December 26, 2018

What Are We Going to Do About Margery (Kempe)?

Whatever Next? 

I started 2018 working with Elizabeth MacDonald on an adaptation of her epic play "Skirting Heresy; The Life and Times of Margery Kempe of Lynn" for a prospective production at Lynn Minster. It was very much an act of faith because at that time there was no guarantee that the project would ever see the light of day. 5 weeks into the year, and after much midnight oil and spilled ink, we had a workable script - and a suite of new Margery songs - and as the year rolled on our project steering committee led by Lindsey Bavin at True's Yard against considerable odds reeled in the required funding, appointed a brilliant young director and - slowly but surely - called in a exciting local cast and crew of 30. And, last of all, rather unexpectedly but excitingly, the Penland Phezants called in to create the score not just (as planned) to provide demos of the songs for the cast to sing. By now, it was August, and instead of the cold January mornings poring over a script only Liz and I knew much about, it was a heatwave and we were in the middle of an epic production with a large company spirit and headed for a full house at the Minster at the end of September.

Not long before we got there, Margery Kempe got some long overdue civic recognition (led by Alison Gifford) in the shape of a bench in her honour. I wrote this poem to celebrate that landmark and it was accepted as an exclusive by a local Lynn newspaper to be published in print and online. As is sometimes the way with these things, the moment passed without this promise actually being honoured, so apart from a performance at Lynn Heritage Day, it's remained unavailable until now: the fag end of a year in which most of my labours were in one way or another Margery-related.

A recording also appears on the Penland Phezants soundtrack album Songs for Skirting Heresy, which is available online, at Phezants' gigs and at True's Yard. It's a rare opportunity to play God - always fun - as in the poem I imagine Him reflecting, rather like the Mother Superior and Maria in the Sound of Music, on His errant but exuberant charge.

(On The Occasion of Margery of Lynn Being Honoured with an Oak Bench in Saturday Market Place, the Heavens Opening in a Biblical  Storm the Same Night.)

Hear the poem here

(for Alison Gifford)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, in love with My Word,
When my Holy Spirit bellows, she asks for a bird
That she begs like a pilgrim in a foreign land
For a common sign she can understand.

(She'll be writing an Autobiography next!)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, in love with My Word,
When my Holy Spirit bellows, she asks for a bird
That she begs like a Lollard in a Catholic land
For an English robin she can understand.

(She'll be reading a New English Bible next!)

O what shall I do with Illiterate Marge, a proto Fanny Burney
In borrowed nun's robes, on unlicensed journeys?
I appear! - as handsome a vision as wife could want-
And as monks shriek prayers (as Lynn burns) it's hers I grant.

(She'll be sainted for the gracious miracle next!)

O what shall I send this Illiterate Marge on My Holy Bread?
A heaven-pew, a hard-back from which Lynn's heart is read,
Baptised by almighty tears in a Wash of thunder and flame,
Inscribed with her hard-won titles - Author, Pilgrim, Mystic, Name.

(She'll be honoured in her native parish next!)

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