Poems A Head


Head coverIvan Head, The Magpie Sermons: Poems 2005-2017, Sydney: St Paul’s College 2017.  

Hardcover. Available for $35 from 48header@gmail.com 

Reviewed by Ted Witham  

This collection of nearly 50 poems is the second for Ivan Head. Dr Head is a West Australian priest, former director of AIT and Canon of St George’s Cathedral, who has spent the last 27 years as Warden first of Christ’s College in Hobart and then of St Paul’s College within the University of Sydney. He and his wife Christine are now moving into retirement in Sydney. 

Many of the poems have been published in Quadrant (where Les Murray is the poetry editor), the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Their presence in those publications suggests their high quality. 

Ivan is a poet who celebrates birds and flowers, trips by train and trips to London and the US. In some the words tumble just to celebrate language: 

Montezuma met a Puma going to the fair
Said Montezuma to the Puma let me taste your ware. 
Said the Puma
to Montezuma  
No I prefer my fare rare and so he ate him then and there.  

Many of the poems are complex with multiple levels of meanings. I enjoy recognising the double- or triple-meaning, but also knowing there may be more levels that I don’t get. In Swan River, Ivan reflects on boyhood memories of throwing a kylie, or thrusting a home-made gidgie towards a Cobbler.  And then: 

A boy knows that prawns rest beneath the sand by day. 
It is like knowledge of the Pleiades. 
Under the Narrows Bridge I stood for hours and left a line out all night just in case 
Something big went past.  

After the series of Noongar words and the reference to arcane knowing, the pleasure of ‘Something big’ might mean a fish to catch, or, it might mean deep knowledge of culture, Aboriginal and Western. And it might mean something even bigger.  

An undercurrent of Christian faith and theology, which on occasion rises to the surface level of the poems, holds them in a strong web of meaning.  

Ivan has a strong ear for the music of words, their sound and rhythm. All his poems are free-form and show the influence of modernist and Beat poetry.  

I found real pleasure in their Australianness. The poems are about the plants and animals of Cookernup (near Bunbury), Perth and Sydney. They are about our childhoods in the 1950s. Even when the subject is not directly Australian, Ivan’s attitude is. He punctures pomposity. Here he reduces the English Reformation to Henry VIII’s armour. 

…. And now he’s gone, 
the ghost isn’t in the machine. 
Just the carapace remains 

And what the commentator 
gawks at for the screen 
is the gigantic iron cod-piece 

With nothing in it.  

The Magpie Sermons is printed on quality high-gloss paper and bound simply in a hardcover embossed with gold leaf.  

Poetry lovers will enjoy reading, and re-reading, these poems of celebration, irony, contemplation and joy.  

 

 

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Narrows Bridge 1963

 

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Why the Resurrection is not a Metaphor


The kiss

Two pairs of lips approach and make contact. A dry sensakissingtion soon melts into a warm moist pressure which sets off a reaction throughout the bodies of the owners of each pair of lips. There are changes in core temperature, heart-rate, perspiration. There may be increased blood-flow to genitals and our bodies remind us that we are priority-programmed to reproduce. Hormone levels change: cortisol goes down, reducing stress, oxytocin levels rise, increasing feelings of closeness and intimacy.

Then, at a level that scientists can’t measure, for some of those people, the kiss will affirm the quality of their relationship, will inspire their love, and they will remember the sacramental love at the heart of their life together, and God as its source.

Much more happens, physiologically, emotionally and globally, every time we kiss, far too much to compress into two paragraphs.

Rae and I make a point of kissing every morning and night, and every time we part and meet. For us, this ritual is essential to keeping our marriage alive; not the only essential, but one which we value highly.  I know of many couples for whom kissing is likewise a serious business.

When we say kissing is important, the statement is literally true. But an alien seeing two people kiss might wonder how the pressing together of pairs of lips is valued by earthlings! If you only see the obvious and visible event, you may distort the wider truth.

reverence

I read recently the phrase: ‘of course preaching the resurrection as metaphor’. This drew me up short.

Some years ago I was asked to preach and address the question: ‘Did Jesus rise in body or spirit?’ I disappointed by answering in the affirmative. Yes, I said, Jesus rose in body and in spirit.[My notoriously liberal host was hoping I would reject the notion of Jesus’ bodily resurrection!]

The shorthand for the central article of our faith might be ‘Jesus rose from the dead’. ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ is true. Some require acquiescence to that statement as proof of orthodoxy. But that is like the alien looking at the kiss. It is true. But by itself it distorts the truth and can become a lie. It is true only in a larger context.

We ‘progressive’ Christians are often rather smug about how intelligently we avoid the narrow focus of the fundamentalist. But however we describe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, metaphor is inaccurate, belittling and close to heresy.

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, in the deepest structures of creation there were deep changes that we now only just glimpse (Romans 8:21, Colossians 1:10-16). The invisible powers that poison human society were neutralised (Ephesians 6:12). The life of Jesus of Nazareth was revealed as a far-reaching liberating plan that transcends his place and time. The heart-beat and love of God are uncovered and our true identity as his children is seen.

Much more, much more has happened and is happening, that will take eternity to explore.

These may be mysteries, but they are not metaphors. The kiss could be a metaphor for the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s kiss of life.