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Sport 11: Spring 1993

A Path up the River

page 141

A Path up the River

Jacques Maritain’s definition of poetry as a ‘divination of the spiritual in the realm of the senses, to be expressed in the same realm’ is a useful one to mention here.

Contemporary writers walking a loosely related ‘spiritual’ floor to Baxter include poets like Bernadette Hall, Joanna Paul and, in a very veiled and private way, Elizabeth Smither. They share a reflective Catholicism, Zen-like in its concentration on using the ‘concrete’ to reveal the ‘spiritual’. A catholic, in the sense of universal, notion of accepting the world, its contradictions, its traditions—yet still managing to see beyond the limitations of contemporary society, its politics and ugliness, towards an individually achieved and experienced state of harmony and ‘truth’. A markedly different approach from Baxter who often got no further than staring down the barrel of his poetry at the society he so tirelessly, and sometimes tiresomely, rejected.

The sensitivity and pared-down language of Hall and Paul is a long way from the badgering tone and prolific noise of Baxter. Their delicacy of touch, their cultivation of stillness is ultimately more akin to the Catholic meditative tradition.

for ming

All the best things
start in small rooms

where a few gather
& talk & eat & laugh

& kindle & spill like
candles in paper cups.

(Bernadette Hall, from Of Elephants Etc, 1990)

Although her recent writing has become denser and more elaborate, Bernadette Hall’s poetry—and the spirituality it encapsulates which is by no means a conventional Catholicism—is a poetry in which:

All the windows
are open. Ivory tides wash out, wash in
page 142 & you sing the mysteries: that love
is a gift; that nothing is ever lost;
that death is the centre of a long life.

(Bernadette Hall, ‘Amica’, Heartwood, Caxton 1989)