Poetry for Pleasure

On Monday mornings I often find myself approaching the Cornerstone Centre, off Hove’s Palmeira Square. Just before noon I climb the stairs to a small room on the first floor. Several people are already there; soon the room is quite crowded. Now a ceremony begins. Seated at the front, a leader introduces the theme for the day. One by one, members of the group come forward to read. What are they worshipping? Poetry!

Most of the people who meet every Monday at noon at the Cornerstone are retired. Formerly, they were teachers, actors, civil servants, artists, academics – from all over the globe. They share a love of poetry, although their personal tastes may differ markedly. What they enjoy is the chance to hear some of the world’s finest poems read aloud.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins

My own love of poetry began in my teens. I can still remember the strong response I felt when I read Gerard Manley Hopkins great sonnet The Windhover. I studied literature at university – a luxury frowned on in these days of austerity – and poetry was my favourite subject. Later in life, as a teacher of literature, I discussed The Windhover with hundreds of students over the years. Imagine my delight when I met the late Sheila Bain, the inspirational founder of the Cornerstone group, and discovered that she loved the poetry of Hopkins and that The Windhover was one of her favourite poems. The fact that Sheila, a devout Catholic, and I, a stubborn atheist, could share a love for the same poet is a clear guide to the character of this group: poetry comes before all other faiths.

The poetry which is read on these Monday mornings is selected from the whole treasury of English and American poetry. Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Yeats, Larkin, Betjeman mingle with a host of minor poets who deserve greater recognition. Sometimes Classical poets or poets from other languages are read in translation. Each Monday a member of the group presents a personal selection. The poems are read by members of the group. The great attraction of these meetings is the variety of choice shared and enjoyed by those who attend. This is not a reverential gathering to repeat over and over again a small number of sacred texts. At almost every meeting I am introduced to poems which I have never heard before. To my surprise, in recent months, the once regular audience of 20-25 has increased to more than 30. The room is almost full and Health and Safety rules may be broken if the trend continues. But what a wonderful endorsement for Poetry. Its devotees continue to multiply!

‘Poetry for Pleasure’ meets at the Cornerstone Centre, St. John’s Church, off Palmeira Square, Hove, every Monday [except Bank Holidays] from 12noon -1.15pm

Peter Batten

The Windhover

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

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