If I had words grating and crude enough
That really could describe this horrid hole
Supporting the converging weight of hell … Canto XXXII, Dante

If only we could but we can’t
Release some souls from hell through words,
Or maybe better by some chant
So magical it would be heard,
And in its hearing there’d be release –
Agonies reversing into peace.

I see him now in Manchester:
Enrapt in visions cold and dying,
Enwrapped in actions all one fester –
A cosmos with one feature, crying.

If only we could but we can’t
Free up the souls in hell by deeds,
Reach down, scoop up, at last re-plant
Somewhere where soil supports the seed;
Believe somehow some soul’s new lease
Is justified by life’s increase.
I see him now in Manchester:
Enrapt in visions cold and dying,
Enwrapped in actions all one fester –
A cosmos with one feature, crying.

If only we could but we can’t
Change fate the wicked freely choose;
Enable them to shun the slant
And murderous ways to hell and loss:
Why can’t each human live at ease?
Why does their doorway not have keys?

I see him now in Manchester:
Enrapt in visions cold and dying,
Enwrapped in actions all one fester –
A cosmos with one feature, crying.


James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at www.jamessale.co.uk and contacted at james@motivational maps.com. He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition.

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18 Responses

    • James Sale

      Thank you Carole – you are so right: poetry is about the heart, not the head – we have to feel it if we are ever to say it with words that compel.

    • James Sale

      Amy, thank you – all these ‘pointless’ events are heart-breaking, and poetry attempts to put some meaning back into them.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Alan – working on the metrical and rhyme scheme is so important for me – to try to get effortless rhymes that seem either effortless or inevitable, and not contrived. Your praise, then, means a lot to me; that you could feel meter and rhyme working without any sense of jarring.

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    This is the case of a poet responding to “les maux de son siècle”—and that response, or ability to respond, is, in my mind, one of the delightfully paradoxical traits of La Nouvelle Poésie; for, while on the one hand the “arspulchristi” (my preferred term for us) raise poetry to the empyrean of the timeless—that which is universal across time and place—on the other, we do not fear to confront the most pressing realities specific to the present moment.

    So the question really becomes: How does the poet escape the snare of the “timely” which would swap meaning for the mere chronicling of events or a simple complaint? Well, in the all-important quotation from Dante, the poet is preparing us to think about something much larger, and yet perfectly relevant, to the pressing timely event. The repetition of the poem’s primary substantives, “souls” and “hell,” reinforces the poet’s meditation on the Redemption and our participation in it, also our rejection of it. It is very well thought out.

    For the Catholic reader, there is indeed a case where it is entirely possible by words and deeds, as penances, to effect the release of souls from purgatory. Also in infant baptism, where the parents quite literally hold the Redemption in their power to cleanse their baby of the disease of sin, something the baby cannot do for itself. Indeed, Mr. Sale, by a kind of lovely prestidigitation, has perfectly set forth all the ways in which we constantly strive to help the souls in purgatory (the Church militant helping the Church suffering), but because he is talking about the inmates of hell—from which no escape is possible under God’s infinite mercy and justice—he has given the reader a heightened sense of hell’s finality. And the essence of hell, in a way, is precisely it’s finality.

    The poem’s structure further strengthens the meditation with the fine couplets at the end of the interrogatory stanzas all ending in the same rhyme throughout. This is a tightly woven structure in general, complex in a way that hearkens to some of the more elaborate forms of the English 15th century. This is not the chunky Roman column, but the laciness of the late flamboyant gothic.

    I would love to know who it is in Manchester who is both “enrapt” in visions and “enwrapped” in actions. So the reader must ask: What does it mean to be enrapt versus enwrapped by something? Here, the poet, rather than handing everything to us on a silver platter, makes us earn the poem’s totality. For, it is in Manchester, where the mysterious person is enrapt and enwrapped.

    And here we come full circle to what I see as one of the principle merits of the poem. Manchester, the place name, the substantive, but also the concrete city, “our Manchester,” as it were, with all the affective and emotional connotations a place can hold for us, now becomes a monument recalling by its very enunciation the event which incited the poem, a horror the poet has placed in our minds only once before, in his title, but which he neither describes nor alludes to in the body.

    This follows Aristotle’s dictum that the non-representation of horror is more horrifying than than its representation—which would have been the fatal flaw of a lesser poet. The “all one fester” is important in its ambivalence, both a vision of hell and the locus of the murders at the same time, but even more striking as the poet’s vision is at distance from these objects, not “there” in person and direct, but seeing them as “a cosmos with all one feature.”

    The very word “cosmos” implies the divine order and that infallible truth that whatever happens here below must be understood as always withing God’s providence. Indeed, this one word is our strength, the redemptive word of the poem.

    I can only imagine how perfect this poem would be performed in recitation. I think a recording would bring it out, giving English listeners yet another path of access…

    • James Sale

      What can I say, Joseph, except so many thanks for your deep, deep appreciation of what I am trying to do and say. As always, when critics comment on one’s work, there are invariably specific ideas that they pick on that are especially resonant. There are many such points in your account of my poem, but the one that struck me most – because I had not consciously been aware of it in the writing – is your reference to Aristotle’s dictum, which is so profoundly true. Perhaps the most well-known and brilliant exploitation of this principle is seen in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where it is the absence of the Dark Lord which proves so chilling and thrilling throughout the long novel, and which even the film respects, more or less. Less is more because if we can stimulate the imagination we enable the reader to become the co-creator in what are the heights and depths of human experience. Finally, I could almost be a Catholic except … I am a Quaker. One day – when we at last meet – I hope we will find all the time in the world to sit and talk about the living God and what he has done for you and for me; I am sure there will be much laughter – and then that silence that presages the awe and trembling before the One with whom we have to do.

  2. The Society

    Another Manchester poem that was submitted to the Society to share here:

    38 Thousand Feet

    By Karen Mooney

    Soft velvety islands floating on blue
    Holding no fear for me or for you
    Just calm tranquillity, peace for this moment
    To reflect on how you can offer condolence

    For those slaughtered whilst enjoying their youth
    Innocents taken for some misplaced truth
    That perpetuates evil towards fellow man
    To kill, maim and flames of hatred fan

    Today’s news seems so unreal from up here
    I cannot see earth, only scenes that endear
    Yet the turbulent descent is a timely reminder
    Of uncomfortable truths, all whilst the kinder

    People emerge to reclaim their space
    Offering compassion and love to replace
    The evil barbarity that we must defeat
    In a world which looks better at 38 thousand feet


    • Michelle Cardwell

      Beautiful words from a very talented poet. A talent that developed through her own loss and sadness. Very thought provoking.

  3. José Vieira

    A compelling message made stronger by the skilled choice of words. Great poem.

  4. The Society

    Another shining poem upon the dark attack, this one from poet Peter Branson…

    The Manchester Arena, 10:30 p.m., Monday, May 22nd, 2017

    (For the victims, their families and friends, and for Manchester.)

    Oh Manchester you’re in our thoughts,
    you bear your grief with pride,
    with yet more of your precious blooms
    cut down before their prime.
    We can’t imagine how you’ll feel,
    the strength you’ll need to find
    as funeral follows funeral,
    you’re in our hearts and minds.

    (Verse one can be used as a chorus or repeated once at the end of the song.)

    The fans have had a stirring time,
    the mood’s set warm and fair,
    yet desolation stalks the night,
    there’s thunder in the air.
    Soon sixty-six lie wounded and
    there’s chaos far and wide,
    with teenagers and kids amongst
    the twenty-two who’ve died.

    We can’t accept it’s happening,
    armed soldiers guard the streets;
    there’s shock and sadness in the eyes
    of everyone we meet.
    Round here folk stick together for
    it’s dialogue that solves:
    the slaughter of young innocents
    has stiffened our resolve.

    Recall the Arndale tragedy
    in Nineteen-ninety-six:
    religion stirred with politics
    makes an explosive mix.
    Our Government is listening now
    though could be part to blame,
    stuff done in far off countries that’s
    delivered in our name.

    (Tune adapted from ‘At the Dawning of the Day’ – Irish traditional)

    POET BIO: Peter Branson, a former teacher and lecturer in English Literature and creative writing and poetry tutor, is now a full time poet, songwriter and traditional-style singer whose poetry has been published by journals in Britain, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australasia and South Africa, including Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Anon, Envoi, The London Magazine, The North, Prole, The Warwick Review, Iota, The Butcher’s Dog, The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, SOUTH, Crannog, THE SHOp, Causeway, Measure, The Columbia Review, Main Street Rag and Other Poetry. He has won prizes and been placed in a number of poetry competitions over recent years, including a ‘highly commended’ in the ‘Petra Kenny International’, first prizes in the ‘Grace Dieu’ and the ‘Envoi International,’ a silver medal award in latest Desmond Healey and a special commendation in the Wigtown. His ‘Selected Poems, Red Hill’, came out in 2013. His latest collection, ‘Hawk Rising’, from ‘Lapwing’, Belfast, was published in early April 2016.


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