Residency: St Dominic's Priory
What happens when a poet who hasn't been to a mass in over fifteen years goes back to church? This month I'm starting a residency at St Dominic's Priory, a big stone church in Newcastle's Ouseburn. I've walked past it many times after gigs, usually full of Star and Shadow beer. Every time I pass I wonder what sits on the other side of those gothic stained glass windows and that grand wooden door.
Now I have chance - an excuse if I am honest - to go in and reflect on where I left my religion all those years ago and write a poem.
Empty churches are rooms filled with a quiet contemplation. Often cavernous and ornately decorated with paintings and statues, their cool floors fall underfoot with the same revered air as an art gallery. Both public spaces are welcome to those who come to pledge their time and attention to these dwellings of devotion through meditation and observation. And equally, they welcome those who have done none of the above before but whose feet have somehow found their place there.
Raised Roman Catholic, I was a steady church going gal until the age of about fourteen. Church offered a familiar, consistent home away from home. I found it comforting and still do. On hot days I'll bob into any church for ten minutes of air and head space. Rainfall on a church roof is always worth seeking. Partly, I think this interest in churches springs from my being able to sing there.
The repetition of words, images, the booming of hymns and all that sitting and standing together with my best friends, something in those gestural rhythms spoke directly to me. Togetherness. A communion we all seek. As a seven year old I was convinced I wanted to become a priest. I'd hold my own masses on the dining room table with candles, KJ Bible and fruit juice.
With a pressed table cloth, pink wafers and brass goblets, I took great pleasure in reading sections from the Eucharist. I see this now, of course, as a form of childhood meditation and focus. The sounds of the words and their rhythms came as a soothing mantra. It was a youthful exploration of what I now know as my adult spirituality and in the psalms, I discovered a heartfelt interest in the music and imagery of the poem.
POST SCRIPT - - -
'Write Around the Toon' is a Newcastle University NCLA project in which five selected PhD researchers take residence and write poems in response to a range of Newcastle-Gateshead's finest cultural venues. The residencies conclude with readings at Culture Lab this December. Tickets are available here.