Embroidered cloth on Karl Rutlidge’s pulpit
Karl is a Methodist Minster in charge of a heterodox and lively congregation at the Wesley Church in New Malden. He is also an m-Theory physicist. He is currently writing his doctorate in theology about the origins of the universe and its meaning to humankind. Karl is a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights and easily solves cryptic crosswords. He was born in Preston, Lancashire. His poem, on the question of a resolution to the Wars of the Roses, is breathtaking.
I was chatting in the church coffee bar today with someone who told me he had thought his grandad was, like me, from Preston. However, it turned out that the industrial revolution had taken him over the Pennines, and he was actually a Yorkshireman. Inspired by this and encouragement from Philip, I penned this in my lunch break:
Do white flowers bloom in Bosworth fields
Do white flowers bloom in Bosworth fields
where the crooked rose of the wrong-yet-right side
was trampled ingloriously with neither kingdom nor horse?
so that the bitter aftertaste of age-old enmities
might be drowned out in the midst of the mist,
the steaming sheets of waters fertilising Cottonopolis.
His mother’s father’s own road led west
for need to fill the growling, bulging bellies
upon which he and his kinsfolk trudged
while nature’s sweet rhythms faded from view.
The merciless march of the mechanised mall,
of merchant and money, limbs mangled and mauled,
would bang the drum of his heartbeat now.
What dreadful chills reached with soot-blackened claw
down deep into the marrow of those Yorkshiremen’s bones
and bleached their lifeblood from white through red to grey?
Yet, red he would stay on the left that was right,
as mill-stacks rose and fell and night begat light.
And thus, his daughter’s son, upon hearing this tale,
found that his own roots stretched from Preston to dale.
If a Tudor rose spawns brilliant red petals from a Yorkist stem,
might white flowers yet bloom in Bosworth fields?
After volunteering at the Wesley Church Cafe and meeting Karl and other friends, I would go to the local Korean cafe called The Place to have a black coffee and write. There, I often found Roger Murphy. We look rather similar, though he is older (and slimmer) than I am. When I first met him he was at the beginning of the last year of a three-year degree in creative writing.
I am not sure if I was a distraction or a catalyst. I think more of a distraction. Towards the end of one of our last conversations before his final exams, I saw him champing at the bit to get on. Then, one day, he was there and happy to see me. He actually looked relaxed. The degree was over and he was waiting for his results on the phone.
Roger had been a lynchpin of his class, bringing his experience to bear. He helped the other young students in his class in their 20s by listening to them, encouraging them and provoking them all at the same time. Roger is an appreciative listener. For a change, he read me one of his poems and I loved it for its dextrous bravery. He has kindly allowed me to share it with you.
I have just completed a Creative Writing degree at Birkbeck College. The poem is an octastich following a model used by WB Yeats in Sailing to Byzantium. The coward writes a prayer for himself. It is one of five poems which are meditations on loss.
Aubade for a Coward – Loss of courage
Every morning I breathe a quiet prayer
“God give me the weakness to turn away.
Let me disguise my hollowness, no flair,
No eloquence permit me. Let me stay
Silent when I can, blended in to air,
Without a word let fear mark what I say.
Let no judgement pass my parched and bloodless lips
Obliterate my mind, make me eclipse.
“Let me hide behind the words of others
Find an opinion dressed in what they say,
Absolve me from utterance, another
Hour be blessed that judgement does not play
Upon my mind, require me to discover
Some hollowed out unlikely disarray
Of vacuous verbs that meaning mangles
With mental weeds and insignificance entangles.
“Scintillating chromatic zyzzyvae
Fluoresce across the jungle floor, learning
To evade feasting zygodactylae
With speed and camouflage. Perning, turning
To not be seen and yet to feast and play
As I would wish to hide awhile, yearning
For anonymity among the throng
Disguise my emptiness in an empty song.
“Prince, pray God that is Lord of all, forgive
The silent idiot his silent sins
Let in your heart an understanding live
Of the weakness that roots and so begins
To pause me, a tacet ineffective,
Show me that every loser always wins
Let me be gutless for every day:
Courage only to hint, but never say.”