Poetry is in the ear of the beholder

At our Ministers’ Conference we have been blessed by both the main speakers. Viv O’Brien has been challenging and inspiring as we consider preaching styles and looking after ourselves pastorally. 

Stewart Henderson (www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/presenters/stewart_henderson.shtml) has been equally inspiring and also engaging as he has shared some of his life and experience and (brilliantly) some of his poems. I love the way in which he paints such evocative pictures using unusual and unexpected combinations of the 26 letters in our alphabet. 

I confess to being an amateur amateur poet myself and have been in awe of the creativity and power of the poems which Stewart has written and performed for us. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of humour and sobriety in some of the poems that is delicious to behold. The humour disarms and then the point is made while the defences are down so that it strikes deep and true. Jonathan Miller described humour as “a sabbatical from reality” that enables us to see things from a different perspective and then re-evaluate reality. That seems to be what is happening in the poems and I love it.

One of the points Stewart made was how different people receive different things from the same poem, some of which may not have been intended by the poet at all. I guess that’s because we all receive the poems through the graphic equaliser of our experiences and personality that diminishes the volume of some aspects of the poem and accentuates others. I had this experience a while ago when I read a poem at the start of a sermon. The poem was intended to be a light-hearted poke at my own inability to find things I have mislaid in comparison to my wife’s apparent ability to know where everything is in the house at any given time. I was using it to open a sermon on the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin (Luke 15) by illustrating how hard we look for things.

I had not anticipated that the opening line might cause upset for a member of the congregation who had divorced from his wife and whose ex-wife had been verbally abusive towards him. I apologise again to him (if he should ever read this blog) and anyone else who is offended by the poem but I am going to take my courage in both hands and reproduce the poem for you here in the confident hope that Stewart Henderson is highly unlikely ever to read it (at least not until after the conference, when I will be a long way away!).


My wife says I'm a loser
I'm inclined to think she's right.
I don't know where my things are but
She doesn't share my plight. 
Though my keys aren't where I leave them
She always finds them there.
Somehow they're invisible
Despite how hard I stare. 
My mobile phone IS mobile
I'm sure it runs around:
I can look in vain for hours but
In seconds she has it found. 
She says I don't look properly
When I overlook it
And start an inquisition
To find out just who took it.
I'm sure my searching's thorough:
That I look in the right places
Which is why I get so ratty
In my oh-so frantic chases.
"Where did you last see it?"
She asks me through my bile.
"If I knew I wouldn't need your help."
I sulk back like a child. 
My wife's knows where to start things:
"I've already looked there twice"
Means that's her quest's beginning
And where she finds the prize.
As I'm reunited with what I lost
And turn off my pressure cooker
I consider it a huge blessing
That I married such a looker.

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