Friday, April 10, 2015

A Creed To Live By

And as I strive to honour my God by works, by stillness,
By labours by day and hymns by night
By streams of tears and holy purifications,
Who summons me to vain battles and verbal squabblings?
For my strength is not concerned with people, nor am I agile
With words, nor do I mingle in human concourses nor exult
In the votes of favourable judges…
Let the honours of life be for others. But as for me,
I have one law, one intention; filled with love,
To wend my way from here, a light bearer, towards the high-ruling God.
But as for other goods, desire for them effects my heart but little,
Such things as vain people dream of, inflated with useless vanities,
Things quickly gained and which perish as rapidly
As smoke or steam or a flowing breeze
As sand ever swept by the disturbing winds,
Or as the trail of a ship upon the sea.
I would prefer to be dishonoured among men
And to have a small reputation eternally among heavenly beings
Than to possess all things and fall short of God.
 St Gregory of Nazianzus, In Praise of Virginity, Poem 1.2.1 356-376 PG 37, 549-550

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Holy Saturday

A new poem of mine, 'Holy Saturday', is up at The Asketerion poetry page
Blessings for a very happy Eastertide!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday

The Carmelite Missionary Sisters of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus process from the convent to the church.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Psalms

Ernst Barlach
I copied this from the the blog of the Asketerion. St Basil defines a psalm brilliantly and comprehensively:

A psalm gives profound serenity to the soul,
Dispensing peace,
Calming the tumultuous waves of thought.
For it softens anger in the soul
And bridles intemperance.
A psalm solidifies friendships,
Reconciles the separated,
Conciliates those at enmity.
Who, indeed, can consider as an enemy
Him with who he has uttered the same prayer to God?
So that psalmody in choral singing is a bond, as it were, of choral unity,
Joining harmoniously the people into a symphony of one choir,
Producing the greatest of all blessings, charity (agape).
A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons;
Cry for help to the angels;
A shield against the fears of the night;
A rest from toils of the day;
A safeguard for infants;
An adornment for vigorous youth;
A consolation for the elderly;
A most fitting ornament for women.
It makes the desert a home,
It moderates the excesses of the marketplace;
It is the foundation for beginners,
The improvement of those advancing,
The solid support of the perfect.
It is the voice of the Church,
Brightening feast days;
It creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God.
For a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone.
A psalm is the occupation of the angels,
Heavenly life,
Spiritual incense.

From St Basil's Homily on Psalm 1

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Feast of the Annunciation

Santa Marinella has numerous convents. I discovered the latest on my walks by the sea, by glimpsing this statue of Mary over a heavily graffitied wall. It's the third sizeable convent within the span of a quarter of a mile along the coast road. In the evenings, nuns in two or threes walk along the sea, their white habits blowing behind them like sails.

Today is the solemnity of the Annunciation, tucked sweetly away in the folds of Lent, and the sisters sang in tune, and in harmonies, at Mass this morning. It is heady to think of Mary's 'yes'-- but there is nothing sentimental in the truth of this feast. Mary's Fiat was courageous. It was taking a step forward into darkness and the unfolding of terrible pain as well as joy.

My fourth Annnunciation poem is up at the Asketerion poetry page. What used to enthrall me as an atheist was the drama of the event, the mystery. What fascinates me now is Mary's history-changing Fiat. Life, it seems to me, can only be lived happily as a succession of Fiats-- sometimes daily, hourly Fiats; the 'yes' as a prayer to steady us in darkness-- Eccomi.

Monday, March 23, 2015


I once had the pleasure of studying under the poet Baron Wormser for a semester in South Dakota, USA. He said many memorable things and one was-- "There are two kinds of ambition: one is to have a poem published in the Paris Review; the other is to write a really good poem."

Over the last while I've spent a lot of time discerning (very Catholic word: thinking, praying, trying not to worry, praying again) my vocation and what I am supposed to do now that my goals are so very different. The Catholic writer, wrote Thomas Merton, has only one goal and that is to restore all things in Christ. That doesn't necessarily mean writing about God. Yet, as Flannery O'Connor wrote, "the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul." This speaks about the second kind of ambition: writing truth.

As for the other kind of ambition, part of any conversion, it seems to me, involves both an increasing sense of humility and of importance-- how others see us matters less; how God sees us matters more. The beauty of Catholicism, is that it reminds us there is only one great narrative, but every human detail and story, every hair on our heads, has worth. What that boils down to is I'm far less concerned about where my poems are published, and far more pleased when they reach people directly, where they're at. These days I find it far more satisfying to give poems away according to the season.

Talking of which, March 25th sees the Feast of the Annunciation tucked away in the folds of Lent. My fourth Annunciation poem is going up at the Hermitage journal, The Asketerion on the feast day. Take a look at the Asketerion poetry page

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Asketerion

I'm very pleased to announce that the Hermitage of the Three Holy Hierarchs, of which I'm poet in residence, is launching an online journal, The Asketerion. It's a space for truly original Catholic writing-- feature articles, theology and poetry. I hope to put up poems in accordance with the liturgical cycle, and will be contributing articles and editing.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Song for the Newborn Christ

Heavy the cold air,
gorgeous-heavy her round arms.
Then, the pointillist creation
of her smells—her milk, her hair
(your own skin looses newborn scent:
an altar that exhales incense).
Thank God you’re moored to her close voice;
her arms soak up the tremble
of your earth-struck limbs.
Oh tiny, fragile, stricken ears
pricked to hear the story’s end--
My God, just let me love, she sings.

Written for The Hermitage of the Three Holy Hierarchs

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blessed Maria Crocifissa Curcio

Meditating on the Passion, I follow Jesus through his painful condemnation, and during Communion I go to meet him as he carries the Cross. It is intimate torture, seeing the wound on his shoulder where the heavy wooden cross leans. He holds me, as though I am in a dead faint from the sight of that deep and bloody gash. My pain, I hear him confide to me, is a balm to that cruel wound; my love alleviates the pain of those gashes on his holiest body. When a soul is disposed to receive the painful and intimate confidences of the heart of Jesus in his Passion, they don’t just bring great consolation and nurture the beauty of Grace, they help Jesus forget, in that instance of love, the pains that his ungrateful children  cause him; they renew the sacrament of love.
I'm translating the spiritual diary of Maria Crocifissa into English. She came to Santa Marinella in 1926 and my daughter attends the convent school she built here by the sea. She, I believe, had a hand in my conversion (there's more on that in an article I wrote for The Tablet, issue of November 2nd). 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Poet's Dark Night

My podcast, "The Dark Night of Sylvia Plath" is up at the blog of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing.

A poet's journey, I argue, bears many resemblances to the journey of a pilgrim. Both yearn to arrive at ultimate truth.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


By the time I converted to Catholicism in December 2010 I had already written and published a few poems about Mary, Mother of God-- specifically two that sought to debunk the biblical account of the Annunciation. By the time I came into the Church and accepted Mary as what she is, the publication of those poems was something I wasn't thrilled about. But, in the Summer of 2012, the exceptionally gifted Irish composer Paul Flynn contacted me and asked me if I'd be willing to write something for him to set to sacred music: now was my chance to write Annunciation poem number three. The process of all this writing, and Mary's presence through the story, is detailed in a longer article that came out in The Tablet for the Feast of the Annunciation.

When you listen to the song, Lady, it feels as though you are listening to an event. One can feel the stillness, the arrival of the the angel, the message, the impact. And the stillness afterwards that will never be the same.

The Palestrina Choir are singing it on 16th June at the 11am mass at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. Here are the words:

Lady, still as a well under almond blossom.
Lady, still as a harp-string
ready for the finger’s touch.

Woman, stepping inside to eye-bruising dark
with a jug of water.
Only your lush ear could catch
the angel’s words,
and only you could make them flesh.

What stillness. In stillness
beyond tissue of thought
He formed. Lady, closest to God,
pray that we make the ground inside us
rich enough for this formation,
that we always wear the anatomy of His death.

Lady, still as a well, turning hurt and consolation,
show us how to listen in our emptiness.





Monday, January 21, 2013


I'm delighted to become a fellow of Birmingham City University's new Institute of Creative and Critical Writing set up by the talented Dr Gregory Leadbetter. Check out his blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


"It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is preeminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst. There is nothing that so much mystifies the young as the consistent frivolity of the old. They have discovered their indestructibility. They are in their second and clearer childhood, and there is a meaning in the merriment of their eyes. They have seen the end of the End of the World."
from GK Chesterton's Charles Dickens

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Walking by the harbour today, I thought about the prophetess Anna, the old widow in the temple who saw the baby Christ and heard Simeon's words about him being the saviour. Her thirst, loneliness and waiting must have died in her.

My first Christmas after conversion to Catholicism many people told me I must be very excited. It was hard to explain the sensory and intellectual impact the conversion had: for a year every day was like Christmas and Easter. The full of blast of God seemed to come at me over and over again. Thirst and waiting were done with.

This past Easter was the first that I really lived in step with him. And this Advent, I feel the same visceral engagement. This year it feels as though something that has happened, and already lives in us, is about to renew itself again. All the great truths and emotions work like this: the greatest griefs, epiphanies, pains and loves are so huge we are only strong enough to experience them in waves, like birth pangs. This is why the feasts serve us-- they let the truth at us in a wave that would be too intense, perhaps, to sustain constantly, but complex and large enough to nourish us through the months to come.

Thomas Merton wrote that we should let the liturgical cycle enter our bones and blood. It's little considered that Christmas didn't become a church feast till the 4th Century. December 25th was chosen as the day to commemorate the birth of Christ. The first day of the waxing of daylight hours was already a major pagan feast, and as the Church's metaphor for the coming of Him it realized its truth. In cold emptiness, we receive him as a child. And again, like the old woman, our thirst, loneliness and waiting know their deaths.

Tenth Month



Those heavy days, the Child cramped
within you and girding his limbs,
your lungs squeezed breathless-high,
the ordinary, unnerving simmer
of black waters within, Woman,
what did you think?
                                  Or was thought
all prayer—trust in the buds
of epiphanies, the unquantifiable
blood to be let. But Mother,
those unspeakably swollen days,
olives combed out of ashen leaves,
or wine leeching out its vinegar smell,
did you feel the tug of split hearts,
in city streets, at tabernacles, in bars?
As your belly drew down, drawn
by hormones and truth, did you weigh,
too, the clumsy imploring down all
our bloodlines, for this saving parcel of flesh?


 This poem was written for Advent for The Hermitage of the Three Holy Hierarchs.





Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Day Hospital recordings

The Day Hospital is published today. It's less a collection of poems than verse drama, and gives voice to 12 characters over the course of one day in London. I've recorded two of these voices, Bridget and Catherine. To hear their monolgues, click on their names below.

A 76 year old Irish woman with depression and agoraphobia. She has not left her flat in two years.
A 70 year old Irish woman recently recovered from depression following the death of her husband.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Proof that modern poets can convincingly do God: Thomas Merton.

A Psalm

When psalms surprise me with their music
And antiphons turn to rum
The Spirit sings: the bottom drops out of my soul

And from the center of my cellar, Love, louder than thunder
Opens a heaven of naked air.

New eyes awaken.
I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.

Zebras and antelopes and birds of paradise
Shine on the face of the abyss
And I am drunk with the great wilderness
Of the sixth day in Genesis.

But sound is never half so fair
As when that music turns to air
And the universe dies of excellence.

Sun, moon and stars
Fall from their heavenly towers.
Joys walk no longer down the blue world's shore.

Though fires loiter, lights still fly on the air of the gulf,
All fear wind, another thunder:
Then one more voice
Snuffs all their flares in one gust.

And I go forth with no more wine and no more stars
And no more buds and no more Eden
And no more animals and no more sea:
While God sings by Himself in acres of night
And walls fall down, that guarded Paradise.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Cast of Creation

The Yellow Sail, by Odilon Redon

They say that children born from in-vitro fertilization have been known to dream their frozen brothers and sisters. One little girl dreamed seven brothers and sisters crying in a freezing dark cave; seven was the number of embryos she was selected from. Another little girl, an only child, has an imaginary brother who’s always breaking her toys, disrupting her games. When she’s upset she shuts herself in the bathroom and tells him all about it. Her mother knows the form and rightness of this little boy: he is the child she lost.  A bereaved woman will get up, make breakfast, run errands, but she turns her head at the sound of every approaching car.
We’re surrounded by the souls of our own longing—those dead and those who were never born, those killed, and those just away for a while. This is Grace, that we so nearly hear, see, and have with us, the full cast of creation. We glimpse something that will be revealed—the unthinkable multitude of every soul, containing every love from which we cannot be separated.

Love, and our invisible loved ones, keep us faithful to God. Our frustating blindness binds us faithfully to Him who sees.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Being original

"Poetry deals with primal and conventional things-- the hunger for bread, the love of a woman, the love of children, the desire for immortal life. If men had new sentiments, poetry could not deal with them. If, let us say, a man did not feel a bitter craving to eat bread; but did, by way of substitute, feel a fresh original craving to eat brass fenders or mahogany tables, poetry could not express him.If a man, instead of falling in love with a woman, fell in love with a fossil or a sea anemone, poetry could not express him. Poetry can only express what is original in one sense-- the sense in which we speak of original sin. It is original, not in the paltry sense of being new, but in the deeper sense of being old; it is original in the sense it deals with origins."

GK Chesterton, quoted in Wisdom and Innocence by Joseph Pearce (Hodder and Stoughton London, 1996)