Once there was a great king
…at least he was great in terms of his size and ego. He was known by many names but let’s call him Jupiter. King of the Gods (he acted like a petulant god so hell he must be!) Jupiter had usurped his father, Saturn (some said killed, but those voices were hushed up) from the throne, and lorded it over all, the most important man in the solar system, galaxy, universe – at least he liked to think so. He had a pet eagle, a shield called Aegis. Shiny thunderbolts made by his son, Vulcan. But he was particularly proud of his swirling orange hair – he thought it made him irresistible to women.
He loved the women, or the girls, as he liked to call them. He like to talk to them, he liked to touch them, and loved it when they stroked his … ego. But, stop right there – he had a wife, lest we forget – Queen of the Pantheon to his King, her name – Juno. Jupiter thought her oblivious of his shenanigans, but on the contrary, she knew alright, and kept a close watch on him.
He loved to conceal his infidelities in clouds of mist – sometimes he descended on unsuspecting nymphs in the form of a golden shower – but Juno was able to pierce through his miasma.
One day Jupiter having developed a soft spot for a beautiful young nymph called Io, went a-calling, hoping for a bit of frolicking. He wooed her, her fondled her – thinking he was the one doing the seducing … But his wife was swift to follow and nearly caught them at it – but he was quick. He turned Io into a cow. ‘Husband! Husband! What are you up to!’ Jupiter feigned innocence. ‘I’m trying to get back to nature. I’ve been too high and mighty. I wanted to shed the trappings of power and taste the life of a cow-herd. And look at this lovely heifer. Her beautiful udders. Her smooth horns. Her big dark eyes. The swish of her tail.’
Juno, this time accepted these alternative facts, though in her heart she knew she’d been deceived. So she left.
Another day, Jupiter’s eye fell upon another lovely nymph, skin like alabaster, called Europa. She refused his advances, and so he came to her in the form of a bull – and carried her off to have his wicked way with her. Some say to Crete, some say to a crate.
But Jupiter’s good luck ran out one day when he was cosying up to another nymph called Callisto. Juno appeared, and this time there was no hiding – her husband just shrugged ‘What can I say. She was a five!’ – In her wrath Juno turned Callisto into a bear, and stormed off.
Finally Jupiter took a shine to a handsome young lad from Troy called Ganymede – he had if nothing else Catholic tastes. The lad was a bit reluctant to accept the advances of the horny old goat, I don’t know why. And so Jupiter descended upon him in the form of an eagle and carried him off to the stars to be his cup-bearer, or so he says.
Well, Juno had had enough. She decided to teach her pathetic husband a lesson. Instead of confronting her husband directly, which she knew would be pointless. He was so self-deceiving he wouldn’t realise he’d done anything wrong. So she went to Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. They were frightened when they realised who she was. But she said, ‘I’m not angry with you, only my stupid husband – are you happy being treated this way?’ They all felt they had been wronged – but at the time it was hard not to be swept along by Jupiter’s magnetic personality. They agreed to help teach the king a lesson. Yes, he had thunderbolts – but Juno made some powerful allies.
She recruited Venus and Mercury to her cause – love and eloquence. War-like Mars, with his buzz-cut and PTSD twitch, was Jupiter’s right-hand man, so no luck there. Saturn certainly had a bone to pick, but was bit of a deadweight. Neptune, who ruled the sea, and Pluto who ruled the dead, also joined their cause. Together, led by Juno, they caused chaos in the heavens, disrupting the cycles and orbits, with their non-violent direct action, until enough was enough!
The allies confronted the bully – who turned out to be nothing more than a gas giant. All bluster. As they confronted him with his misdemeanours and crimes, he started to shrink. He spewed out toxic cloud in his defence, but got smaller and smaller. One by one his layers of deceit were stripped away, until there were none left – and what did they find behind it all? A Little Boy sitting on a rock, sulking, sticking out his bottom lip. He tried to throw his thunderbolts, but they were like sparklers now. He had a toy shield and stuffed bird. So much for Jupiter the Great.
After that Juno and the ‘girls’ took over running the Heavens and they did a far, far better job of things. The Solar System became a lot more peaceful, pleasant and respectful place to live.
Jupiter was given a nanny and a nice big play pen, where he could build imaginary walls all day long without causing any harm.
Kevan Manwaring © 2017-01-27
If you are interested in the real Jupiter and its amazing moons then check out my science fiction novel, Black Box, forthcoming from Alternative Stories.
Black Box has been adapted into an audio drama by the amazing podcast team at Alternative Stories. The first three pilot episodes are due to be launched 20th November, 27th November, & 4th December. FFI: https://alternativestories.com/
Saturday, 22nd August, 2020, from noon til late
A day of vibrant voices celebrating the living Bardic Tradition in the British Isles and beyond. Join us to be entertained and stimulated by our inspiring line-up of poets, storytellers, musicians, and speakers. After each slot there will be a chance to discuss, make comments, and ask questions.
Nicola Chester – Berkshire-based nature-writer, Guardian Columnist, Author, Wild Writing Workshops.Blog: https://nicolachester.wordpress.com/ Twitter @nicolawriting @JogLibrary
Kirsty Hartsiotis – storyteller and art-historian.https://www.kirstyhartsiotis.co.uk/
Daru McAleece – druid, bard Website – https://tracscotland.org/storytellers/daru-mcaleece/ Website for anthology – https://www.hauntpublishing.com/books/haunted-voices
Paul Flinn – runner, poet
Rob Farmer – singer-songwriter https://robertfarmer.bandcamp.com/
Charlotte Hussey – Canadian poet (Glossing the Spoils; Soul of the Earth from Awen)
Helen Moore – ecopoet, writer, socially engaged artist & outdoor educator https://www.helenmoorepoet.com/
Peter Alfred Please – storyteller and writer http://www.peteralfredplease.co.uk/
Kirsten Bolwig – writer & storyteller Linked In profile
Brendan Georgeson – pop poet
Richard & Misha Carder – Gorsedd of Caer Badon (Bath), co-ordinators of the long-running ‘Poetry and a Pint’ night in Bath.
Henk Vis – druid, Avebury gorsedd
Gordon Rimes – musical bard of Avebury gorsedd
Scott Freer – banjo-maestro
Simon Andrews – singer-songwriter
Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson – Icelandic writer and tour-guide
Marko Gallaidhe – Irish musician and writer
Kevan Manwaring – author, lecturer, and storyteller
Online via Zoom (100 maximum – booked early to guarantee a space).
Donations invited to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Trussell Trust.
Please make a donation, then contact Kevan for Zoom details.
Contact Kevan: email@example.com
A Tintagel Conception
awaiting to be reborn
here on this rough island.
Storm forged, sea girdled,
palace of choughs and seals,
this, the cracked cauldron of your making,
where you were conceived,
— so the poets sing —
a gleam in the eye of Uther,
using Merlin’s magic to
inveigle his way into Igraine’s
bower, guised as Gorlois.
Good enough for the guards.
But a wife knows.
Did she keep mum,
as her belly bloomed
with another’s child —
a Pendragon pregnancy?
Where you first saw the light
Of day, who can say?
Did Merlin spirit you away,
swaddled in spells,
to raise you a king
in some gramarye-tangled grove?
who raided Annwn,
who pulled the sword
from the rock;
Arthur of the Celts,
who gathered men
to him, a wolf-pack —
no shiny knights of courtly romance
these, but mud-cloaked
dwellers of the wild wood,
moving swift, striking deep,
inspiring love and loyalty
by deed and word – not
by wealth or birthright.
How we need you now –
to put steel to justice,
an edge to truth,
a backbone to the beleaguered.
Hope to the underdog,
healer of a broken kingdom.
Recarve the table round
so all may sit as equals,
so all may partake of the feast,
so all may be heard and seen,
so all may taste of the Grail.
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020
The skills and wisdom of the Bard are as relevant today as they have ever been, in fact, in a world of communication breakdown and collective amnesia – where we fail to honour our geo-cultural heritage, and forget again and again the lessons of the past – possibly more so. The Bard was far more than ‘just’ a teller of tales or singer of songs: he or she was the remembrancer and chronicler for the tribe – of ancient lore, bloodlines, land rites, battles, geasa, great events, important details… In short, their living memory. And furthermore, a celebrant, in an official or unofficial capacity – whose tales and tunes would mark the cycles of life within the circle of the community: the wooings, the weddings, the nativities, comings-of-age, and other thresholds of change. With their words they could bless or blight. Warriors would vie for the honour of being immortalised through their elegies, kings and chiefs would take care to avoid their satire, lords and enemies feared their curses. The system of patronage may no longer be viable, but that also means the Bard is no longer at the behest of a liege. In a world where most forms of communication are monitored, perhaps only the Bard is truly free to speak his or her mind without having to kowtow to so-called ‘political correctness’, corporate values or media fads. In the age of spin, we need more than ever a re-enchantment of language, where people actually mean what they say, free of Post-Modern irony, and a man is as good as his word. It is not a return to spurious ‘old values’ but a re-imagining and renewing of what those values are, by learning from the lessons of the past and acknowledging the perspective which history affords. The wisdom of the past is ever-present, if we but listen. It is an insult to our collective ancestors to do otherwise, for it is their countless sacrifices which have enabled us to have come thus far: to be in this relatively privileged, but precarious, position on the cusp of a new millennia.
In an age of Climate Change and global turmoil, the importance of community, of common people helping one another, having a voice, being heard, validating personal ‘narratives’ outside the hegemony of a grander one, drawing upon their own resources and talents, wealth of experience and motherwit, could never be more imperative. The Bard’s ability to express the inexpressible, to celebrate the lives of all that live and have lived, and preserve for posterity the little epiphanies, personal triumphs and tragedies, heroics and hard-won wisdom from extinction, or from being drowned out in the white noise of endless trivia, enables excellence of expression and freedom of information at a grassroots level beyond webs and nets, dishes and boxes. It offers a folk democracy of the tongue and the limitless possibilities of the imagination.The Bard helps us to celebrate being human and enables us to appreciate other cultures, other perspectives, at the same time as being more fully in our own. It praises the universal through the particular: the local and microcosmic, the parts that make up the whole, which make something bigger than their sum – the biodiversity of humanity.
So, I have devised a 3 year training programme in the belief that everyone can benefit from Bardic skills: either as a listener or performer, whether you only wish to improve your public speaking, entertain your family and friends, or aspire to be a fully-fledged professional Bard, with ‘harp on back’, fire in the head and hundreds of stories at your fingertips. I can claim with complete conviction that you will benefit, however far down the path of the Bard you wish to go, because I certainly have. It has transformed my life: improving not just my communication skills (I never had the ‘gift of the gab’, although I always had a good imagination), but social ones as well (at school I was the introvert wallflower and now, it seems, I can keep most audiences entertained, although everyone has bad days). Becoming a Bard has given me, and is still giving me, so much: it has given me a community and a role to play in it and, perhaps most importantly of all, it has given me a way to live – a true and reliable guide for life.
To summarise: the overall aim of the Silver Branch Bardic Training programme is to empower people to find and use their true voice for the good of all. Its objectives are to:
- offer initiation for the budding Bard
- provide a practical 36 month training programme
- teach the art of storytelling
- teach techniques of poetic inspiration, composition and performance
- develop the power of the memory
- widen understanding of Awen
- develop awareness of the Bardic Tradition
- explore what it means to be a Bard in the 21st Century
- provide resources, such as a reading list, contacts, etc.
- connect with the wider community
- encourage respect for diverse global traditions and cultures
- foster ‘mythic literacy’ and an understanding of mythic levels in modern life
- act as a catalyst for new Bardic circles and the re-establishing of Bardic Chairs
- facilitate deep study on a myth, legend, fairy tale, or song cycle of one’s choice with critical support & appraisal.
- provide critical and creative support for a final project – performance, publication, public event.
An edited extract of the introduction to The Bardic Handbook: the complete manual for the 21st Century bard (Gothic Image, 2006).
Silver Branch Bardic Training
A 3 Year Bardic Development Programme
with Dr Kevan Manwaring, (aka the ‘Bardic Academic’), lecturer, author of The Bardic Handbook, and founder of the Silver Branch Bardic Network.
Awaken the Bard within on this intensive 3 year training programme. Each module can be taken individually, at one’s own speed, and is customised to your unique Bardic path. Silver Branch Bardic Training is not a one-size-fits-all course that is set in stone, but is ‘bespoke’: tailor-made to your individual needs and interests. It is delivered by one-to-one mentoring with an experienced, published Bard.
Learn directly from an acknowledged expert in the field: ‘Kevan is a senior Bard in the UK and world landscape and author of the famous Bardic Handbook.‘ (Dr Thomas Daffern)
Programme of Study
Year 1 – Anruth to Bard (for beginners – no experience necessary)
During this year you shall work through the Bardic Handbook, which sets out a 12 month study programme that will take you from Anruth (apprentice stage) to declaring yourself as a Bard in a dedication and naming ceremony – with direct mentoring from the author himself. Your growing bardic skills will be honed through private study and participation in an online bardic circle.
Year 2 – Bardic Deep Study (Intermediate – for students who have completed Year 1)
With a theoretical focus, this year you will use The Way of Awen: journey of a bard as a guide – which explores the Welsh legend of Taliesin in great detail – but you will be asked to self-select a myth, legend, or song-circle to work on intensively. The fruits of this deep study will be manifold, but will include an extended non-fiction essay reflecting upon the themes of the selected tale/s in a critical way.
Year 3 – Bardic Practical Project (Advanced – for students who have completed Years 1 and 2)
With a practical focus, this final year the Silver Branch: bardic poems will be used as a guide as an example of an approach to an original creative project with a community/ecological aspect. You will conceive and complete a Bardic project of your choice: a spoken word performance, a collection of poems or short stories, an audio recording, a film, a stage play, etc. This final project will be the culmination of your study, which will be launched during an end-of-study celebration, which you will design and organise. This is when you fully step into your role as public Bard, serving your community. Your project will be assessed on not only its originality, skill, and vision, but also how it responds to the challenges of modern life, engages with multimodality or emergent technology, and serves and celebrates community and biodiversity.
- Weekly online bardic circle: a chance to raise the awen, connect with fellow bards, and share one’s latest poem, song, or story.
- Fortnightly lecture: a talk and connected activity designed to get the awen flowing.
- Monthly mentoring session: a chance to ask questions, receive feedback and advice, set one’s goals, reflect upon the previous month, and plan future activities.
- Quarterly review: an indepth review to assess progress and plan the next phase of study.
- Bardic declaration ceremony: when you received your bardic name and dedicate yourself to the path of the Bard.
- Critiques: of your creative and critical projects.
- Celebration: for the launch of your graduation project.
Year 2: Intensive support and feedback on one’s special study project. Critical appraisal on completion.
Year 3: Editorial support and feedback on one’s special bardic project. Launch celebration.
Monthly instalments of £250, or quarterly of £750 by standing order, BACS, or paypal. A discount for full-time students, Senior Citizens, or those in receipt of other benefits is available on application.
Applications open. New term starts in September.
For enquiries: contact Kevan – firstname.lastname@example.org
21 June 2020
Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers
a review by Kevan Manwaring
This extraordinary collection from self-defining ‘awenydd’ (a spirit worker and inspired poet) Lorna Smithers is the culmination of a full-blooded dedication to the Brythonic god, Gwyn ap Nudd. It charts a contemporary Underworld initiation, a journey to Annwn (the Celtic Hades) and back, with Gwyn as the poet’s psychopompic muse. A figure neglected, or even redacted from the spiritual tradition of the Britannic Isles, Lorna has sought to re-instate Gwyn as ‘warrior-protector of Britain’, a position she feels was usurped by King Arthur. As Lorna herself puts it: ‘After centuries of soul-loss Gwyn re-opened those doors and challenged me to ride with him through war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos.’ Her collection of poetry and prose is a ‘record of [that] journey’. In its six ‘acts’ or ‘books’ Gatherer of Souls charts a mythopoeiac counter-history of Britain, from the end of the Ice Age, through Roman occupation, into the so-called Dark Ages and the fall of the kingdom of Rheged, right up to the present day. In such a vast sweep of time it is inevitably highly selective – a personalised, subjective travelogue, as Lorna journeys with her dark muse. With its alternating poetry and prose (and sometimes prose-poems) the form is like a Celtic variant of the Japanese haibun (a form which reached its zenith in Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, or Travels of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton). And yet in its dense content, a mythic mulch of lore, it is perhaps closer to the long poems of David Jones (e.g. The Sleeping Lord), the psychogeography of Jeremy Hooker, or Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Mercian Hymns’. And yet the uncompromising voice is uniquely Lorna’s own. She doesn’t take prisoners. There is a fierce energy driving these soundings from Annwn as relentless as Ceridwen’s. They are permeated with a quintessentially northern melancholy, a sense of loss, of grief. This permanent penumbra is perhaps overly gloomy at times, but there are flashes of brightness, as in ‘Missing God’: ‘You showed me silver spaceships, three shining gateways…’ Yet even these ‘pathways to the stars … always led back down.’ This is deep dive into the fathomless fastness of Gwyn’s realm and the subconscious of the land, as well as the poet’s own shadow. Arthur, as a legendary figure is reinvented by everyone who comes to him, projecting their own light and darkness – and in Lorna’s case the Pendragon becomes the antagonist, the False King, guilty of terrible war crimes. As the ultimate, flawed authority figure, Lorna sticks it to the Man. This tubthumping revisionism is certainly novel, and it shows the poet’s committed approach. She takes the myths and legends of this land personally, and sees them as continuing. This approach leads to the most original pieces in the collection, the remarkable prose-poem sequence, ‘The Oldest Animals 21st C’, which recasts the sequence from ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ (Y Mabinogi) about the search for Mabon ap Modron, in the Age of Anthropocene. In ‘The Once and Future King has Returned’ Arthur is back as a warmongering demagogue, his ship Prydwen heading a fleet of warhead-laden submarines. And in ‘Time’ the poet shatters the artificial clock of temporality: ‘Timelines snapped like rulers bent too many times’. This simultaneity of the mythic past and the time-torn present permeates her work. For Lorna, much like Ivor Gurney, there is no separation. In its authenticity and whole-hearted commitment Gatherer of Souls offers a refreshing counter-blast to the Postmodern posturing of so many poets with their ironic word-games. For those who like their poetic fix pagan, dark and strong, this is for you.
Diary of a Viva Ninja: Day 9
Although the commonly accepted definition of the doctoral rite-of-passage, the ‘Viva Voce’, is an ‘oral examination’, the one that appeals most to me is ‘by the living voice’. As soon as I came across this I suddenly felt a quantum of reassurance – for I have made a lifetime’s study of the performance of bardic skills and development of the bardic tradition (2004; 2006; 2008; 2010; 2012; 2013; 2016; 2018). The Viva is conducted not within the oral tradition but within an extremely rigorous academic frame, of course, and it is important to understand that it is ‘a new form of high-level communication, [one for which] you need to gain some advanced rhetorical and performance skills’ (Murray, 2015: 2). Nevertheless, there are some interesting overlaps (eg variants of the ‘skills’ Murray mentions), and considering the Viva in this way, reframing it as a bardic endeavour, means I am not sticking my neck out, but drawing upon years of informed creative-practice and research.
Forms of oral examination have been around for a long time, most famously in the Socratic Method of question-and-answer. Here the questioner hopes to catch the recipient out, sometimes by performing a disingenuous ignorance: Socratic Irony. My preference is for the less hierarchical and mutually empowering colloquy one comes across in the Celtic tradition. The finest example of this is known as ‘The Colloquy of the Two Sages’ in which the young budding bard, Nede, is challenged by a senior bard, Fercheirtne, whose chair he wishes to claim (as the descendent of the previous incumbent, his father). Through an intense series of ritualised questioning, Nede (wearing a mock beard of grass) has to defend his claim to the chair. His examiner ‘pulls his beard’, that is tests his knowledge and the authenticity of his claim. Critically, the questioner’s role here is not necessarily antagonistic. Fercheirtne is questioned in return by Nede and his answers seek to ‘outbard’ the challenger, like some Iron Age rap battle. But in the process, both ‘combatants’ display their skill and their answers encode great wisdom and poetry power for future bards to learn from and even perform (as Williamson memorably does in an epic feat of bardic skill). The outcome of this is for the young bard to become, eventually, an ollamh, a Doctor of Verse – so in it we can see a direct analogy to the Viva. A translation of it by no less than Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band; Honorary Bard of OBOD, etc) graces the end-pages of my Bardic Handbook. Here is a taster:
The Colloquy of the Two Sages (extract)
A question, o young man of learning, what art do you practise?
to which Nede replied:
not hard to answer
I bring blush to face
and spirit to flesh
I practise fear’s erasure
and tumescence of impudence
and wisdom’s wooing
I shape beauty to human mouths
Give wings to insight
I make naked the word
In small space I have foregathered
The cattle of cognizance
The stream of science
The totality of teaching
The captivation of kings
And the legacy of legends.
And you my elder, what are do you practise?
to which Fercheirtne replied:
not hard to answer
sifting of streams for gold of wisdom
lulling of hearts from the fires of anger
captaincy of words
excellency of skill
putting feathers in kings’ pillows
I have acquired a thirst that would drain the Boyne
I am a maker of shields and wounds
a slicer of pure air
an architect of thought
I can say much with few words
I can sing the long miles of great heroes’ lives
I am a jeweller of the heart.
(From Irish tradition, translation by Robin Williamson, The Bardic Handbook, 2006).
Apart from the sheer beauty of the poetry, the colloquy teaches us to hone our own powers of communication to their highest level, to love language and debate, and to (hopefully) savour the experience of discussing one’s major research project with highly-skilled and experienced academics. To have such a level of critical attention should be seen as not a painful, compulsory final hurdle but as a privilege. After all, it is what you have worked towards for so long. It is your ‘opening night’, academically. First night nerves are inevitable, but rehearsal and classic performance techniques can help mitigate those nerves.
In performance the more relaxed one becomes in front of an audience, the easier it gets – certainly, the more likely it is for the ‘awen’, (Welsh, f. noun: inspiration) to flow. Nothing can replicate ‘live experience’. In the folk world it is a truism that you need to ‘fail’ in front of a real audience with new song, then ‘fail better’ next time.
The aim is, through practice, to become habituated to the rarefied climate of high academic discourse, to a sustained critical debate:
‘Students have to understand the components of communicative strategies, customize them for their own examinations and practise them well in advance, to the point where the strategies have become part of their rhetorical repertoire.’ (Murray, 2015: 90)
And so … practise, practise, practise!
Works by Kevan Manwaring on the bardic tradition:
Fire in the Head: creative process in the Celtic diaspora, Awen 2004
The Bardic Handbook: the complete manual for the 21st Century bard, Gothic Image, 2006
The Book of the Bardic Chair, RJ Stewart Books 2008
The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, O Books, 2010
Oxfordshire Folk Tales, The History Press, 2012
Northamptonshire Folk Tales, The History Press, 2013
Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold (ed.), The History Press, 2016
Silver Branch: bardic poems and letters to a young bard, Awen 2018
Other works cited
Murray, R. (2015) How to Survive a Viva: defending a thesis in an oral examination, Open University Press
The friends in our life are a true measure of success – the harvest of a life well-lived.
I am fortunate to know many talented people who I find inspiring and good company to boot. To be around them is a buzz, and their achievements mutually empowering. We raise each other up by stepping into our own power, by not being afraid to shine. I love seeing my friends do well. I praise their successes, cheer them on. Because I know something of their journey, of their struggles and sheer effort. When I am with them I feel more complete, because in some mysterious way they ‘hold’ something for me, an aspect of my own personality that they manifest in full. They are fully themselves, of course, but something in them draws me to them. I sense a kindred spirit. We share common ground – interests, experiences, obsessions, ambitions, sense of humour, wounds, or beliefs. They may just make me smile, make me feel alive, or make me feel more like me. I can be myself around them. The conversation flows. I feel listened to, received, and reciprocated. Seen. Heard. Held. They catch me when I fall, and without a second’s thought I do the same for them. I feel ‘greater than’, instead of ‘less than’, in their presence – not diminished or undermined, but raised up – not in an egotistical sense, but in an ennobled one. In such company I feel somehow things fall into place: a little piece of the universe’s puzzle slots home.
And so I wish to honour these friendships that I feel so honoured by. There are many ways of doing this – by baking a cake, singing a song, writing a letter, handcrafting something, or simply spending quality time with them. Last month I celebrated my 49th birthday in Stroud with ‘A Night of Bards’ – a gathering of storytellers, poets and singers to ‘wet the baby’s head’ of my new book, Silver Branch: bardic poems (published by Awen Publications), launched on that date. It was a special evening, brief but heart-warming and flowing with awen and camaraderie. I took photos, as did my friends, and I’ve used some of these to recreate some of the performances in what I call ‘bardic portraits’, intended to capture not an exact likeness but the energy of the performer, their presence. I incorporate a key phrase from their contribution, and have slowly worked my way through the dozen or so performers over the last month. It has been a nice way to remember the evening, enjoying it again like a fine feast, but in particular, a chance to focus in on each bard’s unique quality and talent. To bring awareness to these remarkable friends and the skein of friendships that we share.
Other friends who weren’t present on the evening but who have performed at other events I’ve organised over the years I may get around to also. They all deserve to be celebrated. Collectively they represent an inspiring microcosm of contemporary bardism. Who knows, maybe my sketches may provide a record for posterity; but more importantly they are intended to honour the subjects while they are here – to give thanks for their being vibrantly alive at this time and place in human history, and for touching my life.
Kevan Manwaring, 23 September 2018
Bardic Portraits from ‘A Night of Bards’ (Stroud, 19 Aug. 2018) by Kevan Manwaring
SINGING THE WAY
Recently I walked the Pennine Way national trail – a 253* mile footpath that runs from Edale Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. It follows, roughly, the spine of England – the Pennine Hills – into the Cheviots, and crosses three national parks: the Peak District, the Yorkshire Moors, and the Northumberland national park, as well as the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I walked it solo (except for a couple of days when a dear friend joined me) over 18 days, with a couple of half-day rest-stops in Haworth and on Hadrian’s Wall. I wasn’t attempting to break any records or myself – it was my summer vacation ‘wind-down’, a detox from all things digital and academic, and I wanted to allow myself time to stand and stare, or sit and sketch, wild swim or wander lonely as a cloud, as the mood took me. To keep myself going over wild stretches of moorland, dusty tracks, or hot hillsides, I sang. This is the fourth long-distance path in which I’ve found singing has really helped me to ‘keep on keeping on’ – putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day, and, more, it really enriches the experience. Each day I chose a song – either learning it on the hoof, or drawing it from my repertoire. If it was a new song, I would sing each verse until I had committed it to memory, then moved on to the next, and so on, until ‘the form [had] patterned in my head’ (as the memorable poem, ‘Real Property’ by Harold Monro goes). Then I would sing it over a few times, finding my way into the song, finding the right voice for it. Often the song’s content, its mood, its message, would chime with the morning, with the landscape I was moving through, in synchronous and profound ways. It sometimes felt like a way of ‘giving thanks’ for the day, for reciprocating what I was experiencing – a praise song and a focalisation of my phenomenological interface with place and its ontological layers, or, to put it more simply: grooving on the genius loci.
Here are the songs I sang, in order (they represent the main ‘song of the day’ although others came and went organically). I selected songs that were thematically-apt or simply ‘jaunty’, amusing and morale-lifting.
Day 1, Edale to Torside: Mist-covered Mountains adapted from the Gaelic by Malcolm MacFarlane, version by Chantelle Smith.
Day 2, Torside to Standedge: Ramblin’ Man by Hank Williams.
Day 3, Standedge to Mankinholes: John Ball by Sydney Carter.
Day 4, Mankinholes to Haworth: The Skye Boat Song by Sir Harold Boulton.
Day 5, Haworth to Ickornshaw: The Boatman by The Levellers.
Day 6, Ickornshaw to Malham: Above (plus ‘Pendle Song’ shared by Anthony Nanson).
Day 7, Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale: The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl (plus ‘Scout Song’ by Anthony Nanson).
Day 8, Horton to Hawes: Green Grow the Rushes by Robert Burns.
Day 9: Hawes to Keld: Crooked Jack by Dominic Behan.
Day 10, Keld to Baldersdale: Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.
Day 11, Baldersdale to Langdon Beck: A Place called England by Maggie Holland.
Day 12, Langdon Beck to Dufton: Wayfaring Stranger (Norma Waterson version)
Day 13, Dufton to Alston: Pilgrim on the Pennine Way by Pete Coe.
Day 14, Alston to Greenhead: This Land is Our Land by Woody Guthrie.
Day 15, Greenhead to The Sill: King of the Road by Roger Miller.
Day 16, The Sill to Bellingham: Carrick Fergus (Marko Gallaidhe version)
Day 17, Bellingham to Byrness: Man of Constant Sorrow (based upon a song by Dick Burnett) John Allen / Victor Carrera / Scott Mills.
Day 18, Byrness to Kirk Yetholm: Caledonia by Dougie Maclean; Both Sides o’ Tweed by Dick Gaughan.
I would highly recommend this way of experiencing the landscape**. To start the day with a song in your heart lends wings to your feet. It is also is very liberating for the voice. In the middle of nature you can sing your heart out, without fear of criticism or ridicule. It hyper-sensitised my hearing whenever I fell silent (which was often for long stretches of time). And time and time again I found it created interesting encounters with animals. Song changes our relationship to nature – it plugs us into the grid of Creation. Many traditions talk of ‘divine utterance’ and the way the world was sung into being. In some small way, by songwalking, one feels part of this choir – both singing praise to the world and singing the world into being as each step reveals new wonders to our reawakened senses.
Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2 August 2018
*The route can vary between 253 and 268 miles depending on optional routes, and distances of accommodation at the end of each day!
**If you are interested in songwalking get in touch. I would be fascinated to hear of your experiences, and would love to share a walk with you. Wayfarers of all abilities (poets, storytellers, artists, musicians, sound artists, etc) welcome!
Touring the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mythic Sites of Ireland
In a poem written by WB Yeats during his time running the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, he expressed his exasperation with life’s complexities, while simultaneously encapsulating what has defined him: ‘The fascination of what’s difficult/Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent/Spontaneous joy and natural content/Out of my heart.’ He uses the pegasus as the symbol of creative inspiration, but ‘There’s something ails our colt’. The difficulties of creative (and nationalist) endeavour make it seem to: ‘Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt/As though it dragged road metal.’ Yeats vows to emancipate it in the final line: ‘I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt’. And yet, despite this defiant affirmation Yeats spent much of his adult life in the thrall of the ‘difficult’, in obscure esoterica and the complex magical systems and rituals of the Golden Dawn and his own occult order, but chiefly in the form of Maud Gonne, the nationalist figurehead whose unrequited love possessed him for decades. Even her name suggests an alluring evanescence, an inattainability. She was his ‘glimmering girl’, which he searched for like wandering Aengus, in the eponymous poem:
‘Though I am old with wandering,
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone…’
In August 2015 I headed into the west, to Ireland to search for the littoral. I wanted to ride the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), which stretches from Old Head, Kinsale, south of Cork, to Malin Head in Donegal. At 2500km/1553 miles it is the longest continuous coastal route in the world, so the marketing claims. I had been meaning to tour Ireland on my Triumph Legend 900cc motorbike for sometime, and this new route, created in 2013, was the thing that clinched it. I set off with my partner, Chantelle Smith, an archaeologist and folksinger. We were keen to visit prehistoric sites, as well as literary and musical hotspots. We booked off two weeks’ holiday and camped along the way. We were to experience the littoral in many ways over the next fortnight: physically, mentally, and metaphysically – the ‘shores’ of our comfort and consciousness.
Initially it was literally in the crossing from Wales to Ireland – from the prosaic ferry terminal of Pembroke Dock, waiting in the queue to board the ferry at 2 o’clock in the morning, rain glistening on the cold tarmac; to arriving at Rosslare at dawn in the clean sunlight.
Once on the N-4, roaring west, the mundane world of the entreport was soon left behind as we headed to our first destination – Blarney, where we had booked a campsite which would be our base for the next three days’ as we worked our way along the southern stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. My partner insisted we did the tourist thing and kiss the blarney stone. Even this corniest of Irish clichés had an element of the ‘littoral’ – hanging upside down, 100 feet in the air. The moment proved elusive to capture on camera, so I ended up doing it three times. So, according to the folklore, I should be blessed with especial eloquence!
Part 2 tomorrow!
See the show inspired by our trip!
‘The Hallows’ performed by Bríghíd’s Flame (Kevan Manwaring & Chantelle Smith).
When the world ends what stories will you tell around the fire?
The land is a wasteland – a kingdom of crows. B, a raggedy young survivor on the run, is tired, hungry and cold, and it is getting dark. Then she hears an eerie singing …
Irish mythology meets Post-Apocalyptic Myth-Punk!
Storytelling, Song, Poetry, & Music (Harp, Guitar, Shruti Box, Bodhran, Bones).
31 Jan: Glastonbury Assembly Rooms http://www.assemblyrooms.org.uk/event/brighids-flame/?instance_id=323
10 Feb: Enchanted Market http://theenchantedmarket.com/
1 Mar: Rondo Theatre, Bath http://rondotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/