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22 February 2011

Sarah Fordham - Poet

Sarah Fordham is a Masters student on the poetry of Karol Wojtyla and pursues her interest in contemplative art through her creative writing, studies and facilitating others to express themselves with words. She has worked with a wide variety of people from prisons and rehabs, to cathedrals and schools.

Sarah has published Psalm Readings, The Cool of the Day and Love's First Look. She is the co-chair of the Churches Spirituality Co-ordinating Group and part of the writers group for the Week of Christian Unity.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

I have no memory of desiring to be anything. I only wanted to know things, particularly in a spiritual sense, and know more about the meaning of life. I do recall strongly wanting to travel and move out of the familiar.

I am a West Country girl and have come to appreciate the coastline and the freedom of childhood days where you could roam the countryside for hours without a responsible adult calling the police. Pretending to be one of the Famous Five was a summertime preoccupation. Enid Blyton was, in fact, a major literary influence in my early years. The book that disturbed me most was Tolkien's The Hobbit. My babysitter would read it to me, and had a particularly scary Gollum voice. I had nightmares for years about what people had in their pockets.

How did you become a poet?

By writing poetry! And by reading it.

I wrote my first poem after watching a TV documentary about an innocent man's execution. I was about ten, alone in the sitting room and the fire was burning in the hearth … (honestly). This poor man was caught on camera before he was led off to die, and he said something like: 'I am going to meet my maker in a few hours and I pray that he has more mercy on you, then you've had on me.' I was very moved and wrote a poem about what he may have been thinking as he was led off to die by hanging. The poem is lost, but I do remember the last line: 'They will never know the voice of my innocence.'

Later I read Tennyson's poem Despair and T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and then I came across a modern Greek poet called Odyseus Elytis. That was all in my teens.

  Who inspires you?Poetically speaking it is Karol Wojtyla (who later became Pope John Paul II) - he was a poet and actor of some note in Poland before

becoming a priest. His poetry, even in translation, is astounding. I don't know of anyone else, apart from St John of the Cross, who has described man's spiritual condition and the essence of the mystical experience within the poetic aesthetic so 'perfectly'.

Wojtyla's poetry, plays and writings on theatre provide a clear lens through which to look at and explore the question: what is meditative, or contemplative, art? Are there stylistic and technical devices that when used engender contemplation in the one 'beholding'?

What makes you happy?

Happiness is switching off with a few episodes of NCIS, followed by a few games of Tetris.

What is the role of poetry in meditation?

Poetry is very useful to help focus thoughts. And even more so if you actually choose to pick up a pen and explore further through writing poetry of your own. To express thought, either verbally or on the page, is for me a key part of meditation. So do something with your thoughts, and then an action will follow! Philippians 4: 8 encourages us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.

Goodness inevitably follows from thinking 'good thoughts'. The mystery of language is that the creative power resides in words as they are expressed. The words unleash the force that leads to action, perhaps because words carry a person's spirit (spirit, ruach,  literally means breath). The Holy Spirit will gently lead and guide into 'all truth'.

What is your dream for society?

My dream for society is that the Church as a whole creates contexts other than its usual meetings to help people in the liberating, but often fraught, exploration inwards and God-wards. Art can provide a 'wider' entrance for people into the community of faith; so often we expect people to squeeze through such a narrow door.

My dream is that that the Church recognises more the spiritual function of art to bring more beauty into the world. There is an ever-strengthening culture of death out there. The pillars of any culture of life are Beauty, Truth and Goodness, and Christian artists need to be supported, encouraged and prayed for. Art is crucial to any humane society. Without people learning the art of reflection and connecting with their inner selves through the Holy Spirit, I really don't hold out much hope for society.

How does poetry bring wellbeing?

Poetry may bring wellbeing, because it brings truth, but it may also equally disturb. Many poets are persecuted, in prison and have been killed by the authorities.

Arthur Burt said: 'You have to lay the track of truth for the train of grace to come'. I really like that. The truth, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, will always bring a fresh experience of grace into your life. The role of poetry as 'truth-bringer' is important for me.

The Bulgarian poet Geo Milev was imprisoned and later murdered for his poem September(1924). This poem describes the brutal suppression of the Bulgarian uprising against the military coup. Not a lot of wellbeing there. …We should not forget that next to Christians, writers, including poets, are the most persecuted group of people in the world.

Beauty in brokenness - Do we value the arts enough?

Absolutely not. Nobody's fault really … how can we put a value on something if we really don't know what is, what it does or what it is for? D. L. Sayers said:

"We have no Christian aesthetic - no Christian philosophy of the arts. The Church as a body has never made up her mind about the arts…She has, of course, from time to time, puritanically denounced the arts as irreligious and mischievous, or tried to exploit the arts as a means to the teaching of religion and morals…and there have been plenty of writers on aesthetics who happened to be Christians, but they seldom made any consistent attempt to relate their aesthetic to the central Christian dogmas."

What do you invest in the next generation?

I want to invest my time and energy to show people of all ages, through my poetry, workshops, studies, preaching and teaching, that along with loving one another (John 13:24) and 'bearing fruit' (John 15:8), that the Word of God is absolutely essential to Christian discipleship and the way of true freedom (John 8:32).

Give us a piece of your poetic mind.

I think I have done plenty of that!!