It’s not often  I use my blog to plug something else, but I am such a fan of Edward’s Barker’s contemporary poetry website – www.thepoem.co.uk – that it feels only right to dedicate some small space to singing its praises.

Edward Barker is a poet and also the son of a poet. His father George Barker is famous, among other things, for having been the lover Elizabeth Smart romanticised in her seminal 1945 novel, By Grand Central Station I sat Down and Wept. (Less well known is that George offered his own account of their affair in his 1950 novel The Dead Seagull.)

Anyway, Barker fils’ website showcases a somewhat highbrow crop of British and Irish contemporary poets whose work it commissions directly. It boasts a poetry zine and a discussion forum. But, most importantly, it has impeccable good taste. The poems posted on the poem.co.uk are by and large very sharp.

This week I chose five of them to read to my multi-faith group:

Kathleen Jamie’s Julian of Norwich

Kate Clanchy’s Poem for a Man with No Sense of Smell

Roddy Lumsden’s Pagan

Michael Longley’s An Amish Rug

Carol Ann Duffy’s Poet for our Times

I’ll confine myself to telling you how just one of them went down with the group, Longley’s Amish Rug, which I have to confess was my favourite of the bunch, since I find it difficult to resist a poem that begins with the promise of a bit of fairytale magic….‘As if’.

An Amish Rug is poem of concise perfection, three verses and twelve lines long, that moves from black and white, into colour, and thence into luminescence.  It begins by picturing Amish life from the outside looking in; the one-room schoolhouse, the black clothing, ‘Marriage a horse and buggy going to church’, children looking like stick silhouettes in the snow.

With the second verse, we’re right inside the Amish world, the patchwork of the rug being compared to a smallholding, its threads the colour of ‘cantaloupe and cherry’ to the threads that secure hay bales, corn cobs and tobacco leaves. The making of the rug represents and contains the industry of the community.

In the final verse Longley seems to be suggesting that if you undress humanity you get the Amish – a people simple, innocent and pure. You may hang the rug on the wall, he says  – ‘a cathedral window.’ Or you can lay it on the floor. But even then it remains an object of reverence, not to be stepped on but stepped over when you undress for sleep or love, ‘as over a flowerbed.’

I love this image of stepping over the rug, as if it was a sacred object, as if it were a bridge, or a gateway. As if, when you stepped over it, you alighted in an over-cleansed world, a heaven or paradise, so neat and so ordered that an outsider might mistake it for austere.

And yet Longley so clearly suggests that an insider would know better.

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