Clash of cultures

Just back from our diocesan clergy conference. It was just 24 hours, which was not long enough for me. Although I find myself resenting having to rearrange my diary, I know that on these occassions, the thing that matters most is meeting people and there was not quite enough time for me to feel that we had done enough of that. I’d have liked us to discuss something that mattered, and I’m not sure we did.

We had good input though. The headline speaker for Wednesday was Lorna Finley, who came and spoke to us about dealing with the media. Her party-piece was a series of imagined headlines from newspapers reporting on the story of the Prodigal Child. Excellent.

Today the headline act was Rowan Williams. He spoke to us of poetry.

One frustration that I found was that it started to feel to me as though quite a few of my colleagues were frightened of the media but much more accepting of poetry. Rowan William’s experience of the firestorm over Sharia Law earlier in the year was very obviously in our minds. That kind of effect inevitably induces fear. It felt as though people felt much more comfortable listening to RW talking about medieval Welsh poetic structures. (And here, I must  admit that RW was the best speaker on the structure of medieval Welsh poetry that I’ve ever heard at a clergy conference).

The thing that troubled me was that we never seemed to connect the two. I’m a person who lives in a soundbite, internet-driven, headline culture. And I love it. What none of us seemed able to vocalise during the conference is that this same culture is the most successful, witty, influential poetic culture that the world has ever seen. We turn our backs on it at our peril.