By Irina Kuzminsky
June 3, Waterloo Festival, St John’s Waterloo
On a spectacularly sunny English summer day some of Britain’s best poets gathered at St John’s Church Waterloo to send out their own call for awareness of the ecological crisis threatening our planet and therefore us. Sponsored, most appropriately, by the World Wildlife Fund and ARC (http://arcworld.org) and curated by poet, author and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay, Writing on the Wall was an ambitious part of the Waterloo Festival – a day of eco-spiritual poetry with speakers, poets, musicians and singers. The day also offered the opportunity for audience involvement through a rich selection of options: a guided walk through the Waterloo and Lambeth of Blake and Rimbaud with Irish poet Niall McDevitt, a poetry writing workshop with Sian Thomas, or a singing experience with Caroline McCausland and Anam Cora.
The focus of the day was eco-spirituality and a wake-up call for us to see the state of the planet we are a part of, a state brought about largely by our own role as exploiters rather than guardians of the natural world and of each other. Artists, in the deep sense, are called to truth-seeing and truth-telling and this was what all the contributors to the day sought in their individual ways to accomplish. It is no indictment of them that most of them are not mainstream household names. As Jay Ramsay pointed out, if they, and their views, had been mainstream, the state of our ecology – and spirituality – would have been different to what it is now. In any case, it has always been the voices from the periphery, those who come from outside the establishment, who make a difference, and who are responsible for revolutions in ways of thinking and of perceiving, and this is no different today. Those who bring in the truly new, regardless of how the established appropriate to themselves sobriquets and buzz words such as ‘ground-breaking’, ‘modern’, ‘challenging’, ‘innovative’, are still outsiders today. Anthony Nanson of Awen Publications, an eco-spiritual publisher, made an impassioned plea for the support of independent presses making the point that they have always been the ones to publish the important truly new non-mainstream books of their time.
The day got off to an inspired and inspiring start with contributions by poets Jay Ramsay and Jeni Couzyn, business thought leader Giles Hutchins, who spoke unforgettably on the Illusion of Separation, and vicar and BBC broadcaster Peter Owen Jones. All spoke with eloquence and from the heart, as did the afternoon speakers, Dr Glyn Davies, Executive Director of Global Programmes at WWF, international activist Jane Samuels, writer and poet Sarah Connor who proposed a new Bill of Truth, and Awen publisher Anthony Nanson.
It was particularly heartening to hear from speakers such as Giles Hutchins and Jane Samuels on the role of poetry. Not poets themselves, they were a clear illustration of how poetry can and does make a difference in people’s lives, inspiring them to look at the world in a different way, and to make a soul connection with it as it were.
The poets themselves, all of them included in the spiritual poetry anthology Diamond Cutters, edited by Jay Ramsay and Andrew Harvey (Tayen Lane), presented their work in the concluding concert. Jeni Couzyn, Helen Moore, Paul Matthews, Jehanne Mehta, Jay Ramsay, Victoria Field, Sian Thomas, Irina Kuzminsky, Aidan Andrew Dun (with pianist Lucie Rechjrtova), Niall McDevitt – each was memorable in their own way. Jehanne Mehta and Aidan Andrew Dun collaborated with musicians to enhance their readings, a beautiful illustration of how effectively music can combine with the spoken word. The final poem of the day was a reworking of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem If by Jojo Mehta, striking in its simplicity and truth. The concert concluded with hauntingly beautiful musical presentations by Anam Cora, an all-women vocal ensemble led by Caroline McCausland, and flautist Nigel Shaw, who makes his own flutes, including a replica of a bone flute, one of the earliest ever found.
The amount of thought-provoking material and presentations packed into one day was incredible and more than enough for an entire immersive weekend. Part conference, part roundtable, part poetry readings, part workshops, part concert, the day left the audience well and truly sated and filled to overbrimming. All in all it was a Herculean effort by Jay Ramsay who enabled and organized the event and all credit goes to him.
The accompanying booklet, besides acting as a programme, provided examples of the individual poets’ work, as well as including poetry chosen by the participants, making it a fine poetry pamphlet in its own right.
Throughout it all St John’s Waterloo provided an excellent example of how a church can extend its reach into the community and bring people to an engagement with the spiritual through the arts. We all owe a big debt of gratitude to the Canon of St John’s, Giles Goddard who also led the opening and closing meditations, and to the members of the church for opening up their space to us, poets, artists, singers, musicians, photographers, sculptors, who see their art and creativity as a gateway into the spiritual and a way of engaging with the Supreme Creator of all.
Can poetry save the planet? It can bring about a groundswell of awareness and it can ignite minds, hearts and souls through words which reach beyond the illusion of separation and find an echo in an other.
The Awen authors are:
Back row: Paul Matthews (2nd from left), Aidan Andrew Dun (10th from left), Anthony Nanson (12th from left), Helen Moore (extreme right).
Front row: Irina Kuzminsky (6th from left), Jay Ramsay (9th from left), Jehanne Mehta (11th from left).