Jerusalem theme
  • Following on from last week’s warping of the Blake classic “The Tiger”, I had the opportunity to set the theme this time myself, as Jerusalem. I knew it would be troublesome for people to get to grips with. It’s very easy as a writer to only write about subjects you enjoy yourself or not know quite where to start with an unfamiliar theme.

    I ran through the usual list of suspects, trying to not succumb to Blake’s verse at all. One idea which I totally forgot was The Trip to Jerusalem pub in Nottingham. It’s one of the oldest in England, was a starting point for pilgrimages to Jerusalem and is half built into the caves beneath Nottingham Castle. It would have been ideal, but as I said, I totally forgot about it for some reason. There is a particular story about a haunted Black Ship model in the pub as well, but that will have to wait for another day.

    Having found a particular memory to step into, I applied a level of editorial post-production to this piece that I wouldn’t normally. I wanted to remove capitalisations from it, in a way to destroy the identity of places and grammar. I was conscious however that it would still need some commas and full-stops to guide the reader in the correct direction of meaning – although on discussion there is still a level of ambiguity which allows interpretation.

    the theologies of man

    in the alleys of sharm-el-sheikh, i’m met
    with the end of slick sales patter,
    battered computer generated slideshows
    of holy steps, numerous ill-lit processions
    in candle-light, that might be a crusader’s cessation
    of war against the dark
    an acknowledgment of the fall
    of acre, of the loss
    of jerusalem’s temple
    to the long night of mosques and
    whispered breaths of torah

    in the chiselled alleys of lalibella
    rock holds its secrets close
    in the well of souls
    beneath the dome of the rock
    time is stopped, the future
    cradles back and forth
    war and peace
    hate and love
    lion and dove
    chalice blood and blade of light
    cobwebbed treasure
    that might be real

    i need only surrender a passport
    to walk where death has weaved his work
    no longer to talk of mashallah
    or synchronicity, or the iniquity
    of man’s hatred for man.
    i need only surrender thought
    but in
    a sin
    gle hesitation
    i return to the coral depths
    of sharm-el-sheikh’s torched sea
    surrounded by shoals of inquisitive silver
    that care not for the theologies of man
    only for the freedom of having no kilver
    of saying they can
    not be named

    As always, I was very interested to listen to interpretations and questions following the reading of this poem. I generally feel that a piece has succeeded if a) it passes my own quality control and b) it causes others to contemplate the impact of it’s meaning. The “computer generated slideshows” and “holy steps” seemed to suggest a repeitition of slides and steps which complemented each other, the “battered computer” seemed to echo a battering sales pitch. The deliberate omission of capitalisation led (as I knew it would) to some abiquity – “lailbella” , nestled closely to descriptions of rock semed to suggest it was the name of a particular geological stone to one listener. “Cobwebbed treasure” appeared to conjure imitation cobwebs and fake pirate treasure. One person thought the way I had built up the motion in the lines “war and peace/hate and love …” was calling out for “rock and roll” to be appended. On reflection this could possibly have been used in an oblique reference to the Hard Rock Cafe in Sharm-el-Sheikh which would then tie the second stanza back into the Sharm-el-Sheikh location as well as include a favourite brand of mine! The danger is that the focus of the poem is already drifting from Jerusalem – but that was the intent.

    Did you notice the destruction of the word “single” ? By splitting it to emphasis both the rhyme with “in” and the hidden word “sin” I was attempting to introduce other levels of meaning into the poem. Of course there is a danger that this could be seen as extremely contrived.

    I, however, believe that a poet has total dominion over their poem itself, indeed over the very words themselves. Language is fluent, meanings and usage ebb and flow with different generations, different exposures to culture and ideas. It is the duty of a poet to do more than merely observe and report – as art is not photography, then poetry is not journalism! There is a duty to tear open the doors of perception and flood the reader with the light of illumination, that they might (however briefly) stop to consider more than the mundane.

    Following on from that, the use of the word “kilver” should be no surprise. I learnt whilst writing this that “silver” shares with the word “orange” the ignominy of being one of the so-called two words in the English language which have no rhyme!

    Of course, there are a multitude of ways around such difficulties. The first that struck me was the actual pronounciation of words. Bob Dylan, for example, often creates rhymes out drawn-out sounds within a word. It was a tempting solution, As I was to read the poem aloud, however the hunt for a suitable word was even more tantalising! Because of the rarity of “kilver” I wrapped its explanation into the expression I was looking for in the end of the poem. It means Surname. There is some doubt the word’s actual existance but again that fitted well with the ideas that the fish have no surname, no human constucts.

    It was a far better solution that a common noun, although next time I may well follow the gloriously brillig example of Lewis Carroll – afterall I do firmly believe in the inalienable right of poets to create new language!

About The Author

Sean Woodward is a British artist, writer and musician. His art is collected internationally and his essays, fiction and poetry have been published in a number of international publications. He is the author of A Grammar of Spirits, Keys to the Hoodoo Kingdom, ARCHONIX, NECRONIX, Erzulie of the Deep, The Grimoire of ZAL and co-author of The Infernal Faces of Hekate. AEONIX and Keys to the Voudon Kingdom are forthcoming from

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