Category Archives: Bardic Poetry

The Moon as Muse

Moon-547x364

I have long been fascinated by the moon. It has inspired many poems by writers over the centuries, and looking back through my own work, I realise I have written a fair few myself…

Here’s one I wrote during a long walk – the West Highland Way – after a particularly memorable wild camping pitch.

 

Full Moon, Bridge of Orchy
All is still
after a twenty miles of rain
as fierce as the Battle of Ardrigh
falling like swords into a lochan.

The seething shadows
making it impossible to linger.
Up here, the air bites you.

But on arrival, the errant sun
breaks the spell like a knight
making a dramatic entrance.

A dizzying stillness after a day’s march,
an ale in the bar, afterglow of achievement,
ramblers’ banter, measuring our folly
in tall tales, modest boasts, blisters.

Wild pitch by the knuckle of bridge.
Making my way on the Way.

Here I make stance,
a road-weary drover,
numb limbs cooling like cattle
cropping the sward.

The river sings its perpetual song –
a complex skein of sound.
Countless rivulets negotiate
the tongue of rock,
the sounding chamber of these hills,
the twin peaks of bard-praised Beinn Dorain
and Beinn an Dòthaidh.

A cry of nature in the crease of the night.

The July moon illumines
a Samuel Palmer landscape.
Peace, deep as peat,
settles.

 

From The Immanent Moment by Kevan Manwaring from Awen

Advertisements

Gatherer of Souls – a review

Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers

a review by Kevan Manwaring

Gatherer of Souls FC Med

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.

Available from:

https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/

By the Living Voice

Diary of a Viva Ninja: Day 9 

Beard Pullers by June Sheridan

Beard Pullers by June Sheridan

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
metre’s nurture
honour’s venture
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

VivaNinjadoodlebyKevan Manwaring.jpeg

Solstice Sunset

 

20180620_210206

Enter a caption

 

Resisting night’s gravity

I rise to the Heavens,

clay on boots,

dusk at my heels,

slipping up to the

lonely grove on the brow,

where a year ago,

we planted a circle of hope.

Now I stand alone

in silent vigil.

Aurora of the day

sliding away, behind

Rodborough’s bear shoulders.

It is a satisfying death –

a great actor’s swansong.

A star born for this moment.

The lights fade, and, on cue,

another nova.

No desecrating ruckus

at a stone circle is needed

to mark this annual valediction – leave

the vandals to their

trilithon abuse and stoned selfies.

I have no need of the Am-dram

of dodgy rituals,

the posturing of ill-cast hierophants.

My gaze is for the sun alone.

 

Quietly, I say goodbye.

 

From The Immanent Moment, Awen 2010

https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

Search for the Bard of Hawkwood

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE BARD OF HAWKWOOD 2018 BEGINS!

 

Bardic Chair of Hawkwood 1882

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood, 1882 original eisteddfod chair, donated by Richard Maisey. Photo by K. Manwaring

The annual Bard of Hawkwood contest 2018 has been launched with the outgoing bard announcing the theme. Madeleine Harwood won the contest at the Hawkwood College Open Day last May Day, commented upon her time as Bard of Hawkwood:

 

‘Being the Bard of Hawkwood afforded me an incredible boost in confidence and self worth. Furthermore it enabled me to achieve more in the past 9 months than in my previous 25 years of singing. With new found love and passion plus the support of loved ones I was able to write and record my first album, and many performances have followed, with yet more rolling in for 2018. Most of all it has taught me not to hide in the shadows, to seize every moment and every opportunity, as you never know where it will lead, and for that I will be ever grateful.’

Madeleine, as the outgoing bard, got to choose the theme for this year’s contest: Charm or Ignorance. The judges (to be announced) are looking for the best original poem, song or story on the theme/s, as performed at the Hawkwood College Open Day on May Day bank holiday Monday, 7th May, in front of an audience. Performers are encouraged to memorize their piece, which should be no more than 10 minutes. The contest is open to anyone aged 18 or over who lives in Stroud and the Five Valleys. Along with the poem, song or story (the text of which needs to be sent in advance to the administrator, see below) the entrant needs to write a Bardic Statement, declaring what they would do during their year in office, and how they would represent Hawkwood College, demonstrating an awareness of the College’s values and vision.

The Bard of Hawkwood contest was instigated by Kevan Manwaring in 2014, who moved to Stroud in 2010 from Bath, where he won the Bard of Bath contest back in 1998. He became involved in the running of the ‘Bardic Chair’ and went onto to write a book about the tradition. He says:

‘The Bard of Hawkwood becomes the ambassador for the Bardic Chair, Hawkwood College, and their area. Having been a winner myself (in Bath) I know how empowering it can be – not only for the individual recipient, but also for their respective community. It is about celebrating local distinctiveness, fostering civic pride, and loving where you live.’

The deadline to enter is Monday 16 April 2018. Entries (3 copies of entry and statement) should be sent to: K. Manwaring, The Annexe, Richmond House, Park Road, Stroud, GL5 2JG
Organiser: Kevan Manwaring 01453 763703 kevanmanwaring@yahoo.co.uk

Hawkwood College Tel: 01453 759034

http://www.hawkwoodcollege.co.uk/

 

Hawkwood-College1

The beautiful setting of Hawkwood College, home of the Bard of Hawkwood

 

 

 

Breaking Light: part five

space sunrisev

 

It is late. It is early.

 

And the world is turning beneath us,

so let us hold onto one another,

for where we go to sleep

is not the same place we wake up.

Everything shifts  –  the Earth

tilts

 

we have only our the axis of our love

to stop us from spinning off into space.

 

You anchor me

with your eyes,

a touch, a word,

breathed in the night,

a smile at break of day.

 

We contain each other with such

lightness,

allowing our spaces to dance

against one another.

To make a third shape between.

 

I inhale you. You exhale me.

 

I slip into bed, blindly, seeing by heat,

and let the warmth you have left

envelop me.

 

Our souls fit together,

like our bodies do.

 

As though,

way back when

before the beginning,

we had been wrought as one,

then, broken apart –

to be finally,

blissfully –

joined once more.

 

The same light

shining through us both.

 

Love,

the home where we belong –

the door with our names on –

 

waiting for us to arrive.

 

FINIS

 

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 2010

First published in Soul of the Earth (Awen 2010) and soon to be featured in the forthcoming Silver Branch: bardic poems by Kevan Manwaring (Awen 2017).

https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

Soul of the Earth Awen 2010

Breaking Light: part four

dawn_caress_by_capturing_the_light-d4nu44g

iv

 

It is late. It is early.

 

We finally met

at Lammas –

when summer first seems to sense

its own mortality.

Ours is a late summer love.

Not the foolishness of Spring,

swept along by giddy lusts,

the chancy intoxication of the May,

nor the apparent glory of June,

when midsummer dazzles us

with its gaudy enchantment,

 

but a love of long shadows,

of languid contentment.

 

Ripening to prime –

we are ready for love’s press.

It insists we offer all.

What can be gained from

withholding the tiniest drop?

Pulp and pith and pip,

let the cloth of truth,

contain our allness.

 

Gladly we bring our bounty to share

to the harvest supper of the heart.

 

Arriving in splendour,

wearing our autumn like a crown,

we greet each other

at the end of a long road,

our harlequin robes

stretching behind us.

 

Stopping to let the sunset slip

like a mug of copper hops

down a thirsty throat

over the blue tapestry of hills

pegged to the sky by trees,

we give thanks for the abundance,

the riches of the year,

strewn before us

with such wild abandon.

 

Yet the thrift of Mother Earth

means nothing

is wasted.

 

All the ungathered,

unreachable treasure

that falls on the ground,

unpicked, to rot,

becomes the mulch

from which the future grows.

 

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 2010

Continued tomorrow

First published in Soul of the Earth (Awen 2010) and soon to be featured in the forthcoming Silver Branch: bardic poems by Kevan Manwaring (Awen 2017).

https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

Soul of the Earth Awen 2010