The bardic tradition is many centuries old in Wales, so maybe the Welsh were not surprised to hear that the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, had appointed a ‘Poet of the Church.’ Or that he was inaugurated as such straight after the debate which agreed to women bishops in the Church of Wales. Or that the gently controversial poem below, was Peter’s first as Church Poet and read by him shortly after that decision.
AT GOVERNING BODY
had she not said ‘yes’
she would not have borne
the weight of the world in her womb
she would not have joined her cries
to the lows & bleats of the oppressed & burdened
she would not have shed tears
at the loss of her beloved boy
in the noisy supermarket of the city
she would not have cradled
the head of her dead son
& almost, almost, almost (but not quite)
wished that he had not been born
& do we say no to her?
It was totally by chance that I came across the Reverend Peter Walker and the inspiring initiative which led to his formal adoption as Poet for the ‘Church in Wales’ (the Welsh branch of the Anglican Church) at its Governing Body meeting on Thursday 12th September, 2013. I am delighted that he agreed to be my guest on Tuesday Poem. Thank you Peter for your time and patience and the two poems you have shared with us.
Peter said, ‘At Governing Body, was written while the debate about whether there should be women bishops in the Church in Wales was continuing. Happily,’ he added, ‘the answer was Yes!’
I asked if the poem was about ‘Mary’ in a modern day context.
Peter answered,‘It is about Mary, as you say … Mary as the traditional model for womanhood, whose example of acceptance, purity (‘virginity’) and humility have been used over the centuries (and you don’t just have to be a feminist to recognise this!) to dominate and control the place of women in the church (and, of course, in politics, home life, business etc etc) … the poem tries to turn those images on their head…Mary is not, as she has often been treated by a patriarchal society, a model of ‘submissiveness’.
Before being nominated as Poet of the Church…Peter had already published three collections of short verse with Welsh Publishers, Y Lolfa - Penmon Point, Old Men in Jeans and Listening to Zappa, from which the following poem, is taken.
we brought her home one day in late August
& laid her beneath the apple tree
as plump & red as pomegranates
we carried her in her blanket
footfall soft & gentle
lest the slightest sense of urgency
might wake her from her sleep
& carefully, slowly
we gave her back
to the embrace of the warm earth
& my grandfather
with his grimy workman’s hands
lovingly wrapped her in her loamy bed
& smoothed the turf as if it were my eiderdown
autumn by autumn
as the rose-red apples snapped & dropped
the indentation in the grass
marked where she lay
as the sun dipped low
you would catch its glint
on the tear-damp cheeks of those who knew
that this spot was as sacred
as the neat rows of dappled stones
eroded by the fading years
I asked Peter who was in the grave. Was the name influenced by Zappa? (Zappa was buried in an unmarked grave.)
Peter replied, ‘Dog grave‘ is, I’m afraid, predictably literal, but since thinking of it still moves me, I started to muse about what we mean by ‘sacred places’ and ‘holy sites’, and realising that, in ‘Church’ terms, they are connected to people, but for most of us there is a wider sense of ‘sacredness’, and that we don’t just encounter God in the predictable ways, but in many unexpected places and situations.
Biography: Peter is a team vicar based in Llandudno Junction. Originally from the West Midlands, he taught modern languages before training for ministry. He says, ‘As the Church’s adopted poet, I hope to offer a perspective on some of the issues facing the church – for instance, how we engage with the largely post-Christian, secular world, and also how we might tap into the broad spirituality that we often encounter around us.’ (courtesy Church in Wales)
Rev Peter Walker, right, Dr Barry Morgan, centre, and Ali Anwar from the Adopt a poet scheme, left, at Peter’s inauguration as ‘Poet of the Church.’
The following is an extract from an excellent review @gwales.com for Listening to Zappa, Peter’s third and most recent book.
‘Listening to Zappa’, takes us into literal holy terrain as we enter the strangely oxymoronic ‘sob-silent chapel’. It’s a fascinating book and Walker utilises many of his verses to attempt to tease out the point at which science and religion coincide. The first instance of this thematic concern is ‘The God Particle’, which explores the Christian view of the search for the Higgs Boson. Walker’s quietly unnerving poem is an emotional response to the Pandora’s box of contemporary human enterprise. His meditation on the ‘subatomic wreckage/of our prayers’ is discomforting and links perfectly to the poem’s cousin, ‘The Down’s Mouse’. The latter is a more explicitly aggressive piece inspired by morally bankrupt experiments being carried out in science laboratories. The poem is bold, controversial and poignant:
‘the other mice would turn away embarrassed
-there but for the grace of God…
Or commiserate with the tearful, mousy parents
Or blame –
-God, demons, fate or seed
- the time of the month or the phases of the moon
They gave her to the rutting bull
& salivated over the mouse pornography
To see if planted pollen would form
Another broken life’ read more here
Peter has also recently collected poems from across his diocese (St Asaph) to go with their ‘Year of Pilgrimage’ and that’s been published under the title ‘Travelling with the Saints.’ It seems to me he has made a great start as official Poet to the Church in Wales.
And now please return to the Tuesday Poets’ Hub. Kathleen Jones is editor for the week with a poem called If We Could Speak Like Wolves, by Kim Moore.