Poetic Spirit in the City

It was Race Day in Chester in Saturday as we came together at Retreat House Chester for the more gentle pursuit of the poetic spirit. 

Poetry and spirituality inhabit a common landscape. Derek Walcott, whose poem Love after Love was amongst those we read, has said, ‘I never separated the writing of poetry from prayer.…it is a vocation.’      

The writer Mark Oakley comments that God gives us our being; we respond by offering our becoming. Poetry is uniquely qualified to accompany us on this faith journey. It is soul-language, the language of possibility, capable of transfiguring the ordinary and tracing the extraordinary.

We began by looking at Psalm 23 as a lyric poem. Focussing on its personal voice and the immediacy of its images – the Lord as shepherd; the shadowed valley – gave us a fresh slant on a familiar text.

We moved on to apply the traditional Benedictine practice of reading Scripture known as Lectio Divina, to a poem. The approach is one of slow, repeated reading, open to the particular word or phrase that catches our attention, and then to making our own meditative response.

We found that simple words like ‘Sit’ or ‘stranger’ from Love after Love ; ‘locked garden’ and ‘it’s not reversible’ from Jean Sprackland’s Healer, or simply the title of Tripping over Joy by Hafiz, could bring into a stillness beyond ‘a thousand serious moves’ or open doors to exploration deeper within.

Finally we responded to more poems with the creativity of our own writing – a daunting prospect for some. But each of us found that generating words brought us to places we would not have anticipated, once we took the plunge into the page’s white space. One wrote a Blessing for a family member in a particular situation; another brought together words from the various poems we’d encountered together to create a new piece tapestried from the workshop. 

Running such a morning can feel like making a poem in itself: within the set boundaries of space and time, I can never know quite what will emerge, only that it will be unique. 

Such journeys call for trust in an outcome even though, as in Jan Richardson’s opening words in Drawing Near: A Blessing for Advent : ‘It is difficult to see it from here.’

Poetry and spirituality ask us to choose the adventure of an open-ended process. In writing a poem, I can find myself intentionally having to take off the lid, which is often lurking in those final too-tidy lines. In our individual time over the morning, I deliberately sat with a poem I’m still having quite a conversation with – Adam Zagajewski’s Try to Praise the Mutilated World . (How far are we to praise the world as it is now, as we look through the lens of memory before its mutilation?….etc.) 

Our morning yielded some beautiful words and precious insights. Afterwards, coming out of Abbey Square into the city, I felt almost overwhelmed by all the colour, bustling vitality and noise. Such a change from when I’d arrived in the quieter golden Autumn light of earlier day. But now I was feeling different, too. 

 

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  • 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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