Reading As Above So Below


‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ So says Shakespeare’s Hamlet to his friend, shaken by the sight of Hamlet’s father’s ghost.

As Above So Below is a new online magazine dedicated to poetry in the territory of these ‘more things.’ It explores themes of spirituality and is initiated and edited by poet and creative writing practitioner Bethany Rivers. You can read Issue 2 here

The word spirituality is rooted in the Latin ‘spirare’ – the verb for ‘to breathe.’ Its concept is a broad one, embracing the concerns of spirit and soul that add a dimension to life beyond mere physical existence.

As a contributor to this March edition of the magazine (yes, I’ll confess that upfront), I was keen to read how how the spirituality theme unfolded in the work of my fellow poets. The fifty-six poems in Issue 2  reflect a wide range of perspectives of the spiritual, alongside some common ground.

We begin and end by water. In Alwyn Marriage’s  Walking into Stillness, the speaker heads for the river after a day of wearying human business. A watery setting also fosters peace in the final poem, Hannah Stone’s Hymn to the Virgin of Cumbrae. Here, the natural world becomes imbued with sacred language interwoven with the watching statue of Our Lady, as the waves finally invite us to ‘Hush, be still and know that I am God./Hush./Hush.’

Paradoxically, the spiritual can also bring us into the more unsettling territory of the unknown: a place of human vulnerability where, as Kathy Gee’s Lessons from the Back Roads suggests,we drive where no map claims it possible.’ In Sarah Bryson’s Dissolution, the speaker’s drive down a dark country lane takes her beyond the comfort zone in a way that remains unresolved even at the poem’s end. 

Pat Edwards’ Twilight captures the this seam ‘between time, neither day nor night,’ whilst darkness itself forms a challenging edge in Mark Connors’ Bleak Mid-Winters, one the speaker is determined to overcome.  

There are more edge-lands where known and other become contiguous. Hilary Hares’ Vigil brings us towards the border of life and death, one that several poems hint is more porous than often assumed, with hints of slippage between ‘that sphere and this,’ as Carol Caffrey explores in Sandhya Kal. 

Such dynamic encounter can also arise from our internal world. In Rachel Clynes’s Shadow Dancing, the speaker uses one powerful extended image to convey a grappling with aspects of the inner self. Adrian McRobb’s The Well presents another image for the fearful fragmentation of ‘falling into myself the longest fall of all.’

Spiritual space may be difficult to define, but it is certainly beyond the level of everyday living. Whilst The Well takes us down deep, Denni Turp’s At Times Like This or That explores the speaker’s instinct to turn her gaze upwards when distressed by the mortality of loved ones. Life in the context ofthe outer reaches of our galaxy,’  as Penny Blackburn highlights in Starsand, undergoes a shift of perspective.

The impact of this enlarging of life’s canvas upon us may vary according to what extent we trust that there is a wider meaning or order at work in it all, even if its particulars elude our grasp. 

Myra Schneider conveys a sense of quiet wonder at Nature’s design in April 6th as she reflects on the ‘work of art’ constituted by the ‘meticulously patterned wings’ of a butterfly. Conversely, beauty and order in what touches the spirit is conveyed in Kathy Gee’s B Minor Mass, where the music is imaged as aspects of birds.

Finally, spiritual experience can be one of immanence, an intense experience of a present moment that holds lasting significance. Angi Holden’s Trust pulsates with this in a childhood memory of a time when her father’s voice kept her calm amid the swarm.

The quality of immanence may seem as simple as God in a dewdrop – as in light bulb , Geraint Jones’ three-word poem and the shortest in the publication, but the theme of spirituality challenges any writer to put words to what may lie beyond the capacity of language to contain. The poets here, predominantly preferring free verse to tighter forms, have brought shape to the spiritual, but left the door open to possibility, exploiting poetry’s capacity to be intense, allusive, image-rich, and with potential to welcome the numinous.   

The third edition of As Above So Below is planned for the summer, and promises to be an intriguing read with its theme of The Heart’s Journey. You can find out more and keep an eye out for publication here . You may even consider submitting to it yourself.

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  • About 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.

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