Advent Sunday...I think we can make a gentle start on the season.
Since 2009, and for each year of her 'reign' since, Carole Ann Duffy has edited a volume of Christmas poems for Candlestick Press and I returned to Volume One just to see how this series declared itself...
'This powerful selection of Christmas poems reminds us that poets are, "by their very calling, great celebrators"... none of the poems will require batteries, nor will they tweet, bleep or ping you awake at six in the morning on Christmas Day. We hope that these poems get shared around with the mince pies this Christmas and indeed, for many years to come.'
And so they have, and as we reach Volume Eight it suddenly occurred to me...just two more years of Carol Ann Duffy's tenure as Poet Laureate to go and I for one (with apologies to Hughes, Motion et al) have somehow appreciated this one more than any other. I can mark the years of this laureateship with all sorts of personal milestones and life events as I am sure can many of you...
A glance at the covers and I see there is a theme to each. We have done the partridge, the turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, gold rings,laying geese and swimming swans and here we are at 'Eight maids a-milking courtesy of Lizzie Adcock's The Twelve Days of Christmas.
As Carol Ann Duffy suggests in her introduction, 2016 has been quite a year...
'2016. Not a year to be glossed over or sugar-coated but one in which we need to hang onto poetry, like a raft or a lief-boat, has perhaps rarely felt stronger...'
Maybe at this point insert your own sense of that if you have one, but rest assured..
'...poetry goes on rising to the challenge of singing above the chaos.'
This collection begins with one of my favourites...
Bright Star!Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—Not in lone splendour hung aloft the nightAnd watching, with eternal lids apart,Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,The moving waters at their priestlike taskOf pure ablution round earth's human shores,Or gazing on the new soft-fallen maskOf snow upon the mountains and the moors—No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
John Keats (1795 - 1821)
And I'm thinking too about the power of poetry to teach, to console and to warn, all of which seem like essential ingredients right now and Volume Eight, with its careful choices, seems to cover them all. If like me you have just passed through Black Friday with a sense of 'What on earth was that all about?' then Mark Pajak's poem of the same title will resonate..
'A wild river of voices, where a woman
will take a teenage girl in front
by the hair and pull ahead, smooth
as a swimming stroke.
Where two men will stand
in the first aisle, the last flat-screen
between them like a saw...'
Copies of this collection have been winging their way around the world so I am hoping that the dovegreyreader Candlestick Chapter are out there ready to add their thoughts in Comments on this the first of three pamphlets that we will be talking about in the next few weeks, and please do add your own thoughts too.
The other poems in Volume Eight for those who may want to seek them out are as follows (though several are previously unpublished and making their debut here) so keep an eye out for The Twelve Poems of Christmas Volume Eight, or even better here's hoping someone sends it to you 'instead of a card', you won't be disappointed.
Lullaby for a Newborn God - Michael Symmons Roberts (unpublished)
The Christmas Robin - Robert Graves
Christmas - Stevie Smith
The Twelve Days of Christmas - Anon
How I'll Decorate My Tree - Liz Lochhead
The Party Bazaar - Sinead Morrissey
Black Friday - Mark Pajak (unpublished)
New Year Party - Dennis O'Driscoll
Icefield - David Harsent
Music From Home - Vona Groake
Apostle - Carol Ann Duffy (unpublished)
And, as with each of these posts, your suggestions for more themed collections for Candlestick to consider would be very welcome too.