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Every Changing Shape
Mystical Experience and the Making of Poems
ISBN: 978 1 857542 47 9
Categories: 20th Century, Catholic, Women
Imprint: Lives and Letters
Published: August 1996
215 x 130 x 15 mm
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Also available in: eBook (Kindle), eBook (EPUB)
Do they move with empty minds so that
Meditation may have room enough?
Or are they filled with this world's appetites
Which must be cleared out by a perfect love?
Imagination shaping poems can seem
The purest moments of one's life and yet
We know, when coming from that trance, a dream
Was working in us and the poem is set
Down and finished, such experience
May seem at times like a perfect meditation
But words or images are what enchants,
What seemed like prayer was only concentration
from 'Hermits and Poets', In the Meantime
Every Changing Shape, published in 1961 and now in paperback for the first time, considers from a Christian poet's perspective how religious or mystical experience informs the imagination. Elizabeth Jennings wrote the book early in her career; it continues to provide crucial readings of her chosen authors and clues to her own poetry.
She avoids terms like 'inspiration', 'ecstasy', sticking to particulars - words, meanings - rather than ideology or theory. A collection of studies of writers and mystics past and present, it brings literary judgement to bear on a subject neglected in a secular age. Though her first concern is poetry, she draws on prose writers to effect her penetrating explorations.
Praise for Elizabeth Jennings 'Anyone who likes poetry will love it if you get them Carcanet's Collected Poems of Elizabeth Jennings. It costs a bit but you do get well over 1,000 poems, with barely a duff one; heck, you could even give it to someone who doesn't like poetry, and suggest it will change their mind.'
Nicholas Lezard, the Guardian, 1st December, 2012
'But there is no sterility here: I defy you to read "A Living Death" and not be on the verge of tears by the end of it ("I am caught up / Within a death that does not die") This is a supremely dippable-into book. Its bulk is liberating, not intimidating.'
Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, Tuesday 3rd April, 2012.
'it contains some of the finest lyric poetry of the 20th century'
Anne Stevenson, The Sunday Times, September 14th 1986
'in an agnostic age it is daring to write poems of religious rhapsody and more daring still to write as if the making of poems were a sacred activity.'
James Aitchison, The Glasgow Herald, May 7th 1989
'Her poetry ... conveys a strength of feeling and sincerity that few contemporary poets can match.'
Tom Velickovic, The Bookseller, September 16th 1994
'a pleasure, as well as a poetic education, to read'
Gwyneth Lewis, Poetry Review, Volume 84 no 4, Winter 1994
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