Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Birth of Dragons

Tonight sees the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, published by Compass Books. I’m hosting a Story Supper Special – with a dragon-flavoured theme (‘scaly tales, serpentines poems and wyrm songs’). It should be fun!

The book is based upon my 13 years of teaching creative writing (10 with the Open University); and arose out of a course I ran on ‘Writing for the Imagination’ at the University of Bath back in 2005. Since I wrote the first draft in 2006, it has taken a while to see the light of day – but I believe in ‘staying the distance’, and the book explores strategies for what I call long-distance writing. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s the tortoise who wins in the end!

Here’s a recent review from poet Lorna Smither’s Peneverdant blog

Book Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring

desiring-dragons-compass-books-front-cover Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.

The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.

I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.

The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.

What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.

Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.

The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.

As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.

A Monumental Achievement

Guest post by Angie Spencer, from review in Stroud New and Journal

Black Book café was packed on Friday May 9th for the launch of Jay Ramsay’s new collection of poetry, Monuments (published Waterloo Press in Hove) which  lives up to it’s name. It is a truly monumental work. Comprising poetry written over the last 12 years it is a bold and devastating statement of the plight of humanity in the face of an increasingly de-humanizing society.

Many of the poems are political, for example ‘A Suicide Bomber Reaches the Light’, ‘Iraq Diary’ (2003), ‘Occupy’, ‘Whistleblower’, and ‘Shard’…written last year for the Greenpeace women),  but unlike most political commentary that we hear today, they are stripped of all of the partisan machinery of politics that we have become so weary of. They are comments fresh from the soul, the heart – forcing us again and again to see what is really happening. They break through the numbness that has become our customary defence.  They are full of psychological insight (as one might expect from a psychotherapist of Jay’s standing) – but here it is the psychology of human race he is working towards understanding.

More personal and intimate poems also find their way into this beautifully crafted collection (including Anamnesis – the remembering of soul (2005-6), written monthly during his residency at St James’ Church, Piccadilly during that period).  These are reflective meditations that can be returned to again and again like a quiet chapel .

Jay begins the collection with an elegy for Ted Hughes (with whom he had correspondence before Hughes’ death, at 69, in 1998). Full of a grief at losing a mentor and (possibly) a poetic father figure, this somehow prepares us for the breadth and poetic stature of the rest of the collection.

Jay says ‘The book is about memory and what we need to remember. It is also an invitation to poets to face what is actually happening in the world and not just hide in personal expression, ‘language’, and narcissism. We are living in the Great Transparency, and poets are the truth-tellers of our time’.

The evening included brief contributions from close colleagues Gabriel Bradford Millar, Karen Eberhardt-Shelton, Kevan Manwaring, Jeff Cloves and Jehanne Mehta, as well as jazz guitar from Gilmore ‘n Jaz who came over from Swindon. Jay and Kevan are hosting a special celebration of Gloucestershire Writers  1914-2014 in ‘The Golden Room’ at the Sub Rooms on July 26th.

Monuments (published by Waterloo Press) is available from The Stroud Bookshop and from www.waterloopresshove.co.uk  at £12, or £4.92 on Kindle (Amazon).

Waterloo Press also publishes Jeremy Reed, Victoria Field, Niall McDevitt, Sophia Wellbeloved and Maggie O’Sullivan among others. Simon Jenner, poet and publisher, founded the Press in 1998.

“Jay Ramsay is one of our most distinguished eloquent and passionate visionary poets, someone who knows that the highest role of poetry in a catastrophic time is to keep the flames of spirit burning steadily”
—Andrew Harvey

copyright Angie Spencer, May 2014.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnfcC0tb48Q (some of the poems performed at ‘Sacred Activism’ with Andrew Harvey, 7.9.13)

 

Warming of the Chair

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day                                  Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

On Bank Holiday Monday (5th May) I organised the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – the Declaration of the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood, as part of their lovely annual Open Day – when the Gloucestershire College (dramatically-situated on the Cotswold Edge) opens its doors to the public and gives folk a taste of what is on offer throughout the year, with free taster workshops, stalls, walks, demos, delicious food and entertainment.

Hawkwood was originally called The Grove, and there is the possibility that once an avenue of yew trees led to the ancient spring which still bubbles there, these days at the foot of the massive sycamore tree. It has been a centre for holistic, creative endeavours and kindred-spirit gatherings for decades (and perhaps even longer, going by its old name) so it seems the perfect place for the location of a Bardic Chair, which is traditionally sited on a Gorsedd mound.

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood - an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

The idea for the Bard of Hawkwood came to me through a conversation with Richard Maisey – who interviewed me for the Five Valleys Directory just after I moved to Stroud. He mentioned he had in his possession an original ‘Bardic Chair’ – from a Welsh Eisteddfod. It turns out this precious family heirloom was passed down through the Welsh side of his family and was made for the 1882 Denbighshire Eisteddfod (as the plaque on it states). Having founded the Cotswold Word Centre  (CWC) at Hawkwood College last Autumn, I thought the title of Bard of Hawkwood would create a great platform for promoting the good work of the College, the CWC, and the local community. And the Open  Day seemed like the ideal day to do it. With the blessing of the Principal Alicia Carey and Education co-ordinator, Katie Lloyd-Nunn, I set to work.

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

I invited fellow Bards to help in the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – a year and a day in advance of the actual contest – each contributing their ‘bardic bottom’ to the proceedings! In the end there were eleven of us – the first eleven as it were – who came out to ‘bat’ for ‘Bardic College’ on a fine sunny day at the start of summer, wearing our finest clobber. I dusted off my Irish Piper’s cloak for the occasion.

The Gorsedd - with me on the far right

The Gorsedd – with me on the far right Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

It was a bit touch and go as the key people didn’t turn up until 1pm – when we were due to start – but it all came together at the last minute. We processed onto the lawn before the May Pole, forming a half-circle around the Chair. Then  John Xzavian, Bard of May Hill, blew his horn to announce the start of the ceremony. I introduced the proceedings – announcing the search for the Bard of Hawkwood (the contest will be held in a year’s time at the 2015 Open Day – as is the tradition, the Chair must be announced a year ahead). There will be an adult competition and one for children (5-10;11-15 yrs). The theme for the adults is ‘Flood’; and for the children ‘Summer’. It has to be an original song, story or poem 10 minutes or less. The adult entrants must provide a 300 word statement of intent, about what their plans would be if they won the contest. They would hold the title for a year and a day and be expected to fulfil that role with their bardic skills, e.g. writing and performing poems for special occasions. To qualify the entrants must be residents of the area (with a GL5 or GL6 postcode). I then invited up Richard Maisey to talk about the Chair and he read out a little of ‘What is Poetry…?’ Then I asked Sulyen Caradon, Druid of Bath, to lead us in Raising the Awen and reciting the Druid’s Prayer. Together we formed the Gorsedd of Hawkwood – whose job is to look after the Chair and organise the competition. Next up, was John Xzavian again to recite his satirical verse about poetry. He was followed by Mark Westmore, the new Bard of Bath, who belted out his Beltane poem. Then we had a trio of Stroud poets – Gabriel Bradford Millar, Peter Adams, and Robin Collins (who will hopefully enter next year as they’re all strong candidates). Richard and Misha Carder from the Bath Gorssed then offered their eco-poems. I followed with my ‘Song of Taliesin’ poem – honouring the Penbeirdd – and the Eisteddfod part of the ceremony was finished off by Jehanne and Rob Mehta’s beautiful ‘Corn King’ song. We finished the ceremony with the Blessing of the Chair, scattering it with water from the Hawkwood spring. I joked that anyone who won the Chair would become the Soggy Bottom Bard! Once more I encouraged folk to enter. Then John blew his horn and we processed out. Job done. The crowds on the lawn seemed entertained – many no doubt being exposed to a modern Bardic ceremony for the first time. Hopefully, some will be inspired to enter the contest. Stroud has plenty of opportunities to hone bardic skills, with the numerous open mics and workshops – Hawkwood College of course running a comprehensive programme in tandem with the Cotswold Word Centre. Budding bards have a whole year to sharpen their quills and practice their projection.

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

Afterwards, catching my breath, I was able to grab a ‘bardic burger and beer’ and enjoy the sunshine on the lawn, chatting to friends and watching the May Pole dancing.  It felt like we had successfully ‘warmed the Chair’ and announced publicly, in the ‘eye of light’, the competition. Until we get a winner I am acting Bard of Hawkwood and the Founder of the Chair. If no one comes forward I automatically become the reining Bard – but I hope we get plenty of entries. May the Awen flow and the best Bard win!