29 January 2023

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 29 January 2023

The Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, depicted on the welcome sign at Tamworth Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, although some parishes may decide to bring forward the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation from next Thursday to this morning.

Later this morning, I plan to be at the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford. But before the day begins I am taking some time in prayer and reflection at the beginning of the day.

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘Our town has underused churches and underappreciated ancient monuments’ … Saint Editha’s Church and the town seen from Tamworth Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was back in Tamworth last week, visiting some places associated with the Comberford family. So, my choice of poem this morning is another poem about Tamworth by Mal Dewhirst, ‘Our Town.’

Mal Dewhirst, who died in 2021, became Staffordshire’s first poet laureate in 2012. He lived in Tamworth and Tamworth inspired a number of his poems.

He was a writer and film maker, and his plays have been performed across the Midlands, including ‘The Fell Walker’ in Tamworth and ‘At the Crossroads’ at the Garrick in Lichfield, which was commissioned by the Lichfield Mysteries.

Mal was a poet-in-residence in a town market and an archaeological dig, his work has been published in many magazines and journals, and he appeared on BBC Radio and Radio Wildfire. He was also responsible for the Polesworth Poets Trail.

Mal was a regular reader on the Midlands poetry scene and was part of the Coventry Cork Literature exchange in 2011, performing readings in Cork City and Limerick. As a film director, his film Double Booked was shown at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland in 2014.

He hoped to bring ground-breaking writing to new audiences, always seeking to redefine boundaries, and wanted to develop and improvise new work as collaborations with other artists and performers in unexpected places as a melding of ideas, skills and talents.

Tamworth Castle, on a mound above the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Our Town, by Mal Dewhirst:

Our town is being defined
by the corporate; coffee shop, pseudo design brand clothing stores, token music shop and two branches of a major pharmacy,
mixed in with charity shops for our hearts, the aged, the hospice and cancer.
It has an out of town retail park
with two supermarkets, a pet store, two electrical shops and a DIY store,
all mingled among a disruptive road network.

I know what you’re thinking,
Our town sounds just like your town.
It has several co-ops, a flower shop, a row of; banks and building societies,
travel agents and estate agents, solicitors and accountants,
they all group together, power in numbers,
creating quarters, where they know each others secrets.
Then there is the local council office, the tourist information centre,
pubs and restaurants, cafes and Kebab shops,
cheep booze emporiums,
where Chateauneuf-du-Pape is not even an aspiration.
Market stalls on xdays and ydays,
for the purveyors of:
fleeces and fruit, trainers and towels,
books and batteries, rugs and rollers,
cheese and chutney,
Our town sounds just like your town

Our town has a Non-league football team,
whose fans chant about coming from our town,
how nobody likes us but we don’t care,
just like they do in your town.
We have a leisure centre, with swimming pool and gym,
all franchised out to entrepreneurs from the Dragons den.
Our town has underused churches and underappreciated ancient monuments,
it has some green open spaces with swings and a slide
and some artworks, that just appeared as if dropped by aliens.
There is a carnival in the summer,
where lorries squeeze through open backed streets
and the sea cadets, girl guides and boy scouts
hold on for dear life, whilst the spectators thrown coins at them.
The carnival, when they crown a local girl as queen
who smiles for the camera and hopes that there is more to fame than this.

Our town has the battle of the bands in the autumn,
when young testosterone filled teenagers
thrash guitars and grunt about being misunderstood.

Our town has a bonfire and fireworks in the park,
except now it’s only fireworks
because the fire destroys the grass.
Our town sounds just like your town

Our town was badly re-planned in the sixties and has a local newspaper
that keeps reminding us, by printing pictures from the past.

Our town’s car parks are free after seven pm
but demands payment for a minimum of two hours at all other times.

Our town has its Assembly rooms where fading sixties bands strut their Zimmer tunes,
and the local dance groups hold their annual shows,
followed by the X factor rejects, grabbing their last gigs
before disappearing into Wikipedia.

Our town has its taxi ranks where A2B vie for business with Ourtown Taxi’s,
there is a bus garage that is in the narrowest most inappropriate part of town,
the multiplex Cinema surround sounds an American Diner.
Pedestrianised streets where
there are sometimes fights at weekends,
tears and bruises, over indulgent consequences.
Fading hotels, who have offers for weddings
where suits feel uncomfortable
upon their wearers
and women wear large bright hats.
Our town sounds just like your town.

Our town has bred several footballers, rock musicians and the odd writer,
all of whom no longer live here,
and never mention that they ever lived here,
We do have many other worthies, who were named after the roads,
where boy racers now avoid the awkward speed bumps
as they tear up the worthy tarmac.

Our town has its own crest,
is tripleted with several foreign towns,
one in Germany, as an act of reconciliation,
another in France, although I did not realise Agincourt still ran so deep,
and the obvious one, the one with same name, in a former British colony.
Our town used to produce things,
was known for producing certain things;
now either people don’t want our things,
or they can be made cheaper in Eastern Europe or China,
our town has lost its industry
has become overspill for the city
has more incomers who commute to work,
than those who are born and bred and speak with a local accent,
use local sayings; know everyone and who they are related too.

OK, In our town there is a familiar feeling
that our town is just like your town.

© Mal Dewhirst

‘Our town has its own crest’ … the Tamworth Arms on Lichfield Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme is introduced this morning by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflects on Holocaust Memorial Day and World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Holocaust Memorial Day, which we commemorated on Friday, and World Interfaith Harmony Week, which begins on Wednesday, require us to open our hearts, both to the memory of the past and towards a more tolerant and loving future.

Holocaust Memorial Day is when we remember all the victims of Nazi persecution, including the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and all subsequent genocides. In order to authentically witness to the memory of the Holocaust, we need to open our hearts to the pain of the past. We need to inform ourselves of this shameful history, and to hold the memory of the victims in our minds. We may even look inwards and ask ourselves how we might do more to stand up for those who are persecuted, abused, or rejected in our world today.

To look forward towards a better future, towards a world where genocide will be no more, we must also open our hearts to the other — to our neighbours, to people who are different from us. In interfaith harmony week, we think especially of people of other faiths.

To open our hearts to the memory of the past, and to our neighbours, is to actively and prayerfully strive towards harmony between all people, so that we may grow one step closer to a world united in love.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Lightness our darkness, O Lord,
and reveal the unspeakable
lest we forget the victims of our inhumanity.
Turn our hearts to repentance and our actions to justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘Our town has … underappreciated ancient monuments’ … the Comberford monument in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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