May 4th at St Laurence's Church, Stroud-- Friends, colleagues, family filled the church for an finely choreographed evening of poetry, prose, music. All of it beautiful, all of it reflections of the community of spirit and talent Jay helped nurture and encourage. An incredible achievement by the team who brought it together: Steve Morris, Simon Hinkly, Jacqui Stearn, Adam Horovitz, Jane Samuels, Katie Lloyd-Nunn (apologies if I've not included everyone), with exquisite arrangement of elements that turned the whole event into a artwork.
Here is my tribute to Jay which I had the privilege of speaking in that company:
Jay declared unequivocally for a sacred dimension of humans and the planet, and as a result he was not granted a place within the literary mainstream. He did not become one of Britain’s Poet Laureates, his work is probably not taught as part of the curricula of most Modern Poetry courses.
But the truth is, that so-called mainstream is faltering—for while it may still have position, and the power of force or influence that goes with that, it lacks authority.
Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America, and the current Oxford Professor of the Public Understanding of Science speculates that AI will eventually be able to write literature and compose music to rival that of the human ‘greats’ because after all the human brain is just like a very clever computer.
This is the materialist mainstream: a kind of crude greed on the one hand, and an algorithm on the other. This is not substantial, it has no vision, it is the Emperor’s new clothes syndrome. Yet this is the mostly unexamined credo of of the majority of the media, academia, and contemporary literature.
A credo of which, by the way, (and I speak as some one who recently returned from living in America) the military industrial complex fully approve.
Yet as we know, for decades now, new streams of visionary thought-in every field, including the life sciences and physics-have been forming and those of us gathered here this evening, and many others who are not here, connected by a love for and appreciation of Jay, form a loose sub-tribe within this movement, for whom the old materialism is a threadbare idea. And clearly Jay’s work has always been within and recognised by and contributing to this new mainstream.
I want to to read part of a poem by Jay called ‘Confession’: (which I received in one of his group emails last two years or so.)
“An empty room I didn’t realize was there
in the centre of my being
where I am with You.
So many other rooms, a palace of faces
but without this
there’s no well inside,
above and below.
So in my innermost heart and soul
I must say ‘I am that I am’
I can surrender,
and I can command
I can say
‘I love you, I am sorry, please forgive me’
to this heart
‘for creating a reality separate from you’. "
“The empty room inside ourselves”—the place of presence, the divine—Jay uses a capital ‘Y’ for You; the deeper dimension of Self.
It’s empty - because he’s forgotten it? It’s empty because this is not a material place, it is another level of identity —“where I am with You.”
We connect to this place through our heart - it is not an intellectual exercise. And in the poem, Jay apologies to his heart: “please forgive me” “for creating a reality separate from you”.
“The reality separate from you”—this is the world without the input of the deeper presence infusing it. In the grail myth this separate reality is called the wasteland. The wasteland that is created when, I am NOT that I am, when we cut ourselves off from ourselves.
Jay says this is his confession, he does it, we all do it, but he is conscious of it. It’s ironic, because the not doing of this, is kind of Jay’s manifesto. But in the enactment, the metaphor of this poem is everything.
This is the work of the shaman: I think poets are shamen and shawomen, they connect the worlds of inner and outer, of above and below, and bring that knowledge back to the tribe; they don’t just reflect what the culture already thinks, they take on and transform the ills and neuroses of society
and they bring renewal.
Poets are the guardians of values, by which I don’t mean simple rule-based moralities, but of the deeper orders of being: the well spring of imagination out of which we can see anew, we can imagine the earth anew. I am that I am. That world will reflect the inner, if the heart is kept clear.
And this is the role that Jay played as a poet par excellence, keeping the heart clear, connected and not only exploring what that meant in himself, but seeing it, relating to it in others, in us, and also keeping poetry itself clear, allowing it to speak clearly, to touch the heart. Defending it against the obscurities and nihilism of postmodernism.
And this parallels Wordsworth’s aim in Lyrical Ballads, to let language be ‘common’ ie, possible to understand; to share meaning, not obscure it—which of course is only worth doing if you have a vision to share.
“Where there is no vision the people perish” as Jay quoted in his Introduction to the anthology ‘Diamond Cutters’. The vision isn’t some specific agenda, although it might touch on aspects of “the reality separate from You”: Occupy’s tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral; the two women who climbed uThe Shard, to protest drilling for oil in the Arctic. But to evolve policy is not the job, the poet’s job is to keep alive, bear witness to, the deeper order out of which coherent policy can arise.
And I’d like to end by reading a passage from Jay’s long poem Pilgrimage published by Awen on his 60th birthday :
“And I am like a dragon guarding a rich hoard
As its pieces start to glow like mosaic inside me,
Like jewelled light I’d give everything for
As I’ve been given it—and for the one place
Where they can only come together: in my upper chest
In the wide open whole of my heart…
I made a promise, am making it now: ….
To give of the gift You have given….
I sing with the psalmist, with the Ancient of Days.
I sing with the flower too small to have a name.
I sing with those behind me, with those in front,
With those who sing through me and are unborn.
I sing as we circle, and as we sing we are companions
Singing in blood and in the deep riven strata.
I sing with the stone and the leaf, the rock and the stream,
And I sing with the angel hammering in the dark at your door.
I sing the song I’m given to sing
And it’s not my song—it’s ours for the taking:
Imagination, New Creation in the Dawn”