The Power of Poetry: Holy Inspiration
Today I was invited to speak at South Church Andover’s Faith Forum.
Faith Forum is a discussion group held before church most Sundays. The discussion topics may focus on readings and stories from the Bible, or books on spiritual and religious themes. Other times people bring topics of social or climate justice to discuss. South Church Andover is an open and affirming, progressive and non-dogmatic Christian church. My wife Debbie and I are members of South Church, and have been for a long time.
This week I was asked to talk about the power of poetry, and how it speaks to the spirit.
I opened with my poem "Church Hour". This poem was written on a church bulletin while sitting in South Church before the Sunday service started, listening to the choir and organist rehearse, the indistinct background talk of friends greeting one another, the swirl of people gathering in faith. If you ever see me scribbling notes while sitting in church, it's usually because something has inspired me! I shared this poem with Pastor Dana, and then had the privilege and joy of reading it a few months later in front of the church as part of service!
Where does great poetry come from?
And why does great poetry often have a spiritual dimension?
Here is something I’ve heard from a number of poets – and I hear this from people who I think are among the best –
In answer to the question, where does a great poem come from?
The poet’s answer: “I have no idea where it comes from. I just write it down.”
That’s the way it often feels for me. It feels like some of my poems come from out in the world somewhere, or from another world, another voice speaking through me as the poet. Sometimes I have this feeling of “being written onto”. A few times for me it has even been an almost overwhelming physical sensation. It is a loss of self – a loss of self and a connection to the transcendent. It is sometimes a feeling of connection to God, which for me is the spirit in the world.
I’m not saying it always feels like this when writing poetry. Sometimes writing poetry is like building a piece of fine furniture – it takes some inspiration, careful craft, the right tools, time to work, and voila, hopefully a beautiful and useful thing. But there are those rare times that, as a poet, I can say I’ve had the feeling of being spoken to, pressed upon by mysterious energy and forces. And all I can do is write it down. (From there, it takes some some work to finish it, as even the most inspired poem is usually not born fully realized!)
This is the kind of poetry where the poet's job is to listen – to be attuned – to be like an antenna picking up a distant signal that suddenly comes through loud and clear. Sometimes so loud and clear that it hurts and must be written down, captured, to make sense of what just happened.
I think this feeling, this occurrence, is the foundation for poetry of the spirit. I thought I would share some of my poems that touch on God and spirituality. Here are two.
I also invited my friend and poet Bob Whelan to speak and read a few of his poems, which he did, wonderfully.
Drawing from other poets, I read the poem God's Grandeur (link) by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and talked a little about his life as a poet.
My closing words were this poem: