"Russian protest occasionally reappears in some of the later poems in the guise of a rubber duck."
Well, I look forward to the new ten poems... Yes, the male presence is interesting, something I've played with in Dear Mary, though more as a possible erotic presence or sexy male hunk than menacing presence.
I love Robert Lax's work, but it's so bare and minimal that I don't often find that it leaves room for associative texts, variations or responses, whereas the annunciation is already part of a complex web of ideas, images, theology, belief systems and associative stuff that one can go on forever responding and reinventing. I mean just that jump from angel to devil to snake to Jim Morrison of the Doors is easy. I can't do that with Lax! (He might have been relieved.)
What I do like is the sense that both Lax and Merton were in many ways recluses who lived apart from the world yet were able to intelligently observe and comment on it. I feel too awash in information, images, texts and music to get that kind of perspective. Though I wouldn't mind being a hermit in Tuscany for a while – as long as I could fly to New York or London every so often. And before you laugh, remember Thomas Merton was the kind of solitary person who sometimes jumped over the monastery wall to drink whisky with his friends and publisher. A civilized way to live, I feel.
Perhaps. Merton scores very low in Hermit Top Trumps though.
Possibly, although I think he has high spiritual superpowers which sometimes win out.
Anyway, what about this idea of themes and specifics within a web of stuff rather than on its own. Did you feel the Fra Angelico was outside your subject areas? How did you get from that painting to the ideas you used?
I didn’t. As you mentioned earlier, the annunciation has a complex web of associative images, texts and references in popular culture, so I came to it through different means. I don’t think I looked at the painting until we were several poems in. I’d written a few poems about Mary previously concerned with the bodily reality of giving birth. At the time of writing the Snow Angel Annunciation poem, I was mostly inspired by Pål Moddi’s version of Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer, the music video of which features the Norwegian folk-singer sitting on the steps of a church near the Norwegian/Russian border in sub-zero temperatures, the church having decided that it was too politically risky allowing him to play inside the church. That sense of faith being silenced and being forced to exist in the margins is present in that poem. Russian protest occasionally reappears in some of the later poems in the guise of a rubber duck.
I imagine when I look more closely at Fra Angelico I will be more interested in him. I like monks and nuns… not in a 1970s Nunsploitation kind of way though.
I have this web of ideas developed over thirty years of varying degrees of religious education, misinformation and re-constructed fragments in which to piece together my annunciation poems. Sunday school, Catholic friends at university, Jesus cartoons, religious music, a research interest in mysticism and the Robert Powell movie Jesus of Nazareth left plenty of material to build my new annunciation nest with.
Can you think of any more hermits for Hermit Top Trumps?
I guess Thoreau has to go straight in the set. Perhaps Saint Francis and some of the Desert Fathers. After that I kind of run out of steam. I don't think hermits is a specialist area of mine at all! If I thought harder it would be rather heavy on Christian mystics and recluses though, despite my shelves full of poets.
Marginalized belief is interesting... Sydney Carter, the poet and songwriter ('Lord of the Dance' is his most famous) writes well about spiritual doubt, and the tension with faith, which of course is much more interesting than people who are sure about everything. My friend A.C. Evans always talks about the 'leap of doubt', with a nod to existentialism and gnosticism, as well as a cynical take on occult and conspiracy theories. My own mix of Sunday school, church and reading liberal and postmodern theology, along with the death-of-god and humanist strands, not to mention fiction by the likes of Charles Williams and Tim Winton has produced my own peculiar take on it all, which as I put in 'Sudden Impact':
We must look at what
we see, make up our minds, pay attention
to surfaces and the different ways they
catch the light through religious smoke.
This religious smoke, along with new age smoke, and fundamentalist smoke, seems to me to cloud everything.
It's not so much faith being silenced, as doubt being silenced; we are asked not to question at all. And if we don't engage with thinking and questioning we seem to end up with pick'n'mix anything-goes woolly new-age nonsense.
© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2017