There was a time towards the end of Hutchmoot UK this year when I experienced one of those fleeting moments of sharpness in life. Do you know the kind I mean? The moments when you suddenly become painfully aware of the ordinary beauty all around you. The moments when, hurrying through a faceless crowd, dozens of extraordinary individual lives burst into instant bloom to your left and right. The moments when a line of writing hurls itself from the page to pierce through to your inmost being: to somewhere you thought no one else knew.
There is a kind of poetry in these moments of sharpness.
Oddly enough, when I experienced one at Hutchmoot, it happened during a Found Poetry workshop I was hosting in the leafy surroundings of Swanwick, Derbyshire. Around 180 of us had gathered at The Hayes for a few days of feasting together on music and story and art. Perhaps 20 or so had come along that afternoon to share a couple of their precious Hutchmoot hours with me.
As I waited in the sunshine, the group came drifting back from the first task, which had been to roam the site finding fragments of text which we would then tear up and remake into poems. They had gone hunting in books, on signs, in leaflets. They had overheard shards of conversation, sifted through papers, and scoured the old wartime photographs on the walls.
The sharpness came upon me suddenly as they pressed these “found: words into my waiting hands, scribbled on bright strips of colored paper. I was awe-shocked by these Hutchmooters: they had reveled in being given permission to look differently at their surroundings. There had been a thrill for them, I realized, in eavesdropping a little; in freeing text from its everyday moorings ready to make it new. (It is a thrill those of us who write regularly know well). As my hands filled up with paper and words, I was pierced once again with the sheer wonder of it all.
There is earthy, God-fueled poetry everywhere. I mean: everywhere. Even on emergency exit signs.
The moment flared and faded. I was soon absorbed in witnessing my newfound poets play with these fragments of text, in reading and discussing the extraordinary poems they forged. If you have never dabbled in found poetry, I highly recommend it. You may have had the misfortune to have been told—or indeed to tell yourself—that you are not a writer. Go tear up other people’s words and write them into something new. You will be surprised at what you find. Anyway, the day continued, the night passed. Hutchmoot UK was soon, with regret, finished for another year.
I came away with my heart full and my hands aching to write. And yet I cannot tell you a polished, flowing story about what I, or any of us, found at Hutchmoot. I found it in fragments. I found it as poetry. Ruth Moore
But as the weeks since have drifted by, I have noticed that found poetry is a strong metaphor for what it was like to experience Hutchmoot. I have not yet had the delight of visiting the mother ship, the original version in Nashville. I hear it can be a little tricky to secure a ticket! Here in the UK, this was our third edition—my second—and the first on either side of the Atlantic to be residential. We came from all over the UK, Europe, and far beyond. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together; we bore witness to the joys and struggles of the creative life together; we prayed; we listened; we made. We slept, we woke, we dived in again. I came away with my heart full and my hands aching to write. And yet I cannot tell you a polished, flowing story about what I, or any of us, found at Hutchmoot. I found it in fragments. I found it as poetry.
Take, for example, the moment when I looked around a crowded seminar room where people were claiming space on the floor and the window ledges to hear Doug McKelvey speak On Weakness. What an extraordinary thing: to know that it is not only me whose heart has been broken lately by community. To hear it ventured that, in fact, my very brokenness is what can make community anew. Or the first night, when our Music in the Round brought the wondrous voices of Andrew Peterson, Christopher Williams, Miriam Jones, and Matshidiso into conversation; when we listened to them trade smoky, tuneful tales from far-flung cities while the Derbyshire dusk deepened outside. Or joining strangers at the breakfast table one morning to find myself engulfed in stories of wild Alaskan adventures and joyous, cramped family caravan holidays in Wales.
There was poetry in the hands of the people as we gathered to hear acclaimed artist Alistair Gordon’s keynote, as we pressed our fingers into air-dry clay to form physical responses to the hard-won words he offered on God and art. There was poetry in the bar late at night, as I eavesdropped on old friends re-finding each other, and as new friendships swirled over a sip or two of whisky shared. There was poetry—mischievous, brilliant poetry— in serving alongside the team, a heady blend of Brits and Americans. The year before, we had labored many hours together over chopping boards and sinks due to a last-minute catering catastrophe. This year, it was a joy to watch these gem-like sisters and brothers express their gifts at a more leisurely pace: there is a great deal of poetry, I find, in being unhurried.
There were times when the sheer volume of this found poetry threatened to overwhelm. The fabric of the conference was rich and varied: you can see more for yourself here of the excellent artists who shared their work and wisdom from the trenches. It began to feel that every time I sat down to another meal, or outside in the unseasonably strong sunshine, I would find myself in the midst of something unbearably real, or funny, or deeply challenging. I wasn’t always sure there was enough of me to absorb it all. But that’s the thing with Hutchmoot poetry, isn’t it? There comes a time when it has been enough, even if it breaks your heart a little. There comes a time when you must pick up your bag and return to the real world.
But here I am, weeks later, and of course, the poetry is still with me, because its Writer is as close beside me as ever He was at Hutchmoot. It is He who leaves these treasure trails of sharp moments, of poetry found and remade. Whether you journeyed with us to Derbyshire this year, or whether such an experience or community feels painfully beyond your reach, hear this: There is an earthy, God-fuelled poetry everywhere. I mean: everywhere. Go find it and make it into something new. Get to work.
A deep and heartfelt thank you to my fellow UK teammates: Glenn Johnston, Heidi Johnston, Jason McFarland, Mark Meynell, Jo Tinker, Michael Tinker. Thank you for welcoming me into your midst. And to the splendid fluffle of Rabbit Room staffers and supporters who crossed the ocean to labor alongside us. Thank you for everything, even the goat yoga…