The Far Horizon…

Sunbeam trinity

 

Things have been a bit slow here recently- this is mostly because I have been doing a lot of work editing poetry for the up and coming Proost Poetry Collection. I am really excited about this project now- after huge amounts of work it is finally coming together.

One of the things I have been doing is writing chapter introductions. By way of a teaser here is one of them;

 

Imagine one of those wet-into-wet Chinese landscape paintings in which

a flower holds your gaze to the foreground,

whilst line after line of mountains

climb and bleed into the distance.

It seems like there will always another ridge line,

another high corrie to cross.

 

I walk into the rain and the mist

Forced to trust that

there will be other flowers

in places beyond.

 

There was a time when everything felt permanent, or so we are told. Communities were solidly built around stratified social class structures. People began work at the age of 14 and spent their lives in the service of one employer; the chances are that this was where your parents also worked. Whole towns were organised around the shift patterns at mills/shipyards/mines. We worked together, then drank together afterwards. On Sundays we went to church together.

This was no utopia; there were always those for whom this kind of life felt like a kind of prison. They longed for adventure on the high seas, the promise of the New World. They felt thirst for distant spice filled forests, for tropical islands lapped by warm green waters, for feasting on strange beasts around a pioneer fireside and above all for freedom. Freedom from the tired old ways of doing things, freedom from old obligations and paradigms, freedom from the drab dull monochrome lives lived by their parents. Freedom from things that always remained the same and from the kind of religion that insisted that was how things should be.

Should I stay, or should I go? Perhaps we humans always have to make this decision. The going and the staying are not necessarily geographical concepts. Do we stay with what we know, or do we dare to imagine something new?

As well as putting up the stone buildings that anchor us to place, our faith can also be a mode of travel. Our history is littered with people who were convinced that God was telling them to go somewhere, to do something. These people have acheived amazing things.

I heard a story once that really helped me to understand the flowering of faith in different parts of our history. Revivals hit us from time to time, usually associated with people who are inspired to go to new places and dream of better things. These revivals can be like an erupting volcano, spewing out molten rock that flows out into the cracks and crevices of the landscape. Nothing can stand in its way.

After a while, the flow cools on the outside but it remains hot and plastic within, still moving slowly. However, eventually what is hot cools and solidifies. It can no longer move, but becomes solid rock.

It is from this rock that we build our Church, our religion.

The truth is, we need both those who go, and those who stay. The rocks that form the walls of the old cathedrals are beautiful.

But the mountains are calling me again…

cuilin ridge from Sgur nan Gilean

Proost poetry collection, editing, editing, editing…

words1

A few people have asked how this project is getting on. The answer is that it is progressing nicely, but is a whole load of hard work! This is why the blog has been quiet of late- and I expect it to remain quiet for a while.

Hard work like this is no bad thing however as I find myself immersed in lovely words. I hope that we will start to release some sample poems in the run up to releasing the book, but in the first instance, I wanted to share with you another one written by a friend of mine, Susan.

I have two reasons for doing this- firstly because Susan is a wonderful poet who is far too modest, and also because of the subject matter.

Winter is upon us.

But this too shall pass…

Thaw

Out of two dead aired weeks

Ice and snow crusted over

All things living, when only

The birds hardy enough

To fly from there to here

In the hope I had remembered

To fill the feeders  made

Themselves visible and sadness

Scabbed over my heart:

Sudden joy

A mild Late February dusk

Song from every hidden branch,

The world filled with urges,

The drive to survive

Faith returns -the garlic shoots

In strong green lines

The kale still stiff

The rituals of soil call me:

Tomorrow I begin again.

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.

 

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!

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!