Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This thoughtful, constructively critical review of No Shore Too Far appeared in New View issue 84, Summer 2017, and was written by David Donaldson. We love how deeply he’s thought about it, and how clearly he’s expressed his thoughts. You can find out more about New View here.

No Shore Too Far cover image

In the last issue of New View, [Spring 2017] Jonathan explained what lay behind this recent collection of poems – for in addition to finding ways to cope with the death of his wife, it also provided an opportunity to articulate the essence of what he’d gathered from over forty years as a student of Rudolf Steiner and to do that in as simple and accessible a way as possible, something for which his experience as a maker of film documentaries had well prepared him: that ability to focus on the essence of a subject.

The poems, therefore, touch on a wide range of themes that will indeed be familiar to those well versed in Steiner’s work and do so in many ways that are clear “without pretension, that marry deep feeling and thoughtfulness, opening us towards a sense (so difficult to articulate) of another level of reality.” (Jeremy Naydler, as quoted on the back cover).

They range from everyday trials (News, for example) and poignant memories as in Marmalade:

But now there’s only one jar left,
and that I’ll have to keep;
for stored up there
is treasure rare
Which helps me not to weep.

To wide-ranging metaphysical perspectives, alluding to Leibniz in No Shore Too Far: This is a question so profound-/ it stops me in my tracks.

There’s also an acknowledgement that such pondering that draws my gaze/ beyond the hills/ to things we cannot see may become unbalanced:

I sometimes wonder
if I dwell too much
on what to some
must often seem
not quite to do with life. (Moving On).

This links with his self-deprecating lines where he compares his own to his wife’s very different kind of mindset:

A Cambridge girl herself
trained to spot flaws
in wooly folk like me. (Icy Winds).

While essentially agreeing with Jeremy Naydler’s assessment, I’d like to consider aspects of the collection that might be off-putting to those people Jonathan expressed a hope to reach in his New View article [Spring issue 2017]: “people who don’t have the time or inclination to read lots of books” but might be won over if the essence of a subject “is sincerely and simply expressed.”

There’s no doubt that these poems remain both clear in their general thrust and highly accessible throughout – whether dealing with humdrum details or far-reaching speculations about the nature of things. But there’s a monotony in the style and a use of rhythm and language which resorts to archaic inversions and clichés and poeticisms that can make the writing seem old-fashioned at times and therefore damages its accessibility not because the sense isn’t clear, but because it sounds as if it belongs to a different age:

And if I heed/what whispers thus/from lessons long ago/so grows the strength… (Immortal Life)

This smacks of ‘poetic’ not contemporary language. So also, for example:

The working of those spirits flawed (Trust) or

And all those scenes sublime (Insight)

Again: but they are toys when you compare/those rockets sleek.

Why not ‘flawed spirits’ and ‘sleek rockets’? Because the rhythm doesn’t work. But then there’s a choice between resting content with poetic inversions from 200 years ago or working harder at the choice of word if the line is to communicate a contemporary sensibility. After all, one isn’t working within a demanding rhyme scheme that could have justified such inversions in the past

The best of the poems avoid such archaisms but there’s a liberal sprinkling which, I suggest, doesn’t make for the contemporary accessibility the poet is hoping for.

Another point is the repeated use throughout of ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’. Such words are the death of poetry! Imagine doubting Thomas after placing his hand in the side of the Lord saying ‘Perhaps you’re now my Lord and God’ or ‘Maybe it’s true after all.’ So, for example:

Perhaps that god has come to us/and lives in eyes/of quite a different kind…/And maybe such a power as that,/which needs our trust to grow… (Vision)


Together still, united in our search/for what I sometimes call/a bigger picture:/a journey and a quest/that maybe never ends. (A Bigger Picture).

It’s a salutary exercise for any poet to deny themselves the indulgence of using either ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’ and working with the issue at hand to tease out a sharper and more authentic response. After all, the metaphysical issues at stake here have to do with touching into reality, touching the hem of the garment as it were, and ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ just won’t do!

But this is a beautifully produced book and at 147 pages there’s a wealth of material to dip into. It’s also worth mentioning that the book itself is described as ‘Meditations on death, bereavement and hope.’ The word meditation is important because, despite the stylistic issues I’ve raised, there is a depth of thoughtfulness here which rightly claims our attention. Here’s one to finish that has no maybes, and only one inversion which I won’t begrudge because it makes such a telling use of rhyme!

What we imagine/has a power,/that as we wiser grow,/could echo what imagined us/in ages long ago.
But we are free/what route to take-/it could go many ways./Creation that is fit to last/needs us to think and pray. (Imagination).

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Review: Mask: Making, Using and Performing by Mike Chase

Mask front cover

This review by Daniel Skinner has just appeared in New View, issue 84. It’s a brilliant issue, which we strongly recommend.

There are a number of classic performance books that offer performers and other interested students of life a map for performative activity as an inner pathway. I mean performance in the widest sense, to include any activity in which the ‘I’ of the participant is in a condition of perceptive wakefulness, alert to activity of their inner life and their fellow human beings.

Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, Michael Chekov’s To the Actor, Augusto Boal’s  Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Jacques Lecoq’s The Moving Body and Rudolf Steiner’s Speech and Drama Course, for instance, might occupy a space on every performer’s bookshelf – eurythmists, actors, teachers, social workers, doctors, parents – each one of us who plays a role in relation to another, whether in the theatre or not.

To this library might now be added another volume, Mike Chase’s Mask: Making, Using and Performing. Those readers who are familiar with Chase’s work as a director, teacher, therapist, mask maker and performer will welcome a guide and practical manual for the principles and wisdom that underlie his work. This book earns the right to sit alongside those listed above just in its thorough, grounded attention to every detail of every aspect of mask work – from conception to making to performing. Furthermore, Mask exhibits not only a thorough professionalism, but the stamp of a true artist – the willingness and will to keep learning, no matter what stage of development one may have arrived at. It is this humility, combined with expertise, that prompts me to suggest this that this is a work to which readers will return time and again to find new levels of meaning with each new reading.

Chase is a practical theatre-maker, teacher, therapist, and workshop leader whose life-long work with masks has led him to a profound understanding of human nature. Those of us who recognise the framework of the four temperaments (Choleric, Phlegmatic, Sanguine and Melancholic – the soul/constitution counterpart of the four elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth), particularly those working in the Waldorf movement would wo well to study Chase’s approaches to, and deep relationship with, this model of interpreting human archetypes. For those who are new to the idea of the four temperaments as a template for interpretation of human behaviour and physical type, this book would be a wonderful introduction.

Mask is both a practical mask manual, for both makers and users – generously laid out with numerous photographs and illustrations by Allmut Ffrench – and also a guide to the way in which the temperaments inform our adult life. I would heartily recommend any performer, teacher, carer, therapist or parent to read it.

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Review: Form Drawing and Colouring: For Fun, Healing and Wellbeing

Form Drawing and Colouring

This review appeared in the wonderful New View magazine, 4th Quarter Autumn 2016, and was written by Trevor Dance. This is an edited extract. To find out more about New View, visit their (new and beautiful!) website here. 

Form Drawing and Colouring: For Fun, Healing and Wellbeing will be available from the 31st October.

Form Drawing and Colouring: For Fun, Healing and Wellbeing is a form drawing book for adult beginners, developed as a result of requests by parents who have been fascinated by the work of their Steiner school attending offspring. Form drawing has been used in Steiner schools for nearly a century, to help pupils develop their motor skills – hand and eye co-ordination, spatial awareness and relationships – and in preparation for handwriting. Angela Lord is the author of two books for schoolchildren: Creative Form Drawing with Children aged 6-10 years Workbook 1  and  Creative Form Drawing with Children aged 10-12 years Workbook 2.

This book for adults uses ‘fourfold structures’ i.e. squares, diamonds and circles. The introduction takes the form of a discussion between Angela and a hypothetical reader, who is told: “ A fourfold structure is stable, regular, balanced, and easy to line up. So it’s a good place to start.”

This would seem to be true. I did some of the exercises and found myself to be at ease with the book. Form drawing is in a way akin to meditation – ten minutes a day, when purposefully executed, confers considerable benefits. For those who like the right brain/left brain (creative side/logical side) theory, it definitely engages the right brain functions. In anthroposophical parlance, the drawing and colouring especially benefit the etheric and astral bodies. In this book the author encourages the reader to, if they feel so inspired, strike out on their own and improvise, creating their own forms, thus engaging other soul aspects.

Angela Lord’s books are usually well-structured and this one is no exception. There are three parts. The easiest forms – which are accessible to all, no matter how adept (or inept!) with a pencil you may be – are at the very beginning, and the more intricate final stages are gradually worked up to. It is particularly helpful to have unfettered access to a photocopier, but a rubber will suffice to repeat the tasks for extra practice.

This is a stimulating book and, partly through the encouragement to use colour and partly through the way the forms metamorphose from simplicity to intricacy, it feels more user-friendly to its adult audience than others in this particular realm.

There is a pleasingly multi-cultural element to the forms. Christian symbolism is intermingled with imagery derived from Islamic art, Buddhism, Native-American sources and Hinduism. The forms and colours are original, but the sources relate to world religions covering a lengthy time span. This development of work that is entirely relevant to contemporary culture, but rooted in such rich traditions seems especially commendable.

Many of the forms are derived from the world of nature. In the words of the author: “In turn nature (especially flowers) provides inspiring ideas for colour combinations and beautiful new forms so that you can develop original imaginative drawings of your own. In this way drawing and colouring become integrative healing processes which provide focus and harmony through form, colour, beauty and balance with the potential to cultivate individual creativity.”

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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.

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