of poetry, again, and money, study and the human story

Without intending to, I managed to fill my afternoon and evening with poetry yesterday.

I had spent a reasonably productive day in the postgraduate study room reading various contributions to the debate over Paul's purpose in writing his letter to the Romans (and the associated debate over whether he was, in fact, writing to folk in Rome, Ephesus, or even Jerusalem). Yes, there are some very fascinating days in the life of a PhD student.

The mid-afternoon hungries started to distract me from this lively debate, to the point of making me very aware of the leaf-blower across the street behind me. My reading became decidedly less productive. So back to my flat I wandered, with the intention of grabbing a snack and with the change of scenery, continuing with my reading.

But my mind kept floating back to the pages of my bank accounts, and their alarmingly low numbers. What can I do, I thought - what can a storyteller-poet do to earn her keep? For the minister in me has feelers out into the church for opportunities there, and the academic is doing all she can for now with long distance assessment work, and scholarship applications to come.

What can the storyteller, what can the poet, do to earn some money? That is a very funny question, for neither of these elements of my vocation are attractive for their money earning potential (neither is the minister part, for that matter). So, as one who has been living this vocation for a while now, it is not as though this is a question I am posing for myself for the first time.

Which led me to my poems, and the lucrative competition I have been considering entering, but not doing so because I have before and it got me nothing. I know, competitions are subjective lotteries in a way - and not winning does not say your poem is no good. Sending work out for judging and receiving more rejections than acceptances is demoralising and takes more resistance than I can sometimes muster.

Nevertheless, I submitted the poem for the big competition, and will hold my breath until May next year, when I will no doubt exhale disappointment and curse the gift of poetry.

Before you give up in despair, this story takes a positive turn: I began to rehearse the opening piece for (in)humanity, the show I am currently developing. I interspersed rehearsal of this piece with rehearsal of other pieces - all spoken word or performance poems that stand alone.

Some friends and I are going to explore the spoken word events happening every week in pubs and cafes around our city here, and I am preparing pieces I might offer into the mix. My hope is that a friend or two might film my offering, and I can share it in various social media formats. For I wonder if I show what I can do as a poet and a teller of stories, it might help people looking for a poet, a storyteller, a preacher, speaker, or coach of any of these activities, to see that I might be the person for their occasion.

What can the storyteller-poet do? She can tell stories and poems, she can help others do the same. First, I will tell my story, so others know that I am here with gifts and skills to bring to life the stories we each hold within.

As I got into the poems and they got deeper into my heart and muscle memory, the words for another of the (in)humanity pieces started to arise, and actually became the possibility of two, not one, pieces, with surprise and delight for this storyteller-poet!

And a further wondering began to brew, a wondering into which I have dipped the toe of my imagination once before: crowdfunding. If I find a job in a congregation, I will delight in sharing life and the story that holds our Christian spirituality with that community. But (in)humanity will remain unfinished. The stories of courage, the collective story of love trumping fear for which I have deep passion and commitment, will sit on the shelf waiting longer to be told.

Perhaps that will be right. Perhaps it needs that time.

Perhaps, however, this story's time is now, and perhaps our shared humanity could work to bring the gifts of money I don't have to allow time for the gifts of writing and performing I do have, in order to, together, bring to life the stories of that very shared humanity ...

I wonder.

The poetry of the afternoon infused the contemplation of my evening at NiteKirk, whose stations picked up the thread of war and piece of this month's remembering for a nation whose story includes the beginning of World War I one hundred years ago. One of the stations was a commemoration of chaplains, who stand alongside soldiers as holders of light in the various shades of darkness war and the striving for peace inevitably bring. One of my dearest friends is a defence forces chaplain. I spent time thinking and praying for him, and his healing, light-bearing presence with soldiers at home. I didn't write this for him or them specifically, but he was in my heart as I wrote.


in the still and in the quiet
are we woven, knit and not
the undoing disaster of the loud –
yet noise, do not be silent, your
counterpoint of laughter from the cafe
next door no interruption, passing
traffic no distraction – no,
boundaries you form for our stillness
and our quiet remaking, retying
the frays and stray ends
in friendship with the strangers
lost in war, found in poem,
held in story weaving threads
of life the noise of war will never

(c) Sarah Agnew


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