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Poetry to Zombies 4 October 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Language, Poetry, Ponderings, Recommendations.

I am not an English scholar. Despite my love of writing and of words in general my formal qualifications in the English Language and Literature are my ‘O’ Levels, 1984 vintage. I’m not really much of a poet, although I have known purple patches of vaguely poetic inspiration…. as long as haiku and blank verse are allowed to qualify.

So, although in some respects I was surprised to be informed by a passing news item on Radio 4 this morning that today is National Poetry Day (here in the UK, I must add, for the benefit of any non-Brits), perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. Why would I have heard? I do not frequent schools any more, not since I left Parochial ministry. I rarely visit libraries and bookshops.

Perhaps poetry is something kept, locked-tight in treasuries of children’s verse, or allowed to soar free in the airy word farms of the English Departments of the universities (if, that is, it’s not been shot down by the barrage of STEM bias and the cull of the arts and humanities plaguing the English universities in these times of adversity).

Nevertheless the poetic spirit surfaces in strange places, arising where we might least expect. After all, at face value, would you expect to find poetry in the Christian Bible? It might not be the most obvious place to find an extended, sensuous treatment into the delights of human love. But it’s there in the heart of the Old Testament in the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon). You might not be able to tell from the familiar English versions of the Bible, but the book of Lamentations (The Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet) is a highly-sophisticated piece of acrostic poetry engaging with the physical, emotional and spiritual desolation after the fall of Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, to foreign armies. The psalms are, if not straight poetry, then at least its sibling, hymnody. Most of the book of Job is poetic in structure, as the anonymous author seeks answers to the age-old questions of the place of God in the experience of human suffering. Fragments of verse, song, and repetitive rhythmic devices to aid the retention of oral tradition are peppered throughout the Bible.

You might never have considered how poetry and the poetic could be employed in the promotion of truth and value statements, but there’s  rich tradition. Surely, given the breadth of interpretation allowable in the realm of poetry, discerning one, true, meaning is nigh-on impossible? Even more interesting then, is the fact that much of the poetic writings in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures has been pulled together (at least in Christian bibles) under the umbrella of “Wisdom Literature” – that which has been written with an eye to guiding the reader into the living of a good life. Strange, maybe, but true.

As a parting thought for the day, whatever your faith, or shade of belief, next time you hear someone giving a particularly fundamentalist and literal interpretation of scripture, do yourself a favour and turn to a different bit of the scriptures, the Song of Songs, and allow yourself to luxuriate in it. Ponder over it, ruminate. Even indulge yourself by wondering what parts of the human anatomy might be described in its poetic terms. And then, if you get the chance, ask the next fundamentalist literalist you meet to explain it. Chances are that you will treated to a first-class performance of squirming discomfiture.

Faith without action is dead. Faith without understanding is, perhaps, walking dead. Poetry to Zombies in one post, who’d have thought it?



1. kangerew - 4 October 2012

Radio 2 at 8 a.m. had the weather forecast in verse

2. Jane Williams - 4 October 2012

I saw the title and was expecting “Ode to a Zombie”. I won’t say I’m exactly disappointed by what I found instead (will add item to my reading list), but I may now have to write one.

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