THIS COLLECTION of poetry by Victoria Field represents ten months at Cornwall s cathedral . It therefore raises the issue of how a cathedral, both as building and as a community, might be presented by a poet-in-residence. Field offers an elastic response, spending the months as much out and about in the county as in the cathedral close. Hers is a Celtic translation: that of a pilgrim seeking spiritual significance as much among old clothes, the homeless, or down a back street, as within what is officially holy. Her poems celebrate the practical care of cathedrals ( Gifts of the Women of Truro ), the way in which she, Field, can read the birds ( December Walk ). Her tone is interrogative yet respectful, neatly contrasting gifts of jewellery from wealthy Londoners with the liberating wonders of the natural world. Such negotiations come together in a poem such as Doing Theo-logy , where she casts questions at a child hearing bright and terrible stories of scripture , and needing a spectrum of earthed experience through which to interpret them. Many of her poems are similarly tentative and questioning, moving between cathedral and countryside in exploratory steps. The overall journey of the book is frequently edgy, as in the poem The Crossing Place , where teenage male choristers ( exuberant, rampant with life, callow and beautiful ) are contrasted with the old lady , who is similarly on the cusp, nursing her cat in a cold room. She keeps the best to last. Pastoral is a keenly observed and sensitively interpreted account of a flock of small children visiting the cathedral. The nine lines of her last poem Going Up-Country show her at her most perceptive and economical. Here a whole debate is sketched in taut, deft images, with modesty and irony that open a potential volume. It shows what poets-in-residence can contribute, and why they are essential. --Martyn Halsall, The Church Times, 27th July 2007
After the bleak materialism and insufferably egotistic shut-mindedness of Richard Dawkins, what a treat it is to fall upon these poems - a sufficient sheaf by any reckoning. The sense of delight appears right at the start - with feet. Not perhaps the most euologised part of our anatomies, with a remembered dignity here from scripture, which Victoria Field plays on, adding her own inimitable poet s tenderness: their fret of small bones untouched, unseeing , with fret carrying an almost pun on feet . These poems themselves constitute a cathedral, invoking a mood of reflection that may be more conventional than Larkin s in Church Going, but producing lines that are, like Larkin s, (to use his own word) equally unignorable , like the last line of Five Windows: Sea eats the starlight, swallows it whole. From such cosmic images she can turn you with a shock to something homely but equally startling, like the old lady recently widowed, looking through glass for the old man in blue overalls/who wouldn t be in for his tea . The simplicity here is breathtakingly deceptive, reminding me of Milton s insistence that poetry should be simple, sensuous, passionate . If he fails to meet at least one of his own criteria, Vicky Field scores a hat-trick. These are no Vicar of Dibley s poems. Such pieces allow her ample licence to practise her more conventional devotions, as in Many Waters itself, where Cornwall s Cathedral is so lovingly personified, and the title ripples with scripture. Many waters cannot quench love. Of course this collection shimmers with spiritual awareness, and of course with the images you would expect from a cathedral poet - votive candles, icons. But each awareness, each image, goes off in a direction of its own, steered by the poet s indomitable intelligence, charting her own private anxieties. So the votive candles, lit one after another, become daisy chains, bringing back to her those old summers, the slow moments in long grass . Lost souls wander in - as they do. Or are wheeled in - as they are: a back-from-the-brink suicide, a man who suffered a stroke, speechless paraplegics. She builds them into her foundations, she soars with the peregrine, she becomes the Service, in the dramatically unusual poem of this title which turns the sacred into an open secular sewer of human need. And it s in this poem that we finally get it. Victoria Field is the cathedral, is the Service. Her place of work has become her voice. Her year as cathedral poet has paid off in a perfect poetic fusion of flesh and stone and glass and water, a fusion of the ordinary and the divine. The final line of this poem says it all: let the truly human pass through me This is exactly what happens when Victoria Field writes her poetry and when we read it. She has become the receptacle of that still sad flow of humanity that is also flecked with fun and fascination, just as the verse flickers with life in all its forms, like sunlight on a busy beautiful river. No hideaway poet then, that much is certain. And by the time she s done with you and you ve read Interrogating the Abyss, you are left, again Larkinesquely, wondering vaguely what might have been there if there had never been a cathedral at all. Precisely the same question applies to the poet, and to this poet in particular. She has interrogated silence, and in so doing has, like all poets, made it answer back. You can t ask more of a writer than that. In the case of a cathedral poet and Victoria Field, you have to add: well done, thou good and faithful servant. --Christopher Rush, Lapidus Quarterly, Spring 2007
Victoria Field is a writer and poetry therapist. She has published two collections of poetry, Olga s Dreams (fal, 2004) and Many Waters (fal, 2006), the latter based on a year as writer-in-residence at Truro Cathedral. Hall for Cornwall have produced two of her plays. She has also co-edited two books on therapeutic writing, Writing Works (Jessica Kingsley, 2006) with Gillie Bolton and Kate Thompson and Prompted to Write (fal, 2007) with Zeeba Ansari. She works using writing for healing in many health, community and educational settings and presents widely on the subject, including regularly in the US and, earlier this year, in Edmonton. Fal, her own award-winning small press, was founded in 2004.