STEREO vocations of priest and poet combine in this ambitious interrogation of how love might be conceived in a Christian context. Rachel Mann creates poems of intense reflection from life as parish priest in Manchester, writer, and academic; mediating experiences of prayer and pastoral dedication through pilgrim experiences.
Her title poem, re-worked in three variations, provides a blueprint. The opening four-line poem examines priestly reactions to death, and response in worship — a continuing dialogue through this collection. The second delves into how an apparently absent God is still anticipated in love, while the third reaffirms faith through resurrection.
These elements of debate, changing focus, and movement within life and liturgy earth Mann’s poetry in Christian interpretation, not denying struggle, but learning through it. Travel informs her meditations, which are always alert and realistic. The death-darkened, prayer-lit poems of the first section open out to energetic, imaginative translations and re-readings in the longest, central section, Mythologies. Wit seasons theology; and movement invigorates argument.
We meet Chaucer in Manchester, hear Tube stations as incantations while “Reading Ovid on the Underground”, find Durham’s “Cathedral towers wrapped in white (Swaddling? Bandages?)”, and rediscover exile in the familiar:
So this is what it’s like to be cast out —
East of Eden, East of Salford, benched
With drunks. Beyond the wall, buses squeal.
(“The Priest Finds Eve in Piccadilly Gardens”)
The book’s final section, A Lesson in Evolution, reopens case notes from Mann’s medical history, to explore transformative healing, and its linguistic expression, before returning to re-examine liturgical worship.
These are poems of hard-working faith: tense and taut, perceptive, and humbly vulnerable. Character and cost are welded together in a collection that offers rich, and also risky, rewards:
A priest’s business is sacrifice,
The people approach with open hands,
I bear bread and shame, we say Amen.
We know many things without proof.
Dr Martyn Halsall is a former Poet-in-Residence at Carlisle Cathedral.
A Kingdom of Love
Church Times Bookshop £9