The Star Cathedral

Recovering from a serious infection, the accompanying enforced detox and fast resulted in a life-transforming visionary experience with profound implications…

I had been off sick for a week with an unexpected illness. For the first couple of days I didn’t know what it was, and prompted by my fluctuating temperature, I booked a Covid test, which fortunately came back negative. I finally got a diagnosis and some antibiotics, but these turned out to make matters for worse – triggering nausea and nocturnal vomiting. In my weakened state I had to trek into town to get the right meds, but from Saturday my infection started to clear up. I was able to go for a triumphant walk down to the Devil’s Den – our local prehistoric monument all of twenty minutes away, although it felt like a twenty mile hike in my debilitated condition. I was unable to eat anything solid. Sunday I was beginning to feel a lot better, although I was weak from a lack of food and the exhausting night’s I’d been having (Saturday night I purged the last of the previous prescription out of my system). I felt bruised and battered, and relieved to be no longer feeling nauseous. But I felt I needed to lie down. So I lay on the bed, with the lights off, staring at the ceiling. A particular cluster of Artex seemed to contain a matrix of ancient letters, which threatened to coalesce if I focused too long on them – like an alphabet version of the scene from The Queen’s Gambit … sentences in arcane tongues, rather than chess moves, rearranging themselves above me.

            And then it happened.

            It felt like all the lights went on in my head. I was looking at it from the inside, and could see every neuron and synapse, like some kind of encephalogram scan. The ‘brain scan’ pulsated like coral in the endless darkness. I likened it (at the time) to a ‘glass cathedral’ – but it was no longer possible if I was looking at my mind or a map of the universe. Ultimately the distinction seemed to dissolve into irrelevance.  Spellbound, I gazed upon nebula … the birth and death of stars, the auric fields of gas giants, white dwarves and supernova: everyone a world, a civilisation, a consciousness. I felt like I could see into the heart of the universe, into the heart of the Great Creator – and it did strike me that this pervading intelligence was sentient, benign, and compassionate. It cradled its creation with care – a master craftsperson admiring their handiwork. I felt myself rising through my skull towards this cosmic centre – it felt like the most natural thing in the world to simply float ‘upwards’ towards it; but then a voice or sound disturbed me (my partner’s, I think) and I descended once more.

The Glass Cathedral, Kevan Manwaring

            But still I felt bathed by this revelation – electrified by it. I had an incredible clarity, and felt I could turn my consciousness to anything and perceive its inner ‘cathedral’, and if a blockage of any kind occurred, I would want to fix it, to allow the flow to continue – like a cosmic plumber, or perhaps, more profoundly, a physician. Every being had this unique cluster of energies – a grid of life. It is only natural to want to allow it to flow.

I was descended upon my a host of powerful presences, who appeared to me as grotesque faces, gurning at me from the abyss.

            But then, in the next phase I had a somewhat disturbing, but equally as fascinating experience: as soon as I ‘broke through’ to this higher level, as though a space rocket breaking through the stratosphere and other layers of Earth’s atmosphere, I was descended upon my a host of powerful presences, who appeared to me as grotesque faces, gurning at me from the abyss. They seemed curious, but worse, territorial, almost colonizing – if I had let them I felt they would have flooded my consciousness, and taken me over. I had not slept properly all week – I was exhausted, and just wanted to rest – and so I imagined a sphere of hard light, and expanded it infinitely, pushing these presences away. I had to do this two or three times before they finally got the message, and left me in peace. Another time I might have been curious to ask them questions: Who or what are they? What do they want? Yet, I was just relieved I could control, to a certain extent, this giddying revelatory experience. I had experienced enough in that time – how long had passed, who can say? Half an hour? Two or four?  I felt an incredible crystalline clarity, combined with a deep compassion for everything. 

            After this I slept profoundly. There was so much to write down, to record, but I also needed to rest.

            The next day I woke up ostensibly ‘better’ and able to have breakfast at last – but then I experienced a nosebleed (I used to have them lots as a child). It didn’t last long, but really had an effect on my energy. It felt like the plug had been pulled out of me. I experienced a plummeting blood pressure. My partner had gone off and I was left by myself. Whenever I tried to do something the nosebleed threatened to come back. By midday I was forced back to bed. I can’t remember when I saw the email – something about a job application – but it triggered a galloping panic attack, which was not something I had experienced before and was really horrible. I felt like I went from heaven (on Sunday) to hell (on Monday). I really struggled and seemed to go through an existential crisis. It felt like I was being tested or ‘judged’ in some way by vast forces, and so … I surrendered to the Great Creator. Ultimately I was a leaf on the wind, and not really the captain of my destiny.

I felt ‘held’ by a giant star-bear type energy

As soon as I did so, I felt ‘held’ by a giant star-bear type energy (this is the only way I can describe it, but of course even at the time I knew it nothing so relatable: it was beyond analogy, beyond comprehension even), who embraced me to their warm bosom. I gave myself over to this vaster power. I was nothing. So frail. So easily extinguished. I made vows of pilgrimage, oaths of loyalty to a truthful life. I devised a simply blessing – the quartered cross – to protect myself in this dark night of the soul. Later, after I had tried to relate this to my partner, to my dismay she fled upstairs and shut herself in her room! She had tirelessly looked after me all week, but this was too much. I had glimpsed the half moon and realised that ‘full truth’ was something to work at, and not something one should inflict on another without their consent. I realised I had to be mindful about who I shared my revelations with, and how. I had to be a little circumspect, when my very instinct craved complete clarity and openness. I stared at the whorls in my wooden desk, and realised that in any given situation there are rings of complexity – one could go microcosmic, or macrocosmic. But the other party needs to be willing to participate in this level of scrutiny. I felt a little like Ray Milland, in The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. I could see how one could go mad with such consciousness ‘switched on’ all of the time. Having rocketed from heaven to hell within twenty-four hours I felt I needed to find a healthier, more sustainable balance. And this began with eating good, nourishing food. The first food I really tasted after unexpected ‘fast’ were olives – and they tasted like the food of the gods. I felt all the toxins and cravings had been blasted out of me – I no longer desired coffee, alcohol, stodgy food (anything that would dampen my consciousness). I want to remain fully ‘awake’.  I have had glimpses of this kind of perception before (a long time ago, and fleetingly, on mountain summits, etc) but this feels like the most tangible vision yet. It felt like a bona fide revelation about the true nature of the cosmos. I feel blessed by it, and chastened by what followed: don’t climb too high, too soon, otherwise you risk crashing back to Earth.

Don’t climb too high, too soon, otherwise you risk crashing back to Earth...

            For days afterwards I was haunted by this vision – and I sought out sympathetic, ‘spiritual’ friends to discuss it with. At the time it felt like an intensely visceral, and real confirmation of a transcendental reality. There is no doubt in my mind that what I perceived was the ‘real reality’ – one I had long intuited. The challenge was to live every day as if this was so – while not coming across like some ‘born again’ idiot, keen to evangelise to all and sundry. Whatever I experienced was not something that could be pigeon-holed easily within one religion. It was beyond such narrow divisions. It was felt like a direct encounter with the divine consciousness at the heart of the cosmos – beyond the intercession of priesthoods, liturgies, ceremonies, and rites. Such a transcendental experience has transformed the way I perceive things, and made me reconsider my priorities while in this body, on this Earth, living this life. One of the initial lingering effects was an ego-less compassion for all. The clamouring for status, wealth, materiality, etc, we fill our days with felt so silly. We are here to help each other; and to help every soul find its way home. To return to the stars – not in a literal sense, but by connecting to the cosmic mystery inside all of us: by thinking ‘beyond’ while simultaneously being grounded, fully alive in the moment, in one’s body. Like the whorls of the wood-grain – it is a spiral both outwards and inwards. There is no end or beginning, and after such a revelation the challenge is to continue living in an everyday way. The key is to embody this awareness, while not feeling oneself special. To fully live in the moment. Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

There is endless wisdom to digest and reflect upon here – perhaps a lifetime’s worth – but the key lessons I take away from this are ones that were encoded into me in an intensely visceral, embodied way (a ‘system reset’ as my friend put it that I shall never forget): we are an infinitesimal but significant filament of cosmic consciousness and the more fully we are truly awake in the world, the better we serve this higher purpose; and to surrender to the grace of this humbling realisation — that despite all of our hubristic self-determination we are never fully in control – and you will be held.

‘…he finds himself in the infinite room that lies inside the axis of our wheeling space. Space, like the world, cannot but move. And like the world, there is an axis. And the axis of our worldly space, when you enter, is a vastness where even the trees come and go, and the soul is at home in its own dream, noble and unquestioned.’ DH Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2021

Flights of Fancy

To date I have written 13 novels over the course of my writing life. It is interesting to look back and consider this harvest of the imagination

The amazing covers by Steve Hambidge for The Windsmith Elegy (vols 1-5) https://www.behance.net/crookedkm/projects

Flights of Fancy: My Novels

To date I have written 13 novels over the course of my writing life. It is interesting to look back and consider this harvest of the imagination – what connects them, if anything? Certainly a strong strain of the Fantastic – most are explicitly within the Fantasy or Science Fiction category, with just a couple of anomalies: my first novel, which could be categorised as Weird or Timeslip; and my latest, which is my most ‘mimetic’ to date – being set entirely in this world, with no element of the Fantastic (except perhaps through the combination of extraordinary characters in an extraordinary place – albeit both within the purview of the possible). From the very first a strong sense of place has been a key element of my fiction. I am also inspired by myths, legends, folk tales, and folk songs, so what I call ‘mythic resonance’ permeates all my work (indeed, I called my Fantasy novels ‘Mythic Reality’). Nature has always been more than a backdrop in my writing – an ecoliteracy informs them all. And increasingly, there is a keen sense of the Climate Emergency – this has manifested most tangibly in Black Box and Thunder Road. Finally, I think I am drawn to hybrid, marginalised voices – characters caught between worlds in different ways. These are the voices that interest me the most.

So far, only 8 have been published (one as an interactive novel), although my SF novel, Black Box, has manifested as an audio drama via Alternative Stories and Fake Realities. Hopefully, the others will see the light of day at some point. Otherwise, to keep writing them without guarantee of publication is a kind of madness – I call it my Obsessive Narrative Disorder. I just can’t stop writing. I have so many ideas, and novels just pounce on me and don’t let me go until I’ve written them. With my current novel, The Bath Circulating Library Society, I have set up what I hope to be a long-running series – I have several plot ideas already sketched out, enough probably to keep me busy until the end of my days. Let’s hope I get a publisher for them soon!

The Ghost Tree (1994 – unpublished)

The Long Woman (2004, Awen) – Arts Council Award winner

Windsmith (2006, Awen)

The Sun Miners (2007, Awen)

The Well Under the Sea (2008, Awen)

The Burning Path (2010, Awen) – El Gouna Writing Residency, Egypt

This Fearful Tempest (2012, Awen)

Black Box (2016) – winner of the One Giant Write competition run by Literature Works; adapted into an audio drama for Alternative Stories and Fake Realities.

The Knowing: a Fantasy (2018) – my PhD novel, published by the University of Leicester, via Open Access, as a hardbound dissertation, and website: www.thesecretcommonwealth.com (2nd draft written as a writer-in-resident at Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, December 2015).

Thunder Road (2020) available to read via this website

Hyperion (2021, available via Tales Writer on App Store and Google Play)

The Bath Circulating Library Society (2021) – long-listed for the Bath Novel Award

The Bath Circulating Library Society is a prequel to an intended novel series, the first volume of which has been written (completed in 2020).

Kevan Manwaring, 17 October 2021

Developing Lighthouse Awareness

Portland Bill lighthouse. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2021

“It might have been the lighthouse spark / Some sailor, rowing in the dark, / Had importuned to see!” – Emily Dickinson

Kevan Manwaring discusses how a late summer camping trip to Cornwall inspired a profound shift into what he calls ‘lighthouse awareness’.

It was the end of the summer and I was determined to grab a last blast of sun before knuckling down to the new term, and so I headed to Cornwall – the wild, wave-besieged peninsula in the southwest of England. I wanted to blow the cobwebs away with some bracing coastal walks, camping in remote spots, and some wild swimming. I didn’t expect to have an ‘epiphany’, which has if not made me change my life, certainly made me change my priorities — the ‘myth’ I live by if you will (I took some Joseph Campbell with me), my modus operandi.

To the lighthouse. Sitting by Pendeen Lighthouse soaking up the rays
after a long ride down… Kevan Manwaring, 2021

Gazing out across the glittering sea from a rocky headland it is hard not to think big thoughts — any coastline is the perfect place for some ‘blue sky thinking’, because the land falls away and the sea- and skyscape dominates. Also, there is a quality of light by the sea — a heightened effulgence caused by the sun’s beams reflecting off the water. It often feels like something is trying to break through: an immanence that is simultaneously beyond words, but also wishes to be expressed through you (maybe this is something writers feel in particular: artists might wish to paint it, dancers dance it, composers compose it, and so on). One can see why throughout the millennia mystics and visionaries have sought out such places. They are thin places where one feels closer to something transcendental. It is though something vast, ageless, and more-than-human is trying to communicate to us through a sunset, a ‘glisk’ of light (when a shaft of sunlight breaks through a cloud), the silent poetry of a soaring seabird, or the endless susurration of the waves and wind.

Land’s End – Wolf Rock lighthouse in the distance. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2021

And so it is not surprising I started to have some ‘big’ thoughts after a couple of days of peaceful walking and swimming, when I tried not to think about anything in particular at all – but just ‘be’ fully present, in my body, in the moment: sun on my skin, wind in my hair, sand between my toes. Surrendering to it all. Letting myself be held by the swell of the waves, rising and falling like a giant’s chest.

Dunnet Head – mainland Britain’s most northerly point. Photo by Kevan Manwaring 2020

As I walked along the cliff-top path one day around the Lizard Peninsula — where stunning lighthouses and lifeboat stations added dramatic points of interest on my walk — an idea came to me.

Forgive me if it sounds crazy, or blindingly obvious.

The sea is Spirit – it surrounds and affects everything. The land is Matter, which ‘matters’ while we’re alive (I believe we have bodies on this beautiful, broken Earth for a reason: to savour every second of the amazing, unlikely miracle of it all). The two are in constant conversation — on Earth the two collide or collude in us. Neither should dominate. The sea shapes the land; the land shapes the sea – neither ‘wins’. In the dance is the wild beauty of being alive.

So far, so good.

But sometimes some souls never quite make landfall in this life – they are ‘lost’ at sea, floundering in a fog of confusion, the classic Cloud of Unknowing. Or worse, they are suffering in a tempest, threatened to be smashed to smithereens. And so we need lighthouses – people and organisations willing to help these souls reach dry land. This may be as simple as a friendly ear, a cuppa, a hug, an act of kindness. Just being there. Listening. Not offering solutions or judgements. These ‘lighthouse moments’ may happen quietly throughout the day – in the way we choose to respond to an email, a comment; the way we choose to notice when someone seems ‘down’, when you sense all is not well. When we choose being kind over being correct. Other over ego. The selfless instead of the selfish. It isn’t about being saints though, or martyrs – just being ‘there’, a solid (or yielding), reliable, non-judgemental presence. We can be ‘lighthouses’ by just being who we are, by being role models and walking our talk. By helping others to shine. By offering the advice when asked for. Pointing the way. Sharing opportunities. Sending the lift back down, and holding open doors so the way is easier for those who come after us.

Portland Bill, sunset. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2021

Sometimes, in extremis, we have to make direct interventions too – so, to extend the coastal metaphor, there are times in life when we need to be ‘lifeboats’. As a writer I would like to think of my writing as (ideally) a kind of lifeboat, to guide those ‘at sea’ safely ashore. A single poem can do this. A story that suddenly gives us a perspective, or a myth to live by. Someone understands what we’re going through. We are no longer alone. A hand reaches out and grabs you from the water. You weren’t waving, but drowning. But now you are saved. Works of art can be ‘lifeboats’: it could be an album, a painting, a symphony, a sculpture, a stained glass window, an installation, a podcast … anything. Remember all of the times you have found solace in something – a favourite book, film, poem, or garden. Let us make lifeboats, and let us be lighthouses. One day we may need that light, or lifeline, to guide us to safety. And even if we don’t we would still have led a good life – a brief, bright pulse in the dark – before we return to the sea’s embrace.

Kynance Cove. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2021

Kevan Manwaring, 3rd October 2021


Of course, the amazing courageous volunteers of the RNLI are helping lives at sea in a very real way and deserve our praise and support. Donate here: https://rnli.org/

Don’t Lose Your Head

Ready to play ‘The Beheading Game’? David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight – a review

[spoiler alert]

David Lowery’s haunting, hallucinatory re-imagining of the 14th Century Middle English verse romance, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, was delayed from its original May 2020 release because of the pandemic. Fended off like the fatal blow of the antagonist several times since, it has been worth the wait. Lowery has adapted the source text in a structurally bold and visually stunning way. It makes striking acknowledgement of textual sources – suggesting through a rapid flickering of fonts the many versions and variants. ‘Gawain’ is a cultural virus that has mutated through the centuries, being re-translated and retold in myriad forms. There have been scholarly and poetic tellings from Tolkien, and the former poet laureate, Simon Armitage; theatrical and operatic versions – most notably Birtwistle’s; adaptations for the small and silver screen (most faithfully in David Rutkind’s lucid 1991 version); and numerous usages of key elements of the story in comic book, computer game, and TTRPG. But Lowery, with his dreamlike, visionary style, has reclaimed ‘Gawain’ for the big screen – but with a storytelling style that has its roots in European art-house cinema more than Hollywood. This feels wilder; riskier: it is hard to predict where it will take you, or what astonishing image will appear next. And yet there is narrative traction, and a thematic coherency about it: the leitmotif of the circle binds the film together – in the Round Table, King Arthur’s crown; the sinister ritual of shadowy priestesses; Gawain’s shield; and the famous ‘green garter’ or belt of protective spells, which is given him by both his mother (a dominating Circe-like presence played by Sarita Choudhury), and ‘The Lady’.

Lead us not into temptation … Alicia Vikander’s The Lady tests Dev Patel’s Gawain

Gawain, played with conviction and charisma by the brilliant Dev Patel (who is carving a name for himself in ‘colour-blind’ literary adaptations, such as Armando Iannucci’s Great Expectations), is an ignoble, compromised figure: a hedonistic, amoral Prince Hal we hope will become our Henry V.  King Arthur is depicted in full Fisher King mode (played intensely by Sean Harris), and yet Gawain is no Parsifal. His sorceress mother appears to set in motion a series of events that will lead to her son’s betterment, either societally or in terms of his maturation. Gawain is a pawn, but a self-aware one, at one point asking is it ‘A game?’ Arthur replies: ‘Perhaps. Yet the Beheading Game that is instigated by the dramatic arrival of the uncanny Green Knight at Arthur’s court is deadly serious – one with inexorable consequences. A moment of valour leads to a year-long countdown to a gruelling journey into the wild north. Here Gawain is tested by tricksters, ghosts, giants, and apparently friendly hosts, along with the more-than-human world of nature itself. Indeed, an ecolinguistic subtext rises to the surface in The Lady’s extraordinary pagan paean. And it is tempting to see the Green Knight himself as the very scion of environmental justice. Yet the mighty antagonist Gawain must face feels less the vengeful face of nature, and more a moral and spiritual catalyst. In a mind-bending dilated alternative timeline, we behold a possible fate for Gawain in true ‘Last Temptation of Christ’ style. This is foreshadowed by the ‘death’ of the protagonist in the forest: the camera panning around the seasons like the rotating backdrop in the puppet show. Gawain is bound to Fortuna’s wheel – a victim of circumstance until he finds his own moral compass, his inner chivalric code. After being tested by the irresistible Lady Bertilak (played with sensuous power by Alicia Vikander) and her husband (played with earthy vigour and sexual ambivalence by Joel Edgerton), Gawain finally arrives at the Green Chapel and reaches a kind of apotheosis, sitting in Buddha-like contemplation beneath the ‘Bodhi tree’ of the sylvan lord. What risks being an anti-climax transforms into the most astonishing sequence in which Lowery – both writer and director – strays fullest from the well-trodden woodland path. To discover what the errant ‘knight’ finds in his personalised heart of darkness, you will have to seek the film out. There is only one misstep in my mind in this otherwise masterful revisioning of the poem – the CGI fox, which feels like a concession to a younger audience, a stray from another kind of ‘fantasy’ movie. Perhaps it only jars because Lowery has otherwise served up a feast of Fantasy of the highest order, one that deftly straddles the medievalist and the modern – in music, costume, and mise-en-scène. It knowingly weaves in its sources, while simultaneously transcending them. This is the best Arthurian movie since John Boorman’s 1982 Excalibur and is a worthy inheritor of the crown. Go on a quest and hunt it down in a cinema: it’ll reward your effort.

Kevan Manwaring, 30 September 2021

David Lowery’s ‘The Green Knight’ – a cinematic triumph

Outside the Box – transdisciplinary conversations

OUTSIDE THE BOX – transdisciplinary research seminar series

Autumn Programme 2021

Tuesday, 5th October – AUTHENTICITY & CREATIVITY

There’s a reason people don’t swim in dresses – Sally Tissington

Sally Tissington mixes performance art and creative writing in order to energise her writing and art practice (imagework, and arts-based autoethnography) through taking greater creative risk. The risk-taking involves stopping self-censoring and instead acting on all ideas that arise from the unconscious, making these ideas visible as a piece of art. She then uses the art pieces as inspiration for her creative writing.

Sally Tissington is a writer and artist with a published novel and many short stories. She has worked at the universities of Warwick and Coventry teaching creative writing and writing for wellbeing. Recently she has worked with Headway, the brain injury charity, designing and delivering an art and creative writing for wellbeing course. Website – makingstrange.me

The Evergreen Tree of Diabolical Knowledge’: researching a historical novel – Kevan Manwaring

In researching a dual narrative novel, set in both the mid-18th Century, and the Nineties, Kevan Manwaring drew upon historical research and autobiographical experiences of living in the city of Bath for 14 years. Bringing to life figures from Hanoverian Bath, was coupled with the ethical and aesthetic challenges of fictionalising memories from twenty years ago. Bound to a specific location, writing the novel involved researching circulating libraries, architecture, secret societies, folklore, and local history. Autofiction collides with the counterfactual, blurring notions of authenticity and fictionality.

Dr Kevan Manwaring is the Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Arts University Bournemouth. He is the editor of Heavy Weather: tempestuous tales of stranger climes from The British Library; Ballad Tales: traditional British ballads retold; and author of the prize-winning novel, Black Box, adapted into an audio drama by Alternative Stories and Fake Realities. He is a contributor to New Writing, Writing in Practice, Axon, TEXT, Revenant, and Gothic Nature. He blogs and tweets as the Bardic Academic.

Tuesday, 9th November – ECOPOETICS & FEMINISM

Poetry / Landscape: ecopoetry as restorative act – Helen Moore

In examining and decolonising notions of landscape, I show how my ecopoetry is an interdisciplinary practice with its roots in animistic European traditions. Drawing on poems inspired by landscapes in Australia, the north of Scotland, Somerset and Dorset, I illustrate socially and ecologically engaged work with an activist intention, which aims to highlight and restore ecological and cultural dimensions that Western industrialised societies, in particular my own (white British), have marginalised/erased. It is poetry as restorative act. A signpost towards regenerative cultures, where we value the Earth, and particularly the land/bioregion we inhabit, as our community.

Helen Moore is an award-winning British ecopoet with three collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins(2012), ECOZOA (2015), acclaimed as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (2019) exploring British colonial history. Helen has shared her work on international stages, including India, Australia and Italy. She offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, which guides people on a creative writing journey into deeper Nature connection. Her work is supported by Arts Council England, and she is currently collaborating on a cross arts-science project responding to pollution in Poole Bay and its river-systems. www.helenmoorepoet.com


A Girdle Round the Earth – Mary-Jane Holmes

‘The future of feminisms is in the transnational and the transnational is made through translation’ Olga Castro states. Within this transcultural context, through a deep engagement with poetic form and formal transference I hope to extend the possibilities of language beyond essentialist constructions of genre, race and sexuality while finding expression for a new set of experiences. 

My creative project experiments with poetic devices ‘borrowed’ from a medieval Iberian strophic fixed form called the Muwashshaha; devices such as diglossia, interweaving several languages together, codeswitching, voice appropriation and contrafacture, as well as translating the Muwashshaha into an English version of itself with the potential of opening a discursive, transnational space for female poets seeking to express themselves on their own terms. 

Mary-Jane Holmes is currently studying for a PhD funded by the AHRC in poetry and translation at Newcastle University. Mary-Jane’s poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. Her award-winning pamphlet Dihedral is published by Live Canon Press her novella Don’t Tell the Bees, is published by Ad Hoc Fiction and a new Flash fiction chapbook is published by V.Press on September 6th.   

Tuesday, 7th December – GEOPOETICS, DANCE, & MOVING IMAGE PRACTICE

Circling and Circling (again) – Ceri Morgan and Anna Macdonald

This presentation reflects on Circling – an interdisciplinary, collaborative and participatory project on persistent pain. Bringing together geopoetics, dance and moving-image practice, we devised prompts/scores for participant workshops, with the aim of fostering different ways of thinking about and experiencing pain. The project led to six new films (Anna Macdonald), along with writing and images by participants. The artworks can be viewed in an online artefact, Circling (again): http://www.circlingartproject.co.uk/. Collectively, they offer a sense of the way pain can affect everyday journeys, and change people’s senses of scale and perspective.

Professor of Place-writing and Geohumanities, Ceri Morgan works on geopoetics as a participatory practice, leading workshops or ‘happenings’ on a variety of themes, including mining, food, and deindustrialisation. Anna Macdonald is a dance and moving image artist, based at Central St Martins Art School (UAL), who specialises in participatory and interdisciplinary arts practice.

All events will be on Zoom 6pm-8pm. To register contact Dr Kevan Manwaring, Arts University Bournemouth: kmanwaring@aub.ac.uk

Riding with a King

Image
The highlight of the route: at the top of Butser Hill, South Downs Way. Worth it for the view looking towards the south coast. Photo by Kevan Manwaring

Riding with the King

While working full-time at the University of Leicester I had the pleasure of being able to cycle to work, which meant I rode most days. This got me back into cycling on a regular basis, although I have been cycling all my adult life, and first enjoyed going on rural cycle rides as a boy, exploring further afield than I would get comfortably on foot: this expanded the ‘map’ of my world considerably. I always remember reaching the edge of a village, and looking out from its hill-top site over the vast unknown landscape beyond, and feeling a certain frisson of ‘here be dragons’. To a lad who hadn’t travelled far at that point, this was terra incognita.

            I have loved getting to know a landscape under my own steam ever since. By walking, running, or cycling a landscape you get to ‘know’ it in a visceral, embodied way. You have a physical sense of the lay of the land, not just a mental map. And this makes where you live (and its environs) so much more tangible. You have come to know it through your feet, or effort.

The end of Day 1 – and the first 60 miles. Honeystreet, Wiltshire, after a much-needed pint! Photo by Chantelle Smith.

Having recently purchased a shiny new bike through work (a Specialized Diverge E5) I thought I would try out the King Alfred’s Way – a 350km circular off-road cycle route created by Cycling UK, and launched in 2020. As this passes close to where I live (near Avebury, Wiltshire), and where I used to work (Winchester) it seemed like a tempting one to do. I have done some cycle rides in my area on my old mountain bike, and despite a tumble earlier in the year which left me with serious gravel burn, I was determined to get back in the saddle and to hit the road.

Image
Lord Wantage’s monument to his wife, Ridgeway National Trail. Photo by Kevan Manwaring

Bikepacking is very much in vogue. Back in the day it used to be called cycle-camping, and to my mind there isn’t much difference, except the popularity of pricey kit for mountain bikes (e.g tail-packs and other funny shaped bits of micro-luggage designed to fit onto the frame). Well, having invested in a pair of really decent Ortlieb panniers I thought they would be more than adequate. Some advise against low-slung panniers, but I didn’t have any issues – it was more likely that the pedals would clip the top of a rut if anything. I took the bare minimum I needed for 4 days of wild-camping: food, shelter, and warmth (water, snacks, and meal pouches, stuff to make an essential cuppa and my morning porridge, a sleeping hammock and tarp, and thermals and fleece for the evening). Nothing more than I would carry on my back if backpacking – which I did earlier in the summer, walking the Wessex Ridgeway. Letting the bike take most of the weight makes a huge difference, although of course one still has to exert energy to make progress, especially up those hills! Unlike walking though, one has the joy of coasting – the reward for all those ascents; and of whizzing along an empty country lane. On a bike one can cover greater distances (my average was 55 miles a day; on foot it’s 15); see more; and get through long, boring sections quickly (e.g. traversing a long section of road, or escaping a city).         

Image
River Itchen, Winchester. Photo by Kevan Manwaring

The guide book from Cycling UK (recommended for planning and info about the features along the way, if not the mapping – which at 1:50,000 is not useful at the nitty gritty level) suggests between 2-5 days (or stopovers). I opted for 4 nights, as I didn’t want it to be a complete slog. Unlike some people I don’t like turning the countryside into a backdrop for some macho endurance competition – hats off to those who do, but it’s not my bag. I just love the great outdoors, and during the ongoing global pandemic crisis, a local bikepacking adventure seemed like a sensible choice, and one also good for the environment.

Image
Waiting for the train to Winchester, Bournemouth Station. Photo by Kevan Manwaring

With my bike fully-loaded, I caught the train to Winchester – South West Trains has free bike spaces on their local services. You can’t book ahead for these, but I was in luck. Deciding to set off on Thursday early evening I managed to avoid the bank holiday weekend rush. This meant I could make a start on the trail, and hopefully avoid the crowds I had been told to expect (as it turned out, I saw maybe half a dozen cyclists doing the King Alfred’s Way). Getting out of Winchester, and finding somewhere to pitch up in the rapidly fading light were the first challenges. I tried to use Komoot with the downloaded GPS map of the route, but found it very unreliable and frustrating: trying to use that, plus the guidebook map and compass, created a cognitive dissonance: 2 different mapping systems and mindsets clashing. Having intended a digital detox as well, I found the constant focus on the GPS distracting and jarring (that sat-nav voice shattering the bucolic idyll!). And so in the end I opted to just go analogue. I found it easier to navigate the old school way, although map-reading on a bike is hard! One is going faster, and there is less thinking time. One can keep pulling over, but that becomes tedious and time-consuming. The problem with the King Alfred’s Way is it is not signposted like a national trail (with the good old acorns in England, or thistles in Scotland), so one has to orienteering continually – except for the mercifully well-signposted sections of the Ridgeway and South Downs Way. This really reduces the enjoyment: it is just tiring, especially at times when you are not entirely sure if you’re going in the right direction. Even the best maintained trails can have obscure sections. Trail signs can fall over, or be damaged or obscured. I’ve navigated several long-distance trails successfully over the years by myself, so I know I can use a map and compass. But when you are tired – after several hours of walking or riding – you inevitably make mistakes. I would not recommend undertaking the King Alfred’s Way without a decent GPS device like a Garmin (as opposed to just some app on your phone). Also, I found the trails a bit too hard-core at times for bikepacking. Okay for the seasoned mountain-bikers with minimal kit (luxuriously staying in B&Bs and dining out every evening – which makes for a pricey holiday). I don’t mind pushing my bike up a steep track, but coming down some was pretty hairy on a top-heavy bike. I must admit to preferring smooth country lanes to rubbly tracks, which were bone-juddering to ride along. There were some lovely sections following peaceful B-roads through pretty villages, but the route-planners had obsessively avoided roads – sometimes resulting in ridiculous and very obscure diversions when the common sense thing was to simply go straight ahead. I like the concept of off-road trails, but not when it’s the choice between a pleasant green lane, and a miserable rutted track. There was something rather anorak-ish at times about including certain off-road sections, e.g. the Pilgrims Trail into Winchester, when it would have been far nicer just to have continued coasting into the city, rather than have to detour up another undulating, rocky track. Also, it baffled me why they planners made the route go through the sprawling city of Reading – which was mercifully quiet on a Sunday morning, but still an urban maze – when it would have been far nicer to have come off at Wantage (a key Alfred site), and avoided most of the densely populated conurbation along the Thames Valley into Hampshire altogether. A route westwards across the Somerset Levels to Athelney would have been far more meaningful, but it didn’t feel like King Alfred’s story was made much of on the trail – it seemed like an arbitrary way to created a route, and not one hard-wired into his narrative. There were also key sites on the Ridgeway that could have been mentioned. And Westbury – site of Alfred’s famous battle – could have been included at the expense of a tedious trek across the middle of the militarized zone of Salisbury Plain.

Image
An old milestone, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, South Downs Way. Photo by Kevan Manwaring

So, I would have created a different route! Nevertheless, the King Alfred’s Way is a great initiative to encourage folk to get on their bikes and explore the amazing ancient landscape and more recent history of the south of England, and despite my grumbles it had its highlights: certainly the Ridgeway (my favourite section), riding across the Stonehenge landscape, and the South Downs Way (especially Butser Hill, the views from which made the effort all worthwhile). Aching from top to toe, I was still filled with joy to finally reach the end, at the King Alfred statue in Winchester: a satisfying glow of achievement, which was hard-won and all the more appreciated for it.

Image
The glow of a good ride.

I would certainly consider more cycle-camping trips – although I am not entirely convinced by this ‘bikepacking’ lark. Maybe with a super-light kit set up it would be a different experience. I wouldn’t be amiss to do overnight mini-adventures. Quality, not quantity I think is the key! It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do something, but how much you enjoyed it along the way. My favourite moments were when I stopped to have a brew-break and watch the world go by.

Image
Connect to your inner sovereignty

It is interesting to reflect that the majority of highlights on the ride were when I made a decision to come off the route: for me, this is about tapping into one’s inner sovereignty*, so completely in tune with the spirit of the way. Such trails should be seen as only guides – a suggested route and one that you should be able to customize according to one’s needs and preferences (after all, you are one doing it; only you will complete it; and it is meant to be a recreational thing, not some kind of official race). Strict adherence to every nook and cranny of the route is for completists only. It is an interesting moment – to be in the middle of nowhere, with a guidebook, trying to follow someone’s artificial route (a particular frame or narrative mapped onto a landscape, but only that), rather than listening to your body or to common sense. When we turn off the script (or the device), and listen to our own motherwit and become empowered – then we start to step into our sovereignty.

Kevan Manwaring, 31st August, 2021

Image
Made it! King Alfred’s Statue, Winchester, 350km later.

*Which is the main concept behind the pilgrimage route I created last year, the King Arthur Way – a 153 mile walking route from Tintagel in Cornwall to Glastonbury in Somerset.

Trapdoor in a Locked Down World

REVIEW

The Museum of Mystery and Imagination

The Allsop Gallery, Bridport Arts Centre, 15 July-20 August, 2021

Imagine if Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Giorgio de Chirico had been born in the British Isles; if they had still turned out to be artists (and that presupposes that artists, and not just poets, are born and made: are natured, not nurtured). Would they have created their distinctive visionary blend of Surrealist and Symbolist art with an Anglo-Saxon sensibility? So, indirectly, this exhibition speculates – that there is a particular British form of these traditions that, it is argued, predates them. It is glimpsed in the works of William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Lewis Carroll, David Jones, and Leonora Carrington – tangible influences in the works on display here. An eclectic exhibition of paintings and ceramics, populated by strange creatures and creations from the fringes of consciousness. It is like walking into a fairy tale forest, or Cocteau’s castle from La Belle et La Bête: this is a place of chimerical metamorphosis, and ambiguous, amphibious dream-like imagery. People and animal blend into fluid hybrids, take on iconic potency in their postures and expressions. Some have the stained-glass clarity of tarot cards, or the rude energy of church grotesques. The natural world cross-fertilises with the human. There is a sexual frisson to many, but the female gaze dominates. The images suggest a chthonic female experience erupting into the waking world, defiant and empowered. A cat and a mermaid make strangely compatible companions. A naked woman hovering between two chairs explodes with flowers. In an age of heavy realism, this celebration of the imagination – blossoming out of the enforced interregnum of lockdown – is a welcome escape hatch.   

Kevan Manwaring, 7 August 2021

Thank you to the staff of Bridport Arts Centre, who kindly let me in to view the exhibition while building work was under way.

https://www.bridport-arts.com/event/museum-of-mystery-and-imagination/

Belly to the Earth

Inspired by my recent wild-camping experiences on the Wessex Ridgeway, I consider how can we live a more soulful, sustainable life.

Wild camping on the Wessex Ridgeway

How can we live a more soulful, sustainable life? This is perhaps the most important question to address in the present age. Certainly, it is one that I find myself dwelling upon – an undertow to my days as I get caught up in the endless (and often vexating and trivial) ‘to do’ list of life. It is so easy to become enmired in Maya, or Samsara – the illusion of the world, and forget why we are really here. I see this ‘illusion’ not as some do: a world of matter to be rejected, denying corporeality, the body, and this good Earth — but as the surface of things. To be fully alive is to live deeply and fully – to be awake in the moment, to be present in one’s body, in one’s life. To revel in the bountiful sensorium of it all, its vivid, messy actuality. To be grounded and real. And by doing so, tapping into the ‘immanent moment’ (as I termed it in one of my poetry collections) and to realise how every embodied experience on this Earth has many levels, and can be an opportunity to awaken consciousness – to pierce beyond the veil of things (like the Arthurian fool-knight, Perceval/Parsifal, who ‘pierces the veil’ with his pure heart and cleansed perceptions and achieves the Holy Grail). To see things as they truly are: ‘infinite’, as Blake puts it, exhorting a cleansing of the doors of perception. Or as William Stafford expresses it in his poem, ‘Bi-focal’:

So, the world happens twice—
once what we see it as;
second it legends itself
deep, the way it is.

Sometimes we have to go down into the mud to see the stars, and so it was the week I spent walking the Wessex Ridgeway, a 127 mile long-distance footpath, which runs from Marlborough in Wiltshire to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. As this runs by my back-door I’ve been considering walking it for a while — it sat there expectantly, like a dog with a lead in its mouth, ready for walkies. I liked the idea of walking to the sea from my doorstep – and after the most challenging academic year in living memory I, like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, heard the call of the ‘Grey Havens’. I wanted to change my skyline. The clean line of the chalk downs of Wiltshire are soothing, but there is nothing like seeing the horizon where the sea meets the sky to get a perspective on things. And so, with a full pack on my back, I set off. Carrying one’s home on one’s back certainly makes one feel snail-like, and that was pretty much the pace at times — especially on the uphill sections (which in Dorset were quite frequent). Yet slowing down, and noticing the details is part of the experience of exploring the world at walking pace

Resting my poor old pinkies

The highlight of my week of walking was the day I woke up at dawn in a peaceful flower meadow, and walked all day to finally arrive (with a lot of huffing and puffing up its steep flanks) to a spectacular hillfort, where I also wild-camped, watching the sunset as I savoured my simple but satisfying camp meal.  Although I was at one of the highest spots on the south coast, there was not a breath of wind. It was pleasantly mild, and I had the most peaceful night’s sleep, feeling like a king to be sleeping in such a place by myself.  That night I had a vivid dream, which was sufficiently stirring to wake me up and make me write it down. I dreamt of being part of an Iron Age tribe, no doubt influenced by sleeping in a hillfort (before turning in, I walked the impressive ramparts with their commanding view, and got a strong sense of what it must have felt like to have dwelled there, to call such a place ‘home’, and to wish to defend it – and your loved ones within – to your dying breath). Faced with the prospect of moving yet again (such is the life of the modern academic), thoughts of home have been at the forefront of my mind. And, having been carrying my humble little home all week, it was perhaps not surprising that my vision upon the hill related to notions of home, community, and belonging. The details of it seem less relevant than the messages I received from it, which I summarise below.

  • The importance of community – a reciprocal ‘ecosystem’, an entangled, resilient, co-supportive network.
  • The importance of leadership – of stepping into your power, drawing upon the authority of experience and self-reflexive insight. Creating and guiding, not controlling and censuring. This could manifest, for example, by running a space for the sharing of wisdom and mutual empowerment.
  • The importance of embodied ‘beingness’ – listening to the body, listening to the earth. Rejoicing in tactile, sensual, human touch.
  • The importance of living an ethical life, and showing the courage of one’s convictions – of ‘stepping up’, of speaking truth to power. Of being unafraid of being seen, heard, known for what one believes, what one knows is a ‘core truth’ – beyond the playacting, and posturing of much of modern life, the neurotic concern for status, approval, and ‘fitting in’.
  • The importance of place – of being ‘rooted’ in where you live, making a commitment to your community and digging in. Of belonging. And this is the essence of my phrase, ‘belly to the earth’ – an act of vulnerability and connection. Are you able to live somewhere so intimately, so lightly, that it is as though you are literally sleeping on the ground like a small child laying on Mother Earth? (try it – lay down on the grass, and feel the earth beneath you as you breathe upon it: simultaneously held and holding).
Sunrise on the hill-fort

I awoke at dawn, and with a precious mug of tea (the last of my water) watched the full orb of the sun break free of its pall of cloud. Feeling shiveringly alive, I quickly struck camp and set off on my way, keen to not forget my dream on the hill. How to manifest it felt less important at that moment than bringing it down from the heights and sharing it. Perhaps it will inspire you to consider how you can live with your ‘belly to the earth’?

Kevan Manwaring, 11th July 2021

The Calving of a Berg

The Calving of a Berg

A line in the white
writes itself
across the tabula rasa
of the ice shelf.

Black lightning
of this Götterdämmerung
for emperor penguins, base-camps,
and coastal towns.

At the suture zones the cracks queue up.

They call this
a perfectly natural process.
Human impact?
The mainstream media feigns
impartiality with its lukewarm caveat
‘probably’.

The haruspices scrutinize the markings,
utter teatime-friendly soundbites.

Yet the Anthropocene awaits
no starting gun.
The tipping point passes –
buried beneath an avalanche
of white noise,
the muzak of the mall
lulling us into impulse purchases,
the streaming trivia
distracting us, reassuring us
that it’s business as usual,
so buy bye and
succumb to the Coriolis, baby

as a berg the size of Belgium

                                                       drifts our way.

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2021

Listen to me read the poem and others, alongside great poetry by Marie-Claire Wood, TAK Erzinger, Kevan Manwaring and Sarra Culleno – from Alternative Stories and Fake Realitieshttps://www.buzzsprout.com/411730/8567031-poems-from-marie-claire-wood-tak-erzinger-kevan-manwaring-and-sarra-culleno?play=true

Read about the melting of the Greenland icesheet here

Bellwether

(for Greta)

Greta Thunberg's options for crossing the Atlantic again — Quartz

Crossing lines whine in wind’s teeth,

rigging taut as harp strings divides the endless sky.

Boom as tumblehome hull breasts another wave,

smack and sizzle of icy spray.

Brine on sun-cracked lips,

legs forgetting what dry land feels like.

Sixty foot of fibre glass between you and

the twenty seven thousand feet to the ocean’s bottom

where tectonic plates perform

the long painful process of separation.

Aboard, a schoolgirl crosses this gulf

to convince the captains of nations

to take a diametric tack –

a deadly holmgang

with the highest of stakes.

because almost everything is black and white.

Black as the mainsail, white with its legend:

Unite Behind the Science.

Powered by eight minute old photons, by subaqueous turbines,

this zero carbon craft carries her,

The Wily One.

Over three thousand miles and fifteen days,

peeing in a bucket, and eating boil-in-a-bag meals,

privacy a luxury for this girl who had no friends,

and doesn’t like crowds.

Braving a callous ocean named after the god

who once held up the world.

But the time for bedtime stories is over.

For, babassu and murumuru explode with super-heated sap.

The Ribeirinhos weep as tribal lands succumb

to Bolsonaro’s scorched earth policy –

rubber trees, cacao, brazil nut groves, nurtured

for generations, by Neoliberalism’s fire-sale erased.

And the noble Quilimbolas, descendants of rebel slaves,

wear masks of solastalgia as their universe is torched,

to grow soybeans, mine ore, raise cattle.

Carbon. Methane. Cancer.

A lung of rainforest the size of Manhattan lost every day:

a Noah’s Ark of unknown species, life-saving poultices.

And the Arctic Circle is necklaced with wild fires.

and the Greenland ice sheet debouches

eleven billion tonnes in a single day.

And still there are those who ignore her

when she says: Our house is on fire.

The Calvary congregation pray at Jacksonville Beach Pier

to Hurricane Dorian, telling it to calm down,

but the climate is the corrupted portrait of our

unsalubrious lifestyles.

And the bellwether who heralds the bad news

is made a scapegoat by the hate merchants.


But despite the gyres of oil-lobby media,

the toxic backwash of anti-experts,

the side-winds of the climate deniers,


Still she makes landfall, carrying the virus of hope.

Listen to me read the poem and others, alongside great poetry by Marie-Claire Wood, TAK Erzinger, Kevan Manwaring and Sarra Culleno – from Alternative Stories and Fake Realities. https://www.buzzsprout.com/411730/8567031-poems-from-marie-claire-wood-tak-erzinger-kevan-manwaring-and-sarra-culleno?play=true

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2021