Font – by Sally Festing
Artwork – John Richter
Small Press Publishing, 2016 £10.00
Sound in stillness; movement in stone
Font is a meditation on the Norman font in St Mary’s Church, Burnham Deepdale, whose twelve stone panels offer images corresponding to the months of the agricultural year.
There are twelve lyrics here, one for each of the agricultural months, book-ended by single poems about the stonemason. Each calendar page has a facing image: clear, simple lines in a semi-medieval style, using both black and blue – the blue picked up by the colour of the fly-leaf papers at front and back of the publication. This pamphlet is a lovely thing.
When you walk into a church, there’s a sense of echoing space opening out above your head. Sound echoing in stillness. The sequence of poems re-enacts this feeling. Precision and pacing bear witness to intent observation. Huge vistas of landscape and time open out as you read. The Norfolk skies, the ancient sea, the acoustic of a resonant and holy space.
Not that these poems are religious in the ordinary sense. They are simply open, spare, and graceful. They offer themselves like pictures.
There is a central character – a man – and it is almost as though the poet has breathed herself into him, even into the ‘things the stone doesn’t show’— how in March
... he dug deep as Adam, dug away his sins,
expanding his ribs as the year broke from the earth.
It’s the next world counts. The fires of hell,
this frightens him. How to adjust to the unknown.
How to face bad luck.
God flows like a breeze through fields picked clean.
And in December
Flat plates, bowl, mead, stick of bread.
The poems rise out of the stone; they speak of it and to it, poems you can live with and inhabit. They leave you space to think.
This poet and the ancient stone-worker have surely forged an empathy, reaching out to one another across the centuries. There's an almost eerie sense of connection. These poems will wear well.