I enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards, and can cope with quite a wide variety of tastes in the ones I receive. I particularly enjoy the home-made ones, and some people clearly put a great deal of effort and skill into producing their own cards. I also appreciate receiving news from old friends from whom I hear only once a year, in those much-derided Christmas letters.
However, many years ago I found I couldn’t find any cards to send that actually expressed what I wanted to say about Christmas. I love the visual arts, but found that all the beautiful pictures of the nativity, the sages from the east, the shepherds and angels, didn’t actually express the deeper truth of incarnation for me. They decorated or embellished the Christmas story, rather than going to the heart of it. The one exception to this is portrayals of the Annunciation, because in those it often seems as though the artist is struggling to express the inexpressible – a task familiar to the poet.
Hugh and I therefore started to design our own cards. Some of these used words, such as short biblical texts or, more usually, a few lines from one of the great poets. In this one we chose some of the beautiful words from John Donne’s sonnet, Annunciation. As you can see, the Annunciation theme resonates with me in both the visual and the literary arts.
Others leapt out into symbolism that I found meaningful, but which I know puzzled some of our friends and family members. My own very favourite one, in particular, was simply a beautiful gold circle which expressed my thoughts about God perfectly. I’m afraid to report, however, that on that occasion my mother thought we’d taken leave of our senses. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have saved one of these cards in our rough and ready filing system, but I’m sure you can picture it.
This one extended that idea into an image of humanity and divinity meeting in the incarnation.
Gradually it became clear that if I wanted a Christmas card to express something significant to me, I had to write a poem that actually said what I wanted it to say. So the tradition of writing a poem each year for our Christmas card began.
This early one, Snowflake, was set painstakingly using lettraset. The poem was written years ago, but still seems to be popular.
Years passed, and the number of Christmas or winter poems increased. Some were serious and reflective, others were light and humorous. There have been several Christmas trees and snowy offerings, reflections on the nativity, including talking animals gathered around the manger and even, following the great Christmas Day Bible reading, one entitled Logos.
A couple of years ago we used a poem of mine called Soft as a feather falling. I wanted a line of white feathers to go down the side of the card, so we set off on a wild goose chase to find a source of feathers. Eventually we discovered a friendly duck farmer who was only too pleased to give us bagfuls of white feathers. As we didn’t want to risk spreading avian ‘flu around the country, we microwaved them before sticking the onto the cards. This worked well, except that it made the kitchen rather smelly for a few hours.
When Anne Born, who was Managing Editor of Oversteps Books, invited me to submit a poetry collection in 2007, I included a couple of my Christmas poems (Touching Earth). Anne later suggested that I should put a collection of these specific poems together in a separate collection. That was put on the back burner when Anne became ill and persuaded me to take over the management of Oversteps from her.
This year I decided to follow Anne’s suggestion, and festo was published a few months ago. The past few months have consequently seen a fairly hectic schedule of poetry readings, and it’s been great to include quite a number of poems from the new book as I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country.
Plenty of these other poems are included in festo.
Apparently some of our friends and family members
have collected our Christmas poems as they’ve appeared,
so they won’t necessarily be needing to buy the book –
though actually there are also quite a few poems in it that
haven’t been used as cards.
About half of our Christmas cards are now being sent by email. This is something of a green initiative in terms of saving paper and ink, but also ensures that the cards arrive quickly, and it allows us to include links to web pages and blogs. If it really is the poem that people enjoy, rather than grappling with the problem of where to hang their Christmas cards, then presumably this will be welcomed. If anyone who has received an e-version this year would prefer a paper copy next year, please let us know.
Then, of course, I had to sit down and write a new poem for this year’s card.