Paul Cezanne – The Kiss of the Muse 1859-1860
I spent the past two days at The Power of The Word: Poetry, Theology and Life ‘An international conference placing the ‘truth’ of Poetry and the ‘truth’ of Theology in discussion with each other and the world’. It was at Heythrop College, University of London. It is the first time that I have ever been to a conference of this kind. It was intriguing, exciting, hugely interesting, scary, (I was having a conversation with somebody about Mystics & Julian of Norwich, and then noticed her name badge….. Tolstoy) :O/ Inspiring, challenging and exhausting.
There were many wonderful papers and some less so, Four for me stood out. A great opening paper was given by Prof. Michael Paul Gallagher SJ (Gregorian University, Rome) ‘Identifying Religious Imagination’. It was warmly presented and at times amusingly received, about how recognition and perception within the imagination can be a mediator of religious meaning, and of the discernment between the self transcendent imagination and an encounter with the Transcendent through the threshold of prayer. A link between academics, scientists and artists, poetry and the devotional life. When alone I asked Prof Gallagher who he believes gets closest to capturing the Divine in poetry, his answer without pausing were Dante and Wallace Stevens.
I am no academic! But I am a great believer that the artistic and the academic should relate and exchange experiences, regardless of class or privilege. Being of artistic nature and faith and not of academic faith, I was happy just to take simple notes on things which inspired me. One such note ‘The word inspire, means to breathe in from around ones self, it comes from the latin word spiritus, breath, wind, spirit.’ And so I breathed in the many quotes, phrases, soundbites and poetic lines that inspired me, random and in no particular order, looking from my own perspective (and it seems to be the perspective of other’s too) of ‘Poetry as Prayer’. The classical Greek poets believed their message came from above. Socrates said poets were both ‘inspired and possessed’. Wallis Stephens said ‘description is revelation’. Elliot ‘The still point of the turning world’. Wordsworth talked about poetry and nature as ‘the manifestation of the spirit’. Someone else said ‘truth is what sense makes free’. There is Keats of course, with his ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’, and in the Gospels, John 8:32 says ‘The truth shall set us free’. All appear to have a perpetual search for authenticity through Truth.
I suddenly found myself questioning which style of poetry I wrote and was most attracted to. I am not convinced that trying to box oneself in is good for the freedom of the creative spirit, but it does appear that the eyes through which we see the world, have an influence on the way in which we communicate with the world. Thus I have discovered a love of The Metaphysical Poets. The poetry of which one can be transported towards and beyond the depths of mortal Love, to eternal Love, thus transcending to Love Divine. As Baudelaire’s says ‘gout de l’infini’, longing for the infinite, Baudelaire also says ‘beauty is nothing else but a promise of happiness’, I dare to disagree, beauty is Truth, is happiness, and not just a promise. We pray in belief. I loved Dr Jane Gledhill’s (Sarum College) paper on the Metaphysical poets, ‘Theology, Spirituality and the Poetic Imagination’. In ‘The Good Morrow’ John Donne explains how an understanding of both human and Divine Love enables two lovers to ‘make a little room an everywhere’. Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth’s understanding of poetic writing was all shaped by ideas that relate to Christian spirituality.
Dr Una Agnew (University of Dublin) did a brilliant paper on ‘Transformative or Slow Slow Reading’ and ‘Gastronomic Metaphor’. This interested me for I use metaphor, I also use words which have a double meaning and transform a sentence and allow it to be read in two ways. Dr Agnew talked about ‘Communion with the word’, and becoming a ‘detective of Grace’. Listening beyond the words themself into the silence. Words as ‘Soul food’ ‘regurgitating and ruminating’ on the text. Living on different diets of texts. Francis Bacon said ‘some to be tasted, some swallowed, some chewed, others digested’. In the Bible Ezekiel, Revelations Chapter 10 says ‘Eat what is given to you, eat the scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel’. Una suggests taking weeks to read a chapter, meditating on it, is the way to be. One of the most beautiful things I was ever told was to “read the Gospels as if Love letters and let the words seep into your being”, yesterday in a quote, It was suggested that we were to ‘let the text pleasure us’, not nearly so beautiful, nor eloquent.
My favourite paper of the whole conference was Prof Helen Wilcox (Bangor University Wales) on The Devotional Poets George Herbert and John Donne. Prof Wilcox presentation was so passionate, inspirational, alive, engaging and transcendent. She talked about ‘the highest matter, faith in the noblest form, poetry’. ‘Of finding words for The Word’. Of these poets expressing the word to explore faith. About the terror and fear of damnation in Donne’s poetry, and Hardy ‘Every word is heart deep’. She says “Individually they all struggle to complete the picture of faith, but a devotional poet is never alone for God supplies”.
I have to confess, I am happy to be the poet and not the academic. The pulling, ripping, dismantling, breaking down, twisting, unravelling, reforming, upholding, opening, building up, understanding and sharing of a poem, although insightful is so very much more tiring than the simply letting go of truthful personal revelation. Revelation that floods internally until it spirals out of ones being into form (or formless in my case) A poem upon a page, an emptying of self on any given day, in which it might need to be emptied. Leaving space inside in which peace be’s.
Let me for others to retrieve/That I might before flee/free.
In the evening we were blessed with a public reading by Michael Symmons Roberts, Such a great experience to receive through the senses a scattering from his various poetry collections. Receiving the poem in the rhythm and the tone and the pace and emotion with which the poet intended it to be received was awesome.
There were several memorable experiences during my time here which I will take home with me, but for me, the most special moment in the whole of the conference was at 9.45 in the evening, at the end of the first day before heading back to my room I weaved my way around the empty Heythrop corridors and snook into the beautiful silent chapel. She (the chapel) was in her night attire, cloaked in darkness. The tall windows beyond the altar welcomed in a softer shade of night. And in that gentle darkness, our lord shone warmly luminous and very much present. He live on His altar and I earthed on my knees, a perfectly charged current from one to the other, and right there without disguise, my soul handed over my every deepest prayer. Peace. Holy Holy Communion.
Night Night God Bless, I lead you to sleep poetically and sweetly with The Good Morrow ‘
John Donne’s The Good-Morrow”
I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov’d? Were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on countrey pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
T’was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d, and got, ’twas but a dreame of thee.
And now good morrow to our waking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world; each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.