The Poetry Prize is a phenomenal labour of love by some
movers in the literary scene in Canada, and supposedly the
biggest purse in the business, though this, in its second year, was
a "mere" $20,000. This is not the sort of cheque poets are handed
as a rule.
My poem - I calculated it - it's outrageous if you look
at it this way, but each word was worth $109.33. It is
called "The Antenna", and is dedicated to a clergyman of the Church
in Wales, Mike Endicott. Mike is a blind healer. My husband and I
were on Bardsey when Mike was leading a retreat, and we got to
talking about expectancy. He used the image of the antenna. I ran
with the image, but it had a long gestation period. We were last on
Bardsey in 2007, and the poem wrote itself in 2011.
I began to write crawling into bed beside my
mother. She was probably writing at the time - she was a
poet - and I probably clamoured, in my five-year-old eagerness, to
be taught how to "do that, too". But my writing went on the
back-burner for many years while other things sizzled.
Where can you read it? Appetite (Brick
Books, 1988), Château Puits '81 (Oolichan Books, 1992),
Practising Death (St Thomas Poetry Series, 1997), and now
The Sunrise Liturgy (Wipf & Stock, 2012). "The
Antenna" will come out next year in a book published by
The fact that there is such a long tradition of
poet-priests in the Anglican Church is not nothing. I wish
someone would figure it out. Our Church turns out Donne and Herbert
and Traherne, Euros Bowen and R. S. Thomas, and Rowan Williams,
David Scott, and on and on. There's something there about the
nature of our, well, our sense of the holy, and of priesthood.
I am most in line with the nature poets of any
country - say, Henry Vaughan. There are two or three
Canadian poets I feel especially close to, and whom I think of as
tilling the same field or waiting the same wait in the landscape as
I do: Don McKay, Tim Lilburn, Jan Zwicky. To whom now I add
Australian Mark Tredinnick, my predecessor in the Montreal
This thread of ecological or nature mystic
"whatchamacallit" is caught, for me, in the saying attributed to
Catherine of Siena: "The path to heaven runs through
heaven, and all the way to heaven is heaven." It is that growing
sense of the immanence of heaven. I gasp and grasp at bits, and try
to get them down.
I was singing in a fine church choir, all that
remarkable Anglican liturgical music, and I had a call. Really. No
vocals, just a kind of imagining - of Christ dressed in a flimsy,
greyish, loose-hanging shirt and floppy trousers. He was sort of
see-through, moving swiftly down the chancel just ahead of the
procession with the humeral veil, taking the reserved sacrament to
the aumbry, and I got given the words: "Now what're you going to do
A while later, a year maybe, came another
sentence: "I should be a priest" - which, I can tell you, I did not
believe at that point.
I'm retired now; so my only ministry is my
poetry, so to speak.
I was a shepherd for years. Loved it. Love
goats, too. We had an old-fashioned, all-sorts mixed farm for
pleasure. Tom was still teaching philosophy then.
I love to run. And I'm learning the harp. Ever
since I heard Osian Ellis play when I was in the Ludlow Shakespeare
Festival company, I got the bug, but have only just scratched. I've
loved singing in choirs. I love to dance.
When I was very young, raking leaves with a
friend on the street, we both thought it would be neat to be
architects. We created very habitable floor plans with our
Pretty early on I knew I would be an artist -
but which sort? First term at university did it: we "freshies" were
required to wear sandwich boards declaring our name and college or
whatever, and halos on our heads made of foil-wrapped coat-hangers.
You were not allowed to take them off except to sleep, and I had a
dance class to go to across town by streetcar. I didn't go. That
was how theatre won out over dance. It lasted for the next 30
Because Tom's children all live in another
province, and none of them speak French, coming here to
visit us is a sort of yearly pilgrimage for them. My brother is
about to make the same pilgrimage. He has a rare cancer,
Waldenström's disease, which he has quite stunningly overcome for
years. I've almost ceased worrying about it, as he just goes on
being active and creative and zest-ful.
I wouldn't be who and where I am now if it
weren't for a life lived with Tom. Mind you, he wouldn't be where
he is now except for a life lived with Mia. Who'd have thought we'd
end up on the Québec shores of the fleuve St-Laurent? My
appointment to ministry in Quebec City did that for us.
Things unfold, and when you look back, you see
how this or that seeming misfortune made room for this or that
transition to this and that blessing. The pattern repeats. So I
have serious hesitations about regretting. But sin one always
regrets, yes? All that sloppy threadbareness and bad backhanded
weaving. And yet . . . I'm reading wonderful Denys Turner's
wonderful book on Julian of Norwich, and being struck anew with
Julian's "sin is behovely."
I don't give "being remembered" the kind of thought I
used to. When I was a very young actress, I thought I
would become Dame Mary Anderson. Oh, the folly! First, I was a
Canadian, not a Brit, and we don't do Dames. Second, I suffered a
name-change, because at the time there was another Mary in the
Actors' Association. But, third, I imagined being recognised in my
lifetime for doing something well. I no longer think that's
Influences? Rowan Williams. His theology has
formed my theology. His modelling of the Christian life lived and
prayed is still the lodestar that guides me. That wouldn't likely
be so if I hadn't served my internship with him while training for
the priesthood. I would add Sarah Coakley, both the theology and
My favourite place is here, in my home beside
the fleuve, a few feet from the tide going in and out, and
my house built like a body with a pair of arms reaching out for the
shore and ready to rock us to sleep on its waves.
For a long time, I said that Jung's Memories,
Dreams, Reflections was my favourite book. Then
The Cloud of Unknowing. Then Gregory of Nyssa's Life
of Moses. I loved Salman Rushdie's The Satanic
Verses: does that sound counter-intuitive? And I oughtn't to
leave out the most well-worn books, like The Joy of
Cooking by Irma Rombauer.
I take the fact that I wrote a poem called "The woman
taken in anger" as evidence that that little snippet of
Jesus's dealing with the Pharisees surrounding the woman taken in
adultery continues to fascinate me. The writing on the ground,
doodling or text or gnome or code, maybe poem, the waiting, and the
silence. Least favourite? I do a lot of huffing, "This can't have
been got down right," because the words describe God in a way I'm
not prepared to think God is - like wrathful.
What, me angry? You mean when my husband tried
to wash out my housepaint brush in the laundry sink and then
abandoned the task? Or totally losing it when I see politicians do
politick-speak on the television - when I hear yet one more
sanctimonious "We have been perfectly clear. . ."
I'm happiest when the sun rises across the fleuve,
winter, summer, fall. I wrote a book about it. In one of its poems
I said: "If I were a doctor I would treat my patients With
For me, prayer isn't about anything, or for
anything, most of the time. It's a state more of being in "what is"
than in "what should be". I call it "indicative prayer".
Whom to be locked in a church with? It would be
a toss-up between Julian of Norwich and St Melangell. Julian might
be more communicative, but Melangell might be better for me. She's
a Welsh saint of whom not a lot is known. Tom and I visited her
small shrine in the folds of Pennant Melangell, in Powys, and I
came away with a slim volume of poems that recent poets have
written about her, The Hare That Hides Within, which has
meant a great deal to me. If we were locked up together, I doubt
she'd break her silence much. Why should she? But, being there
beside her, I might hope to pick up a bit of what it is that she
learned from all those years alone in the rugged landscape, on her
knees or digging for food or staring at the stars. I would hope to
be renewed in my own practice of kneeling in rugged landscape, and
digging for food, and staring at the stars.
The Revd Mia Anderson was talking to Terence Handley