Rumours of hope: reaching out in word and image
Piquant Editions; 2005; £14.99; Hardback; 96p.; ISBN 1903689317
It would be wrong to describe Rumours of Hope just as a beautifully produced illustrated book of poems, by a distinguished international academic and theologian. (George Hobson is Canon Theologian,at the American Cathedral in Paris). It is all of that – its presentation is a delight, but as photographer as well as priest and poet, Hobson’s carefully crafted images are designed to be as much a part of the text as his words.
Rumours of Hope is about exploring light and colour – through the lens of the camera; through the poetic sensibility in response to the natural world in the context of its eternal significance. There is clearly a danger in using images in this way in that the images become more reductive than the pictures in our heads. At his best, Hobson captures that ‘burning bush’ moment when the ordinary is transfigured by the eternal, and calls us aside to see it and respond. His approach is reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ vision of the glory of God in the created world, but expressed more simply in rhythm, metaphor and form. For some poems, as in ‘Sun- patch’, Hobson uses the image of sunlight, moving across a room, transforming all it touches, and captures the moment in simple and luminous words.
In his Preface, Hobson makes it clear that the starting point for his poems comes from his deep conviction that God can be discovered in and through the magnificence and diversity of creation. His faith gives meaning and significance to the artist’s seeing, and unlocks and illuminates the captured images of memory. To assist the reader he appends notes to each poem to explain their genesis and the spiritual connections he wants to make. I personally found this unhelpful and restrictive – my perception is that a poem must stand alone and speak directly in its own voice. Rumours of Hope may therefore be seen as a book of meditations, making it difficult to identify its potential audience.
Poems and images work through a process of juxtaposition, light and darkness, past and present, material and numinous. In ‘A Far Isle’ he uses the conceit of an off shore island to superimpose patterns upon patterns – the changing seasons, the passing of life and growth, the connections with fragmentary memories to explore our human fragility. At times he seems to struggle to hold together the poetic contradictions between seeing the natural world in itself as a means of glory, pointing to its Creator redeemer, yet recognising that in itself ‘art cannot redeem’.
The one longer section in the book, ‘The Bells of Swettl’ uses the rhythms of the daily office (prompted by a brief visit to a Benedictine monastery in Austria) to structure an extended sequence of poems as the bells calling the monks to the offices call back his past and present. The Vespers section moves into painful memories of his mother’s marriages, which sits oddly with the spiritual discussion of the preceding section. This section is an ambitious enterprise, in the tradition of T.S.Eliot, which does not come across as a sustained and coherent whole.
Hobson is at his best writing directly out of the joy of his own artistic response: less so when he moves to set out his beliefs in more conventional theological terms. His strengths as a poet lie in the little pictures he creates, sharply alive and shot through with the Light beyond light, helping us to see with new eyes.
Contributed by Margaret Keeling, MA, MCLIP, PhD, who has recently retired as Head of Service for Libraries, Culture and Adult Community Learning for Essex County Council. She is CLIS President.