Sheila Wild: In John Wesley’s Footsteps

In the Autumn issue of The High Window, the poet Sheila Wild will be our featured essayist, so we thought we’d invite her to send us some poems as well. Here is her response:

‘If I may, I’d like to use the opportunity you are offering me to preview a set of poems I’m currently working on. I’m writing a sequence about John Wesley’s visits to Heptonstall. These came up because I’ve always been fascinated by the chapel at Heptonstall, but also because my Bradford grandmother was a sampler of a variety of Christian sects – she ended her days as a Christian Scientist – and I got to thinking about how in an earlier century she would have found both intellectual stimulation and entertainment in following Wesley’s preachings. And Wesley’s visits to this region were so dramatic as to be a gift to a poet! Some of the poems are quite long, but I’ve picked three shorter ones.

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Sheila Wild lives in Littleborough. A poet by night, her collection Equinox is available from Cinnamon Press. By day she is a policy analyst researching and writing about gender equality. She is currently working on a book about fifty years of equal pay, and, in homage to her Bradford grandmother,  a sequence of poems on John Wesley’s preaching tours of the Calder Valley. Her poems have been widely published and, amongst other competition wins,  she has been both the winner and runner up in the Manchester Cathedral Religious Poetry Competition. She’s recently started blogging about (and occasionally photographing) the South Pennines:

https://apoetsnotesfromblackstoneedge.blogspot.com/.

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Sheila will be reading some of her Wesley poems in the Poetry Café slot of this year’s Ted Hughes Festival.

You can also read some more of Sheila’s poems in THW#2

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Sheila Wild: Three Poems

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EPWORTH, LINCOLNSHIRE, JUNE 1703

Susannah farrows like a sow.
Nineteen piglets – not all of them live, but enough.
Young Jack is outnumbered, out-squealed, out-done, by girls.
He is fussed over, belittled, bevyed and bossed.
Their voices are quiet, their bosoms cushiony,
companionable, somewhere to lay his head
when Susannah makes of him a penitent.
The remembered softness creates a need
to touch a woman’s breasts.

Faced with a regiment, Susannah is strict:
no sinful act to go unpunished,
no good deed to go unrewarded.
This you can do; this you cannot do.
This is how you will speak,
this is who you will speak to;
If you practice to be good, you will become good.

Jack listens. He learns his alphabet by noon.
He curls up his little tongue.
He sucks on Susannah’s words:
stay good, become good.
A purpose is born.
An enthusiasm.

EPWORTH, LINCOLNSHIRE 1709

Arson or accident, a young body asleep
in childish oblivion,
the bed curtains suddenly aflame.

A slack wind and a lively mind:
Young Jack leaps clear,
is handed down to Susannah.

‘Miraculous’ she thinks,
‘A brand plucked from the burning’.

‘Miraculous’ he thinks, tells no-one, ever,
of the riffle of wings, owl or angel,
so generously sparing
of his childish soul.

RAINBOW

Under whose particular grace
he preaches a simple text:
the Sermon on the Mount
can hardly be bettered;

everything sharp and bright –
the livid indigo salutes his status,
and whitens his linen stock.

Blessed are the meek,
but he is not and never will be.
His sermons are choreographed
by charisma, his, and his alone

He is struck by the brief
brightness of violet, its slow vanishing
as the grey skies clear.

*****

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