The Surprising Providence of Calling
‘I burst out of the loft
like an arrow at a target, though
no target I have ever seen.’
From The Call of the Unwritten – Title Poem – Adrian’s First Collection.
I wrote this poem during a series of workshops called a Salon Series led by the poet David Whyte in 2009/10. He had asked us on the first of the three meetings, which took place at a lovely hotel in the Cotswolds over a thirty six hour period, to name how we were feeling. I discovered I was experiencing a feathery uncertainty, that mixture of trepidation and excitement that augurs something important. I had been reading and re-reading a poem by the larger than life Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, called Fern Hill. I first heard it at school feeling, even then the great sadness of the poem about the loss of innocence, but there is a particular line that I kept coming back to.
‘Nothing I cared in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,’
I realised that for Dylan the swallow thronged loft was the great company of poets he had become part of as the shadow of his hand crossed the page. I sensed that the feathery uncertainty I was feeling was the nervous excitement in the presence of an established poet like David Whyte and the circle he had gathered in that place. It was the very loft that Fern Hill identifies and I had the chance to emerge from that enclosed space into a new world. Between Salons I attempted to construct ‘The Call of the Unwritten’ knowing it was a seminal time and a seminal poem. By the second salon I had a draft. We split into pairs and I read my Poem to Sue, a lovely lady from Sheffield, she told me in no uncertain terms to read the poem in the circle. When David turned to me I read the poem and then immediately made some self deprecating remark about how it was only a draft. He told me not to apologise for my work and to read it again. As I read i realised that I was enacting the poem.
I was bursting out of the loft into the clear air of a new calling, or perhaps an old one that I had ignored for too long. The call of the unwritten became so clear, I had so much inside me that longed for the light of day and the clean white page. I described the arc of my flight like an arrow at a target, though no target I had ever seen. If a person has the courage to follow a sense of call, a vocation (from the the latin vocare, to call), then it releases a certain surprising providence. I found my inner compass on those salons, I found an unnamed future in fragile beating wings. I had an email today from Sue ; ‘What a long long way you have journeyed since the first Salon we met on!’
It is in those moments of clarity when you see your path through another’s eyes that you realise there is a strange chemistry between one’s own willingness to push through with plans and activities and the providence that is visible only with hindsight. I have flirted with enough religion to know how easy it is to become convinced that something is the will of God, God has been blamed for a large degree of human projection! The territory of providence is far more mysterious. As I look back to that first salon I see how far I have come, my first collection of poems has given me the confidence to speak with my own voice. Not to constantly compare to finer feathers, though I still experience plumage envy from time to time. The calling is not one that protects me from the vicissitudes of life, it actually makes one more present and vulnerable to those vortexes. Coming out of the other end though, always seems to make one more human, more generous, less closed, less fearful.
The call keeps coming, even now as I tap away here at my desk, I know that intimate connection with a deep place inside that I would call my soul. It is a place where something comes from nothing, that answers a ‘feathery uncertainty’ when asked the right question. Whenever a human being listens to that inner stirring and has the courage to go with it there is the possibility of creativity. It took me from 2005 to hear it, attempting more academic study as an excuse to write, losing my lovely Mum so suddenly, going to Assisi to remember her a year later, listening to Clear Mind Wild Heart by David Whyte as I walked the dogs in the valley, rising early and writing every day, feeling the gritty pain of failed work, holding the call in a daily silence. All of this has brought me to where I sit now and has made me confident enough to address you my fellow travellers. As Mary Oliver says in Wild Geese:
‘Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.’