Alternative Advent

Today at the Cathedral View More
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Alternative Advent

New poetry for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

For each Sunday from Advent to Epiphany, six exciting young poetic voices and one emerging digital artist reimagine the story of Christmas.

Taking the Biblical text as a starting point, they each retell a story that is both personal and universal, layering it with meaning and peppering it with insight. They bring to life the humans behind a familiar narrative, and enable us to see them, and hopefully ourselves, in a new way.

The First Sunday in Advent - 3 December

by Antosh Wojcik
featuring the drawings of Stephanie K Kane

Antosh Wojcik is an artist from Reading, currently based in Henley-On-Thames. He is one half of Post Everything, with Will Tyas. Both are poets and musicians who specialise in creative documentation of our their own work and the work of others. 
It is the sixth month of Gabriel’s anxiety dream.
He wakes seconds before & years later,
at Mary’s door. He had known this day
since he began and never known it.
He wakes at the beginning of every mouth in the story.
He wakes in text,
an event of knocking.

Reaching into his future depictions,
he chooses androgyny,
a face recognisable as all faces yet none.
Appear as human.
He crafts muscles.
Burls a heart into a chamber of feathers.

Revising what it means to be messenger,
Gabriel practices knocking in the mirror.

He remembers God appearing to Moses
as fire in the thistle bush.  
For this woman who holds the birth of light
at her centre,
he must be as plain as a sentence. 

At the door, he knocks with a wing.
How does an angel enter, he thinks.
She opens. In that moment, he sees her timeline pass
and in that, her un-born’s blood on the thistles and in that,
the resurrection and in that, the return.

Do not be afraid Mary, you will give birth to a son.

Even though he has foreseen
& lived this moment through all time,
he finally experiences Mary’s smile.
Let it be with me, just as you say.
How does an angel exit, he thinks.
The Second Sunday in Advent - 10 December

The Visitation
by Ankita Saxena

Ankita is a poet and aspiring playwright based in London. She studied English Literature at Oxford, where she specialised in post-colonial studies. She is a Barbican Young Writer alumnus and currently part of Octavia, a collective of women of colour poets resident in the Southbank Centre. Born in the Middle East, brought up in the UK and at home in India, she is a traveller by destiny. She is drawn to the experiences of minorities and hopes to use language to interrogate the ways stories, beliefs and artistic movements from different cultures collide. Religion is important because it is the oldest source of culture and yet, with the current political climate, also the newest in many ways. 

Mary carries God and God carries Mary –
cups her gently, hollows out her hungry stomach
and makes it whole; fills her heart the way
no man ever will.

Rumours spread. Unmarried and pregnant?
Who are her parents? How did they raise her?

So Mary grows more skin, wraps
it around her womb the way a freedom fighter
wraps his turban, so no-one can see
what’s hidden in there: how much power
each plot of fabric holds.

She hoards her treasure close to her chest.
There is no-one left to be loyal to.

Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown –

Mary aches in places she has never ached in before,
muscles buckling like the landscape
around her, twisting from road to river to mountain
as if learning to walk for the first time.

In times of pain she imagines how she will scrub
God clean, let God wriggle in the hinges
between her elbows and collar bones; hear God cry.

She, his mother, will shield his entire existence
like every mother before her.

Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow?

She leaps from one date palm to the next,
blistering her hands on their trunks for strength

praying, hoping she has enough breath left
to give him, to sing him nursery rhymes, to tell him
Child you are wanted and needed
I will protect you.

On Elizabeth’s doorstep Mary crumbles,
feels her soul burst like a land mine choked on diamonds.

Aunty, she says, I have not sinned.
Please let me in.

The two women hoist each other up
the way lone soldiers do when the battlefield empties,
each carrying more than they came with.

Aunty, let me listen to your stomach.
Your baby kicks. I can hear his feet
jangle against the curved bars.
It’s the way our children greet each other
without words. They do not need to see the light
to reach for it.

Aunty, leave the candle on. Let’s talk tonight.
Let us dance with the flame’s swaying nib.
One day we will dance freely.

Have faith. We are God’s bearers,
his first in command, already stronger than all the men
who think they rule us.

My boy will do great things. He will stop
this chaos. He will topple corrupt kings, braid
each slum’s tinned roof with gold.

Unmarried and pregnant. They’ll say.
What a miracle!

They will clap their hands together like beggars
and sing this anthem every evening till eternity.

They will say Mary carried God and God carried Mary.

The Third Sunday in Advent - 17 December

to Bethlehem the town of David
by Jeremiah Brown

Jeremiah ‘SugarJ’ Brown is a Croydon based poet. He has performed at a range of venues including the Roundhouse, Southbank Centre, and Birmingham NEC Arena. He is a Barbican Young Poet, a member of Spit The Atom poetry collective and one of the faces of Nationwide’s ‘Voices’ ad campaign. Other commissions include St Paul’s Cathedral and Totally Thames. His poetry has taken him to several festivals including Lovebox, Citadel and Walthamstow Garden Party.

In the beginning my eyes were formless
all around me was dark,
and the Spirit of God hovered on amniotic waters.

Maybe we travelled by donkey
maybe that’s what the rhythm, the movement was.

Two voices spoke to me,
a soft rumble and one more musical.
“We are travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem” they said.
“Caesar Augustus has decreed a census” they said.
“His name means exalted” they said.
“His empire is the world” they said.

Abba works in mysterious ways.
They called it a census, for their taxes and wars.
It is divine, providence, Father’s plan.
Did they not know? Had they not heard?
Out of Bethlehem was to come a ruler.
By Caesar’s acts Micah was justified,
through a pagan the prophet’s words were fulfilled.

The rhythm of our journey went in cycles,
we moved when the sun pushed
then rested when the moon tugged.

“Augustus means exalted” said the rumble
one night before we were pulled into rest,
that “his empire is the world.”

Strange are the things you hear in the dark.
A man’s kingdom cannot stretch further than God’s.

The things of that empire passed away
but in its lowliest parts eternity was born.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent - 24 December

Unmuted Word
by Sarah Lasoye
featuring the drawings of Stephanie K Kane

Sarah Lasoye is a British-Nigerian poet and writer based in London. She is a former Barbican Young Poet (2015/16), and is currently a member of Octavia poetry collective.

Has anyone noticed how the most told of told stories
thins in the middle?

Not from wear – as is with most stories,
but from a kind of fog that forms as it nears its peak,

at its threshold,
at the moment he becomes,

at the moment the medium changes
and the other words turn quiet, listening

for the sound of this one.


He didn’t cry out,
and there were seconds the air hung

taut, pressed against the walls,
as they waited for him to pronounce himself.

And when he did, they said the sound of a world without him
was unimaginable. Which was sweet.

I knew that to them he was an unmuted word.
For those who had no language to talk of a God never made flesh,

he was their unprobeable answer.
But I asked.

Before he was anyone else’s, was he mine?
How possible was the uncoupling of an already coupled being
and its mother?

I see now.
It’s like He threw a stone to me,

and I thought he was asking me to catch it
in my two hands, pull it into my chest,

and keep it there.

I was only for him to skim across my surface.
I was for Him to smooth and shine his night sun.

I was not for the sun to fall beneath or behind,
- no. He was not made to be mine like that.

He was to be curled toes, then bleeding, then black, then night,
then sun.


Only I know that the smallest word, in searching,
can take a hand, and turn your jaw to face it,

so that the wind spins sideways
and the word mouths “mother”.

But so little dexterity is required to bend the back of the story altogether,
so that an easy silence sits in its middle.

So focal it folds neatly in on itself,
holding a muted word,

A word still. A word all the same.

Holding the word I laboured for.
Holding my labouring of the word.


The story thins in the middle
Because a word cannot be its mouthing.

Not the movement of breath before or after,
not its appendages – I know this now.

So I, in the same way I would a wound that sits inside my cheek,
must feel around the edges of him

and move my mouth to imagine his sound.

The First Sunday of Christmas - 31 December
Wings and Tings
by Kareem Parkins Brown

The First Sunday after the Epiphany - 7 January

The Places Mothers call Home
by Tice Cin
featuring the drawings of Stephanie K Kane

Tice Cin is a Turkish-Cypriot writer and journalist based in North London. She is currently working on her first novel – a story set in Tottenham and Cyprus that explores the implications of defamiliarising fixed narratives.

Tice recently completed her MA in English: Issues in Modern Culture at UCL, specialising in representations of the female body in posthuman literature. She is currently part of the poetry community, Barbican Young Poets and has had her work commisioned by St Paul's Cathedral previously for their Renaissance Lates and magazines such as Skin Deep Magazine.

She has an Instagram page where she shares her work as it progresses: @ticecinwrites

When he saw their fingers in the stars
Herod called them fire worshippers.
The magi didn’t realise;
Dying suns would follow the newborn.

They gifted the baby
Darics, Persian gold
Sap cut from the trees of wadi dawkah
And karam myrrh to hang about the neck.

Then, their dreams ringing with danger,
Everyone parted ways.
Mother, husband, child
Left without a home.

By way of the sea
Through to Al-Maṭariyyah,
Mary stole into a hollow trunk of sycamore.
Hidden under wings of gossamer,
While a tormentor burned wheat fields to find her.

Arriving safely,
Only her shawl hinted
Of that hushed existence,
The embroidered design,
It hid the child’s face,
Hid her archaic smile.

Breaking bread beyond Bethlehem
Means planting seed again.
Community repeats itself
When hand after hand
Reaches into a brick oven
Each matching the other.

Yet still language hung
In a fog around them.
What comes, struggles to bed into the skin.

Even the rain speaks in riddles.
Mary hears it as she washes her son’s face.
The drops sound like people clapping,
Proclaiming freedom.
Sometimes, rain clouds become doors, opening
To a ceaseless rhythm of chasing feet
A ricochet from the ochre dust.

Bethlehem of Judea.
They told you
It was only a small village.
Two-year old usurpers.
Perhaps ten died, maybe less.

Look inside the story:
At the shape of curled back,
Hair in a long braid.
The classic mother mourns her children,
Pushing ghosts away with her hands
Folding, unfolding small clothes.
She moves with the shifting sands
In a stumble that rolls through air
Then dragged back up again
By the pits of her arms.

After Herod’s death
The word 'return' wears two faces
One of these never smiles.

Resting near their old home
Joseph's dream:
All men seem beautiful in their sleep;
Some wake with gritted teeth.

He took his family to the hills of Galilee
There, olive pickers toiled in the trees.

The child tired from his path,
Counting years in a mother’s tears.
She led him to a room of belongings,
Which his fingers would trace:
The strings of the cithara:
A sound of whistling phoenix leaves,
Each blown by the wind.