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This report is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

Poetry Does Not Apply Here Vahni Capildeo
DURING THE PREPARATIONS for a civil marriage in Oxfordshire in 1999, the couple was encouraged to select readings and music and to write their own ceremony, including the wording of the vows. The nicely suited registrar told them that religious material would, however, be banned. Forget Gerard Manley Hopkins; gag George Herbert. ‘What if we don’t believe in it?’ It might have been the secular Jewish half of the couple who asked. He argued for the intrinsic poetic value of texts and songs. The other half, who had a degree in English language and literature, was upset for other reasons. She argued that systems of wealth and patronage meant that a lot of poetry and music was produced for churches as performance spaces and the congregation as audience. There was nothing to say that the writers and composers were especially religious, rather than writing with or within what had been available and allowed them to earn a living and concentrate on their art. The registrar’s rule, strictly applied, therefore would write off centuries, geographies, and communities of artistic production.

No deal. The registrar had no time for the notion of poetry as poetry, or poets as employees. Might lots of gods cancel one other out, thus pacifying the official? If a deity acting alone cannot sneak past the legal radar, how about neutralised divinities? ‘What if we have material from several different religions? So it’s not as if we’re believing in one’. The Wielder of the Pen was absolute: don’t mention a G–d. It would be ...

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