Churches are rooms of quiet contemplation. Often cavernous and ornately decorated with paintings and statues, for me today, they fall underfoot with the same revered air as art galleries. Both spaces are welcome to all who come to pledge their time and attention to these dwellings of devotion through meditation and observation. And equally so, they welcome those who have done none of the above before but whose feet have somehow found their place there.
Raised and confirmed a Roman Catholic, I was a steady church goer until the age of about fourteen. Church offered a familiar, consistent home away from home. I found it comforting and still do now, I'll bob into any church for ten minutes of cool, quiet head space. Partly, I think that was because I was able to sing there. The repetition of words, the images, the booming of hymns and all that sitting and standing with my best friends, something in those rhythms spoke directly to something in me. So much so that as a seven year old I was convinced I wanted to become a priest, I'd hold my own masses on the dining room table with candles, KJ Bible and fruit juice.
But aside from the smoothed table cloth, the pink wafers and brass goblets, I took great pleasure in reading sections from the Eucharist. I see this now, of course, as being a form of meditation. The sounds of the words, their rhythm and repetition came as a soothing sort of mantra, a youthful exploration of my spirituality and in psalms, the beginnings of a serious interest in the music of poetry.
So what happens when a poet who hasn't been to a mass in over fifteen years goes back to church? This month I'm starting a residency at St Dominic's Priory, a big stone church in Newcastle's Ouseburn. I've walked past it many times following too many gigs and usually, too many beers at the Star and Shadow. Every time I pass I wonder what sits on the other side of those huge gothic stained glass windows, that grand wooden door. Now I have chance, an excuse if I am honest, to go in and reflect on where I left my religion all those years ago, to write a poem.
POST SCRIPT - - -
'Write Around the Toon' is a Newcastle University NCLA project in which five selected PhD researchers and poets take residence and write poems in response to a range of Newcastle-Gateshead's finest cultural venues. The residencies conclude with readings at Culture Lab this December. Tickets are available here.