AWEN FORUM 8 SEPTEMBER
Sunday saw the third of a triptych of Awen Forums, the bimonthly evenings for the ‘elevation of the word’, held at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud. The idea me and my co-organiser had was to combine an inspiring guest speaker with equally amazing performances of poetry, storytelling and music (from mostly Awen artistes), and round things off with discussion on the night’s themes. This final one of our run was to be the biggie – we were getting Andrew Harvey over from America (radical mystical author of The Hope and others), and some amazing talent from London and elsewhere – gathering together in the Ball Room, so we had a large space to fill (it seats up to 300). For the month leading up to it we were flat out with the publicity – mail outs, press releases, posters, banner, flyers, Facebook, etc – with the help of our friends (notably Tom and Bryn Brown, who, with their son James, handed out flyers with me in Stroud Farmers Market – Tom’s steampunk jacket of spoons, and James canine charm offensive worked wonders, and Bryn’s social networking skills helped afterwards too). Despite the pitiful lack of local press and media coverage (debates over the colour of bollards, etc, being obviously more important) whatever we did seemed to do the trick – and the hall filled on the night, Stroudies typically turning up at the last minute, just to keep us sweating. Everyone acted professionally and the awen flowed. The Sub Rooms staff supported us with stewarding and sound engineering. Having the backing of Paul Mclaughlin, the general manager, meant a great difference – thank you for believing in us! In the absence of core funding it is a life-saver to have some kind of support. We also had the good will of friends who pitched in – making this a real community event.
And so – let the ceremony begin! Jay asked me to introduce the evening, and I ended up MC-ing most of it, something I’m experienced at but wasn’t necessarily planning on doing, so I had to make a lot of stuff up on the spot. On stage, I’m a born waffler – so was able to fill in while the acts set up. I did my best to ‘big them’ up – a bardic fluffer. Afterwards, folk said I did well – pitching it just right, so phew! My main concern throughout the evening was the timings, and I was constantly aware of the clock. Nevertheless, everyone managed to stick to their slot – the delays crept in due to late arrivals and the logistics of getting over a hundred people to settle down. But finally we were ready to start. The lights dimmed and I introduced James Hollingsworth, guitar wizard and fellow member of the Steampunk Theatre Company, who topped and tailed the show with three stunning songs which blew people away. I know he’s great – I booked him because I believe in him – so it’s satisfying to see others appreciate him too. The next act, our main guest speaker, Andrew Harvey, was very impressed by him; as I was by Andrew. I had heard a lot about him, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. But, sitting in the front row I was blown away by his impassioned inspired outpourings. I got the full blast of his cri-de-coeur, imploring us to ‘follow our heartbreak’ and act with complete conviction and commitment. In this time of planetary crisis he insisted we need to take action now and form ‘networks of grace’, to counter the dark forces out to destroy the planet, or paradigms they oppose – not in conflict, but by positive social change, creativity and innovative ways of living lightly upon the Earth.
A brief discussion followed, a ‘conversation cafe’, facilitated by Trish Dickinson. Then, we had a much-needed break – not because the first half was long or dreary (the opposite) but because Andrew’s talk was so intense, so challenging. I found it rivetting – Andrew’s style was electrifying, and I felt I received a download direct from the Source, calling me to ‘arms’, in a spiritual sense – for the Higher Good. It was refreshing, to the say the least, to see someone who didn’t hold back in his performance (being at times on the verge of tears or hysterics); someone who really believed in what he said – delivering it with absolutely conviction, and conveying the charge direct to the audience. With self-deprecating humour he admitted he was a flawed conduit, and struggled with the challenges of sacred activism, but this made his message all the more accessible and endearing. In his talk he performed three Rumi poems, and these, along with all his anecdotes and erudite allusions (which were never pretensious) made for a scintillating experience. It was a bardic tour-de-force.
After the break we had a trio of fine poets – starting with Jay Ramsay, accompanied by Herewood Gabriel on various instruments (djembe; ballophon; flute), performing poems from his new collection and old classics. Then followed ‘the zero temperature dude of modern bardism’, as I called him, Aidan Andrew Dun, the Poet of King’s X, and his lovely pianist partner Lucie Rechrtoja from Prague, who performed hip poems set to ambient electronica – I was most impressed by Aidan’s ‘Son of Erin’ poem; and ‘Her Feet like Two White Swans’ was a lovely swansong to finish with. I imagined they could have performed all night, as could have the other bards, but we had other riches to share – and it is more effective and pleasurable for the audience to have a tight set than a sprawling indulgent programme. These talented people left their egos at the door, and pitched in – for the greater whole. Philip Wells, the Fire Poet, had to wait a long time to perform, but he was a true pro – delivering two stonking poems which lifted the energy, seemed to sum up the themes of Andrew’s talk, and act as a Greek Chorus for the evening.
We finished with a final song from James – ‘Mothership’, the final song from ‘Song of the Windsmith’ which I requested. After some deliberation, James agreed to play this – and it ended the evening perfectly. Afterwards, he was kept busy with CD sales and new fans.
Wiped out, we finally left around eleven – too late for the pub, alas (my two house-guests went back to mine for a drink and a snack, to wind down) but we all met up the next morning for a coffee in Star Anise Cafe. It was nice to see folk before they hit the road, although I didn’t catch Andrew, who was off to London, to catch a plane to Australia!
All in all, I think this was the most successful Awen ‘showcase’ event we have put on by far – everyone said we got the mix right, and the contributions were par excellence. This was the night when the Awen Forum really showed what it could offer – soul food and the elevation of the word – raising things up in a dumbed down world. Rather than playing it safe, playing it for laughs, going for the easy buck – we took a risk, bringing in ‘exotic’ talent and creating a formula that did not insult the audience’s intelligence, but invited them to step up to the mark of their own greatness. Stroud responded, which shows the quality of the audience here. They are there in the woodwork, but sometimes take a lot of teasing out – because there is so much good stuff going on here.
My latest brainwave is to create a way of shouting about all spoken and written activity in the area – storytelling, poetry, drama, publishing, creative writing groups, singing, literary walks, book launches, etc – with the support of Hawkwood College. As the first event to fall under the Cotswold Word Centre umbrella, this bodes very well indeed.
‘What can I say? It was a magnificently inspiring, life-affirming evening…’ Delny
Dear Jay and Kevan
‘A huge thank you from me personally and wearing my Hawkwood hat. Thank you for bringing Andrew Harvey to Stroud and for supporting my initiative to invite him to Hawkwood for a weekend.
His talk at the Awen Forum was electrifying. I enjoyed the rest of the evening, too, especially the new-to-me poet whose name escapes me. I hope you were pleased with the turn-out and that Paul McL was happy, too.
The weekend at Hawkwood was awesome – I feel re-calibrated, blessed and deeply encouraged in my path and my part in the arising consciousness/activism. It was a blessing for all concerned, including the place.
Warm wishes to you both
Katie, Hawkwood College
Angie wrote: “Wow – last night’s Awen Forum here at the Sub Rooms in Stroud was astonishing! the truly amazing Andrew Harvey was talking about his book ‘The Hope—a guide to Sacred Activism ‘ … I am so glad I didn’t miss it. Thanks Jay Ramsay and Kevan for organising that… and lovely to have the company of two really intelligent women, Lindsay Hamilton and Sue Austin .. I real feast for the soul. Now back to work!”
Just wanted to say what a fantastic evening, I was blown away by all of it. What an inspiring man Andrew is.
Thanks again for pointing him out to me, helps me on my path.
Many thanks and lots of love and blessings
What synchronicity Jay to have your evening a week before World Cafe with Polly!what an opportunity for Stroudies to create and build together and reach wider” networks of grace ” i want to thank you and Kevan for opening this avenue .
For offering such a rich experience last night -i feel shaken and stirred and more awake than i have felt the whole summer .i am not surprised Andrew has had such a profound impact on you [and many many others ]over the years .i would love to meet him again and he wishes to meet Polly [so maybe you and i can cook this up!]
The second half of the evening also has a huge impact for me –where yourself and others demonstrated for me the power of artists as central to peace building and hearing what was “breaking your hearts” was an honour-a perfect balance to Andrews “divine passion” Trish Dickinson, Conversation Cafe