Up at the holy end

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

I always thought that poetry went down best in pubs – preferably fuggy upstairs rooms.  Lately, though, I’ve been reading in church: two, in fact.  A couple of weeks ago I was invited to read in St John’s Church in Penistone, as part of an event to celebrate the work of a group of local poets and the launch of their pamphlet, East Peak.  Part of the event involved me and Penistone poet Julie Mellor serving tea in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by Becky Bowlee, in silence and stocking feet, to the audience.  As far as I know, none (apart from Becky) had taken part in such a thing; but in the calm shadows of the old place, everyone entered into a spirit of contemplative reverence for the occasion, which complemented perfectly the readings (themselves introduced by a positively priest-like Mark Doyle).

As reported previously, Ray Hearne and I, with the support of other poets, gave a reading of Spence Broughton in Hill Top Chapel in Attercliffe near Sheffield on Halloween.  The old chapel bears in its air all of its near-400 years – and every breath and gesture, it seemed, resonated through an atmosphere as charged as a storm.

What is it about such spaces that confers on the breathed word such power – and gives to the reader an enhanced oratory?  And particularly for an atheist like me?  Can a contained emptiness, steadied within thick stone for hundreds of years (while outside factories, trucks and sports stadia buzz and clamour), accrue something, a sense of the numinous?  Or is it just physics?

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