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Poems by Peter Brooke


(1) "Those Two Boys" and other poems. These poems correspond for the most part to a period after I had 'come out' and was actively involved in the gay scene in Belfast and in London. They are to do with the fascination of glamour and image, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

At this time I was active in politics and very much wanted to write 'political' poetry but was quite unable to do it. Poetry dictates its own subject matter.

(2) Against Photography. The spirit of discontent and rebellion against that sort of life, against spirituality trapped in the prison of glamour and image. Most of these poems were written in France in the late '80s and early '90s, where I had gone to study the work of Albert Gleizes. Gleizes' denunciation of 'machinism' looms large but, most importantly, living with the potter Genevieve Dalban, I was beginning to learn something of the difference between the abstract experience of the intellectual and the much fuller, corporeal, 'aesthetic' (meaning everything to do with the senses) experience of the craftsman - a transition I long for and am still far from having accomplished.

During this period I made my first religious commitment, with the Baha'i World Faith. This will eventually, I hope, be discussed in the 'Politics and Theology' pages. I very much wanted to write Baha'i poems but was again, quite unable to do it.

(3) Things as they are. These poems reflect my baptism in the Orthodox Church through the intermediary of Fr Quentin de Castelbajac of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Lyon (but Fr Quentin is not to be held responsible for the sometimes rather eccentric content of the poems). The title is ambitious, and I don't claim for a moment that it is merited, but it reflects the hope that these poems put everything into their real context, the context of Eternal Life.

This is a theme developed in the texts by Albert Gleizes given in the Art and Religion section. We all know our life as it is conducted under the two, mutually contradictory, conditions of Space and Time. But everything in Space and Time stands in relation to, and finds its fulfilment in, a third condition, which is that of Eternity. Eternity is not to be understood as endless Time. It is as distinct from Time as Time is from Space.

These poems are of course poor vessels for such a content, such an awareness of reality. They are liable to crack under the strain. But once one has had a glimpse of this, then nothing else that could ever go under the name of 'culture' is worth attempting.

(4) The End of Everything Had I died after producing Things as they are my poetic output would have had a pleasing aesthetic shape to it. As it is the first enthusiasm of encountering Orthodoxy has now, in this and in the succeeding collection, settled into something more mixed with other concerns, more complex and, perhaps, for that reason, more interesting.

(5) The Invisible Combat Although these don't indicate much of a change of mood from The End of Everything they do include a number of poems connecting with (or failing to connect with) the thinking of other people, notably Blake, Yeats and Geraldine McNeill, the dentist in Cushendall, who was also a rather extraordinary painter.

(6) Quarrelling with William Yeats. Yeats's poetry articulates a religious world view according to which we all participate in a Consciousness which is immortal but remains resolutely human and is peopled by gods who may be understood as human psychological forces. It is a vision that is confined to the psychological and rejects what an Orthodox Christian would understand as spiritual. As an anthropology it is powerful and convincing but he does not rise to the level of theology. Do I? Probably not, but I have the idea of it and I think that in these poems the 'invisible combat' between the psychological and the spiritual/theollogical is particularly marked, which is to say, the psychological is fighting back.

(7) Nothing in me I am increasingly persuaded that poetry is a wonderful vehicle for theological speculation. Theological speculation is not at all the same thing as 'theology' in the Orthodox understanding of the term, the understanding in which St John the Evangelist and St Gregory Nazianzus - himself a fine poet - are 'theologians'. 'Theology' is God speaking through the Saints. Theological speculation is people who are not Saints chattering about God, perhaps, at best, trying honestly and unpretentiously to understand what they have been told by the real theologians. I am inclined to agree with Richard Dawkins that 'theology' should not be an academic subject - religious studies, yes, and philosophy, yes, but not 'theology' ie theological speculation, which must necessarily always have a fradulent air to it. In principle it is really intolerable but somehow it seems a little less intolerable when expressed in poetry rather than in prose (though there are those who would see my poetry as cut-up prose. They wouldn't be enitirely right but I do recognise an analogy between what I do and what Buckminster Fuller was doing in books such as No More Secondhand God and Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization. He said straightforwardly that he was cutting his prose up into lines to concentrate attention on individual thoughts. That may be a good description ofwhat I do).

Poetry enables us to express ideas which are not sufficiently clearly understood to be expressed in prose and that corresponds quite well to the necessary character of theological speculation. It mantains the incompleteness which, under Grace, may be received as Mystery. I might add to this that, however fraudulent it may be, theological speculation is an almost unavoidable human weakness - we can't help thinking about our own religious experience and about what we believe - and since no-one can possibly define themselves as a Saint the true theology of the Saints necessarily arises out of the swamp of theological speculation. The Saints themselves thought they were engaged in theological speculation, which is why they were reluctant to do it and only did it under extreme pressure, usually in reaction to the emergence of a soul destroying heresy (of which there are plenty whirling around us at the present time).

(8) New item, October 2013Things that speak Not sure there's anything to be added to the above.