Holy fire on the rim of the earth

by
22 December 2016

Richard Lamey reads collections of work by contemporary poets

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On the Seventh Wave
David Hodges
Caldey Abbey £7.50 (plus £1 p&p)* (978-0-9566884-3-9)
*from www.caldey-island.co.uk

 

Coronach
Martyn Halsall
Wayleave Press £5 (incl. UK p&p)*
(978-0-9935103-1-1)
*from www.wayleavepress.co.uk

 

Letting in the Light
Kenneth Steven
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-07670-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

 

THESE three collections of poetry, in their different ways and styles, are a reminder of how poetry emerges from reflection and time, and demands both from the reader.

David Hodges is a monk at the Cistercian Abbey on Caldey Island. On the Seventh Wave is his seventh book of poetry. Hodges is at his best when he writes about the soul and about the Christian year. In “Lectio” the landscape from the window of his monastic cell reveals signs of God’s presence in the woods and within us. Other poems emerge out of the life of Jesus experienced through the great festivals of the Church: in “Resurrection” he writes: “Watching and waiting / in the dark-bright-light, / holy fire on the earth’s rim.” Here is poetry bursting from the heart of an intense relationship with God. Here is poetry to dwell on and to pray with.

His poems that seek to describe animals are generally less successful, and at times his use of rhyme is a straitjacket that he can’t escape from. Overall, though, Hodges shows a monk’s openness to God in the world around, and inspires us to see creation with the same eyes.

Martyn Halsall’s Coronach is rooted in the precarious landscape of the Scottish Isles and the questions who survives there and whether Halsall can find a place to belong. The title is Gaelic for funeral song. It is a beautifully produced and thin volume containing a whole landscape. His style is pure, intimate, and deep. His voice is distinctive in its classicism and its elegance — each phrase is finely honed.

Halsall finds beauty in passing moments. In “Small blue”, it is the quest for a butterfly. In “Wax jacket”, going through the effects of a stalwart local farmer who has died makes the poet realise that we are all far more complex in our hobbies and passions than we seem: that we are, perhaps, ultimately unknowable. Coronach is an evocative portrait of a world that is far removed from most of our lives, and all the more attractive for that. Halsall has a great gift for language that is both allusive and elegant. This is a book to relish and to dwell on.

Letting in the Light by Kenneth Steven is the most personal, honest, and emotional of these collections. It is raw, heartfelt, and moving. Steven is struggling to hold on to his own identity and his sense of hope in the midst of the breakdown of his marriage and the subsequent separation from his precious daughter. Daily moments and things half-glimpsed lead him into deep reflections on personality and hope, on how the light can break into his darkness.

His poems are rooted in season and place. He is working at the very edge of language where (twice) an adjective is used as a verb. His personal tragedy slowly and wonderfully becomes a meditation on grace and redemption. At the end of the book, his daughter runs to him at a baptism: “The long folly of words, / the gunneries of rage, / the anger of small conflicts- / useless, forgotten, gone.” We are as exhilarated as him that spring comes once more. Steven is a poet at the top of his game. He has mined his life for treasure and we are all beneficiaries of his honesty, skill and wonderful redemption.

 

The Revd Richard Lamey is Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, in Berkshire.

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