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Rowan Williams releases poem promoting organ donation


'Host Organism', commissioned to encourage churches to back the practice, is about 'making new things possible'

The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has added his voice to a campaign for organ donation, penning a poem to mark National Transplant Week, running until 14 July.

In the 19-line poem, which is called "Host Organism", Williams – who is now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge – takes an oblique line on transplants, imagining surgeons as gardeners and donors as "unnamed birds".

He said: "I began with two basic pictures: something being implanted and something breaking through what feels like stasis or deadlock. So the natural point of convergence was the idea of a seed dropped, anonymously, disturbing the heaviness of the soil – the heaviness of what you have come to expect, what you have unhappily got used to. A future that begins in the dark, with surgeons as gardeners; and the hardness, the discomfort of welcoming a new life that bristles and stirs painfully inside.

"But essentially it's a poem about hope, and about the sort of providential accident of one life being planted in another and making new things possible."

The poem was commissioned by fleshandblood, a two-year cross-denominational campaign which aims to persuade churches to adopt blood and organ donation as part of their culture of giving.

Fleshandblood is backed by the NHS Blood and Transplant authority – the first time the National Health Service has campaigned with churches. Signatories include the Church of England, the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the Salvation Army.

Campaign director Jules Hollidge said: "Churches have a tradition of generosity. The aim is to get them to consider organ donation alongside the donation of time and money."

"The NHS needs to find 200,000 extra blood donors every year to make up for the ones that drop off the register. As far as organ donation goes, the greatest thing is to get people talking about it, because it's the families who have to give consent."

Host Organism is the first poem Williams has made public since retiring as archbishop last year. He was described in the Guardian as "a subtle and skilled poet" when his most recent collection, Headwaters, was published in 2008.

Host Organism

I have been living
under the layers
of grain and moisture,
earth in my nostrils
and the years ahead
sitting like hard
pebbles in my gut,
and the hands that get
to sift the slack
grit, while I sleep
fearfully through hours
of gardening labours,
pull themselves clear
and scrape nails clean
so that I feel the pricking
of green points that seek pathways and waking
and tomorrow's work,
pushing out of the seed
dropped by some unnamed bird.

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