One of the catalysts for this book was a four day, four night fast in an ancient woodland which some people call a wilderness vigil or vision quest.
By the third day of eating nothing, going nowhere, just paying attention to the place you’re in, one might begin to slip into an altered state of consciousness where the boundaries between yourself and the world get a bit more blurred than they normally are.
When I got back home I’d intended to write some short stories and work toward a novel, but at the time it seemed that all I could do was write poetry. In the introduction to the book, I have a crack at exploring why reading and writing poetry suddenly felt so vital, but it’s still somewhat mysterious to me. It has to do with this sentence from Martin Shaw:
‘I am sick to death of tame language being used to talk about wild things.‘
For those interested, I’ve posted a little reading from the book over on my substack newsletter which you can listen to for free: https://benpatrickholden.substack.com/p/vespers-poetry-book-release
If you like the poems and want to help me out, then five star reviews are always useful. Also, if you buy Vespers within the first year of release then all profits will go to the excellent charity Arts Emergency, which I see as a sort cultural immune response to the erosion of arts and humanities.
This is a good place to say thank you to the guys at the School of Myth and Storytelling for guiding the vigil. It wasn’t the only catalyst but I’m not sure I would have written this little book without going through that experience.
Thanks to my sister, the mythic artist and prolific painter Lisa Kilty, for the beautiful book cover.
Thanks also to Jane Yolen, Stephan Harding and Tom Cheetham, who were generous enough to give a few kind words to a chancer like me.
Praise for Vespers
‘A book of poems for the walkers and dreamers, for those people who step outside and pay attention to the ‘dreaming world’ which -in the author’s lovely words is ‘present as wind.’’
~ Jane Yolen, author of over 400 books for children and adults
‘These poems take us far away from the deadly mechanisms of modernity and into the deeply eloquent lifeways of our animate earth. They open doorways into the forgotten realm of nature’s soul which we so deeply need to rediscover in this time of crisis.’
~ Stephan Harding, author of Animate Earth and Gaia Alchemy
‘Sometimes the beings of our world will tell you who they are, if you listen. The world comes alive and you know you are being seen. These fine poems are a record of such a remarkable event. Take them seriously. Let them guide you into that open field.’
~ Tom Cheetham, author of Boundary Violations and other books
And here are some poems from the book, beginning with a few definitions of the word ‘vesper’
1. A late afternoon or evening worship
2. A planet, usually Venus, seen at sunset in the western sky
Wasp clings to a mountain cairn
from the mist.
We camped here once,
my dad and I;
son and father, mountain top,
washed in starlight on the cairn.
Were we collecting silver then?
Now the only stars
have gathered on the wasp;
constellated queens and kings
and the bone-white gaze of jesters.
The chapels are in disrepair,
Venus washed out by the mist.
My company; a dying wasp
and the wind that sings his vespers.
I watch my son
breathing in his sleep
and kept alive
by a presence all about us,
filling up his little lungs,
flowing steady through his blood;
a steady gift,
of my life
is not housed inside your skull.
and its lovely brain
shares a home with your heart.
And your body,
with its lively blood,
lives inside the world;
that home of earth
and falling water
and fire in the mind.
does not live inside you.
You live inside
tell me how
to plummet with such grace
into cold and darkness
beneath the river’s rippling face.
tell me how
to hunt inside the dark,
alone inside the river’s chest,
called to a silver spark.
tell me how
to seek beauty in the dark
like Psyche with her silver key,
a gift from lost Persephone.
tell me how
to grace the gray of day,
to dress as if the gods were watching,
and live the diver’s way.
The Longest Work
I gather limbs of oak and alder,
lash them tight with marsh reeds
then begin the longest work
of holding up the frame.
Tilted at an oblique angle
in the darkest stretch of forest;
not a frame for any vine,
but a trellis
for spirits to climb.
The Shell I Carry
Sometimes in sleep
like a snail defending from attack,
and the shell I carry hardens,
shutting out the dreaming world.
And when I wake,
whether or not enemies are present,
the shell remains;
an unseen spiral,
heavy on my back.
Is this why my shoulders ache?
Is this what broke the car’s suspension?
thank you for guarding me,
but sometimes its such a weight
to carry all this armour.
So let me bless you, friend,
with oils made from river rocks
and the shed skins of vipers.
May you be a noble sentinel
that knows when to harden
and when to soften.
May your broken horns and bony studs
gleam with starlight when owls call.
May your bumps and runnels
be the blind queen’s brail.
May your hardened flesh
know the tears of sons
and the laughter of daughters,
the pressure of fox prints
and the pleasures of water.
Green Gold Light
I’m a hunter for the green gold light
that spills through leaves,
plunges through rivers,
draping itself in the eddies of boulders
and the gliding shadows of clover,
bursting out in veins of shimmering crystal
and shoals of green-gold salmon,
brushing their translucent bellies
over the branches, leaves and cheeks
of all the lifted faces
swaying in their graces.
The Gold In Your Eyes
to lean your soul to another
is the truest gold
we can lend.
The Invisible Market knows this.
It wants your gold
and it knows how to get it;
your precious, fleeting gold,
drawn from your eyes
into the clean, bright interface
of the Invisible Market
like spiders draw blood from flies.
Be careful where you place your eyes.
Odysseus warned his shipmates
but they still untied him,
as they untied me one morning
to lend the Sirens my ears and eyes.
My son played with his train track.
I stared into my phone.
Ah it’s alright. He’s happy by himself.
But now and then he called to me
‘Will you give me a little gold?’
The hidden question went unheard
as I spent myself in the Invisible Market
until a third a time, he whispered
‘Don’t you want to play?’
I threw away the headphones
and pulled away my gaze
and gathered up a heap of gold
and held it for my son.
Then he climbed on my knees
and to my complete surprise
reached up to give a kiss,
one for each of my eyes.
© Ben Patrick Holden 2022