An angel

Whispered

Remembering mass slaughter…

 

owens-grave

100 years after the beginning of the first modern industrial world wide war, how do we remember?

The quality of our remembering seems to be very important as we humans require the same lessons over and over again if we are ever to learn anything. Empires rise insatiably and claw at one another ever more effectively.

Yet still there is a danger that we remember the dead only as some kind of noble sacrifice in a titanic struggle for goodness, freedom and the rightness of our national cause. But there is no rightness in Empire. For one to rise, another must fall. And there must always be casualties.

So how should we remember?

I found myself first moved by the Tower of London poppies installation, then deeply troubled by it. Troubled because it is one sided, one dimensional. It records only our dead, pouring out of the symbolic Tower of London, itself at the very centre of the old Empire, now overshadowed by the high rise monstrosities of the City of London financial buildings.

Blood should be gushing from the gutters thereabouts, not trailing in a delecate flush of elegant ceramic flowers.

How should we remember?

Perhaps the best way might be to consider a world without Empire. To imagine how we might strive for peace, not conquest. How we might evolve systems that share resources rather than exulting in avarice and subordinating all morality to economic growthism. Is an alternative really so impossible?

I heard a poem recently, written by a young German called lfred Lichtenstein, who was born in 1889 in Berlin, and studied law there until 1913, when he joined a Bavarian regiment for a year’s military service. At the beginning of World War I he was in Belgium, and was killed in action the following year, September 1914, in Vermandovillers. Lichtenstein had published only one small collection of poems, Die Dämmerung, published the year before his death.

In 1913, the year before the beginning of the Great War, he wrote this poem. Imagine it in the context of that river of British poppies;

Prophecy

Soon there’ll come—the signs are fair—
A death-storm from the distant north.
Stink of corpses everywhere,
Mass assassins marching forth.

The lump of sky in dark eclipse,
Storm-death lifts his clawpaws first.
All the scallywags collapse.
Mimics split and virgins burst.

With a crash a stable falls.
Insects vainly duck their heads.
Handsome homosexuals
Tumble rolling from their beds.

Walls in houses crack and bend.
Fishes rot in every burn.
All things reach a sticky end.
Buses, screeching overturn.

1913
—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton

 

Belonging…

prayer flags

I don’t believe in borders

Or the tyranny of maps

I fear the way they fence us in

And split the white from black

So I will not raise up Saltires

Nor wave the Union Jack

I will not sing those angry songs

My troops will not attack

 

What makes us what we are?

Whose stories are we telling?

What mix of blood pumps through these veins?

Whose products are we selling?

What shades of grey do we convey?

Whose history compelling?

Who pipes the tunes, who reads the runes?

In whose land are we dwelling?

 

Send them out or bring them home

These roads are laid wide open

The way of love, the pilgrim path

Requires that chains be broken

Then lay me down in fold of ground

This soil is soft and welcome

The crops we sow must surely grow

The rains fill up the ocean