Brian Mountford has chosen thirty five poems which explore the human experience of suffering and redemption, accompanied by his own thoughtful and witty commentary.
The collection contains secular and sacred pieces in equal measure and came into being as part of a programme to bring a sense of seriousness, in a non prescriptive, open-ended way to the Easter holiday crowds in the University Church, Oxford, where the poems were read on Good Friday with dignity and panache by senior school children. The selection has not been augmented in any kind of attempt to provide a fully representative anthology, but kept exactly as it evolved in response to this specific need.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
After leaving Christ Church Southgate in 1986, Reverend Brian Mountford became Vicar of the University Church in Oxford - the country’s most visited parish church. He retired in 2016 after thirty years of ministry there and is currently Acting Chaplain of Corpus Christi College.
In the first years of his time in Oxford, the doors of the church were closed on Good Friday - left ajar for all but the devout few to squeeze through and attend The Three Hours service, while the cafe in the courtyard outside continued to do a roaring trade. A groundswell of letters and comments from visitors - (particularly from Catholic countries) - saying how surprised they were not to see the church open, led to a change of heart. The gates were flung wide. Passiontide and Easter music was performed by the city’s choirs and orchestras. The Stations of the Cross were walked. Visitors could come and go as they pleased. More people, no less piety.
During the day, Brian invited senior students from local secondary schools to read aloud poems, which he has collated in this anthology, published last week under the title “Friday’s Child.”
Containing 35 poems and concluding with 5 prayers, this anthology is a perfect size for use to aid daily reflections in Lent - but also a wonderful book to enjoy at other times (sometimes I find anthologies can be cumbersome to hold and too dense to engage with). In Friday’s Child, Brian has done the excavating for us and presents well known and not so well known works (to me at least!) including poems not obviously associated with Lent or Passiontide (such as the Corpus Christi Carol, which I can’t read without thinking of the music Britten composed and the version of the carol sung by Jeff Buckley).
Each poem is clearly set out and followed by a commentary written by Brian. This was particularly helpful to gain an insight into some of the more complicated pieces - such as John Donne’s “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward.” I preferred it when the commentary was printed overleaf rather than on the facing page - because, despite trying to exercise Lenten self-control, I am very naughty (and lazy!) and if I got stuck trying to ponder the meaning of a poem I glanced over to see what Brian thought rather than stretch my mind to think for myself! A page turn somehow made me less inclined to do that!
I tried reading aloud several of the poems (an action we now associate with illiteracy - “silent reading” is a relatively modern innovation in the scheme of things) - imagining the young voices reciting the poems in the church. There are some wonderful quotes from the students at the beginning of the book sharing the power of this experience;
“Reading these poems was always an important part of my year. They opened up discussions about doubt, religious doctrine, and human nature for me. This is how young people want to be treated; we never felt patronized, but our voices were, in every sense, heard.”
The poems certainly do open up discussion and inspire further thought. The anthology is subtitled “Poems of suffering and redemption” and I wondered if it would be valuable to those in a process of meaning-making in grief, when coming to terms with loss?
There is much to take away from this little book. Friday’s Child is, as the saying goes, loving and giving. ~ Phillip Dawson, Quam dilecta blog
Congratulations on 'Friday's Child'. It provides my nightly meditation before I go to bed. It is a wonderful choice of poems, many of which would be too difficult to understand, were it not for the excellent introductions. You will be pleased to know that I shall be purchasing copies this afternoon for the children. ~ Richard Pring , Professor of Education
Just a line to say how much I am enjoying Friday's Child - I have read a couple of poems and commentary in bed each night. and have loved the experience: Blake, Duffy, Heaney, Herbert, Larkin, Donne....and in so many cases poems I hadn't known or read before. It's been (and will continue to be) a genuinely uplifting, thought-provoking and rewarding experience.
Once it's readily available I shall be giving it to friends....
~ David Kewley, Independent Publisher
Thank you for your book, which I am enjoying enormously. It fits my attention span perfectly and is making me look again at things I had long taken for granted or never thought about at all. ~ Nigel Hamway, email
Brian Mountford has written a short reflection on each poem in this wonderful collection - insightful, often understated and spacious so as to encourage our own response. What a clever idea and so beautifully done. This is an anthology that will feed the soul throughout the year. ~ Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
Brian Mountford’s engagement with religion, and with the world, and with the human aspects of them both, has been something I’ve long admired. In this inspiring collection of poems and readings for Good Friday he brings all his experience of literature, and of the needs of readers and listeners both young and old, together to create a tapestry of great brilliance and a commentary of calm wisdom. ~ Philip Pullman
It was interesting having poems that you wouldn’t normally associate with Good Friday; yet including them made you reflect on them in a different way. It’s good not to compartmentalise religion or to say only ‘religious’ things can be spiritual. (Jerome Gasson)
Reading these poems on Good Friday was always an important part of my year. They opened up discussions about doubt, religious doctrine, and human nature for me. This is how young people want to be treated; we never felt patronised, but our voices were, in every sense, heard. (Aphra Hiscock)
Saying poetry aloud and thinking how you are going to make it sound (or how others might hear it) makes you think much more about what it might be trying to say. (Julius Gasson)
Being part of the group gave a chance for us to offer something to a wider community. We liked the way visitors chancing by might stop and be moved to listen. (All) ~ Teenagers who originally read these poems in public on Good Friday