You might appreciate Anatomy if… 3

Apologies for the gap between posts in this series.

I wrote a book last year and called it ‘Anatomy’. It’s a collection of poems and essays that ask about what the Song of Solomon has to say to the 21st century.

In this collection of posts, I want to highlight 5 sets of people who might appreciate my book.

You might appreciate Anatomy if you are

3. Someone who wants to imagine being a Christian.

I am a Christian and a reader of theology. I have read many books that explain what Christians are supposed to think and believe. However, I am also aware that many people have a sense that they would be interested in exploring faith, except that they could never imagine being a Christian. They look not to see beliefs, but lives, and find it hard to believe that faith could fit them.

One of the metaphors that the Bible repeatedly uses for a relationship with Jesus is that of marriage. At the end of the Bible, when heaven comes, the church is pictured like a bride walking to be married to her groom, Jesus. This is not the only metaphor which the Bible uses to describe a relationship with Jesus, but it is a powerful one.

By taking the Bible’s poem about marriage, Song of Solomon, and reflecting its themes and imagery into 21st century, I want to explore marriage as a metaphor for faith. When I started writing the poems, I found myself emotionally where faith was more about being kissed than kissing, more about finding a shared mutating identity that goes beyond myself. It’s exciting and beautiful, but it comes with risk and cost.

In the conversations I have had with Christians since publishing the book, not all have seen the Christian life as they understand it represented. I wanted to get beneath a veneer of social respectability, which is why the poems are just the husband speaking to the wife and vice versa. My personal opinion is that faith is not there to make us respectable, it is there to unite us with Christ in initimate, vulnerable, radical ways. I hope my faith and my poetry find an intimate, vulnerable, radical language.

If you want to find out more about Anatomy, read the introduction here.

If you have a question or comment about Anatomy, you can send feedback using the contact form or contact me by Facebook or Twitter.


Feature in HOUSEBOAT

Published today on the HOUSEBOAT blog, there is a feature about me and some of the poems I have written for Anatomy. The feature also has the wonderful photographs of Rose Mary Boehm.

You can read for yourself by following the link below.

The Story Behind ‘I dream again’

I dream again is the last poem of the collection. I remember writing it on my smartphone last new year’s eve staying at relatives.

Originally, the collection was going to end with a poem which was intended as a script between the husband and the wife with them playing a game of callling names. However, neither the structure of them talking to each other in one poem, or the language they were using worked.

What I was hoping for with this poem was to link back to some of the themes of earlier poems. Perhaps it balances off the nightmare poem in some ways because it’s a happy dream, but it also works back into No Battery. I wanted to find some way of talking about how the domestic routines of life can be invested with spiritual and cosmic significance. Perhaps the only way to see that is through a dream.

The Story Behind ‘Summer Saturdays’

This poem references Song of Solomon in a more indirect way. The theme of a walled garden recurs through the text. Here is one example.

A walled garden is a really interesting metaphor for a marriage. In some ways, it’s a  really comparison. A walled garden has protection from the wind and generally is warmer by a few centigrade than the average garden. This means that you are able to grow a wider variety of more exotic plants than you can anywhere else.

However, because of the cost involved, walled gardens are also a mark of privilege. In our time and place, the best opportunity to go and see a really good example of a walled garden is to get down to a National Trust house. Which is where the link comes in between the poem and theme. (The picture in the video is taken from Godolphin House, a National Trust property in Cornwall with a lovely walled garden)

Of all the audio versions which I made with Anatomy, this is the one I am most pleased with. Most of the sound effects are taken from sound effect collections, but the birds singing in the middle are genuine National Trust.

The Story Behind ‘Tuning Fork’

Tuning Fork was the last of the poems in the collection to be completed. It’s also set after most of the other poems too.

I had in my mind a thought by an author called Mary Doria Russell in her haunting sci-fi book The Sparrow. You can read the full quote here, but the key point is when one of the female characters says, “Lemme tell ya something, sweetface. I have been married at least four times, to four different men.” even though she has been married to the same person all her life.

The point is that people change in marriage and if, like I’m trying to say in Anatomy, married identity is something which is forged between a husband and wife, the act of marriage changes identity. With a couple like the one presented in the poems, when a husband deliberately tries to alter their character, in this case by trying to construct a non-hierarchical masculinity, that still has a knock on effect into the identity of the wife. In trying to be something which may well in the end benefit her, he has created a tension as identity changes. It comes back to the wife again to choose to change with the husband or lose something of their marriage.

I hope that the last lines are seen more as an active choice than a passive acceptance. When I read this poem, there is a double meaning in the last 2 lines. On the one hand, it’s telling the story of the wife but it is also saying something personal about how I see faith. Being a person of faith requires a person to retune towards a different instrument, you lose that sense of being in tune with the world around you, but it is faith that leads you to believe such a choice is a good one.

The Story Behind ‘Come Away’

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Come Away takes it’s point of departure from one translation of the last verse of the Song of Solomon. I wanted to give it a bit of a different twist though, so most of the poem shoots forward to the end of the husband’s life, decades after the time of the other poems. I wanted to write something grounded in reality and experience about the end of the marriage which has lasted the difference.

I also wanted with this poem to affirm the way in which marriage passes through the generations and includes people who perhaps become parents and grandparents. There’s a theme throughout the Bible that people are the pinnacle of creation. I believe you can learn more about what is good about the world from the person you are sat next to on the couch than you do from the David Attenborough documentary on the TV screen. Despite our culture’s definitions of beauty, this still applies to an older generation, even to those on death’s door.

Of all the audio poems I made for Anatomy, I think this is one of the few I would like to have another swing at. The mixing is a bit off in places  and I’m not sure in hindsight how I got to the bit that’s almost reggae. File under learning experience.

The Story Behind ‘A Nightmare’

A Nightmare was one of the hardest poems to write in the collection. It was written in response to Song of Solomon 5:2-8. In that text, in a nightmare, the beloved rejects her lover and then is beaten up in the city as she tries to find him again.

I was well aware when writing it that I was walking on sensitive ground. It’s hard at the moment to get away from issues of rape culture, although that’s not specifically what I had in mind in this poem. I was trying more to highlight the theme of the contest between fantasy and reality. Even though fantasy can be hugely attractive and is sold in our culture as such, in choosing to wake up, in choosing her husband, in some ways I think the wife chooses reality over fantasy. She chooses the glass of milk over the glass of vodka.