Monthly Archives: June 2011

Solstice Shenanigans

15-19 June

It’s been a busy few days, as everything seems to reach a crescendo towards the summer solstice on Tuesday.

Wednesday I did an interview with Kate Clark on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, promoting my novel, The Burning Path. Later, I participated in the Stroud Prose Group, workshopping a chapter from a brand new novel project (after 9 years of following Isambard in the Underworld, a refreshing change). Friday I took part in Stroud’s Story Cabaret at the Hall, Five Valleys Project. Special guests were musician Matt Sage, and Armenian storyteller Vergine Gulbenkian. I performed my new locally-inspired story, The Heavens. There were fine contributions from the floor, including my friend Ola, up from Bath.

Saturday I did my stint in the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, recording folk who dropped by with poems for Stroud Out Loud! (SOL) the podcast I’m compiling with poet Adam Horovitz. In the afternoon I took part in a multi-media poetry workshop with members of Flash – a group of mainly Bristol-based performance poets performing later that evening in what used to be called The Space (in Stroud, things seemed to be named in such a way, eg The Field, The Hedge, The Shed :0). It was good to see something that was trying to push the envelope a little (between poetry, theatre, spoken word, 4-D art, etc) rather than playing it safe. A refreshing alternative to the Slam Slum.

Sunday morning I blatted over to picturesque Burford for my friend’s private view – William Balthazar Rose is exhibiting in the Brian Sinfield Gallery there for a couple of weeks. It was nice to catch up with him and his family and friends – a contingent of Bath folk rocked up in a pretty Cotswold town. It was a flying visit, as I had to get back for a gig that afternoon – as part of Salam, an exhibition of photographs from Fez taken by local artist Marion Fawlk. Marion had invited me to perform some stories on a Sufi-theme. It was a very stylish event with a Moroccan oud player creating a magical ambience. A good crowd turned out for a Sunday afternoon – alot has been on over the last few days in the SITE festival, and its easy to get festival fatigue. I was starting to flag by Monday, but I had to host the Garden of Awen’s solstice extravaganza at the Star Anise Cafe. I summoned some sunshine from somewhere and made my way there in the pouring rain. We did intend to hold it in the courtyard but in the end we were crammed into the backroom. We certainly had a full house, with standing room only. We had a fabulous line of local and regional spoken word artists, including Helen Moore, Jay Ramsay, Rick Vick, Dawn Gorman, Karola Renard, Kirsty Hartsiotis and floor spots from the audience. Jehanne, Rob and Will got us all to sing along to some heartfelt songs with their band Earthwards – I offered quotations about light in the links – and the awen really flowed, like ‘liquid sunshine’ as Helen suggested. We certainly saluted the sun – and if it wasn’t up there in the sky, it certainly was in our hearts.

Pushing Ink

Stroud & Glastonbury

10-11 June

Awen on the High Street, Stroud

Last week I took Awen stock with the help of my friend Jay to the ‘Spoken Word Assembly Rooms’, top of Stroud High Street – as part of the SITE Festival 2011 local writers and text-based artists have taken over an empty unit (former ‘paint-a-pot’ shop; Chinese and tattoo parlour – so following on in a weirdly apt way, pushing ink). On Friday and Saturday I did a couple of stints, invigilating. Took stuff to read, even some marking, but didn’t get a chance, as folk popped in for a chat – it was nice to feel part of a community initiative, championed by local patron saint of poetry, Rick Vick. The Awen shelf (a bookcase made by my grandfather) sat in the hearth alcove and very nice it looked too. Our small press has a growing list of distinctive titles.

Friday night I went down to SVA (Stroud Valley Artspace) to check out a zany collective from Falmouth ‘The Fate of Neutral Norway’. It was heartening to see such bright young things get passionate about the spoken word – and to pull in such a youthful crowd. Local poetry impresario Charles and I decided to hold fort in the ‘Old Farts corner’ and were inspired to form an impromptu trad. poetry combo, entitled ‘The Oxfarts’, reciting ‘poetry-that’s-good-for-you’ in a tweedy (or stentorian) fashion. We await bookings. I performed a couple of my poems (Phone Tree; and Wolf in the City) which seemed to go down well, especially the group howling at the end!

The next day, a tad tender from bardic grog, I did my second stint in the shop – this time joined by local poet superstar Adam Horovitz. Earlier in the Spring, over a pint of Budding we devised the idea of a spoken word podcast – Stroud Out Loud! or SOL for short – recording and promoting local voices (poets, storytellers, singers). We test run the ‘instant archive’- with a couple of poems from myself, Adam and Rick, who happened to be passing with his partner, Gypsy.

Rick records a couple of his poems for SOL - come & have a go this weekend!

Next weekend folk are invited to come along and record an original poem, Fri 1-3pm & Sat 1-3pm.

Adam, Gypsy and Rick - contributors to the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, Stroud

Afterwards I roared down to Glastonbury for the latest date on our ‘Words on Fire Tour’ – promoting my new novel, The Burning Path, (the 4th in The

Windsmith Elegy series) & Ola her first collection of short stories, The

Firekeeper’s Daughter. Once again, Trevor & Liz played the congenial hosts at their lovely shop, the Cat & Cauldron. Surrounded by witchy paraphenalia, Ola and I read out excerpts from our respective books after Phil Stretch, partner and Kali (new Bard of Ynys Witrin) created a charming atmosphere with their enchanting music. A nice little crowd gathered, enjoying the wine and the ambience. The response afterwards was positive. One lady had been following my

series since its inception in 2004 – and was ‘worried about Maud’ (the main protagonist from the first volume, The Long Woman).

Kevan reading from The Burning Path - Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

Later, after I had pitched my tent and grabbed some food I went along to the OBOD Summer Gathering, where Jay (running a poetry workshop at Chalice Well) and myself had been kindly invited by Philip Carr-Gomm. There was some splendid entertainment by the likes of Liv Torc, Paul Newman, & Damh the Bard – whose ‘supergroup’ rounded the evening off in lively style, with everyone dancing and singing along. I had a nice chat with Philip and the great historian Ronald Hutton (who I am equally honoured to know, from my days as Bard of Bath – he was one of the judges who awarded me the Chair of Caer Badon back in 1998). My friends Jay, Ola and Paul finally joined me – direct from the Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw concert at Chalice Well and we concluded our ‘baby-head-wetting’ with a wee bop together.

Reeling from the tunes (and the fabulous druid mead, especially fermented for this occasion) I made my way to my tent, under the stars on the side of the Tor – hoping Gwynn ap Nudd wouldn’t seize me while I slumbered (or rather the rain wash me away).

Damp, chilled & weary I made my way home the following morning (after a fortifying breakfast at Heaphy’s). Pushing ink can be hard work! Sometimes it’s hard to see the benefit – any reciprocation for one’s efforts can seem be difficult to fathom at times, but who knows what ripples one causes?

Touch one heart, and it’s always worthwhile.

From Dorset to Delapre

From Dorset to Delapre

3-5 June

Ola and I about to perform 'Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread' at the Wessex Gathering 2011

Over the weekend I rode down to take part in the Wessex Gathering – a lovely little camp held in the idyllic setting of Burnbake, a woodland campsite near Corfe Castle on the ‘Isle of Purbeck’ in deepest Dorset. This is the ninth year the event has been held, and the eighth I’ve attended (I took a year off last year after a seven year run – attending since it’s inception in 2003). I became their unofficial ‘resident bard’, traditionally performing on the Friday night, running a workshop Saturday, and hosting the Bardic Cabaret on the Sunday evening, which I instigated. It only takes a couple of times for something to become enshrined as a tradition – you have to be careful what you start!

I packed my ‘saddle bags’ and rode my metal horse down to Dorset through the hot afternoon heat. It looked like many people had the same idea, heading for the coast – but fortunately I was able to filter through alot of the jams (one advantage of being a biker!). By the time I arrived I was in need of a beer. I cracked open a can and setting about putting up my new tent, before finally chilling. It was good to be still – enjoying the green wall of trees surrounding the site, making it feel cut-off from the ‘real world’. A temporary village of tents dotted the field – with the marquee and Phil and Nina’s teepee marking the centre. The organisers welcomed me back (‘We’ve missed you!’).

A horn called us to the opening ceremony, when we gathered in a circle as the ‘wild man of the woods’ (Phil in his Herne the Hunter get-up, impressively clad in skins and antlers) called in the quarters and welcomed us all to the camp, laying down some very loose ground rules. Contributions to the programme were invited and was devised on the spot. Ola and I were down to perform later that evening after Damh the Bard, who traditionally kicks things off with a popular set in the marquee. By the time he had finished and folk trickled over to the main fire it was gone ten, but we had a fair sized, and very attentive crowd for our set of ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’. Ola and I ‘drummed up’ business, creating a sacred space by circling the fire and inviting the audience to gaze into the flames and imagine their desires and fears, using it transformative energy, which both destroys and creates. I started the set with a quote from Rumi’s great poem, ‘Story Water’, before telling the tale of the ‘Garden of Irem’. Ola followed with her self-penned tale, ‘The Firekeeper’s Dance’, from her new collection of short stories (The Firekeeper’s Daughter’). I accompanied her on the drum at times, as she inhabited the story and brought it alive with her body. It was great seeing her stand up and shine. Afterwards, I performed one of my favourite stories, ‘The Pilgrim of Love’. By the time we finished our set it was gone eleven – later than I would have liked, but it was magical, telling these tales around the campfire. As I relaxed with a well-earned pint in my pewter ‘wolf’ tankard, Cliff the Talesman, shared a funny story about a dragon. Others were invited to contribute but it was a hard act to follow – and it was pushing midnight by then. We retired – it had been a long day.

Saturday morning I gave a talk on the Way of Awen. I didn’t think 10am was early to start, but it clearly was for some – at first it looked like no one was going to show, but slowly people wandered over and in the end I had a nice group. I raised the awen with them and it seemed to flow in the discussion. Afterwards a participant came up to me with a poem she had written, inspired by the talk. A couple of people bought copies of my book, The Way of Awen, and it seemed to go down well.

In the afternoon, Ola, Paul and I went to Chapman’s Pool for a dip (all I could manage – it was freezing!) and a pint and pasty in the Square and Compass (one of my favourite pubs). We sat in the ‘Stone Age’ beer garden, amid the sculptures and Flintstones furniture, and enjoyed the ‘spirit of place’.

Later that evening, folk got ‘blinged’ up for the main ceremony – which centres on the fire labyrinth. The focus this year was the children, our future – who were invited to walk the ‘burning path’ first, watched on by their parents. Dressed as fairies and mini-knights, they looked very cute as they processed around, accompanied by the drums. Then the adults followed – though by this time, the fire labyrinth was more a ‘smoke maze’. Being held earlier (for the little ones) it wasn’t as dramatic as previous years – it’s certainly better in the dark, as the later fire show proved. We gathered round the main campfire for pyrotechnics and fire juggling. There was some leaping of the flames and more tales from Cliff. I had a lovely chat with fellow bard, Damh, and enjoyed listening to him play his songs in a ‘quietly raucous’ manner around a campfire later. I hit the sack, aware of my long ride the next day.

I awoke at the crack of dawn and struck camp – keen to get on the road. Although it was a shame to leave the Wessex Gathering early, I could not miss this important anniversary: my Mother’s birthday. We were to hold a memorial picnic for her at Delapre Abbey, and so I rode the 153 miles there in time to rendezvous with my sister and her kids. It was worth the effort, as we sat in the grove where we had scattered her ashes earlier that Spring and celebrated her life with champagne and memories. I read out the eulogy I had written for her for this occasion – a four page poem entitled ‘Mother Home’. Afterwards we decamped to the Golden Horse for a pint at the bar where a plaque has been put in memory of Dad. It felt like we had honoured both our parents – and connected as a family: for better or worse, the first ‘tribe’ one has.

The next morning I set off back to Stroud, via Milton Keynes – and a day of EMA marking. Down to Earth with a bump! By the time I reached home I had clocked up 350 miles. Stiff and saddle sore, I greatly enjoyed the long soak – Bard in a bath…