Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Poem: Here, a sudden green – Lockdown 12

A very simple moment recorded today – how quickly the spring races ahead now. Soon, all will be full-leaved, and slow, but now, it seems things grow almost before your eyes. What is even more disconcerting is how, if you’ve been watching something, and then turn your back, everything changes.

It’s a reminder of the passage of time, like how much taller the children we know will seem when we see them again. How different things may be after this time.

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These Lockdown Poems are turning into a record of the spring, sometimes moment by moment. And tomorrow, Friday 15th May, you’ll be able to hear me read one of this band of poems on Radio 3’s The Verb. I’m feeling a little excited, and also nervous, but mainly awed by the opportunity to contribute something to our shared experience …..

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Here, a sudden green Lockdown Poems 12

How did the silver birches grow
so green so quickly?
the stems of the rambling rose
lost now in all those tiny leaves –
those yellow catkins.

Now a tree in leaf,
yesterday, it seems,
a tree in bud,
and here, too,
the acacia, like
a yellow maidenhair fern,
shook out in the breeze,
so suddenly, so suddenly,
after a winter of waiting.

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News from the Little Free Pantry.

 

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The pantry at its Harvest Festival launch

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you  may remember posts about the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton.  It’s a simple thing –  a place where anyone can leave some tins or other food, and anyone can take what they need.

 

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Today at lunchtime

It was so sad that at the beginning of the lockdown we had to close the pantry for a while, but gradually, and in stages, and with much thinking, work and adjustment, it’s now up and running again!

It’s back in the church porch, 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.   There’s an extra table, with more space for fresh produce.
The ususal rules of keeping two metres apart apply.
It’s open for both giving and taking, no need to talk to anyone, just give what you can, take what you need.

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I do believe it is a particularly important neighbourhood resource at the moment.  Shopping can be difficult for so many reasons – you or a family member may be vulnerable, money or time or transport may be hard to come by, the shopping experience may be anxious for all the kindness of the shopworkers.  The pantry is here, a sign of love, and of the hand of friendship we wish we could extend.

We have been so encouraged that people are making donations, and withdrawals, are joining in with this simple way of neighbours helping neighbours.

There are two other little free pantries in church porches nearby that we’ve heard of – in Grundisburg and Hasketon.  Do tell us if there are more.  It’s such a simple idea, and it works well with social isolation, maybe more places would like to set one up.

 

So, thank you to everyone who is using the pantry in any way.  May it bless you.

 

Poem: The Blackbird – Lockdown poems 7

Lockdown Poem News!

I am delighted to be able to share with you that this poem was featured on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 15th May at 22:00 BST.    You will be able to find a recording of the poem on the link above, under the date.  The programme is entitled Birdsong.     If you start at the beginning, you’ll hear a marvelous piece on nightingales, but if you are short of time, my contribution is just after 20 minutes in. You can read more about being on the programme here.

It’s so exciting!

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Welcome back to the garden. It’s been a harder week, this week, with much, and much needed, rain. It has felt more confined, being more indoors. I have ended up watching more news, and felt more sucked into our strange, shifting reality, our uncertainty.

As you may have gathered, these Lockdown Poems tend to emerge in bursts, and find their way here a little while later, so this poem was one that came on one of the brighter, sunnier days. Coming back to it now, it helps to connect with a time when it was less hard work to be in the moment, to settle into stillness, and to be open. It reminds me of all that. It reminds me of the connection we can feel to the creatures we share our space with, and what riches we can find in such connection.

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I hope, whatever your week has been like, you can take another moment to listen to the birdsong, as we did together in the last poem, and hear its dark and beautiful strangeness.

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A female blackbird – I can’t find the name of the photographer to credit this.

The Blackbird – lockdown 7

The blackbird lands just
behind my shoulder,
I hear the air in his throat,
I hear the slight preparations
for song,
then song.

I scarcely dare move my pencil,
and yet, my pencil moves.
Oh, for the gift of
interpretation of tongues,
that I might write,
in words, that song,
that meaning, the cares
belonging to this small soft being
with its deep globe eyes
and stabbing beak.

I see you, I hear you,
in all your dark and
beautiful strangeness,
as you shift from
spreading branch
to spreading branch,
open to receive you.

 

Poem: Two Trees – Lockdown poems 5

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The next poem that came from this Lockdown is a little different from the others at first glance.  Once again, it was emerged on the page, and has had minimal tweeks.  I was intrigued to find it there.  Its subject is the trees in the Garden of Eden, and it asks tentative questions about human nature, and the human experience, which they raise for me.  I have wondered before why the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was prohibited, when so many religious systems seem very preoccupied with such knowlege.  I have wondered too how Jesus’ warnings against judging help us understand that, and balanced those warnings with the image of knowing a tree by its fruit, as he advises us to do.

I find it helps to allow the images – of trees, and fruit – to grow in our minds, and see what kind of shoots emerge. This is not a theological exploration, but a poetic instinct. Here,  I have been asking questions of myself, in a kind of uncertain echo of a chatechism, and allowed the questions to be there, partially or inadequately answered.  What if there is a choice, moment by moment – the fruit of the knowlege of good and evil, the fruit of life?  Might that have something to say to us as we seek to choose life, again and again?  Can we say yes to life, moment by moment, even in these moments?

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I don’t have two trees growing in the centre of my garden, but I do have this tree, whose early morning shadow delights me.  I hope you can make it out. The early light was tricky.  I thought I’d offer it to you to see if it might help give another image to add to the trees in this poem – a growing tree and its shadow.

 

 

Two trees – lockdown 5

Two trees grow in the midst of the garden; the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   paraphrase from Genesis 2:9

What if we stand
in the middle of the garden,
choosing the wrong tree,
moment by moment,
again and again?
There they both grow –
tall, beautiful,
pleasing to the eye,
laden with fruit.

And we are drawn to one,
not the other, at least at first.
Wanting power to say things are
this, or that, the illusion of
control, wanting to judge,
wanting to be right.

Do we need to lay all that
hollow fruit aside in order
to eat from the tree of life?
I think so, yes,
Maybe empty-handed is better.

And what if we had made
a different choice
from the beginning?
Chosen that other tree,
unprohibited,
free.
What indeed!
And yet we did not,
and ever since, we have
hungered for its fruit.

And can we choose differently
now, each day, each moment?
I think so, yes, I think that we can
set down the fruit that
sours and spoils,
and choose life
again, and again,
and again.

Poem: Yes – Lockdown Poems 4. For Earth Day

This is the next lockdown poem to emerge – today, here, is clear blue, but we had some stunning clouds a few days ago, and it was good to take a few moments to watch them.

It’s Earth Day, when we look to our place as part of the wonderful whole that is our home, the Earth, and look also to our responsibility to tend it.  One of the things I am experiencing in this time at home is a greater sense of connection, of love, for all that makes up the place, the ground that I’m part of here. I feel this love and connection are deeply significant.  I wonder if they are the necessary roots of a better way of living, one that acknowledges our dependence on the living Earth, and works to heal our environmental crisis, the crisis the living Earth is facing, including us.  These deep connections, this gratitude and love are, I am coming to think, more important than we know. I touched on these themes in a talk I gave at Girton College Chapel, and if you’d like to, you can read more about that here.

I hope there are ways, however small, that you can find connection with the natural world where you are.  Whether you can or not, you are welcome to join me here in your imagination, and sit in the sun.

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Yes, thank you – lockdown 4

The white clouds are coming now,
sails spread, a fanciful armada
on a soft southerly wind.
My skin feels the heat of the sun,
surprising. And I say thank you, and yes
to the blue and white of the sky,
to these various dark bees
among the comfrey,
heads dusted with pollen –
yes, drink your fill,
yes, thank you

To the peacock butterflies waiting
open-winged on the grass,
until another flies by,
and they rise and dance
as perfect as silent larks.
yes, and thank you

To the bright leaved hazel,
to the dark flowered fritillary lilies,
the yellow dandelions and their
white butterflies,
All, yes, thank you.

Poem: Red Leaves – Lockdown Poems 3

I’ve been spending time with my notebook, while we’ve been in lockdown.  Usually, the words come from what’s going on around me, grounding myself in my ground.  I am aware how fortunate I am to have sight of new leaves, as here, but I hope these small verses give you a place where your imagination can connect with the spring, wherever you are.

They are just moments as they come.

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The subject of this poem springs from the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, which you can read about here.

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A moment in the garden, shared with you.

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Red leaves   lockdown 3
Oh, the sun through those red leaves,
shiny and shining,
And here, too, the smokebush,
just kindling to red flame,
before the leaf-smoke thickens,
as the sun’s light strengthens.
You can almost feel them growing,
as you bask in their cold fire.

It’s all holy.
All this good earth.
As my knees feel the
softness of grass,
and the air smells so of green,
and of the damp warming soil,
and grass, and primroses.

Yes.  This place.
Yes.  This time, even this.

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Poem: Today, sound. Lockdown Poems1

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am writing during this lockdown – as a way of expressing something, as a way of grounding myself in the physical experience of where I am, of keeping some kind of a record of what this time feels like, which is very different from what watching the news feels like, at least for me.  What emerges from this practice is simple, free, unpolished.

My notebook comes with me into the garden, and so it’s to the garden that I invite you now, especially if you are in a place where you have no view of green growing things, and hear no birdsong. I am aware how fortunate I am to have such a place, and how much harder it is to navigate this time without sight of spring.  So I hope that, as I share these poems with you, you can come outside in your imagination, and sit on the bench, and rest awile in the sun.

 

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Today – sound.  
Lockdown poems 1

Today, it is quiet.
Cars, if they pass at all,
come one by one, strung out,
separate,
dark beads running along
a dark thread.
The old sound comes, and goes,
comes, and goes.

Here, today, in this green space,
we hear, instead, the buzz of
long-tongued bees, feasting
and drunk among the primroses.
Primroses, spilling yellow,
everywhere, in the lawn
on which a faint dark
line threads – the path
of a soft deer
who comes by night.
And above, now,
buzzards and hawks
have the high sky to themselves,
flying in their wide circles.

I hear now, as if for the first time,
full birdsong, triumphant, liberated.
Suddenly an audience has turned
from its spent tables
towards this wide green stage,
and listened, amazed,
as loud song rises louder,
louder, knowing it will be heard.

 

 

 

 

Poem: Easter 2020 Lockdown poems 9

I have been writing this lockdown, and am sharing this poem with you first, although it is not the first I have written.  I am sharing it while we are still in the season of Easter – a strange, isolated Easter it’s been.

I wonder, though, if it is more like the first Easter than our usual celebrations, in many ways.  I wonder how it will seem, when we look back at it.

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Easter 2020  Lockdown 9

It wasn’t loud, or triumphant,
that first Easter.
The worship places were not full
of people shouting, together,
Alleluia.

I wonder if it was,
strangely, more like this.
Strange.  Shut away
for fear, for love,
behind closed doors,

quiet, while the world
fell apart, while dreams
lay cast aside, a coat
for a long-gone season.

And you came like a gardener,
maybe smelling of soil, with
sap-stains on your un-white,
un-shining clothes.  You brought
earth and growth with you

to Mary, who could not touch you,
to others, behind those doors
closed against the world. You
met them in their shut away places.

Maybe you will meet us too,
in our scattered homes, afraid,
untouched,  and working in shops,
and bending in fields, that we may
all eat in this wilderness,

maybe exhausted by
the work of healing,
and still holding the hands of those
who are passing into the darkness
of the tomb,
speaking softly in their ear.
Maybe these are the places you
are to be found, this year,
every year.

Holy Week at home – Some readings, poems, and Good Friday resources here on my blog.

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As we approach Easter, many people take time to focus on the journey Jesus makes towards the cross.  Our usual practices at this time are those of meeting together, and remembering together.  We can’t do that this year.  Instead, as we stay inside, for love of each other, we will have to do things differently.

Perhaps we can focus on an inner journey, something quieter, more contemplative.  As we do so, we may find, as many have before, that we get to a place of deeper connection, more grounded truth, fuller love.  We may find new meaning in Jesus’ teaching and example, of letting things fall away, of finding himself alone, of allowing.

In case it helps, I’ve gathered together some of the blog posts here that you might find help.  I will add to it as more things occur to me, and as I write and update more.

Please feel free to use any of the resources you find helpful, and to share them, saying where they are from.
A little explanation about  Easter Retold

The Retold thread of my blog gives you sections from my book, “The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters”, and “Prayers and Verses” that sits alongside it.  You can get hold of these through the internet, and maybe your local bookshop if they take orders for delivery.  It’s good for all ages, and is used in family services and care homes.

The House at Bethany, the Raising of Lazarus

Many spend time with this Gospel story in Holy Week.  It’s a story that means a great deal to me.  You can find some links below.

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Here you will find the readings, and some things to ponder, as well as one of my Mary at your feet poem.  If you would like to focus on the poetry, you could go here:

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Two

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Three
This last also contains a contemplative prayer/writing exercise.

There are readings, things to do, things to reflect on, in the I Am series which draws on another of my books.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

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Artist – Frank Wesley

 

Other Holy Week stories – You can find these in Chapter 11 of my retelling – both editions:  The Bible Story Retold, and The Lion Classic Bible, which share the same text.  The second of these has lovely illustrations by Sophie Williamson.

Prayers and Verses also has a section in Chapter 11 called The Road to Good Friday, which you might find useful.

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper, Jesus washes their feet.

Retold –
Retold: Maundy Thursday

Poem- Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

We also find two of the great I Am sayings in this narrative:
Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus said, I Am – For Lent. Chapter 7, Vine

Later in the evening, when Jesus is arrested, there is a further I Am moment:

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

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Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

Good Friday

Retold: Good Friday Retold

Now, we come to the new poems I’ve written for Good Friday – based on the seven sentences Jesus spoke from the cross. I’ve put them together with some readings, music, and art, to give you a Good Friday Meditation.  I’ve recorded the readings and poems, and they should appear on YouTube, on Good Friday, under my name.  I’ll post the links here when that happens

The poems themselves: Poems – Seven Sentences from the Cross

The meditations: A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

And I’ll add the YouTube material here.

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Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

 

Easter Sunday

A simple retelling: Retold: Easter Day!

If you are following in my books of Bible retellings and prayers, Chapter 12 moves us into New Life.

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Thank you for joining me.  I hope you find these things help.
Keep safe and well.
Bless you.