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From the Bookshelf: Through Corridors of Light by John Andrew Denny

Written by Isobel Lobo, 19th August 2022

As part of our ongoing work around The Reader Bookshelf, we've asked staff to share their thoughts about some of the inspirational texts in the collection.

This month, one of The Reader's Shared Reading Partnership Leads, Sue, discusses the poetry anthology, Through Corridors of Light by John Andrew Denny.

Words by Sue

Through Corridors of Light has been on my personal bookshelf for about ten years. I remember coming across it at a time when I was in a frenzy of collecting poetry anthologies. This frenzy arose from being constantly on the lookout for poems to use in my newly fledged shared reading groups, some of which were in a mental health inpatient setting. I was drawn to the book by its title, which perfectly places it on this year's Reader Bookshelf with its theme of 'Light and Darkness'. However, I can also remember baulking, at first, at the subtitle, Poems of Consolation in Time of Illness, partly because it made me feel strangely excluded from the treasures within. A naïve reaction, I realise now.

The poems are curated into seven sections, each one headed by a telling phrase from one of the featured poems, acting as a helpful guide to what might be discovered to suit a particular mood, time or need. A few of the poems I found I simply wanted to hold close for my own private reflection, but many others I couldn’t wait to share in a group. These poems resonated personally and presented as great material to read aloud and speak for themselves.

I remember reading Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese in a long-term mental health rehabilitation ward. Such settings naturally have their institutional hierarchies, but a member of the nursing staff commented on what he described as ‘a feeling of being on a level here ’ as he reread the line ‘Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine’. ‘That’s for all of us, me included,’ he said.

In the early summer of this year, I took Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts from Abroad to an Older Adults Ward. The group listened, enthralled, as one of the gentlemen spoke in some detail of his love of birdsong, thrushes in particular, as they 'sing each song twice over’. The accompanying member of staff noticed him ‘come alive’ as he spoke to the group. 

Another poem that stands out for me is from the final section, named after the poem itself: Let Evening Come. I first used this Jane Kenyon poem with a group of young offenders, in a prison setting, alongside the final chapter of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The poem's effect on this group, its hushed and somehow grateful reception after such a poignant episode in the story, stayed with me. Thus, a couple of years later, it came to mind as the perfect poem to read at my dear 91-year-old father's funeral. 

Finally, here is a poem that remains a touchstone for me, a reminder not to be afraid to take to groups, in whatever settings we may be reading, rich poems that deal with the darker side of our human experience. It follows John Denny’s introduction (a highly recommended read) and precedes the anthology as a sort of preface to the collection.

Taken from the poem ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ by W.H. Auden  

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

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