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Anglicans Online last updated 11 August 2019
A review for Anglicans Online
A review of
Betjeman expert Kevin Gardner turns his attention in this fine anthology to a peculiar English genre of poetry: the elegy on a parish church. There are 61 poets and 95 poems about 78 identifiable churches in a comfortable volume of under 200 pages. It would make a good gift for any person interested in Anglican culture—and indeed just English culture—writ large.
The book opens with a brief essay on "Anglican Memory and Post-War British Poetry," in which the editor traces literary trends in a period when "Anglican memory runs deep in the bone," but "no one could deny that the Church of England is moribund and that its power over ordinary lives is insignificant," with under two per cent of the population attending services regularly. Against this background, he assembles an impressive collection of poems taking as their themes the more than 35,000 parish churches "that adorn the landscape of England's green and pleasant land."
A particularly lovely aspect of the book is its inclusion of a gazetteer in which the locations, history, architectural aspects, and other notes about all of the churches in the anthology offer potential visitors background about the buildings that inspired the poems. This reviewer's only complaints are that the poems are arranged in alphabetical order by their authors' last names, and that there is no indication of the dates when the poets lived, or when the poems were published.
Nearly every page contains a gift like these lines from Fleur Adcock:
Or this from Frances Horowitz:
And this from R.S. Thomas: