There was a time when I used to be unsure about whether poetry was a "good thing" to spend my time in. I was in the grip of fundamentalist religion at the time - though even then I was squirming around in an iron glove that never fitted me. I looked about for Christian poets to confirm that it was OK. I discovered a few: Steve Turner was a kind of evangelical Roger McGough, for instance; and one or two others.
But it wasn't until I discovered Elizabeth Jennings that I realised you could be a Christian and write poetry that wasn't just a sermon in disguise; and sometime later got in touch with Rupert Loydell of Stride. Even then, he was probably more liberal theologically (I think I've probably caught up with him on that score) than me; but we at least shared an interest in the possibility of expressing one's faith, or even discovering one's faith, through poetry.
I read RS Thomas for his bracingly mordant faith, that seemed to be all silence with little or no communication from above. I discovered the religious poems of David Gascoyne, which I think has fired an interest in the neo-romantic and Apocalyptic writers of the 40's. There were others, and even now, if I find a decent poet who is also religious, I'm drawn to them.
I don't try and write to persuade anyone of my beliefs; I very rarely write specifically religious poems. But it does come through: one reviewer of my last book called it the "beast with two books", which was probably terribly supercillious of him. I don't you should try writing religious poetry to persuade; poets are not advertising execs, leave that to the evangelists in their glass cathedrals. But when you write down your life, your faith comes through; sometimes because your poems are as much a dialogue with the divine as much as they are anything else.
I think I probably needed to know that there were other poets out there with faith once. I still need to know that there are poets doing things that are in the same or similar ballpark as me; poets need to feel part of a community.
BEST SONGS OF 2017 SO FAR, part one
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