Source: Lost Border
‘I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world…’ So wrote Rainer Maria Rilke, in his ‘Book of Hours’, and this epitomizes the experience of the last couple of years for me. I have crossed several borders – county, regional, national, international – and one quality they seem to share is, the closer you get to them, the more they dwindle, even disappear. The same with places (that horizon, that hill, that view, the light at the end of the track) and people. Intimacy dissolves boundaries. We have more in common than in difference. On a subatomic level where one thing ends and another begins is a debatable point. Is there no separation then? In terms of our shared humanity and interconnectedness to all life on Earth, I think not. The nation is a state of mind. Borders fascinate me – they are often places of creative tension – but they are invented constructs, however permanent they might seem. Hadrian’s Wall is an impressive feat of engineering, of human will and effort, but it’s a line in the sand of time. Walking it over a week, from coast to coast, made me appreciate the achievement but also acknowledge the futility. You cannot keep the ‘other’ out, however much you try. It’ll find a way in, as the remarkable Sycamore Gap exemplifies. Nature loves to cross the lines we make – cats or crows don’t care. And I find crossing borders a liberating experi- ence – a chance to shift one’s paradigm, even if the grass is the same colour, the sky just as blue or overcast. Walking between the worlds is something of an artistic practice for me – the cross-fertilisation of different modalities, the bridging of hemispheres, the synaptic leap in the moment of inspiration. Borders blur in the open mind, dissolve in the open heart. We open our gates to the shunned pariahs of our conscience and consciousness. Our exiled sovereignty returns home.
These poems have been inspired by my visits to Scotland (field-trips researching the folk traditions of the Borders; walking the West Highland Way solo, wild- camping as I went; and then as a guest of Hawthornden Castle); to Ireland (where I rode the Wild Atlantic Way on my motorbike with my partner, Chantelle); and to North America (where I undertook a road-trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway from Rhode Island to Asheville, North Carolina, with Debbi, my American friend and her family); and to wanderings nearer to home, in the Cotswolds and Welsh Borders. They offer a ‘body scan’ of my bardic life, in this moment, a ghost trace that will fade, as I release it and let it go, a prayer cast into the dark.
Kevan Manwaring Stroud, Midwinter, 2015
(Foreword from Lost Border, published by Chrysalis, 2015)
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Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
At GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) we offer support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire, welcoming them when they arrive, advocating for them in their daily struggles, supporting them if they face being sent back as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.
Mummers plays are seasonal fertility plays performed to bestow blessing upon the location of the performance and its inhabitants. The cast normally comprises working class members of the local community: the butcher, the baker, the blacksmith, etc. Usually poor and, by the lean midwinter, when work is scarce on the ground, in need of some extra grub and grog. So the guizers would adopt a simple disguise, put on a mufti of costumes, or tattercoats, and parade through their village, performing the play at the bigger houses and inns where chances of some decent offerings would be more likely. The raggle-taggle cast usually consists of a St George and Saracen/Turkish Knight, a devil figure, Father Christmas, a fool or two, and crucially, a doctor. For the basic plot of the Mummers Play remains unchanged in all its variants: a ritual combat, death and resurrection. In this simple arc we have encoded (possibly) a midwinter solar myth: the apparent ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ of the sun at the time of the winter solstice (the shortest day/longest night of the year).
The performances by amateurs are by their nature rough-and-ready. Lines are often delivered in a wooden way, or occasionally with booze-induced gusto, but nobody is going to win an acting award. The script is often garbled nonsense, with terrible rhymes and jokes – and yet … it still works. There can be no better evocation of the Yule spirit, than watching a mummers play by or in a village pub whilst enjoying a pint or two. Beyond all the tinsel and the mass consumerism, it is a glimpse of something primal, powerful and mythically true, tapping into the deep mystery of midwinter. Millions flock to big budget blockbusters depicting Manichean conflicts between the forces of light and darkness for a similar fix, although few would realize the folk antecdent. Star Wars is a mummers play writ large with a charismatic cast and fancy special FX. Impressive, but essentially new money for old rope. Very old rope, if you follow the thread back far enough.
Some argue that mummers plays and other curious folk customs (eg the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance; or Padstow May Day) are remnants of ancient fertility ritual dating back thousands of year, but most are Victorian constructs – attempts at revival of a ‘lost England’ to counter the disenchantment of the Industrial Revolution, or later, the shattering trauma of the First World War. In a nutshell, nostalgia: the snake oil that JJ Abrams is selling us very successfully.
The Stroud Mummers emerged out of the ashes of the Stroud Morris Men in the early Twenty First Century and their cast fits into this archetypal pattern: St George; Bold Captain Rover; Bels Abub; Devilly Doubt; Mummy Christmas; Bonaparte and Nelson; and Jack Whinny (a kind of false doctor, which I played). With no rehearsal and scant information we embarked upon a weekend of performances, commencing on Friday night (18 Dec) in front of the Subscription Rooms – the thin audience comprising confused revellers on their way to see Doreen Doreen. Yet despite this unpromising start, that night the Mummers raised £150 for The Door Youth Project. On Sunday, that figure leapt to £325. A double performance at Stroud Brewery seemed to go down well and was rewarded with barrels of ale for all the performers. The most warmly received performance was to the patrons of the Rose and Crown, Nympsfield, which turned out to be the local to some of the group. The performances were enlivened with the odd pint of real ale. Amazingly, despite sword-fighting in confined spaces no injuries occurred. It was a laugh, and worthwhile. It felt a privilege to be part of a living folk tradition. May the Farce be with us.
PS the next performance of the Stroud Mummers is Jan 9th as part of Stroud Wassail. http://stroudwassail.com/
FFI: Stroud Mummers incl updates http://stroudmummers.blogspot.co.uk/
Late 1618: as he sat under the Corvine Tree (the ‘Company Tree’), a sycamore which once stood in front of his home, Hawthornden Castle, the poet William Drummond greeted the playwright Ben Johnson who walked from London to Edinburgh, with: ‘Welcome, welcome, Royal Ben!’ Johnson replied, ‘Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden!’
The quatrains mirror the tree’s other name: the Four Sisters.
Blow your hardest, winds of the world,
Time’s river tumbles near,
Howl against Hawthornden’s high walls,
Skirling Esk’s steady roar.
By the ruinous tower proud,
Within famed halls austere,
Bards gather weary from hard road
To face the great work sheer.
Scaling the cliffs of effort stark,
Free-climbing heights alone,
The torch of wit alights the dark,
Makes whisper loud mute stone.
From compasses crossroad they come,
For a moon’s wheel they dwell,
Leaving lover, kin, known and home,
In snug, isolate cell.
Entering the caves of the mind
Dungeons of the unsaid,
Wrestling with angels, de’ils, mankind,
Within the page, the bed.
Gather for feasts, for talk, for cheer,
Share the tale and the toil,
By hearth, by platter, they draw near,
In wood, chapel and soil.
Clock ticks, pen scratch, keyboard tap-tap,
The pages stack, files stored.
Amid tomes leaf turns, ink saps.
Day, night, grows the word-hoard.
The black dog lurks and dreams bite deep,
Peace, solitude, turn tide.
Mundane demands stir us from sleep
As the horn gate swings wide.
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2.12.15