Bridging the Gap

DSC_0079.jpgIt is really beginning to feel as if Spring has really arrived – “Suddenly you are voluble” as R S Thomas said. Just spent a reflective and illuminating week co-leading a CARM retreat ( on poetry and prayer at Holland House, near Pershore ( where these joyful cyclamen were sparkling on the lawn. There was also a woodpecker dinning his brains out on a tree – I found the tree from which that unmistakeable burrrrr of the beak was coming from, but he/she was too well hidden.

We spent the week looking at those gap times in life, those moments between happenings, the time-out, respite, wilderness moments and explored poetry not only by Thomas, but also Denise Levertov, Kathryn Simmonds (her “23” is a masterpiece in “owning” a psalm), Luci Shaw, Malcolm Guite and others – poems that took us into the gap, taught us to find the extraordinary in the everyday, and to adjust perspective to enjoy the here and now, instead of lingering over the past or hastening to a new beginning. It is amazing how a few days “out” of the slipstreams of life put you back on an even keel ready to paddle on. Of course, the wonderful company, caring attention of Holland House staff and the ballast provided by the generous and delicious meals also helped!

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The Last Warm Hug of the Year

The White Horse pub in Stonesfield ( has hosted a series of “White Horse Wednesdays” since the summer, and the last session of 2018 was last Wednesday. A wonderfully talented and diverse array of musicians (and a random poet!) have been gathering from 8pm on the first Wednesday of each month to make music, sing, read, listen and raise a glass to getting over the cusp of the week, catch up with familiar faces and meet new ones.

This last Wednesday it came fully home to me how significant it has been in bringing people in the village and nearby together, creating a sense of belonging and encouraging me, at least, to feel “at home” – and that it is worth putting down roots for this kind of community experience. Above all, after a day of cold and wet commuting and work frustrations, it is one great big warm hug to come home to, lubricated by the excellent and very local Little Ox Goldilox (in summer) or aptly named Wipe Out in winter (

Thanks to our hosts for encouraging us to keep coming back and all those who came, listened, played and sang. Hopefully we’ll be invited back next year, kicking off in February when the Christmas bubbles will have gone flat and we all need a bit of reviving to see the winter out.

And yes, one day I will be brave enough to bring the harp….

It’s all in the ears…

Arvon ( ) runs the most amazing residential creative writing courses – it was Arvon that played a large part in convincing me that I could “do” creative writing and I’m not alone.

Last week was typical of an Arvon course – delightful seclusion (despite a bit of wind and rain), amazing food, a wonderfully diverse and interesting group of people and inspiring tutors who went well over the extra mile.

This course was at Totleigh Barton in Devon and focussed on audio drama. We were initiated into the mysteries of scriptwriting, editing, sound effects and the power of dialogue by Polly Thomas, Dan Rebellato and Eloise Whitmore, respectively eminent producer, writer and sound engineer.

Each and every one of us left at the end of the week with a scene, a script, an idea, inspiration, a moment in front of the microphone, a professionally edited clip and/or new friends … pretty good for a week!

CARM, calm and warm sun

Last week saw me back in Suffolk at Quiet Waters for another textile art and prayer retreat under the auspices of the Creative Arts Retreat Movement. This time, our theme, chosen by the thoughtful and generous-spirited Michael Campling was ‘Heaven and Angels’.

I spent much of the drive across to Suffolk trying to work out what an angel looked like, and decided it could be anything from an abstract pillar of light, such as that in H. O. Tanner’s 1898 painting of the Annunciation, to fluffy clouds, a winged beauty from the Italian Renaissance to those depicted on Christmas cards – or even an ordinary human being.

The people gathered for the retreat embraced all of these forms, and made their own unique and personal interpretations of heaven and angels. It was a joy to see each piece evolving, changing shape, form, substance and colour throughout the week, and the interweaving of connections and community between the group, which always spins the blessing of a retreat out in time and space, so we never really quite disperse.

It was, once more, a truly inspired week, under Michael’s gentle spiritual guidance and with the wonderful care lavished on us by the house team.

You can find out more about CARM at:

and Quiet Waters at:

Pilgrims undeterred by snow!

I spent an amazing Saturday at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s in London on behalf of CARM leading a retreat day on ‘Exploring the Inner Landscape’. This Royal Peculiar has been in existence since 1147 and patronised since then by the female line of the Royal Family. All three of the Foundation’s objectives – worship, hospitality and service – were very much in evidence as it opened its doors to a group of retreatants who were undeterred by the vagaries of the March weather.

We spent the day working though digital prints of my ‘icon’ exhibition (currently at Launde Abbey) in three stages: Setting out on an inner journey; Rocky Paths and Muddy Waters; and finally, Green Pastures. I was particularly inspired by the words carved into the floor of the chapel around the central compass rose from St Augustine of Hippo, that we do not come to God by navigation but by love. This was a reminder that sometimes, we need to drift rather than row strenuously, and trust the currents rather than steering a set course, in order to come close to God.

The images and poetry used during the day seemed to reach each person there, and I was amazed to see everyone so focussed during the quiet times, so much so they barely had a chance to explore the rest of the precinct! I learned and received as much in leading this day as those who came to be guided.

We were wonderfully fed, warm, and spent the day in the Queen Elizabeth room with its marvellous huge curved bay window overlooking the snowy garden. It was indeed, an extraordinary oasis in the urban fabric of London. Well worth exploring further:


Science and Poetry

A workshop is being held at St Hilda’s, Oxford on writing poetry about science, run by published Poets House poets Sarah Watkinson, Emeritus Research Fellow in fungal biology, and…me!

There are many parallels between the scientific endeavour and writing a poem – for example, hunches, inspiration and creativity all have a place alongside the hard graft; a sideways approach at an elusive end, interesting things coming of strange juxtapositions and, often, the journey being more rewarding than the discovery,  to name but a few. The day will explore how science and poetry interact through a series of exercises, writing and feedback time.

The workshop is a precursor to the SciPo 2018 day of readings and discussion on the poetic response to climate change with Carrie Etter and Philip Gross on 9 June 2018 at St Hildas.


Exhibition at Launde Abbey

The exhibition, Crying in the Silicon Wilderness has just opened at Launde Abbey, Leicestershire. The fourteen embroidered ‘icons’ have moved from Cumberland Lodge and are in the Chapel until the end of April. The theme of brokenness and restoration is particularly applicable to Lent and Launde is a most peaceful place to go to contemplate the meaning of Lent in the run up to Easter. The embroideries serve as prompts and suggestions for meditation. The Abbey itself is surrounded by farmland, mostly sheep, and has an excellent cafe in case the thinking works up an appetite.

More details at:

Writing on the Walls

The end of October brought a fascinating day in Glasgow at the Department of Theology all about theology and literature for the modern world. An amazingly broad range of papers – it felt like being given a box of Christmas decorations, which I am still hanging on the tree. I heard papers on John Clare’s lyric ‘I’, Charles Olson and Robert Pollock, Yves Bonnefoy and the ‘deeps’ of Donald Davie and Ezra Pound, and contributed a paper on R S Thomas and stepping up to his challenge to find ‘new avenues for the Spirit’. David Jasper’s retiring lecture reflected on literature and theology for the future, which was both absorbing and inspiring on the creative power of imagery and engagement with literature to foster the mystery of faith It was followed by Heather Watson’s  lecture as incoming Professor of Theology and Creative Practice with the thread of the ruins of St Peter’s seminary running through it. It was a privilege to witness the hand-over as well as enjoy a glorious couple of days back in Glasgow!


Brilliant weekend with Jenny Lewis at the Poet’s House being introduced to the wonderful world of Troubadour poetry. Rooted in classical ideas and early Arabic love poetry, these courtly Medieval forms are intricate and fascinating. We learned about villanelles (hypnotically circular), alba (all about the dawn), pastorela (Medieval rom com) and sestinas. Spending time composing a pastorela was enormous fun and the discipline of a villanelle, with its repeat and rhyming scheme and syllabic measure, was taxing but very rewarding, although I had to borrow the first line from The Waking by Theodore Roethke (d.1963) – I hope he doesn’t mind!