Below is our interview with the award-winning British Catholic theologian and poet Christopher Villiers. Villiers is the author of the newly released Sonnets From the Spirit (2015, Hope & Life Press), an illustrated collection of 52 icons in poetry on major episodes from Scripture according to the ancient practice of midrash. Sonnets From the Spirit is presently available in paperback and ebook editions from major booksellers worldwide including Amazon, and directly from ourselves at Hope and Life Press. The Kindle edition will also soon be released.
Q: Christopher, when did you first start writing?
Well, I wrote a tiny bit of poetry as a child, along with one or two short stories as school exercises. I also wrote some typically dreadful adolescent poems (teenage self-pity/infatuation), but did not really get going as a writer until the New Year of 2015. I was at a loose end and started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book about releasing inner creativity, and started thinking I might be able to be little bit creative myself. So I started writing poetry and have not stopped.
Q: What is the story behind your book Sonnets From the Spirit?
There was no great plan in my mind about it. I just thought when Lent came, I should try to write religious poetry as a personal devotional exercise. Many of the poems in the book were the fruit of my own meditation upon certain passages of Scripture, trying to put myself in the scene and the scene in myself. I kept writing these poems throughout Easter and beyond, attracting a kind little group of fans. Then I encountered my publisher and gathering my biblical meditations along a consistent theme, this beautiful book of spiritual sonnets emerged. It was all rather providential.
Q: What motivated you to become an author?
I felt this motivation within me to write poetry. Words would well up inside me as I was on the bus or waking up in the morning. Sometimes, a pattern would form in my head and I would be unable to get it out of my mind until I had written it out as a poem. As I already noted, being a published author is something I have fallen into, rather than carefully sought out for myself. I think it is important to just write, from the heart, instead of fixating on being a recognized author. Just keep writing and that recognition should follow – eventually.
Q: What is the greatest joy in writing?
The greatest joy for me in writing is the sheer joy of creation: giving birth to a little word-baby and raising it into a fully-grown poem. Poems proceed from the poet, but have a certain existence independent of him/her; rather as an adult child has from his/her parents. There is a sense of craftsmanship that makes you feel – excuse me, if this sounds grandiose – as if you are participating a little in God’s creation and sustaining of the universe.
Q: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
As already noted, I remember some childish attempts at poetry and prose fiction as a child, containing a mixture of melodrama and humor (e.g., people fainting at silly moments). My first serious poem The Road to Spring won a poetry prize and it made me feel so proud! My early poems drew on nature in a manner paralleling Robert Frost, whose work I greatly admire.
Q: Where did you grow up? How did that influence your writing?
Although I was born in Coventry, a city in the English midlands, I grew up in northern Devon, a largely rural county in south-west England; going to some excellent schools and seeing some excellent countryside and coastline on a daily basis. My nature poetry is heavily influenced by my locality. In some respects, my part of Devon is a little less secular than a few other parts of England and I came increasingly under the influence of Christianity, although I am not from a practicing Christian family.
The fact that I grew up in a slightly remote and little traditional sort of place (although people have moved there from all over the country and it is becoming more cosmopolitan), may have affected my poetic style. I am not a particularly jazzy and avant-garde sort of writer. I have nothing against that sort of thing per se, but have never felt it to be my particular vocation. I studied theology at a university on the other edge of England (Durham) and am used to being away from the center of things, watching from a distance – not the worst vantage point for a poet.
Q: How do you spend your time when not writing?
When not writing, I like to read. I love biographies and am currently rereading an excellent one on Cardinal Newman and his family. Naturally, I like to read the occasional poem. I adore T.S. Eliot, his use of literary allusion to original effect, like how he uses Dante and other writers in The Waste Land and other poems is incredible. I have already mentioned Robert Frost. I also like the nature poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, along with his religious verse (his poem God’s Grandeur is a favorite). John Donne is amazing; a brilliant poet of religion and love, who combines passion and intellect most forcefully. I have learned a lot from his sonnets. I also like the novels of Jane Austen and Dostoyevsky: in their very different ways, they are great psychological writers who capture human nature brilliantly. I also enjoy long walks, theological book reviewing (I get free books!), eating most kinds of known food, and drinking more sugary tea than is probably good for my teeth.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
I hope to write a little more poetry, writing other forms of poems as well as sonnets. I would like to do a little more theological study someday and perhaps travel a little, encountering new people and new ideas, without losing touch of the old ones.