I was invited to be the Poet in Residence for the 10
Days arts festival in Winchester, which finished last
I was working at the cathedral, which is
bursting with art. I visited each month, met some of the artists,
had my portrait painted twice by one of them, familiarised myself
with the cathedral, and started to produce a poetry trail of my
I was really inspired by the launch, mainly lit
by candlelight, and about 400 people came. I very much liked Penny
Burnfield's piece with human-size hangings of silhouettes of people
on a sort of organza material.
During the festival I did two walk-abouts, led
a writing workshop, and gave a poetry reading. I've been sharing my
responses to the project through my blog.
I've done other residencies, and worked with
the Ballet Rambert at Dartington. I've always danced - I used to go
up to The Place - and I think poetry and contemporary dance are
very near sisters.
At Dartington, we started with the dancers improvising
while I wrote poetry, and then I wrote something and they
improvised to that; so it went back and forth like a
Working with visual artists was very different,
because I could write by myself in a quiet place, though there was
little time for editing. Still, I was pleased with the poems. A
little pressure is quite good for one, sometimes.
I think my poetry really does cover everything I
experience in life. My most recent collection, festo:
celebrating winter and Christmas, is more focused. The
incarnation is of such breathtaking importance that I can express
the celebration of it only through poetry. I have discovered that
many people use poems from festo in preparing for
services, concerts, and other events around Christmas, and that
pleases me enormously.
Poetry can indeed pay some of my smaller bills,
but it brings much more than money. I've met wonderful people, and
received the priceless reward of knowing my words can speak in the
hearts of my readers or listeners. I very much enjoy giving poetry
readings, especially as some of my poetry, even the religious
poetry, contains humour, and I like making people laugh.
In the mists of losing my faith in adolescence,
I never doubted that God had a sense of humour. Just as well. You
don't choose humour - it bubbles out of you, doesn't it? And how
would we ever survive the Church without humour? My father was a
great one for word play, and was very funny; so I suppose it gets
into your blood, doesn't it?
I've been fortunate in always being invited to take up
posts rather than having to apply. In fact, I sometimes
wonder if I would have had any success at all if I had applied for
work. I lectured in philosophy and aesthetics at Surrey University
and Farnham College of Art, and edited the journal
Christian for a number of years.
I was chief executive of two international literacy and
literature NGOs - Feed the Minds and the United Society
for Christian Literature - for nine years, and enjoyed the
privilege of working with and for people all over the world.
I was particularly committed to women's literacy
projects in Africa and Asia. It was wonderful to see
teenage girls being trained, before going back to their villages
after three weeks, to teach literacy to others; and I was also
fortunate enough to double both our income and grants while I was
there. Then I found myself working as an environmental
I'd always been concerned about environmental
matters, always been careful about our footprint, but I'd
never done any science. So, in my mid-fifties, I went to do an
M.Sc. in environmental architecture and advanced energy studies,
which involves quite a lot of physics. I really enjoyed it. It
meant going regularly to the Centre for Alternative Technology in
North Wales. It was such fun to be a student, designing buildings
with electricity from the sun and the wind. I came back to work for
the borough council, and started to give environmental
I'm now managing editor of Oversteps Books,
after its founder, Anne Born, asked me to take over. I had a great
deal to learn, but it's interesting and rewarding work. I find it
extremely satisfying to help other poets make their mark, and I
take great pride in the high quality of Oversteps Books. I've had
it for five years, and done nearly 50 books for people.
None of us can save the world by ourselves, but
if all of us do a little bit it will make a difference. The writing
is the most important thing now, and the publishing house. But I'm
still terribly concerned about environmental matters, and try not
to despair. I try to encourage people that they can make a
difference, and offer some hope.
I've been immensely blessed in my husband and
daughters - the three most wonderful people in the world.
The girls are now out in the world doing great things, one as a
priest and the other as a senior academic, but we are still close,
and spend as much time together as we can.
My mother died 12 years ago, and people still
stop me in the street to say how much they loved and valued her.
For the next 20 or 30 years, I'd like to be remembered for whatever
personal qualities people find in me; but that certainly won't last
for 100 years; so the optimistic answer must surely be that I'd be
remembered for my poetry and other writings.
We used to tease my mother for always repeating that we
have so much to be thankful for. I constantly find myself
expressing the same sentiment, and that tends to dominate my
I'm generally a happy person, but I'm
definitely happiest when my writing is going well. My family makes
me happy, and I remember when the children were small and I saw
them holding hands and talking non-stop to each other when we went
out for walks, that had a very particular quality of happiness. I
now have some gorgeous granddaughters to add to my sum of
happiness. Loving and being loved are the deepest sources of
My father was a fine preacher. He was also a
friend of Leslie Weatherhead; so, as a child, I sometimes listened
to Leslie preach for 40 or 50 minutes, and found it pretty
I wouldn't call myself a preacher: I preach. It
must be 40 years ago that I started. I suppose I'm very committed,
I can think clearly and speak lucidly; and I wrote a couple of
theology books which were well-received, and edited the
best-selling Collins anthology New Christian Poetry, in
But I have a very strong vocation to the laity.
I firmly believe that we are all called to be part of the royal
priesthood. If I went and got ordained, I'd be betraying that side
of the bargain with God. And I want to speak on behalf of the
We like holidays exploring the wilder parts of Britain
and Europe in our small camper van.
Music? Bach's St Matthew Passion,
Messiaen's Vingt Regards and Quartet for the End of
Time, Duruflé's Ubi Caritas. I read lots of poetry,
including T. S. Eliot, John Donne, e. e. cummings, Paul Verlaine.
Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, Iris Murdoch's The Fire
and the Sun, a book about physics called The Dancing Wu Li
Masters, which bowled me over so much that I kept lending it
to people . . . and consequently lost possession of it (and still
miss it) - these are life-changing books.
The best sound? A blackbird singing on a spring
I love the Sermon on the Mount. And also Micah
6.8, which for me sums up what it is to live a Chris-tian life:
"What does God require of you? Only this: to act justly, to love
tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God." It's transparently
simple and challengingly difficult. I particularly en- joy the
ambiguity of the second clause, which can be translated either to
love mercy, or to love tenderly.
I don't often get really angry, though there
was a fair amount of anger mixed in with my grief over last
November's Synod vote on women bishops.
If I found myself locked in a church, my first
choice would probably be St Peter, as he carries the keys. My
second choice would be my husband, because he has a habit of
leaving doors open. If he didn't on that occasion, he's the only
person I'd like to be locked up with anywhere.
Dr Marriage was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.