Workshop on poetry of Pope John Paul II

Young Karol Wojtyla

Young Karol Wojtyla

A workshop exploring the contemplative poems and dramatic technique pioneered by Pope John Paul II is taking place this Saturday in London.

The Place Within is a six-hour workshop led by the poet and author Sarah Fordham, who recently completed an MA at St Mary's University College, Twickenham (awarded distinction) with a thesis titled 'How can the poetry of Karol Wojtyla be used in a pastoral context?'

She says the poems of the late Pope “combine the intellect of a philosopher with the sensitivities of a poet, who had a deeply contemplative, as well as religious life. It is a very rare combination.”

This is particularly apparent through Rhapsodic Theatre, the drama method invented by the future John Paul II and Dr. Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk in 1941. The basic principle says Fordham is that “Word is the pre-element of theatre”; that means that word, as an expression of thought, is separated from action, in order to “transmit a vision of the mind.” Theatre is then “evoked from the word.”

“Wojtyla says in his essay On the Theatre of the Word: 'The problem acts … The impact of the performance is caused not by events, transferred in a literary manner from life to the stage, but by the problem itself.'

"Often the future John Paul II would use this Rhapsodic Theatre technique to explore a particular philosophical problem in human relationships. An example is his play The Jeweller's Shop. “The Jeweller’s Shop presents a problem devastating in its impact if no solution is found,” explains Fordham. “I would state the problem like this: How can marriage be wanted or desirable if you have grown up a/ with only the ghost of a father or b/ within the ego-driven bitterness of parents in flight from themselves and the world?”

“One implication of the Rhapsodic method is that it opens up works not intended for the stage for production – poetry, novels, even works of philosophy. However, Wojtyla says that the crux of the matter in Rhapsodic Theatre is in relation to the man on stage; the actor, says Wojtyla is “realising man” with the help of theatrical means.

Those who take part in The Place Within receive a 12-page booklet, containing poems grouped in themes including: Passing Time, Prayer, Profile – of a biblical character, Profile – of a certain kind of person, Thought, Work, Communion, Meditation and Dialogues.

Participants will get a chance to read the late Pope’s poetry, and if they wish, respond with their own poems or thoughts.

“In the Prayer section the first exercise is a reflection question: What do I adore? This is to respond to Wojtyla’s lines from Song of the Hidden God.

I adore you, fragrant hay, because in you/
no pride ripens as in ears of corn;/
I adore you, fragrant hay, because you cuddled/
a barefoot baby, manger-born.”

The other exercises in the Prayer section are to identify a metaphor for the Lord’s work in your life and go on to write a prayer (in response to Wojtyla’s line – “The Lord taking root in the heart is a flower …”) and to write two lines following Wojtyla’s statement “God you are so near …”

Fordham, who is not Roman Catholic, first encountered Karol Wojtyla’s poetry as a teenager. “I was about 14 when I found a copy of Easter Vigil by Karol Wojtyla in a charity shop. I was not a Christian at the time, so what prompted me to open a tatty book with the Pope waving from his popemobile, I really don’t know …"

She found the poems “so very thought-provoking, not just on the level of the mind but regarding the soul’s search – not just for God, but for meaning, recognition, acceptance, peace … I didn’t even read whole poems at first, just a line or two - it quite literally had the effect, on me anyway, of knocking the wind out of my sails.

"From that time on I became interested in the artistic side of this man who was Pope and began to collect articles and newspaper clippings, (which I have to say never amounted to very much!) Today, as a non-Roman Catholic Christian I am genuinely amazed at what is either the lack of interest or awareness of Wojtyla’s artistic output.”

An acclaimed poet, Fordham has published three books: Psalm Readings (which is a simple technique to help people writer their own psalms), and two volumes of poetry The Cool of the Day and Love’s First Look.

She holds poetry workshops in locations that range from prisons to Cathedrals. She has also worked with the Catholic Bard and poet Sarah de Nordwall.

Sarah's poetry blog can be found at:

Poetry and Contemplation - a look at the subject through the lens of Karol Wojtyla's poetry, takes place on Saturday, 11 February 10am-4pm in Kilburn, North London. The workshop day is hosted by the Contemplative Spirituality Network:

A flyer for the day is found here:

For directions and to book please email [email protected], and please copy to [email protected] Phone contact 01483-771757.

Tags: Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, Sarah Fordham, St Mary's University College, The Place, Twickenham

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.