Dr Julie Carter



I am sure there have been many pivot points in history when there was a pervasive feeling of insecurity, an awareness of being in extraordinary times. And here and now we find ourselves in one of those times - some may say the most monumentally challenging of them all. The climate crisis is, to some extent, galvanising us to wake up, and act. To live as if life really is precious and fragile – which of course has always been the magnificent truth. And we do not actually need crisis to provoke us to live as if what we do matters. There is another, much gentler friend, we can use to help guard us against complacency. She is Poetry.

Most people I know never read a poem unless I foist one on them. My favourite poet is Mary Oliver and for anyone who has not read her poem ‘The Summer Day’ you have a delight just waiting for you (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBPHUE961zI). I am so in thrall to Mary Oliver I almost consider myself her disciple since she never lets us off the hook. She demands that we ‘pay attention’ and we acknowledge this life, always, as ‘wild and precious’. And now I offer you my latest prose poem and, in a world where poetry can often be sophisticated and not much use, I am asking you to put poetry to work. Allow it to help you feel the truth of our insecurity and turn that feeling on its head. Because if life were always secure it would not be so beautifully precious.

Take My Hand

witch hazel

I cannot tell you exactly what poetry is – no more than I can tell you what love is or precisely how to make a perfect cup of tea. But I can tell you what it’s for, at least what my poetry is for.

I think it is normal, as in common, not unusual, to mistake today for an ordinary time and to mistake its events as ordinary happenings. When all those todays add up to a life, one could think it was an ordinary life. Poetry, not just my own words but all the words of others which I have taken into my heart, arrests this mistake. If ever, for a moment, the scent of witch hazel flowering in mid-winter or the sight of the first tiny, reliable yet infinitely surprising snowdrops in January feel ordinary, then we’re sunk.

Sometimes you, my love, can be in a different country and I can still feel the warmth of you. Sometimes I want to hang onto you for dear life and never let go even though you are only popping out to the shops. Both of these are love. And we can be devils or angels but if we pretend that any of us are ordinary then poetry will find us out. She will look straight through us and penetrate, then smile. Then kindly she will reach out her hand and, in a reflex, we will offer ours and be led off, to Wonderland, to dance.