Churches Conservation Trust

Pauline Stainer

A Kind of Quickening


Put your ear to the quoins.
You might think
a redundant church
would be loud
with the sound of silence,
but sacred cantatas
rise to the spandrels.

Look through the squint.
St. Mary-at-the-Quay
in her field of windscreens,
where crane-drivers
glide over the hammerbeams
as if sighting eternity
seawards.

Smell the mown grass
in the roofless nave,
when children circle-dance
like Wisdom before the Lord
until the sea-fret rolls in
and they pull-up
their pearled hoods.

And the weepers on the tomb -
do they look up
in sunlight
as we repair the fabric,
salt-laden limestone,
an altar frontal
transfigured by the silkworm?

We still celebrate
the energy of otherness.
That shadow on
the lime-washed chancel
not simply Christ
as makeweight
on the flowering tree

but a jazz-singer,
dress blue as hyssop
against the downbeat dusk,
while on the skyline
wind-turbines turn
to the preaching
of the swallow.
 

PAULINE STAINER is an acclaimed English poet. She was born in the industrial district of Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1941. She later left the city to attend St Anne's College, Oxford, where she took a degree in English. After Oxford she completed an M.Phil degree at the University of Southampton.

Her determinedly neo-romantic poetry, which has won several prizes, explores sacred myth, legend, history-in-landscape, and human feeling - and their connections to the 'inner landscapes' of the imaginative mind. Her choice of subject matter is perhaps partly a reaction to her growing up in the industrial city of Stoke-on-Trent.

The compact vividness of her visual imagery is akin to that of the Anglo Saxon riddles, symbolist poetry, or the work of García Lorca. Reviewers have also detected the influence of Ted Hughes in her work.

She was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 1987. She came to public notice with her first volume, The Honeycomb (1989). Her later volumes, Sighting the Slave Ship (1992) and The Ice-Pilot Speaks (1994) led up to her nomination and shortlisting in the Whitbread Poetry Award for her fourth collection The Wound-Dresser's Dream (1996).

After completing her education she moved to Essex, raising four children. She spent several years on the Orkney island of Rousay, from which came a new book collection Parable Island (1999). She now lives in Hadleigh, Suffolk, England.