Review: Sing Me the Creation 2nd edition

This review is from the current issue of New View Quarterly Magazine (2nd Quarter Spring 2016), and was written by Andie Lewenstein. For more information about New View, please see the foot of the page. Many thanks to New View and Andie Lewenstein for letting us use it.

Paul Matthews’ creative writing sourcebook, Sing Me The Creation, now published in this 2nd edition, is not like any creative writing book you might have encountered. The best will kindle an enthusiasm for the creative process itself. This does that, but also opens a connection to the sources of power that lie in and behind the words and language we engage with. The exercises are, at one level, easy and playful – but each is like a door that opens to the creative possibilities within the elements of earth, water, air and fire. To experience these as essential qualities of creative expression, both within oneself and in the world outside, is a profound initiation into a different kind of engagement with that world – and with words.

Though structured in a way that provides a developmental path for poets, it is not just for poets:

I use the word ‘poetry’ very broadly to name a way of seeing and knowing the world, not just of writing about it.

Paul Matthews

Indeed the book, reshaped for this edition and including new material, makes clear that anyone involved with enhancing community life through the use of living language, could benefit from such a work.

The title comes from the story of Caedmon, the first (named) English poet. Driven from the hearth fire by shyness and feeling he lacked the skill to sing, he fell asleep in a barn, and in his dream an angel came and gave him the commission to “Sing me the Creation”, and this commission, as well as being the title, stands at the heart of the book: to engage intensely in recreation, with all the elements of imaginative play that this word conjures. Each set of exercises draws substance from one of the qualities of earth, water, air and fire and by working with these elements – experiencing them as “pure qualities of creative activity,” we become co-creators in renewing the world through the word. The book is as playful in this endeavour as it is serious, and when we fully open to the possibilities of play we may find ourselves – our very substance – questioned by the thing we seek to name. We may find the world, and ourselves, afresh.

The fourfoldness of the elements is also expressed in terms of the four great human virtues: Beauty, Good Will, Openness and Truth (the guardians of our work together), in terms of the qualities of the four temperaments, Melancholic, Phlegmatic, Choleric and Sanguine, as summarised by Rudolf Steiner, and as the four types of sentence we find in grammar:

These four powers – Statement, Question, Exclamation and Command (in that order) – fill the chambers of this heart-book and give their names to its chapters. Each embodies an ideal, and in practising them we are exercising human virtues together with the crafting of our word power.

In following Caedmon’s trajectory, this engagement might seem to take us away from our connection with others, but the book begins with an invocation:

To this hearth which is a heart, welcome.
Welcome to our hearts. Welcome to our breath
seeking to be song.

Though many of the exercises can be adapted for individual work, this is very much a book for people who are engaged in maintaining or renewing the hearth. In the Appendices of this second edition, there is a postscript addressed to teachers and group facilitators with suggested course titles and brief outlines arising from the contents of the book. Introducing this section, Paul Matthews says:

When Merlin in his grey hairs gave away his spells he got locked up under a stone forever. I have been busy doing that for the last 200 pages yet hope to avoid the consequences. But ‘spells’ they are, word powers, not just a bag of tricks to toy with. Why do I say this? Because when I was learning my trade, my teacher Francis Edmunds said that in this art of teaching we are shaping not stone or wood or paint or any external stuff, but soul substance. I look for colleagues.

For those already engaged in writing poetry who wish to develop their work, there are sections on word-crafting, shaping and conducting a workshop. Many of the exercises are socially interactive and lend themselves to group work of various kinds, (gathering words in the circle and writing in response to each other. Serious play we could call it – or a practice in the art of conversation).

This is also a book to read for pleasure and discovery. What are the possibilities – what comes alive when one word meets another for the first time? What is revealed when we put ourselves at the heart of a random perception?

I am a cup without a handle
I am the leafless trees
I am three doors
I am the shuffle in the hallway

Those familiar with the work of Paul Matthews, particularly those who would like to use this book in their work as group facilitators with children or adults, will welcome the additional material that places the writing tasks in a developmental context that is intrinsic, I would claim, to the ‘life structure’ of the language. For those who are new to this work: welcome to a singular guide and companion on the creative path and life of the imagination.

May the Word which hovers above our heads
find hospitality

May the song which crosses
between the living and the dead
be part of what we sing.

Welcome to the Fabulous Names of things.

Buy the book here…

More about New View Quarterly Magazine here…<