For some of us the distilled wisdom of poetry is a valuable way of exploring our faith and fragility as we grow older. Developing some of his thoughts on faith, poetry and prayer in his 2001 book, The Collage of God (Canterbury Press), Mark Oakley, who is Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, has now written The Splash of Words: Believing in poetry (Canterbury Press, 2016).
Inviting us to encounter living water, sources welling up to produce the splash of words of his title... so may we 'understand that ultimately poetry is not about factual information but human formation. Like water, language goes stagnant if it doesn't move. The poet's task is to wage war against cliché so that words take their rightful place in the development and growth of human lives in the world itself.'
Mark Oakley re-examines some well-known poems by Dylan Thomas and George Herbert, as well as those he resonates with by a number of contemporary poets—some less widely read—from British to Scandinavian, from North American to Afghan, to offer some of his own perceptions, all of them laced with quotations from others of his favourite writers.
'More willing to grow old'
For example, discussing the poet Mary Oliver, he quotes her saying she thought that, to become 'spiritual', you become kinder, more people-oriented, more willing to grow old and more investigative.
For poet Alice Walker (who wrote the epistolary novel The Color Purple), 'poetry is medicine', and Oakley admires her resilience, her political activism and her determination to 'scrutinise the language games and power bids of the religious'. Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 2013, Alice Walker declared, 'Life gives you a gift from every disaster that you survive.'
'Opening all kinds of doors'
As Rowan Williams said when reviewing The Splash of Words; 'Some writers have the gift of simply letting you know you can trust them. Mark Oakley has this gift in abundance... A very moving book, opening all kinds of doors into more compassionate, more truthful understanding.'