First Exhibition of the Year

Encountering The Cross

An exhibition of art by

Nick Mynheer, Roger Wagner, Robert Wright, Romola Parish and Eularia Clarke

3rdMarch to 14thApril St Giles’ Church, Oxford, OX2 6HT

Weekdays:  Noon to 2:00pm

Saturdays:   2:00pm to 5:00pm

Sundays:     Noon to 4:00pm

http://www.st-giles-church.org

The Last Warm Hug of the Year

The White Horse pub in Stonesfield (https://whitehorsestonesfield.com) 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 (http://littleoxbrewery.co.uk).

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 ( https://www.arvon.org ) 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: http://www.carmretreats.org/public/index.php

and Quiet Waters at: http://www.quietwaters.org.uk

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: rfsk.org.uk

 

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.

See: http://www.st-hildas.ox.ac.uk/content/scipo-2018-meeting-science-and-poetry

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: https://www.laundeabbey.org.uk

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!

Troubadoria

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!

Lowbury Hill

One of the highlights of the residency was composing a ‘min-epic’ for the warrior who now lies in the new Anglo-Saxon gallery at the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock (https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/oxfordshire-museum-galleries). ‘Lowbury Hill Man’ stood around 5’8″ tall, spent some of his childhood in Cornwall (then known as Dumnonia) and died at over 50 years old, to be buried with high status weapons and grave goods, many of which were distinctly Celtic in origin and style, rather than truly Anglo-Saxon.

During the Anglo-Saxon times, it was not uncommon for sons of tribal chiefs to be ‘adopted’ for the tribes to build allegiances, and as a form of insurance against those two tribes going to war. The man from Lowbury Hill may have been such ‘hostage’ or adopted ‘prince’, or he may have been taken prisoner. However he got to this area, he found himself on the border between Wessex and Mercia, two of the most powerful kingdoms of the day, and must have spent his life guarding the border. He was injured at some point, but did not die from this wound. He was buried in a barrow on Lowbury Hill next to the ruins of what must have been a very substantial Roman temple that had fallen into ruin. This may have added status to his burial site. It was notable that he was buried with a pattern-welded sword that was older than he was.

IMG_0594.jpgMy challenge was to write a legend for our Lowbury Hill warrior. I took Beowulf as inspiration, and spun a short ‘epic’, referring not just the Beowulf, but also to King Raedwald of the Eastern Angles, commonly considered to be the identity of the warrior buried at Sutton Hoo. The poem builds on the archaeological information associated with the remains, and historical and geographical information associated with the site and ends with allusion to the halls of Odin where great warriors live, fighting and eating, singing and drinking until the final battle at the end of time. The first reading was in the gallery over his remains. It was a very moving moment, and one in which I had just a hint of what it might have bene light to be a ‘stop’ or bard of a mead hall, entrusted with the task of singing the legends of warriors and their forebears.

[recording tbc]

Oxfordshire County Council has created three guided landscape walks which includes the Lowbury Hill site: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/historic-landscape-walks