Lawrence Sail is a British poet of some renown, who for 20 years has been writing poems for the Christmas season that he's sent as cards to friends. Now he has collected them in an illustrated book which he is marketing entirely on behalf of the charity Trusts for African Schools, which supports some of the poorest schools in Africa. I've a friend a headmaster in Kenya, who testifies that it's a charity which uses its money wisely and to good account.
Lawrence's poems are thoughtful, delicate, very observing of nature and with a quiet unfussy originality of language. I've just got the book and it's lovely. Here's the opening poem:
Delete leaves, the hum of long evenings, light.
Change to bold the grip of frost, black nights.
Rearrange forest gales, seas steep as stairs.
Italicise the stinging slopes of rain.
Stet the murderous world, heartland of despair.
Indent: in the beginning, begin again.
Insert an asterisk over Bethlehem.
Replace damaged characters with wise men.
Substitute stable for inn, manger for bed.
Transpose caviar and crust, fish and hook.
Realign hope, cherish the hungry and the dead.
Print: weigh in your hand spring's budding book.
Some of the poems have an overtly Christmas theme, others are more generally wintry, but all have that delicate, surprising language, those slopes of rain, that promise of spring after winter... What could make a better gift for someone who loves books, or someone who wants to do some good to people other than manufacturers and retailers over the season? As the blurb on the back, written by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, says: "Lawrence Sail's poetry is beautifully pictorial, evocative and deeply thoughtful. I am glad that this collection will help support the education of children in Africa."
G'wan, make the Archbish, a friend and yourself a little gladder!
on 30 September 2010
Sail's new collection for Christmas leads the reader through a dreamscape of light and shadow, starlight and snow, that is all the more poignant for its embedding in moments of pure stark reality. In a frozen allotment, on a star-strewn hill, on a moored yacht, in a myriad of settings spanning thousands of years and miles, Sail exposes the grandeur and the poverty of the Christmas message meeting and sharing in each line. These are poems of poise, of delicate narratives temporally exploded one moment ('Cablecar') and visually shrink in the next ('The Annunciation'); each poem, each line, a moment caught in literary freefall. This is an accessible collection to be picked up and shared time and over again over the Christmas period.