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World Poetry Day 2012

In the UK today the Chancellor of the Exchequer is delivering his budget. Meanwhile, in France the police seize a man suspected of murdering Jewish children at point blank range and in Belgium they are mourning the children killed in a coach crash last week.Wouldn’t this be the moment for the poet to cough politely, make his excuses, and exit stage left?

Absolutely not, as Irina Bokova, Unesco Secretary General, observes, poetry is part of what makes us human.‘Poetry is also the place where the profound link between cultural diversity and linguistic diversity is forged. The language of poetry, with its sounds, metaphors and grammar, stands as a barrier against the deterioration of the world’s languages and cultures.’ With the world in all kinds of pain, we need the gifts of the poet more than ever.The poet’s task is not only to articulate the pain, but to sketch out, like the faintest of pencil lines on a canvas, the possibilities of how life might be beyond it.

I am a huge fan of Walter Brueggemann’s writing, His grasp of the language of poetry and prophecy, together with his ability to challenge the zeitgeist, make him one of the finest theological minds on the planet. At the outset of his book Finally Comes the Poet, he reproduces thes words from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, written in 1855 . On World Poetry Day I pass them onto you:

After all the seas are crossed (as they seem already crossed)

After the great captains and engineers have accomplished all their work,

After the noble inventors, the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,

Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name

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An encounter with a wishing tree

Earlier this year, on a post about images of trees, I alluded to a poem by Kathleen Jamie “The wishing tree”. The poem is a description of a lonely tree, standing on the border between parishes, into which many a passing stranger has pressed a coin in the hopes of having a wish granted. The poem, which you can read in full here, is full of evocative phrases such as “the common currency of hope” and “choking on small change”. Until I read the poem I had never heard of a wishing tree, and until this week I had never seen one.

I encountered this one on my visit to Portmeirion. Up in the woods outside the pretty faux village is a tree stump, with aged and battered coins sprouting all over it like a fungus. I found there to be something unbearably sad about the sight. Like the statue of the patron saint of lost causes, all but buried under the wax of hundreds of hopeful candles I had seen years before in Belgium -it represents a human ache of longing. This is odd, since I have never felt the same seeing coins tossed into a fountain for luck. I wonder why?

Have a look at the photo and let me know what you think.

click for full-size image

…can you see me?

Yesterday I looked at you from the window of a bus gliding by on the other side of the road

Last night I walked across the lawn of your mind, leaving footprints

This morning, as the dew of sleep evaporates, each thought stands upright and they are lost

All week long I’ve played hide and seek amongst the pixels

Sometimes I’ve snuck my inanely grinning face into a photo

Other times I’ve run along behind the headlines, crouching low – and appearing only in the gaps

Today I might just sidle in as you pray and lean my head on your bowed shoulder

I am prickly, and yet you want to reach out for me

I am indistinct, and yet when the light hits me just so I can dazzle you

I am…

…an idea.

Richard Littledale

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