December 2020

For several years now I have been writing a special Christmas poem; I was originally asked to write one for a friend in Barnsley who was wanting something ‘real’ to read at an carol service. From this came the Shepherd’s Sonnet which became part of the ‘Fourteen Festive Sonnets’ I edited for the marvellous Candlestick Press in 2017. Then another friend. the head teacher of a large primary school in the heart of Harehills, asked me to write a poem for their Advent service at a local church, from this came poems about Gabriel and Joseph. Without realising it I was examining the lives of all those affected by the original Christmas story, the nativity, and I realised I wanted to show the awe felt by the participants but also a sense of their everyday experience. Clearly Gabriel is not human but in that poem I wanted to show him mysteriously being present in human lives.

This year the innkeeper figures. The poem, as with my other Christmas sonnets, is written in the first person from the subject’s point of view. I imagine him to be a small businessman, not usually given to flights of fancy, kind but not sentimental who finds himself moved by the plight of Mary and Joseph, and then by the presence of something inexplicable for which we might use the word ‘holy’. This sonnet also touches on homelessness, with folk looking for somewhere to rest their head, a place of safely after a difficult journey and a temporary sanctuary. These themes have been on my mind particularly in this last challenging year.

The more eagle-eyed among you might spot that all my subjects so far have been male. I have been putting off writing about Mary, or about the women also affected by the birth of Jesus. Mary feels like a momentous task when I have the beautiful ‘Hail Mary’ in my head from my days teaching at a Catholic high school. Perhaps next year?

May I take this opportunity of wishing you a happy Christmas, and everything you wish for 2021.

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