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Raising The Human Spirit
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Simply email me your full name and address and send a cheque for £20 made out to Dr Bryan Tully, at PO Box 13132, London SW13 0LD. That includes p&p. Two copies cost £30 inclusive of p&p.

 

Synopsis
 
Raising the human spirit is an anthology of poetry, song lyrics, and short prose pieces which have been chosen to help support non-religious people facing crises in their lives, and who ordinarily would not make use of religious prayers, hymns, scriptures etc. The anthology reflects times of human despair, demoralisation, and desolation as well as comfort, consolation, inspiration and wisdom. None of the material requires a belief in a supernatural God or any particular religious doctrine. Many of the contributions from past and present are in fact from authors who have had some form of religious faith associated with their time and place. Their works and the more modern material are of course perfectly usable by religious pastoral care workers and religious people generally as an addition to their own faith liturgies and prayer books. Tess Ward for example is an Anglican priest, chaplain and poet. Her collection “Celtic Wheel of the Year” is flavoured with more than a smidgen of ancient paganism. One of her “morning invocations” is included for the sheer joy of anyone with a sense of “fruity” natural metaphors in poetry.
 
Around 150 pieces overall include some of the most eloquent voices in the English language. But not all is high literature. Some is frankly sentimental, such as Rudyard Kipling’s verse on the power of your pet dog’s death to tear your heart. Some voices are ancient such as the “Old Woman of Beare” (Anon., Ireland) and Seneca (ancient Rome). Some are modern and scientific such as “The World as I See It” by Albert Einstein (self described as a “most religious unbeliever”). The occasional piece has been borrowed from religious scripture, such as St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on the nature of love. Some has a more pointed and distinctive humanist flavour such as the “Agnostics Creed” and an edited humanist version of the “12 steps programme”. The latter might not be considered literature at all, yet it is strangely moving and effective. Some of the most deadly serious work has been in relation to black people’s experience of their history and heritage.
 
“Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish poet from New York after he was shocked by a photograph of a lynching. It was arranged to music and turned into some of the most achingly sad singing by such luminary black divas as Billie holiday and Nina Simone, among many others. The gay African-American poet Langston Hughes’ “The Trumpeter” is an example of jazz poetry, linked to metronomy. The first line, “The negro with the trumpet at his lips” grabs you and doesn’t let go. Other powerful poetic expressions of black experience come from DuBose Heywood, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah.
 
Isidore Century in his book “From the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers” takes weekly portions of the Torah and re-envisages them in a modern and more secular poetic commentary. Sometimes he plays with the original in a mischievous and slightly mocking way. That certainly raises a smile. This is all part of the Jewish tradition of “midrash” or commentary or interpretation or re-writing of ancient texts and even previous midrash.
 
Also good for a smile are the poems of Canadian poet Robert Service, with one example being “The Men Who Don’t Fit In”. Modern British performance poetry is represented by excerpts from Kate Tempest’s “Brand-new Ancients”, written for the stage. Marisa McKeith, on the other hand, is another young British poet with a disability which deprives her of movement, speech and anything like this sort of performance. It does not deprive her of powerful poetic thoughts, imagination and voice. Her “Sting” is designed to sting you wake. It does just that.
 
Raising the Human Spirit takes a leaf from one of the original volumes of poetry designed to “cure” modern ills; “The Poetry Cure” by Robert Haven Schauffer in 1927. His choices of works tended to be on the religious and solemn side. But even so, he offered “juices, drafts and stimulants” for the conditions of hard heartedness, torpid imaginations, faintheartedness, impatience and even “sluggish blood”. All the poetic & prose excerpts in this volume are cross-referenced with domains of modern human concern and experience. There are over 70 in all and they include addictions, ageing, anger, approaching death, black people’s experience, confusion, despair and demoralisation, defying the gods, Dementia, disability, dreams, enduring love, freedom, fun, grief, humour, illness, infant death, life lived wholeheartedly, meanings of life, the menopause, misfits, murder, pain, parenthood, patriotism, regrets, self-doubt, transience, war, wandering, wisdom, and many others.
 
Deborah Alma is a humanist and a poet and she takes her 1970s restored ambulance on the road to arts festivals throughout Britain. People come and tell their troubles and she, wearing her “emergency poet” apparel, prescribes a poem. If it is short it may fit inside an empty capsule; poetic medicine indeed. A longer one will go in a bottle. She is in demand at festivals not surprisingly. One of her offerings is included in this feast of works.
 
There is a power in both religiously motivated prayer and secular poetry. Modern research has shown that mantras, meditations, and even “conversations” with imagined supernatural beings can all have a beneficial effect on the mind and there are some quite specific changes in the brain which are associated. The same can be said for secular poetry and songs but the brain effects may vary. Speaking out loud, together with others, in a chanting or repetitive mode, with musical accompaniment and using familiar and well loved forms, all make a distinct contribution to countering demoralisation. This research is reviewed and compared with older published work on the development and effects of so-called “poetry therapy”. Some of the most remarkable productions in modern times have been poems generated from conversations with people who live with Dementia. From their own fragmented words, poets such as John Killick, (a colleague of Deborah Alma) create an orchestrated production which expresses emotions or meanings crystallised poetically, and offered back for recognition and approval. This can have a powerful effect. This is technically known as poetic transcription or re-presentation, and it is a process which has been used as a social science research tool as well.
 
 It is hoped to make use of this volume to support the newly developing humanist / non-religious pastoral support services. Humanist pastoral support workers now work together with religious colleagues in multi-faith “spiritual healthcare” teams, in hospitals, prisons and in the community. This has been the case in some European countries for many years. We need to catch up.
 
The editor of this volume is a humanist celebrant (designing and conducting nonreligious ceremonies) and a humanist pastoral support worker.
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