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A Poet’s Notebook: With new poems, obviously, by Stewart Henderson

13 December 2019

Martyn Halsall enjoys a poet’s notebook

THE poet and broadcaster Stewart Henderson takes readers backstage to illuminate origins and developments of 21 of his poems in a “notebook” that will intrigue poetry enthusiasts and encourage engagement for those wary of its elastic language.

Henderson proves a generous guide, always abstracting the positive and the stimulating from various cultural sources — poetry, fiction, theology, film, and music among them — that he has appreciated. From the sage-turned-seer Malcolm Muggeridge to the punk entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren, and from the theologian Richard Rohr to the literary jester P. G. Wodehouse, this book brims with thoughtful stimulation. There is, understandably, an anthology of poets.

Henderson’s own poetry is subtle declamation; his illumination is intricate, his faith inherent. Words are seasoned with delight. For all his international travels and readings, his work, poetry and prose, remains rooted in his native Liverpool, capital of verbal jugglers. He continues to wear, simultaneously, masks of comedy and tragedy. Readers will still discern the city’s nose-flute accent within the salt and vinegar observations in Lesson Plan: “I could see it was good school/ because the grass/ growing out of the roof gutters/ had been trimmed.”

Or from “The Avenue”, underlining the importance of memory from “those drowsy two strides-across, lawn-trimmed summers” (that class distinction of grass again), a deft observation combining telling detail with religious reference to launch the local into cosmic potential:

Further up The Avenue
the regular mouse, black rosary eyes
in the chip shop window
content in its fat firmament.

Henderson proves himself constantly open to refreshing influences, whether from the American recluse-mystic Emily Dickinson, or the four year-old who defined a poem as “message”; active in re-definition, as in illuminations of Christ: “the myriad of Light/ the First-Born Broken/ the original Renaissance/ the only Reformation, . . .”. Typically, he leaves this captivating, vibrant notebook open, balancing a see-saw question poised between celebration and loss: “How should we reflect the jubilee and turbulence of these days so that the one does not jar and override the other?”

Dr Martyn Halsall is a former Poet-in-Residence at Carlisle Cathedral.

A Poet’s Notebook: With new poems, obviously
Stewart Henderson
Lion £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

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