Tag Archives: Southwark Cathedral

On Good Friday and poetry….38/100

IMG_20160325_115308Today is Good Friday. As I wrote last year, this is my favourite day in the Christian calendar. Not for me the Victorian inspired Christmas traditions of mock mirth and grinding but pointless work for Mummy. Give me some proper pain and suffering. Whether you have a faith or not, the acknowledgment, the celebration of a horrific act of torture is an opportunity for reflection. Self-reflection, global reflection and that most first world of all first world problems, asking yourself, “what I am doing with my life?” If you live in London, there is the chance to do all of this in a stunning 1,000 year old cathedral on the river Thames. Attending the Passion of Good Friday at Southwark Cathedral has become a tradition for me. (see post #18, Good Friday and Yoga.) What has also become a tradition is that the method through which the passion story is explained is, if not an all out zeitgeist, at least something that seems to be directed at me personally. Yes, you may consider this to be the ranting of someone utterly self-absorbed. But I have often said that I believe my relationship with London to be a living entity and so I don’t believe in coincidences, only reactions. So when London speaks I listen. And obey. And she is saying “poetry, my passionate one, more poetry.”

Poetry is something that has been on my mind a lot, for several years. Because I desperately want to be someone who knows, reads, understands, quotes and, dare I dream?, writes poetry. But I am not. I didn’t study it at school, didn’t go to that kind of school. Instead, like Shakespeare, it is something I have been drawn to and absorbed on my own. An imperfect collection of knowledge from a bizarre variety of sources. But an exciting exploration. And today was all about poetry, led by the Chancellor of my own St. Paul’s Cathedral across the river, Mark Oakley. In the service, through a series of readings and addresses, Canon Oakley explained how poetry has been used, from as far back as Anglo-Saxon times, to describe not just Christ’s crucifixion but the loss and pain and sorrow that is part of being human. Because if any platform can encapsulate suffering, it is poetry. Read aloud. Definitely read aloud.

Like all girls of my time, I received my copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar from my mother with solemn joy. And devoured it. Over and over again. IMG_20160326_115324And then her poetry. I have all the books. Some poems I love, but many I find baffling. Over a Bank Holiday weekend in May, in 2013, at Royal Festival Hall, 40 of the UKs leading female poets and performers, including Anna Chancellor, Samantha Bond and Miranda Richardson, read one poem each from her posthumous collection, Ariel. And the packed concert hall was stunned into 80 minutes of beautiful, painful silence. Her poetry is so strong and raw and powerful on the subjects of disappointment, betrayal, and despair. Words made flesh.

At a fantastic party, last November, our host, after much wine, rose and insisted we all recite our favourite poem. He turned to me first. And I had to confess I had no memorized poetry to offer. He was shocked. Horrified. And then treated us all to the best of the British Romantics before sharing his own recently written ode to the genius of Oscar Wilde. I was amazed and transfixed and very very envious. The Tube has been running Poetry on the Underground for 30 years. I read them all. Some make me smile, others don’t interest me…and some resonate. Grace Nichols, Like a Beacon is my favourite because I know the shock that can be homesickness. And how it can catch you off guard, at unexpected moments.

In London
every now and then
I get this craving
for my mother’s food
I leave art galleries
in search of plaintains
saltfish/sweet potatoes

I need this link
I need this touch
of home
swinging in my bag
like a beacon
against the cold

2015-03-23 17.16.26In one of my many NYC apartments one of my many roommates taped the William Carlos Williams poem about the plums to the front of the fridge. I think she did it less as a warning than a bit of pretension. Last spring I saw it, in enormous lettering on the side of a house in The Hague, near were I had once lived. No longer just a poem but a conduit to memories of former lives.

And so back to today. From the 8th century, a poem, from the point of view of the tree on which Christ was killed.

“They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,

poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.”

And then a medieval poem. Read in Middle English (with a translation along side) all about love.

“Love brought me

And love wrought me,

To be, man, your friend.

Love fed me

and love led me

And love kept me here.”

And then Emily Dickinson. The famously reclusive 19th century American poet, who asks: is your grief greater than mine, and will it ever go away? The answer, sadly, is no.

“To note the fashions-of the Cross-

And how they’re mostly worn-

Still fascinated to presume

That some-are like My Own-”

It isn’t an uplifting poem, but then Good Friday isn’t an uplifting day. It is a day for sorrow. In a world with endless sorrow. With poets to describe this sorrow.

Last week I was invited for a drink at one of London’s exclusive clubs. Gorgeous building, incredible art and a sign that suggested had I turned up 2 hours earlier I could have attended the Poetry Society meeting. How did I miss this, I asked my host? He frowned, but was diplomatically silent. I think the telepathic message was, you need to have something to offer. Which I don’t.

I have been told that there is a man who will write a poem on the spot, for a fee, on the Southbank. I have yet to meet him. But anxious to do so. If anyone knows how to find him, please let me know. London has clearly given me a mandate. By this time next year I should be able to rattle off something on demand, maybe something thoughtful and contemporary, maybe even something funny and happy,  because after Good Friday comes Easter: hope, chocolate, bunnies and Easter shoes (yes, that is a thing. I have two pairs.)

How do I begin? I have found a small volume entitled: Auden, A Collection on a shelf in my bedroom. I shall start there. So if any of you see a little dark haired woman on the Tube reading poetry, it may be me. But hey, this is London. It could be someone else. It could be a poet.


Good Friday and Yoga, 18/100

Southwark Cathedral

For the last several years I have spent the afternoon of Good Friday at Southwark Cathedral, on the south side of the Thames in front of Borough Market, enjoying the long, long service, on my own (at least not with people I know, the service is well attended). Regardless of whether you have a faith, and I have no intention of discussing what is becoming an increasingly divisive issue in what is supposed to be a bit of fun blog, there is something special about sitting still in an old, old, old, remarkably beautiful building, and allowing your body to slowly relax and absorb the atmosphere. A time to listen, if you choose, or not, to beautiful music, and familiar stories, and messages, of all sorts. Not surprisingly, the vicar on Friday, spoke at length about love. But not that pointlessly positive, pithy statement kind of love that permeates Facebook feeds and makes me feel hostile toward humanity in general.  Rather, the vulnerable, aching, heartbroken love of CS Lewis. The kind of love without which we wouldn’t be capable of empathy and compassion and understanding. The kind of love that asks us to sit still and be quiet and consider life. From here, it wasn’t much of a stretch (a little yoga pun there) for the Vicar to discuss the idea that the simple act of breathing can be seen as a spiritual experience. Of taking in and giving out. Of being within oneself and then of the world. At this moment I moved from a feeling of quiet contemplation to one of self-important smugness, as I had cleverly booked myself a yoga session atop the ArcelorMittal Orbit, in Olympic Park,  for the very next morning. Who knew that my interest in altitude yoga was part of the Easter message.

One of the young ones…

As I have written before, I’m not sure I even like yoga. And I certainly won’t embarrass myself by remarking on the type or variation of “the practise”, as those in the know call it. Because it all seems theme and variation to me. In general, the instructor is cheerful and impossibly bendy. Many of the other participants are terribly young and gorgeous and clearly side-line as contortionists, and I find it all difficult. This Easter Saturday early morning, however, I was eager to test this breathing spiritually thing out. Of course, the fact that I get “inhale” and “exhale” right about as many times as “left leg” and “right leg”  (on a good day, maybe 50%) perhaps hampers the experiment. But I did try. Not sure I felt any more spiritual, but I did notice that when I was able to breath when the lovely teacher told me, my body seemed less enraged at what I was asking it to do. Small steps in the right direction.

I watched with envy…

And what of yoga atop the Orbit? Well, just being in Olympic Park makes me happy, and I adore Anish Kapoor, the sculpture’s creator, but having been there before, once you finish marveling at all the structure itself, there isn’t a whole lot to it. There are views, but the straight ahead view during the yoga is little more than a building site. A city going up. Or coming down, depending on your viewpoint. Canary Wharf is in the distance and the City itself, with all those iconic buildings, is but a shimmering glimmer on a foggy horizon, off to one side. It certainly doesn’t have the same catch in your throat feeling of looking down onto Tower Bridge, as the previous yoga had. But it is still great fun to say it has been done. And some of the best moments of this kind of yoga are the post-practice show off photo ops. This one did not disappoint.

Serene Marta, the instructor

The yoga session itself was very good. Lead by patient, if optimistic, Marta, she didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t doing anything close to what she and the youngsters were doing, but only praised and encouraged the class, with the occasional hands-on correction. The hour went quickly, which doesn’t happen often for me in yoga.  At the end, we had a lovely, long, still, few minutes with folded legs and hands in pray….and that was indeed a promise-laden moment of happy calm. Happy Easter. @mylondonpassion #mylondonpassion For more information about Southwark Cathedral, including history and service times, please visit:http://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org Information about the Orbit itself may be found at: http://arcelormittalorbit.com Specific information and reservations for the yoga are at: http://arcelormittalorbit.com/yoga-sky-2/#.VSVAhYfRxi9 For more information on, Marta, the instructor, and other venues at which she teaches, please visit: Marta at Yogafields, yogafieldslondon@gmail.com of facebook.com/Yogafields.