25 November 2013

Alliteration and Local Habitations: Meeting Malcolm Guite

There are few moments in your life when you meet someone so curiously magnetic, so profoundly inspirational that you feel he or she has stepped straight out of a time-cherished fairy tale.

So it was when I met Malcolm Guite.

Malcolm was one of the featured speakers at the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Fall Conference in Houston, Texas earlier this month. After a delayed flight, Malcolm arrived tired but jovial with an emerald jacket, burgundy vest, khaki trousers, and travel-stained wooden walking stick. I greeted him with a firm hug. He and I had corresponded over the last few months, but this was the first time that we had met face-to-face.

“To give to airy nothingness a local habitation and a name”

The following day Malcolm taught two courses for the Writer’s Track sessions offered by the Foundation. In both sessions, Malcolm shared poetry from his forthcoming release, The Singing Bowl. ­­­­­He also shared his artistic wisdom with the crowd, who gasped and furiously scribbled notes as he talked. Malcolm’s first session concentrated on the art of incarnation – that we create because are products of a prodigious Creator (what Tolkien called “sub-creation”). Ultimately, we create to please God. What enormous yet joyous responsibility – and to such a worthy audience!

So how do we set about creating? How do we of creative impulse pluck an idea out of the air and stir the dust of obscurity into something lovely and moving, like metaphorical Adams?

“Begin with you,” Malcolm suggests, “Start by thinking of yourself as a made thing.”  Creating is a holy act, an act in which we take “a finite set of words” and make something more. We take twenty-six letters and place them in various arrangements, and meaning is born. As a creator we must be gentle with ourselves, forgiving, reassuring – “Be as patient and generous and caring with your creatures [writing] as God is with His Creation”.  God gives His character space and room to breathe. For example, Malcolm claims, God looked to see what Adam would name the animals. In this way, we “share in the joy of creation by creating”. 
Photo courtesy of 

Malcolm works well with closed form poetry. His first book of poetry, Sounding the Seasons, is a sonnet sequence celebrating the liturgical year. He enjoys the structure and paradoxically, it lends him the liberty to create within those limitations. In fact, Malcolm states that it is important to know your creative limitations – “Figure out the basic shapes of things and the limitations which it must work within”. He compared this as “symmetry” versus “bounding energy”. True prudence is knowing, acknowledging (and even appreciating) your limits. It establishes the proper place for our work to begin, and continue, with beneficial structure. This is why Malcolm enjoys writing in iambic pentameter (as illustrated in the poem below).
As Malcolm explained, culture is reductive. In the exhaustive search to satisfy our curiosity, much truth is explained away without expressing awe about its mysterious splendor. Glory, he cites, is translated as “weight”. Envision a scale: sorrow’s heaviness makes one pan hopelessly sink. In reflecting God’s glory, in creating, we fill the opposing pan with “the weight of glory” which lifts sorrow and achieves balance.

Therefore, by creating, we are alleviating sorrow and introducing an aspect of God’s glory into the universe.

Malcolm explained similar themes in a short interview I conducted with him on Saturday for the “All About Jack” podcast. To listen to this enlightening exchange, visit here.
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Later that evening, I worked the Foundation bookstore, operated by Books by Becka, and was fortunate enough to sell the first stateside copies of The Singing Bowl. Malcolm sang songs (he is also an accomplished musician) and enthusiastically signed copies of his new book.
Malcolm signing my copy of The Singing Bowl

It is my firm belief that long after we have graduated to the idyllic landscape of Aslan’s Country, Malcolm’s poetry will continue to challenge and inspire generations to come. Below I have included the first poem of Malcolm’s collection. Here, Malcolm uses the singing bowl as a meditative symbol, a bowl which needs to be “empty” to “sing” properly. It is a poignant reflection which pleads for a deep sense of satisfaction, for calm and quiet.  Like the movement at a bowl’s rim, the poem ends where it begins – with you, now, in your circumstances no matter how dark or inconvenient.  Take what you have and “let it be for good”.  Such wisdom expressed in exquisite language. The sheer beauty of the poem is worth the price of the collection.

Singing Bowl

Begin the song exactly where you are.

Remain within the world of which you’re made.

Call nothing common in the earth or air.

Accept it all and let it be for good.

Start with the very breath you breathe in now,

This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.

Stay with the music, words will come in time.

Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and low.

Become an open singing bowl, whose chime

Is richness rising out of emptiness,

And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness

Begin the song exactly where you are.
Keep up with Malcolm on his blog:
Follow Malcolm on Twitter @malcolmguite

Books by Becka is selling physical copies of The Singing Bowl. Visit her website to purchase one here. (They make EXCELLENT Christmas gifts!)

To purchase a digital version of The Singing Bowl, go here.

To purchase a digital version of Sounding the Seasons, go here
 These can also be purchased through the UK publisher, Canterbury Press.
Don't forget - Malcolm has TWO albums available for purchase on his website and through iTunes: Dancing Through the Fire and The Green Man
For more information on the C.S. Lewis Foundation and its events, please visit

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