'Love enables us to make meaning of our lives in the world. and gives us hope for what lies beyond. It is completely humdrum and ordinary: it is mysterious beyond speech. It begins in the body and points us to eternity.'
I am gradually collecting all Janet Morley's anthologies of poetry (writes Debbie Thrower). The latest I've bought is Love Set You Going: Poems of the heart (SPCK, 2019). How does this collection of love poetry differ from so many others? Well, Morley has chosen poems dealing with different stages of life, describing in her thoughtful introduction how 'life offers us, and asks of us, many different kinds of love, and poets have reflected, with insight and acute observation, on them all.'
Janet Morley has chosen poems conveying many facets of love at our various ages and stages while avoiding any she might have commented on in her previous books, such as The Heart's Time (SPCK 2011), Haphazard by Starlight (SPCK, 2013) and Our Last Awakening (SPCK, 2016).
Thinking about dementia from the perspective of a woman contemplating the possibility that she may one day live with the disease, ('What's in a name?' by Christine de Luca) was a particular highlight for me.
God and the Human Heart
As the poems move us from babyhood (and parenthood) through memories of our own childhood, adolescence, and growing maturity... Morley begins to explore how poetry helps us make sense of the ageing process. She draws on poets such as George Herbert, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas and Rowan Williams as well as sections of poetry in the Bible, to explore the final section entitled 'God and the Human Heart.'
The importance of story
I particularly welcomed her insight that 'to be a Christian is not so much about assenting to a series of doctrinal statements, as it is agreeing to place oneself inside the story, which then transforms how the whole world appears'.
Morley shows how some contemporary religious poets, rather than addressing God directly, find it more appealing to write 'from the inside of a biblical story, letting the confusion and uncertainty the characters experience in encountering God stand for our own'.
Her Wikipedia entry tells us that as well as being a poet in her own right, 'like her mother and her father, she has been a church-going member of the Church of England her whole life' and 'she has worked in adult religious education for Christian Aid and for the Methodist Church': en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Morley
Love Set You Going is collection of poetry to enjoy oneself and, perhaps, give to others who may be facing uncomfortable transitions in life. Her own faith and emotional intelligence shine through her careful selection as well as her succinct reflections on each poem.
I kept wishing I'd had her for an English teacher when I was young, while also giving thanks for those kindly teachers I did know, who awakened a love of language and literature that still stands me in good stead when digging deep for understanding and solace!