And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.
So reads the closing couplet of Malcolm Guite’s introductory poem, which goes by the same title as his book, The Singing Bowl. “Begin the song exactly where you are” is a good motto for this little collection of poetry, whose subject matter ranges from coffee shops and iPhones to saints and communion tables, and encompasses grief and joy, contemplation and worry.
The Singing Bowl is noticeably different from Guite’s previous book Sounding the Seasons, a collection of sonnets marking dates in the church calendar, and not simply in subject matter. Unlike Sounding the Seasons, The Singing Bowl uses a variety of poetic forms such as blank verse, quatrains, the villanelle, and even (gasp) free verse. Despite these changes, however, Guite’s spiritual insight and his beauty of expression are still present.
Let me pick out some fragments to tantalise you.
These are the opening lines from “Hatley St George”, a poem about an old church.
Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes, a beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
And, in a different vein, here’s a verse from his “iOde”:
I am familiar with a hundred faces,
All famished for their fifteen minutes fame
I am half present in a hundred places
But never present in the place I am.
And, lastly, the closing lines of “Pour out the Wine”:
So now, whilst hands can touch and eyes can see,
Raise up the glass and let your glance meet mine,
And when I’m gone, do this one thing for me,
Pour out the wine.
I have a natural bias against contemporary poets. I dislike free verse, I dislike banality, and I dislike ugliness, all of which seem to afflict contemporary poetry more than older poetry. But it’s possible to be a modern poet with an eye and an ear for beauty, order, and meaning, and also to be contemporary and real and Guite is proof of this.
Even if he does sometimes use free verse….