Monday, 14 December 2009


What did we go out to see?
You knew who you were, recognised, prophesied, perceived the necessary increase and decrease
Felt your heart leap in greeting at last the sinless Saviour
Filled by the Holy Spirit in your mother’s womb, now standing face to face with your mother’s cousin’s beloved Son
His beginning, the dove descending, did you know to herald your doom?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


The garden overlooking the sea
The grassy pathway leading down to the road
Those sunsets, the clear evenings
Such long summers, the stretch of golden beach
Rock upon rock in the dazzling heat
Became as shadows on my childish soul

And I see again clearly the landscape of aloneness
It is like a cold knife touching my skin
But never pierced, I travelled far
And so far on now, I cannot look back and see
That small figure carving figures in the sand
Without the fingers of my hand clutching at the urban air

Monday, 30 November 2009

Beauty will save the world

Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power- and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them. And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.

And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoyevsky to say that “Beauty will save the world,” but a prophecy.

Click here to watch Why Beauty Matters - BBC 2 documentary by Roger Scruton shown 28 Nov 2009

kiss me now

kiss me now
now that the drops of water
on the window pane have dried
and weeping has ceased

kiss me now
now that the leaves have fallen
the birds have flown
and the winter has settled in

kiss me now
now that the bearing cannot be born
the burden cannot be lifted
and the flight to the desert is complete

kiss me now
now that it is dark and it's late
the pathway is deserted and the plants
hang their heads in shame

kiss me now
now that the depths are deeper
the heights higher and God's love stronger
than we ever could have imagined

kiss me now
now that the last person has gone
and there are no witnesses left to see
how the sun had so burned me

kiss me now
now that the day will not last long
now that the night will be even shorter
now that eyes are heavy with sleep

kiss me now
now that the drops ...
... have dried
and weeping ... ceased

Sunday, 29 November 2009

beauty burns

beauty burns / truth shadows / goodness testifies
that faith / without works / is dead

set alight
keep rendering
she is there

the unseen essence
ever waiting to step
into newly created forms

she is
the soul
of the masterpiece

touching hers
means to touch

grace-filled she arches
her slender neck:
her swan song

her first
and last

like smoke
dissipating within

and then silence
penetrating my dusk
my dawn

drawn / pierced / unseen

drawn out of the mist
pierced now the heart of darkness
unseen between worlds

it comes like a sword
to touch the edge of my soul
light and darkness divide

peace thrown like a bomb
into the heart of the war
exploding within

the pieces scatter
seeds in distressed soil to grow
morning's victory

Friday, 27 November 2009


the greater miracle
exists in spirit space
threading through the ether
golden threads -
the assurance, the conviction
the absolute certainty that is faith

Thursday, 26 November 2009


the sting sucked out
and swallowed
deep-throated love
deep darkness
born in the bearing
of sin in one body
crowned with thorns
where, o death, is your victory?
where, o death, is your sting?
it is drawn
sucked out
deep-throated love
in the deep darkness
expressed in the descent
down and down
to where
I am


rain piercing night's darkness
like giant tears expressing heaven's remorse
hard, dry hearts beat down
so much of the earth's great potential
someone's blood stains the grey city stone
and I sit alone within walls of my own making
silence and sun, doors and a waiting world
stepping out, hands to wring out every wrong
today the wind blows across my face
and it is enough, the piercing drives me on

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Arts and the Church - interview with SCF

What is it that most excites you as a Christian in the arts at the moment?

Before I answer that question, I would want to say that being involved in the arts is not an easy thing. People may look at the end work and think 'wow, that's so deep' or 'so beautiful', but there is often a lot of pain, as well as joy, that goes into creating. I also think that an artist who is a Christian has certain challenges regarding church ...

Click here for full interview

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Love's First Look

My words were fading from me as the light diminished

Reduced to thought encapsulated within the living organ that played and played night and day

Day and night I called out within myself for love to match the hunger of my starving world

The collapse of childhood, the rising from the ashes

Tell me now, where is the fire, where has it gone?

The heat dissipating into my darkness and I was frozen again within memory - but somehow embedded within sun and moon and sky

What had changed me? Who was it who had called out from beyond me? What was their name? How did they know me?

The protective film covering my heart pierced by love’s many losses, as I was swept away by sorrow’s undercurrent to another place

O far shore, in the waters my shoulders shed the burden of the years, as I coated my own heart - for you, this time

Gift wrapped, shielded from the war raging at battle’s edge

It is for you, my darling – O how you dazzled me

It was such a sudden appearing within the inner sanctum

God and man in colour, contour and content to peel away the concrete forms of day

Encoding the silence of the present moment in which formation advances upwards

And downwards I cast my bread upon the waters of my consciousness

Downwards I fell, staying so still upon the stone, eyes closed – only listening left

Who comes? For whom am I awaiting in this solitary place?

Footfalls longed for - such measured steps, I hardly dare look up

Lifted up, taken in, as I receive a piece of the mystery within the circle of your gaze

And beholding and beheld - O how you wounded me, but I was wounded already – so far from complete

Beloved, thinking on in swift movements of the hand – dreaming still

The first light of the first day has dawned upon the firstborn as I whisper - I will

Sunday, 8 November 2009

What is truth?

all the wealth of your ingenuity

"Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but 'fully reveals man to man'. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, 'awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God' (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny."

from Letter to Artists - Pope John Paull 11

Monday, 2 November 2009

John, the Beheaded

What did we go out to see?
A reed bending and bowing in the wind of God’s change
Billowing words from one stripped so bare
Marked by the desert and a message to pierce
Tyranny’s rage, the oppression of a people
And a nation straining to see the dawning of humanity’s final age

What did we go out to see?
A wilderness voice come home within the wildness of man’s heart
Stirring the waters beneath in breathless anticipation of heaven’s mighty waterfall
Dripping wet in a dry land, glistening golden in the noonday heat
Mercy making right, making straight the crooked way
For the Man, the Lamb, the taker of sin

What did we go out to see?
A man of fire who spoke of a greater burning to come
A man with a gaze to implant steel in the weakened backbone
Of a people waiting, whispering God’s age-old promises
Of chosen-ness, closeness and covenant
Eyes fixed on the horizon to glimpse the appearing of the Father’s only Son

What did we go out to see?
You knew who you were, recognised, prophesied, perceived the necessary increase and decrease
Felt your heart leap in greeting at last the sinless Saviour
Filled by the Holy Spirit in your mother’s womb, now standing face to face with your mother’s cousin’s beloved Son
His beginning, the dove descending, did you know to herald your doom?

What did we go out to see?
A man cowed in prison, head in hands wondering how it came to this
Sunken in the pit of the king’s darkened heart
Trampled under the sure-footed death dance of a hating queen
To be no more heard, thought severed, silence served up on that platter
An arm raised to fell the strong, tall prophet, who had so violently laid hold

What did we go out to see?
After everything, you asked your disciples to find out, was it He?
The blind now seeing, the deaf hearing, the dumb shouting praises, the poor lifted up; was it He?
What did you pray when you closed your eyes in that deep-down dark hell?
What did you hear? Did you speak as your executioner entered your cell?
John, the Baptiser, no less the voice of one crying in the wilderness as the blade rose, and then, so swiftly, fell

Monday, 26 October 2009



I was mad, suspended in time to die for my crimes
And I didn’t give a damn, my guilt I considered of no account
I had taken what I needed, when I wanted it, it was my right
Nobody was going to give me anything and nobody ever proved me wrong
So I stole, and now I was left with only my bone-shaking vertical anger

I knew of this man hanging by my side
There was so much talk of him far and wide
Ha! Some sinless saviour, stripped and whipped
On the level with me now, I give him a sideways glance, a snipe
Somehow his serene stillness in the face of such searing pain

Drew the rage even more from every pore in my beaten body
I hated him as much as I hated myself, and this world
I had not asked to be born into, and this life I had no desire to live
So I hurled abuse at him, the so-called king – are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us, if you are this great deliverer, let us all off this bloody hook

And then my co-conspirator turned to address me, did I not fear God?
Was I not deserving of this condemnation? Did I not suffer rightly?
But this man had done nothing wrong … this man … who the hell was he?
What could he know of me?
I could not, would not let go of what had filled my every waking moment and fuelled my every single act

None of this was my fault – it was those rulers with their stone-cold eyes
Their silver lined pockets and this so-called God who cared not to see what had been done to me;
Today, who can tell me where I will be? No one. My lowered head
My closing eyes, the darkness welling up inside as the mist descends
If I was a praying man, my only plea would be that this was truly to be the end

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Poetics of Contemplation

cycles, profiles
reinteration, repetition, reinterpretation, recurring themes, repeating images
thought poised on thought
sudden leaps into paradox, the paradox of negation
monologue, implied dialogue, speaking through an adopted character, articulating the struggle for self-knowledge, segments of conversation embedded in the text without formal indication they are dialogue, sequences of thought presented as conversations with oneself, inner dialogue implied ( ) -
overlapping questions and answers, double-edged questions
the subject and object uniting, the medium and the message converging
compact phrases, as well as long, long lines ...
the poetics of contemplation, the frontier of language redefined
an invitation, a welcome, a greeting - please, my love - come inside

A Flock of Birds

What was the sound between my first and last sight of day?
How could I speak what I had heard, and to whom?
Such whispers upon my breast, words like an immense flock of birds
Rising and falling, unbelievable patterns and intensity, so soon to vanish into dusk
Ascending or descending to who knows where, to who knows what ..?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Remember Me

My words hanging in the air are like a knife
They cut me within like the nails piercing me without
Remember me when ...
When I robbed, walked the streets as a robber
When I took all that I was and threw it to the dogs -
Covered by the night with a cloaked heart, it beats now
On high with you, amidst the shouting, the jeering
The sneering crowd, but your eyes are beholding something else -
All that I never knew in this life; my last day is the same
As yours, this King of the Jews; my sin, your shame
Your shame, my covering; I am uncloaked in your nakedness -
Remember me when you come in your kingdom ...
The mist descending as the outline of another place takes shapes
I never could have imagined such an end to my fate -
In the pain searing through my limbs, in my fading sight
In my dying breath to find life, and be with you today Jesus, in paradise

Friday, 16 October 2009

My God, I'm Free

I’m free not to look within or without or around
I’m free to feed whatsoever I choose, drive myself underground
I’m free to uphold my word and my power however I like
I’m free to hide or unveil my notion of self, shivering or sweating it doesn’t matter
I’m free to descend into blind imagination, interior darkness a curtain drawn across my soul’s window
I’m free to be a widow tonight, grief at my fingertips infusing everything I touch
I’m free to twist, to beat, to turn figures of speech into towering archetypes to govern entire landscapes
I’m free to cast those shadow to the north, the south, the east, the west
I’m free to come back week after week - judge you, bring you down, vote you out
I’m free to change your destiny on the turning of my phrase
I’m free to reduce love to a set of hormonal responses
I’m free to relegate absolute essentials to the outer edges
I’m free to hedge my bets, say nothing to no one, listen to the silence and be comforted by the absence of presence

Friday, 2 October 2009

An Interview with Sarah Fordham

Sarah Fordham is a poet with a wealth of experience in writing, performing and collaborating with other artists. She freelanced in publishing for many years, working for Clio Press, MacMillian and Orion. Sarah runs creative writing workshops and is a popular seminar and conference speaker. Sarah is one of the founding members of the Sublime vision.

What is it that most excites you as a Christian in the arts at the moment?

Before I answer that question, I would want to say that being involved in the arts is not an easy thing. People may look at the end work and think 'wow, that's so deep' or 'so beautiful', but there is often a lot of pain, as well as joy, that goes into creating. I also think that an artist who is a Christian has certain challenges regarding church. The way that I have come to understand this is as a clash of cultures. Church culture is a very particular thing, often with a strong emphasis on just musical gifts, and the difficulty comes because the Christian artist stands very close to the prevailing culture. I see the clash as a postmodern/modern one. The postmodern mindset, like the artistic one, is subjective and intuitive, whilst the modern one is more objective and rational. I am not saying that I can't be objective and rational, but not in terms of my being an artist. I know many artists who find it hard to fit and find a place within their church and struggle with the form that church meetings take. Now, I believe that God is well able to speak through the subject(ive) and intuitive, as well as the object(ive) and rational, and that because He has created both, we need both. Our artists, under the right leadership and discipleship, could be a great help in achieving the balance we desperately need if the church is not to retreat into modernism and be able to connect with postmodern people coming through its doors for the first time

Now there is a shift afoot. Christian artists have often been in a difficult place, not understood by the church or the world. But now the general openness to spirituality, along with the desire of churches to be more 'culturally relevant', means that artists are perhaps being seen as potential bridge people between culture and church. I went to a lecture by Tom Wright a few years ago and he expressed it like this: the Christian artist is uniquely placed to stand between the two extremes in the secular art world of brutalism and sentimentality. The reason for this is that they can be both real about the reality of evil and demonstrate tangible eschatological hope. There is a great tension, he said, in holding this position between the Kingdom come and still coming. I guess this is true for all Christians, but the artistic gift, particularly when it is being prophetic, can bring a great deal of pressure as its exercise puts the artist directly in touch with the spiritual world. When this is the case the Christian artist needs prayer and support just like a frontline minister, intercessor or a missionary. The thing that would make me the most excited in the world is more recognition of this, as well as an understanding of how Christian artists are uniquely placed to help the church make the transition from modern to postmodern, in a way that would bring new life and energy within its walls, as well as help capture the imagination of those coming in for the first time.

Who most encouraged you to pursue your calling in the arts?

I would say that I have been sustained by the prayers of leaders and friends who affirm what I do because they affirm me, and that's not specifically to do with the arts. Church leaders who have sublimated their artistic gifts to do ministry I find very humbling and inspirational. Pope John Paul II was an actor and writer of some renown before he entered the priesthood. Rowan Williams is a poet. On a personal level, Faith Forster, who leads my church Ichthus with her husband Roger, is a very gifted poet and writer, and both have a deep appreciation of the arts. Both she and Roger have been great examples of leaders who encourage everyone to pursue their God-given calling in faith, whatever that may be. And then there are fellow-artists, like my brother Jonathan and my closest poetry collaborator, the Catholic Bard Sarah de Nordwall, who stand with me as peers, and that is an important aspect as well.

What were the main inspirations behind "The Cool of the Day" poems?

Each poem has a specific inspiration so it is hard to make a general statement, except to say that interacting with the Word of God has been incredibly important in my formation as a Christian poet. In terms of the title, The Cool of the Day, and the choice of poems for the collection, it was the idea to use the biblical narrative of the fall, redemption, incarnation, resurrection and homecoming in order to tell my own story that turned out to be the key in bringing out the book.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into writing poetry?

My main advice for those wanting to write poetry is to read it and then practice your craft. It is all too easy to be swept along on a tide of emotion when writing and not to go back over it, reflect on it, make adjustments. It is good as well to understand your motivation to write. I tell anyone starting out to read George Orwell's essays Why I Write and Politics of the English Language. Then go find your peers in that arena, whether in or out of the church. This was my advice when I was approached by a very bright 17 year old. She dutifully went to the open mic nights in the poetry café in Covent Garden and carried on sharing what she was writing on a regular basis. So, she developed writing good poetry, developed performance skills and went on to host her own poetry evening when at uni. Now in her mid-late 20s she has performed internationally and has her first poetry collection out - with one of the poems nominated for a Forward prize. That is a great achievement requiring talent, yes, but also a great deal of focus and hard work.

If you have a gift I would say, use it, develop it, find contexts for it, ask for and listen to feedback. Ask God to give you wisdom and understanding to work through it, ask others to pray for you, and if you don't have a community, then pray for one. Perhaps most importantly trust it - it says in the bible that your gift makes room for you (Prov 18:16). Self-consciousness is the enemy of real art, and the more we can be free of it, the more God is free to work through whatever gift He has given us to bring more Beauty, Truth and Goodness into His world.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The days are falling from the trees

"In such silence I hide,
a leaf released from the wind,
no longer anxious for the days that fall.
They must all fall. I know."
Karol Wojtyla, extract from Song of the Hidden God

The days are falling from the trees

Curled at the edges, different shaded covering the ground

And with the days tumble words of many kinds

Strong, sad, simple; forming piles to kick up

And discover the deepest meaning

Of the trunk of self as it irrevocably sheds its load

The days are falling from the trees

Like the letting go of love in the gentle breeze
A display of many-shaded brightness before

The stripping bare comes, comes slow

And then the downpour, and then the stillness

Of autumn pressing up against the soul

The days are falling from the trees
Revealing the structure bare against the skyline
The disintegrating heaps of weeks, months, years all mine
To have wasted, worked, whispered the wisdom
Stored in the roots, beneath bark, the rings within
Lord, may I be fully alive at the extremities until the final leaf falls

Thursday, 17 September 2009

alms no more

As the monks marched through the streets of Burma’s cities leading the biggest antigovernment protests in two decades, some held their begging bowls before them. But instead of asking for their daily donations of food, they held the bowls upside down. The monks were refusing to receive alms from the military rulers and their families—effectively excommunicating them from the religion that is at the core of Burmese culture.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Cupid's Arrow

He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. Isaiah 49:2

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Price of Blood

How do we betray?

How do we turn from the Good?

Exchange the True for vapour,

And so hurriedly hide Beauty’s face?

Why can we not stay?

What moves us away?

How do we forsake so quickly the Forsaken One?

Track through the darkness to nowhere so fast

And so soon evening falls with those 30 pieces of silver

Onto the temple sanctuary stone

How do we betray?

Remorse swelling in the secret chamber, swirling

Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide

Judas didn’t flee to God

Judas didn’t fall to his knees

The chief priests and elders might as well have been made

Of that sanctuary stone

Judas’ confession fell in the fading light upon the ears

Of unrelenting, unforgiving selfhood

What is that to us? See to that yourself ...

Where else was there to go?

Jesus hand and foot was bound

Friend, do what you have come for ...

Tell me, how do we betray?

And when it's done there's a mighty flood no man can stop

The price of blood set by Israel’s sons

O tell me, why do we betray?

30 pieces of silver shining in the moonlight

The Lord’s blood brought

What is our price?

What have we paid?

Blood to cover the earth and all that man has made

In every place; brought back that day

As all of God’s wealth slipped through His fingers

Did we not see the grave danger?

The burial place for strangers emitting a reddish glow

In the receding sun

With Israel’s son, apostate

Swinging in the breeze

Of unrelenting, unforgiving selfhood

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Scourging

Prince of Peace made a scourge of cords to drive them all out
The theives with murder in their eyes
The murderers with money in their fists
Overturner of corruption, by zeal consumed
For what your Father's house had become
Prayer exchanged for trade

Eternal truth for material gain
Man, the measure of all; God, the judge of all
Meeting in you; your hands and feet moving
So fast, to make it all stop
Perhaps you were thinking of your thieving betrayer
Empty-fisted, to swing in the field of silver

Or your scourging to be meeted out by your amoral judge
Or the robber they would let go of, or the two thieves
You would spend your last moments between
But here, here was power to make a clean sweep
Of indifference, compromise, injustice
To use your hands and feet, so soon to be pinned down

Defiantly, definately, deftly to make swift what was required
Mercy, not sacrifice; justice as a fast flowing stream
My Lord, it was to the sellers of doves that you spoke
I imagine tears behind your eyes, scourge of cords in your hand
Dust on your feet, and passion burning in your heart
For this, your Father's only earthly house

And the judgement, the judgement was made
As the coins fell through the air; the glory departed
The temple, soon to be razed to the ground
The temple, a structure thus doomed
The temple, now embodied in a human frame
And death, yours and mine, to be consumed

Saturday, 22 August 2009

What will I do no matter what?

When nothing has worked out and I’m counting the cost
I’ll write my own psalm
Picture your dark garden night and the silver gleaming in Judas’ palm

Monday, 17 August 2009

Blood Brother's Blood

My blood boiled
It was so hot out there in the field tilling and tilling
Spilling my sweat to soften mama and papa’s curse
Attached to me before my birthing, hardly fair
Kicking and screaming, they said, I emerged
A blinking manchild into a new day dawning
So bad it was, they said, God Almighty himself had to help
Get me out

Believe me
It wasn’t easy extracting life from out of that damned earth
That bloody fruit will hang over me to my dying day
A sign of my inadequacy
Dripping with jealous juice for him, younger smug son
Striving always I was, am still, a man for all seasons
Hands bleeding at nightfall
Feet caked in mud

My offering was born of my bent back
I was never good enough
Not for them, or for him or for God Almighty
I tried, I really did, to sing His praises
But would feel father's steel gaze boring into my skull
In the sweltering heat
It made me so, so mad
They all knew, all of them, what my offering was really made of

Even the livestock skipping in golden boy’s field knew it
So snug in their animal skins
No wonder my coutenence fell when God Almighty leaned towards him
Lazing, gazing upon his grazing stock
Whilst I kissed the dismal dust
No wonder sin pounced and devoured
What was left of my God-given goodness
You must master it?

You mayest master it?
My choice to open the door and unleash that sharp-teethed dog?
My choice to murder my God-given brother?
However, my resume is noteworthy
I was the one who lived despite my dogged early years
A vagrant, a wanderer, climbed the ladder to be the first city's builder
Father of culture, a murderer marked by God’s mercy
A workoholic

And humanity unfurled from my line, mine
But in rising early and sleeping so little, so late
I’d hear my pumping red heart by day
In the beating of the steel
In the sharpening of spears
But at night in restless slumber I’d know what was the sound
It was my blood brother’s blood crying out for vengence
From that dammed bloody curse of my ground

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Rediscovering Rhapsody

Sarah Fordham brushes the dust from the work of subversive wartime actor to reveal an approach to creativity worthy of revival in today's 'cultural crisis'

I recently got to open a book that I had wanted to mine the contents of for the best part of 20 years. It was in the 6th floor of the stacks of Columbus University in NYC. I had to work my way down the rows of dusty shelving, turning lights on as I went, until I got to the right location. And there it was - a white cover with golden lettering – The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater by Karol Wojtyla. I took the book down to the ground floor, made some photocopies, and went on my way rejoicing.

Karol Wojtyla went on to become Pope John Paul 11. It is well known that he wrote poetry and plays, and although his involvement in theatre pre-papacy is well documented, it's not so much talked about. I came across a volume of his poetry as a teenager, and nearly missed the treasure within because of the photo of him waving from his Popemobile put me off delving inside. I am so glad that I did - I had never read poetry like it and from then on I became interested in his artistic work, collecting newspaper cuttings and articles whenever they appeared. But I had not been able to find the only book, as far as I know, that contains his thoughts, expressed in his own words, about the genre that he made a significant contribution to known as Rhapsodic Theatre.

It was during the Second World War that Karol Wojtyla co-founded, with his teacher and mentor Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, the Rhapsodic Theatre - sometimes described as 'an underground cultural resistance movement' because of the clandestine performances they put on house-to-house during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Wojtyla reflects on these experiences in his book Gift and Mystery. He wrote, 'it was essential to keep these theatrical get-togethers secret; otherwise we risked serious punishment from the occupying forces, even deportation to the concentration camps'.

However, Wojtyla came to realise that although he and Kotlarczyk considered 'the spoken word and the theatre to be my calling, ...Our Lord Jesus thought it was the priesthood, and somehow we came to accept this.' In Gift and Mystery he reminisced, 'I must admit that that whole experience of the theatre left a deep impression on me ...'. It was the experience of the war that turned him towards the priesthood, though he did retain a keen interest and involvement in the arts, often writing under various pen names. After the war, as a priest, he supported the Rhapsodic Theatre group and was also its critic, publishing reviews of its performances. Within his literary work, he wrote a number of dramas, the best-known of which are Our God's Brother and The Jeweller's Shop, which was adapted and made into a film in 1988, starring Burt Lancaster, an interpretation that he was reportedly very happy with.

Halina Kwiatkowska, a friend of Wojtyla from his school days who went on to a 40 year career on the stage, recalls that she was absolutely sure he would become not just an actor, but an excellent actor. 'He had a different approach to the theatre, as different as he was different from us ... Every actor tries to enrich the person he plays. With him it was the opposite. He lived out the person he played in a very ascetic way in order to translate its real depth.' Wojtyla protested in vain when the communist authorities closed Rhapsodic Theatre. Danuta Michalowska, another actress associated with the movement, said 'for us it was a big loss, but no-one dared stand in opposition.' She also reflected that, 'As a poet he probably would not have had an amazing career. But as an actor he would have certainly reached the highest level. Karol was the most talented of us all.'

In these days of Tracy Emin's bed and Damian Hurst's diamond encrusted skull, I would encourage any aspiring or practising artist to read Pope John Paul 11 Letter to Artists (found on the Vatican website). Even the not religiously minded may find themselves moved by the sincerity with which he speaks to creative artists of all disciplines – he clearly desired to encourage craftsmen and women whose activity he considered to mirror the image of the Creator, as people uniquely gifted to positively 'form the spirit of society and of peoples'.

I can see why Wojtyla's ideas on art are not in vogue, informed as they are by a philosophy he was very influenced by known as Personalism. This asserts that the real is the personal (i.e. that the basic features of man's personality form the pattern of all reality). In the theistic form that Personalism has often assumed, and certainly in Wojtyla's case, it sometimes becomes specifically Christian, holding that not merely the person but the highest individual instance of personhood—Jesus Christ—is the pattern. So for Wojtyla the artist is an important as the work of art they produce, and it is the very thought, intention and deepest desire of the artist that communicates, or speaks through, the work of art and imbues it with value and significance.

This idea runs completely counter to those of Benedetto Croce, a philosopher who deeply influenced aesthetic thought in the 20th century. Drawing on Hegel, he postulated that art can only be considered to be intuition which exist before it is apprehended by an individual artist, and therefore not governed by any other part of human existence. In his Aesthetica in Nuce he said that a work of art is a creation, not a reflection, and a monument, not a document. The intentional world of the poet is one thing and poetry is another. He said, 'what matters is not what the poet proposes or believes to make, but only what he has actually made.'

And what of the Rhapsodic method? At its heart is the belief that the fundamental element in dramatic art is the living human word. Wojtyla says in his essay Drama of Word and Gesture, that this word 'is also the nucleus of drama, a leaven through which human deeds pass, and from which they derive their proper dynamics.' Human thought therefore becomes the centre of action, the important consequence of this being that action and gestures are slowed down, 'so freeing all participants from the activism that overwhelms his inner, spiritual nature instead of developing it.'

Rhadsophic Theatre came into being in 1941, was practised in secret during the war and was twice suppressed under communism in 1953 and 1956. It was finally abolished by the authorities in 1967 and has never been re-established. Woytyla wrote in his forward to Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk's book The Art of the Living Word, 'that though Rhapsodic Theatre has ceased to exist, the idea of the theatre of the living word implanted by Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk has entered under various guises into theatrical practice all over Poland.' From 1941-1944 Wojtyla took part in seven productions, 22 performances and over hundred rehearsals all in hiding. He was ordained as a priest in 1946. He says in Gift and Mystery, 'in the face of the spread of evil, the meaning of the priesthood became much clearer to me.'

I think we are enough in cultural crisis in the Western world to want to rediscover some beauty, truth and goodness - the three pillars on which Wojtyla's philosophy of the arts is built. The writings I photocopied outline the Rhapsodic method in a remarkable economy of words, and if embraced, would open up entirely new bodies of work, like novels, poetry, the works of philosophers, in fact any text that communicates ideas, for theatrical production. Wojtyla may have chosen a path that he felt to be a more direct way of developing spiritual nature in himself and others, but the way of art can, as Wojtyla understood it, fulfil the same function. As Danuta Michalowska, the actress friend of Wojtyla expressed it, 'for him to serve God and art, it was all the same.'

I imagine the master dramatist Shakespeare would have agreed with Wojtyla that art is a deeply personal reflection and document, and not as Croce expressed it, an impersonal creation and monument. Shakespeare formulated theatre's mission so well when he said its end 'both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of time his form and pressure.'


peace settled after battle's edge had been blunted
and there was no wind from north, south, east or west
baby hushed, mama gone and hand raised like a flag
to herald victory's song

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

symbolic competency has left the building

no metaphor
no meter
no structure
no rhythm
no rhyme

no symbol
no analogy
no methodology
no competency
no language

no substance
no reality
no reason
no rhythm
no rhyme

no learning
no leaning
no receiving
no giving
no believing

no identity
no fluidity
no reason
no rhythm
no rhyme

but no reading
but no hearing
but no beholding

no thanks
no gift
no giver
no presence
no one

but full
of meaning


Monday, 11 May 2009

but above all things truth beareth away the victory

Speak through the heat, haze and hubris
Sound just one word
Food for a wayward journeyer
Upon foreign planes
Within distant memories

I couldn't tell you why I went outwardly so far
When inwardly there was only one spot to stand upon
And weep
To remain so still within yet be moving and moving
Across fields and cities in sunshine, snow and rain
Tell me why I did not wait for the early morning dew?

Moments came and went
Fleeting little things so briefly alighting
I couldn't ever catch one
Not even once
But how, how could it be
With my candle and my cross and a bleeding heart
Could I ever be imprinted with evening song?

Definition enough, enough now
For a moment falls from the sky
Like a falling star
Full of death, full of belonging, full of fire
Tell me, how could it be that I should make
Such a trilogy a part of me?

Light wards was not above but within
Emanating from a pierced heart
And a translucent side
Rough wood catches me most nights
Between majesty and awakening
Beholding and flowering

And Beauty
Is asking
To be seen
Asking to be
Taken inside
And wholly loved

Sunday, 19 April 2009

everything depends upon the rain

everything depends upon the rain
rushing, pouring, trickling, spitting
down, down
everything depends upon the soft drops
pentrating hard earth
finding the roots

everything depends upon standing outside
in the downpour
being soaked to the skin
and within
a deep well bubbles up
and laughs

everthing scorched
everything bitten by dust
everything withered
and dried up
soaked, soaked

everything depends upon the rain
the rain, rain
falling down, falling fast
falling between us
and within our hearts

Saturday, 28 March 2009


Reflection: Practice your Craft and you find a faithful friend. Don't leave, ignore or sell out Craft. Don't betray Craft, for in doing so you betray yourself. Build your life around the demands and visions of Craft. Otherwise you will die before dying. Craft will then give you air to breath in the midst of foul pollution; hope in the midst of scattered dreams.

Text: Exodus 31: See I have called you by name. I have filled you with the Spirit of God in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs ...
Judges 6.34: The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet ...

Prayer: It is true in these days that your Spirit is given without measure, and that I am named and called by the Creator of the universe. I ask for wisdom and understanding to work through the gifts given to me. May I beautify your house and serve your holy name, like Bezalel of old. Please give me strength and grace this day to worship you and create in your image; as I am made, so may I make. Amen.


EARTH In the soil I cover myself
FIRE Rubbing sticks to make a spark
WATER And later in the warmth of the water
AIR I breathe deeply
LIFE Rivers springing eternal from within this earthen vase

Poem on the Passing of Pope John Paul 11

:and so it comes, the end
:deeply embedded in the beginning
:a line within the mind
:a deep fissure in the heart
:the knowledge of it flickering
:the flame extending
:as the candle slowly burns
:and the shadows lengthen
:and so it comes, the end

:life, a shallow sea to swim in
:before the disappearance into the deep

Touching the Lord

For Karol Wjotyla

Going – like a slow walk through a meadow towards autumn
Skin – a shrivelled leaf, veins showing through the papery veil that has been home
Soul and spirit pulling apart now
And the stronger the light comes
The longer the shadow is cast
Prayers mingling with quiet emotion
Reflections before bedtime
History gathering you in her arms, kissing your forehead
And whispering:
“Thank you, son – you made me well...”
Slipping away now
Someone reading to you like a loving mother of Christ’s slow passage home
The cross searing into every memory
Bound, like Him, led to a place you do not wish to go
What is the last thing you see?
The call carried on the waiting mourners:
“Stretch out your hands, my son, come follow Me...”

Saturday, 21 March 2009

vain citadels not walled

what broke u down vain citadels?
winter underfoot and cold cold hands
empty eyes and a fierce wind from the east
to defy any notion of a loving god

what broke u down lost girl?
vanity vanity chirps the bird
cheap cheap mourns the flesh
melding with god knows what

what broke u down dreamer?
one figment too many rose up
to offer your destiny on past's plate
eat eat now and sleep as you wake

what broke me down?
winter, cold hands, empty eyes
the east wind, vanity, mourning
and today's dreams of yesterday

Friday, 20 March 2009

Who? Where? When? Why? What?

The Singer's song untaught,
unuttered, unknown
by so many
yet deeply understood
by naked humankind
is the mystery of the Word
laid bare ...

Shame-filled fingers tremble.
Lips move.
The beginning of prayer
is mourning over
uttered sin.

Stricken nights fall away,
and dew-filled mornings sweep away
dawn's doubts.

Who calls?
Where is the hand to hold me?
When will the students of destruction
be stopped?
Why can't I find him who my soul loves?
What covers me?

Hiding the gift from the giver;
Giving the gift like it's mine -
what folly.

Who is rising?
Where have I fallen?
When do I arrive?
Why have you gone?
What comes?

Can I hold your gaze for a lifetime?
Face to face
in shallow waters and in the depths.
In nothing and in everything.
In vulnerability and in strength.

What is it I want?
What is my choice?

My will is a knife to pierce
the membrane of fate,
and turn the world on it's edge.

And turn me to face the Beloved
and not look down; not ever.
To grasp the hand of
faith and hope,

and live.