Poet-in-Residence @ Chester Cathedral

 

In August I became Poet-in-Residence at Chester Cathedral, a year’s appointment. The role is a relatively new one at Chester Cathedral. I am only the second in post, and feel privileged to be invited to contribute to the rich and varied life of this unique space in Ches

A Residency can develop in various directions, alongside the opportunity to work on one’s own writing. Initially my focus is particularly on starting a monthly discussion group to explore Faith in Poetry, and running occasional Writing Workshops hosted at the Cathedral.

You can read some reflections here


You can find more details of the final Writing Workshop of 2019 – Writing Spaces at the Cathedral with myself and Manchester Cathedral Poet-in-Residence Andrew Rudd on Saturday November 16th on the workshops page here . 


The Faith in Poetry Discussion Group is a lunchtime meeting that will run on the second Monday of the month, in Chester Cathedral’s Library, from 12 noon to 1.30. 

Each session will introduce an aspect of poetry to enrich our appreciation of how it works, followed by reading and discussing some faith-related poems. We will cover a range of poets and approaches, chosen mainly from a Christian perspective. 

All are welcome and the event is free, but please register that you’re coming. Spaces are limited and I also need to know how many hand-outs to bring!  You can register by e-mailing me directly or checking into the event on Eventbrite here . Upcoming sessions are:

11th November: Through a Glass Darkly… Why does poetry rely so heavily on image and imagination? What makes this currency of language especially appropriate for exploring themes of faith?

9th December: The Second Music How does poetry takes us on a journey from what is happening to what is going on? How can we listen for the different elements of its music?

 


From the Residency…

Hope 

Fingers slip; coins drop in a slot

with a flat metal splash, cash boxed.

His deposit for the upturn of days.

 

Silence swallows the moment.

 

He cradles a candle, egg-light.

Paraffin-wax sheens onto his palm.

He pushes it hard onto a dark spike.

 

Stillness holds a body pinned with pain.

 

Now he tastes vertigo; his taper wavers.

Even his flame must be borrowed,

a pinprick flicker caught from its neighbour.

 

Sighs soak into the flagstones.

 

Giant-clumsy, he threads a needle of light.

Prayer steadies on its tightrope wick,

joins the whisper of pearl-bead ranks.

 

Shadows absorb the waiting.

                                                                                                              Julia McGuinness 


Chester Cathedral has adopted the theme of Waves for 2019. As part of this, the Cloisters have been home to a Saving the Deep sculpture exhibition, the work of sculptor Jacha Pottgieter. It comprises a collection of sea creatures created entirely from re-cycled materials that Jacha picked up on Criccieth beach over a period of just three days. The exhibition is a wake-up call to care for our environment. If we do not change our ways, the sea will contain more plastic than fish within decades.

On my Tuesday mornings in Residence at the Cathedral, I’ve regularly seen these works of art. One, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, has been calling out to me every time I’ve passed by. My response is the poem Beached, which you can find alongside a picture of Jacha Pottgieter and his unique piece, here

 


It’s amazing what you find around a Cathedral. One morning over the summer, as I wandered around looking for poems, I thought about sculpting a poem from the words already there on screen, wall, noticeboards and displays. The result is this Found Poem. Its title, Ingredients Present, is from a notice giving dietary information located in the Cathedral Refectory. Other sources include information on exhibits and artefacts, fire regulations, leaflets and words on the walls – but what each was and was originally about, I will say no more…

Ingredients Present

A Guide makes good use of time.

Do thou likewise.

What time do you wake up?

Arise and eat.

Set out to explore

through the black gate.

 

Mind the step.

Join in the conversation.

You can be part of it,

do not have to tell us your name.

Become a Chorister.

Only if competent.

 

Help us build.

Only if safe.

Please give generously,

exciting holiness.

Take off any shoes.

Two remain in this Chapel

 

God is worshipped

in this place,

the start or finishing place.

Share its peace;

earth below, stars above.

Enjoy the Deep.

 

Do not leave without praying.

Jesus heals everything,

originally handcrafted   

to the glory of God –

no two are the same.

Walk straight ahead.

                                                                      Julia McGuinness 


As part of the Residency, I asked if I might make a poetic contribution to Chester Cathedral’s worship life. In response, I have had the opportunity to offer a poem at a Sunday evening Compline; a lunch-time Eucharist on National Poetry Day, and at one of the monthly gatherings of the Benedictine Group . For each occasion, I was given the Bible reading as a starting-point for a poem. The first of these, on St Michael and All Angels’ Day, was the most daunting – a section of Revelation 12 covering the war in heaven with all hell breaking loose and Satan overthrown. Somehow, from this, Hollow emerged.

Hollow

This was surely the place:

Earth hollowed by force of a fall.

Trees uprooted, branches ripped

to contortions of spent limbs.

It had been a thunderous night:

 

Stars shook, sky shot with fire.

Sharp as glass, glittering white,

a crazed whirlpool of wings

dizzied round a cloud of rage

that hurtled towards earth’s quake.

 

They found this crater, followed

ground gouged in a long wound

down to a steaming hiss of sea.

But harder to track a new hollow

within; silence where that iron voice 

 

used to pummel their souls

to a worm’s meat of frailties berated.

Now, this sunrise, and a fresh breeze

filling every space with song:

Salvation; Life; Beloved, Rejoice.

                                                                                   Julia McGuinness

  • About Julia

    Julia

    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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