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The Poetry Delusion

The Poetry Delusion

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)

... but was he a poet?

In the Beginning

In the beginning there was a word, and last week the word was path. This week the word is religion, simple as that.

My family are all super-religious, so I was brought up to go to church; I played the organ for services occasionally, rang the bells for the Sunday morning services and Saturday weddings (for which I got paid 10 quid each time). So I know quite a lot of the old bible stories and service nitty-gritty.

I always found religion as like a poetry submission that goes unanswered for a year. I wondered whether there was anybody out there looking at my work and why they hadn't bothered to reply. So, as a science student, religion was anathema.

from Greek anathema ... ‘thing devoted to evil, accursed thing’, from anatithenai‘
(Oxford English Dictionary)

aversion, abhorrence, abomination, curse, object of loathing, bête noire, bugbear, bane, proscription, taboo
(Chambers dictionary)

“Anathema” first appeared in print in English in the 16th century as an ecclesiastical term imported from the Latin “anathema,” which meant “something accursed, an evil or accursed person.” Oddly enough, the root of that Latin “anathema,” the Greek “anathema,” originally meant “something devoted to the gods” (from “ana,” up, plus “tithenai,” to place). Over time, however, the Greek “anathema” developed the negative meaning of “something or someone devoted to evil.” That meaning carried over into Latin, and then English, where today we use “anathema” to mean both someone who is literally cursed or excommunicated from a religious group or, more broadly, a thing or person greatly loathed or hated.
(The Word Detective)

I often make sly digs at religion in my poetry, such as in this line from a chapter titled Capricorn, in my in-progress short story in verse: the questions from which too many people hide, because the old stories survive.

Inviting a Miracle

There were lots of invitations
And I know you sent me some
But I was waiting
For the miracle, for the miracle to come
(Lyrics from Leonard Cohen's song Waiting for the Miracle, Genius Lyrics)

And because it would be remiss of me not to link you up with the Leonard Cohen song, Waiting for the Miracle, that link will take you to YouTube :)

By this time next week I'll know if either of my poetry entries to the Manchester Cathedral Poetry competition have been successful. I first heard about this competition whilst reviewing Helen Evans’ poetry pamphlet Only by Flying (HappenStance Press) for the Sphinx Reviews website. The acknowledgements include, ‘Crossing’ came third in the Manchester Cathedral prize 2010. ’. I heard about it again when reading Emma Simon’s pamphlet, Dragonish (The Emma Press), and their website notes that Emma ‘won third prize in the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition in 2016’ for her poem 'Afterwards,'(which is in Dragonish).

Don't forget, I'm reading with Emma Simon at Putney Library on 11 October 2017. It would be lovely to meet you if you're in the vicinity. Details are on my events page ... angels and demons all welcome :)

Poems submitted should be broadly religious or ‘spiritual’ in nature and, like all good religious poetry, appeal to those who would not necessarily describe themselves as ‘religious’. We encourage poetry from a range of faith traditions, as well as from those struggling to discover a sense of the sacred. Poems are welcome in any style or form and will be judged solely on their merits as poetry.
(Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition)

I'd love to get on the shortlist or the winners podium in Helen’s and Emma’s poetry footsteps :) I fall into the category “not necessarily describe themselves as ‘religious’” ... but my two attempts look at how religion seeps into the world of even non-believers.

For those of you who are grammar nerds like me and wonder why ‘Winners Podium’ doesn't have a possessive apostrophe, it's because the winners didn't bring the podium with them. It is a podium for the winners but it is not the winners’ podium :)

one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.

(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)

Better the Devil you Know

When I was born I don't think they examined me for any satanic birthmarks, but I did enter the world weighing 6lb 6oz, a tenth of a devil ... I bet I have six tenths of an ounce too just to keep the clergy on edge ;)

#ManchesterCathedralPoetry #HelenEvans #EmmaSimon #RichardDawkins @RichardDawkins @SimpleSimonEmma @SphinxReviews

Published incompetitions and submissionsPoetry


  1. I really enjoyed the first half of this about religion, especially anathema (as you go on, your humble reader can’t help feeling you are hooking in a lot of other diary stuff just because you want to and that is anathema to me).

    So back to anathema. It’s in the King James Bible, Corinthians 16: 22 ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.’ I love this just because of the sound of it, though it doesn’t mean what you would think it means. It sounds like it means anathema with brass knobs on.

    But actually apparently the ‘maranatha’ got there by mistake because it actually means not double damn you (as people thought) but ‘the Lord hath come’. Maybe it’s an early example of use what you think sounds right and hell mend them.

    I dare you to put it in a poem. Anathema, I mean (though I can’t help pointing out that poetry is anathema to many people).

    Recently I found it really interesting when someone asked me if you could have more than one of them. Anathemas, I mean….

  2. Giles Giles

    *smile* sure you can have more than one anathema. Poetry might be one and racists another. I’d have to reseach what the plural is … anathemas or anathemi? 😉

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