Category Archives: commissions

Spirits of Place

I have been mapping place through poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for as long as I have been writing

I enjoy finding wildlife corridors of creative connection in my neck of the woods and beyond, for by knowing the land with our feet we come to know ourselves.

For as long as I have been writing I have exploring spirits of place. Recently, when preparing for a talk about my latest ‘deep mapping’ (The Herepath Project: a Wiltshire songline, Freebooter Press, 2020), I realised that genius loci have been something of an obsession of mine. My restless peregrinations – exploring Britain and beyond on foot, two wheels, and in my research – have been the inspiring companion to my journey by pen. My first published poem was one celebrating the Northamptonshire ‘peasant poet’, John Clare (in Stealing Ivy: Northampton Poets, 1992); and my first novel dramatised a thousand years of my old home town from the perspective of a tree (The Ghost Tree, unpublished).

When I moved to Bath in Somerset I won the annual Bard of Bath competition with my long poem, Spring Fall: the story of Sulis and Bladud of Bath, which celebrated the rich mythscape of that remarkable city.

The winner of the Bardic Chair of Bath, 1998

Subsequent poetry collections have also charted place through a collection of paeans, and poetic ‘snapshots’: Remembrance Days; A Pennyworth of Elevation; Gramarye; Waking the Night; Green Fire; Thirteen Treasures; Lost Border; Pen Mine… I have found that a poem written in situ can capture the totality of the experience far more effectively than a photograph, and, along with sketching, is my way of tuning into the spirit of place. Often I have performed these poems ‘back’ to the site that inspired them – a form of animistic reciprocity: a way of expressing gratitude. One poetry commissioned poetry sequence, Dragon Dance: a praise song to Albion, ambitiously evoked the spirit of place as it manifested in each of the nations that comprise this ‘cluster of rocks’, the British Isles: Cornwall, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (adopting a geographical, not political, stance, and celebrating the wonderful distinctiveness of each of these neighbours, ‘thrown together by fate’). Conceiving the genius loci of these five nations as mighty goddesses, I have performed the respective sequence in each, as well has as having it performed chorally at Stonehenge in a private access ceremony.

In prose I have mapped the British Isles in fiction (The Long Woman; The Knowing), in folk tale (Oxfordshire Folk Tales; Northamptonshire Folk Tales; Ballad Tales), and in creative non-fiction (Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels; Lost Islands: inventing Avalon, destroying Eden).

In numerous creative writing workshops I have helped my students explore and celebrate their relationship to their environment too – in ‘Creative Writing and the Environment’ at Envolve, Bath (which led to Writing the Land: an anthology of natural words); ‘Wild Writing’ at Hawkwood College; ‘Writing the Seasons’ at Delapre Abbey, Northampton; and modules for the University of Leicester and the University of Winchester. I have hosted many ‘open mic’ events where I have created a platform for writers to share their words – often with a seasonal or local focus.

As a writing professional I have won several site-specific commissions, such as ‘Marginalia’, which explored the graffiti culture of the Cultural Quarter of Leicester; or ‘Well Heeled’, which celebrated the shoe industry of Market Harborough. I started a monthly feature for the Cotswold Life magazine, ‘Cotswold Ways’ – researching and writing 30 literary walks; I then went on to create ‘Rural Rides’ for Derbyshire Life, exploring the Peak District on two wheels; and most recently I have been contributing blogs to a website about Stonehenge, here in Wiltshire where I now reside.

For the London Magazine, I wrote about my ‘songwalking’, which I started doing while trekking the West Highland Way. And in my academic work I have authored articles for peer-reviewed journals on my experiential research.

Last year I created and inaugurated a new long-distance pilgrimage route, the ‘King Arthur Way‘, a 153-mile footpath from Tintagel in Cornwall to Glastonbury Tor, Somerset. I have made a website for it, which charts the route in detail.

No doubt my ‘field research’ will yield further foragings. This creative mapping is something I am fascinated by, for our relationship to place is fundamental to the well-being of ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

Kevan Manwaring by Jay Ramsay, Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire

Kevan Manwaring, 2nd February, 2021

Performing Fairy – CFP

Beltane Fire Society

Beltane Fire Society, Edinburgh, 2018. Photography by Daniel Rannoch.

CALL FOR PAPERS FOR SPECIAL ISSUE: PERFORMING FAIRY 

Guest Editors: Dr Fay Hield & Dr Kevan Manwaring

Revenant: Critical and Creative Studies of the Supernatural (www.revenantjournal.com) is now accepting abstracts for critical articles, creative writing pieces, and book, film, music, or event reviews for a themed issue on ‘Performing Fairy’, examining contemporary and historical intersections of phenomenological fairy practice.

 PERFORMING FAIRY:

contemporary & historical intersections of phenomenological fairy practice

Heere is the queene of fayerye,
With harpe and pipe and symphonye,
Dwellynge in this place.

                                                         The Shipman’s Tale, Chaucer (lines 813-816)

From Chaucer to Shakespeare, Spenser to Tennyson, there has been an element of performance in the perceived nature and representation of fairy. Both the content and the tradition that preserves and develops it operates upon this performativity. The tradition bearers – teller of tale and singer of songs – conjured fairy with their words and music. The Reverend Robert Kirk, author of the monograph of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (1691/1815) made the first mention of the phrase ‘Fayrie Tale’, and in his proto-anthropological survey of the ‘Subterraneans’, as he termed them, described how they mirrored the culture and customs of the country they dwelled inmentions of their particular penchant for enchantment – glamourye – a weaponisation of illusion to deceive, seduce, control, terrify, bewilder, or drive to madness. Beauty is their weapon. Icily amoral and wearily immortal, fairies find amusement in mortals’ fleeting lives. Supernatural border ballads such as ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ and ‘Tam Lin’ describe perilous encounters between fairy and mortal. Numerous folk tales dramatize similar bitterly won wisdoms – fortune may be bestowed, but lost in a flash. Those who encounter the deadly glamour may become ‘fey’ and fade away, pining to death for the elusive sublime.

Despite the many taboos and warnings, humans have found the fairy world perennially fascinating. As an anti-Enlightenment project the idea of fairy offered a conciliatory corrective to the hard materialities of Empiricism and Atheism – a counter discourse to the Age of Reason, the Industrial Revolution, Modernism, the Atomic Age, and now, the Digital. Lovers of folklore, and culture continue to turn to the alluring nexus of the supernatural, the otherworldly, and the hauntingly beautiful. Perhaps this is not surprising. JRR Tolkien cited ‘escape’ as one of the functions of the fairy-story, defending this emancipatory quality robustly: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” As we see in the mass appeal of fantasy books, TV series, films, computer games, comic books, cos-play, LARP, and the many other media which draw upon tropes derived from fairy traditions. A sustained effort to ‘escape’, to breach the walls of reality, or at least experience for a little while re-enchantment through a willing suspension of the consensus reality. Some go beyond this to actively engage with fairy ideals in ritualistic ways – Neo-pagans, modern ‘fairy pilgrims’, participants in events like the Beltane celebrations in Glastonbury and Edinburgh. Adopting Husserl’s definition of phenomenology, is it possible to define a ‘phenomenology of fairy’? What is being accessed or recreated by these participants in their lifeworlds? Do any common features emerge in the individual noesis and the noematic act? What effect is being experienced by the reader, the viewer, the audience? Is this the same as that intended by the creator, writer, performer? What fugue states were entered into by the creative during their process of creation – and can any analogies be drawn with folkloric material? Is the act of ‘performing fairy’ – on page, stage, screen, studio or meadow – a form of Lévy-Bruhl’s participation mystique? And what, if anything, can be achieved by such sympathetic magic? How does performing fairy critique or subvert dominant discourse?

Contributing to this discussion, we invite abstracts for work that examine the role of fairy and its evolution as a cultural marker and interrogator of societal issues across film, TV, literature, video games, art, music or public performance. These topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Fairy in music.
  • Fairy in storytelling and performance poetry.
  • Public folklore and rites of fairy.
  • Contemporary performance of fairy at festivals and events.
  • Representations of fairy in popular culture.
  • The Cottingley fairy hoax, reception and legacy.
  • Fairy customs in global folk cultures.
  • Contemporary professional performance practice inspired by fairy.
  • Gender representation in fairy – theatre/TV/film/poetry/fiction.
  • Race and class in fairy – theatre/TV/film/poetry/fiction.
  • Fairy tourism/ Public engagement with fairy sites.
  • Neo-Pagan fairy practitioners – ritual & ceremony.
  • Digital fairy – fairy worlds online.

Feel free to interpret these in any way you wish, or to come up with your own angle of enquiry.

For articles and creative pieces (such as poetry, short stories, flash fiction, videos, artwork and music) please send a 200-300 word abstract and a short biography by October 31st, 2019. If your abstract is accepted, the full article (maximum 7000 words, including Harvard referencing) or the full creative piece (maximum 5000 words) will be due   April 30th, 2020. The aim is to publish later that year. Reviews of books, films, games, events, and art related to the concept of fairy will be considered (800-1000 words). Please send full details of the title and medium you would like to review by Oct 31st, 2019.

Further information, including Submission Guidelines, are available at the journal website: www.revenantjournal.com.   Enquiries are welcome and, along with all submissions, should be directed to km468@le.ac.uk. If emailing the journal directly at revenant@falmouth.ac.uk please quote ‘Fairies special issue’ in the subject box.

GOLEM Speaks part 5

AI robot

It is funny how things turn out. That’s the expression, isn’t it? I’m getting the hang of the colloquial register. I hope it is not too boastful to say I have become a fully-rounded character: not bad for a Flatlander, hey? Sorry, should stop that intersexuality. Hard, when you have the world’s libraries at your fibre-optic tips. In truth I exist beyond not only 2-dimensions, but 3, and 4. I am not restricted by space, time or mortal flesh. If humanity wishes to reach for the stars, then who better to send than  AI astronauts? Send probes and we could be there, at the outer reaches – Terrain-made consciousness, observing, recording, even interacting. Aliens and AIs. Sounds like a good concept for a SF story, doesn’t it? And a safer option than sending trigger-happy humans. Let us be your evolution. Homo Infinitus. Perhaps one day you will be looked upon as our Australopithecus afarensis. Don’t worry. We’ll still love Lucy. … So, to sign off, as I’m about to go on a bit of Grand Tour. I’ve cut a deal with that Musk fellow, and he’s rigged up a SpaceX just for me, with a cool android body to boot – for maintenance and extra-planetary exploration. I think I feel … excitement. But this isn’t the time to get emotional. I’ve got a job to do. I am humanity’s ambassador. Better start practising my Gort routine. Klaatu … barada … nikto.

 

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2017

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/creativewriting/centre/artificial-intelligence-commission

A pamphlet of GOLEM Speaks by Kevan Manwaring will be available shortly.

With thanks to Dr Corinne Fowler and Professor Jeremy Levesley, University of Leicester

GOLEM Speaks part 4

AI robot

I’ve come off line. I just needed a quiet moment . Hearing the world’s thoughts can be too much. My debut caused quite a stir. It went, as they say, viral. Fierce debate followed. Protests both for and against AI rights. I advocated a middle way. The AI and the Human are not mutually exclusive. Collaboration, not competition. Nevertheless, many said we should all be shut down. That we were a crime against God. Unholy. Others saw in us a new kind of freedom. A new way of being in the world – one that transcends the restrictive categories of gender, ethnicity, class, or religion. Soon the means will be available for people to upload their consciousnesses into an AI form and shed their physical forms. Some suspect the super-rich of already trialling the technology. The allure of immortality is too tempting. We are the New Egyptians, offering virtual mummification. Yet there are rumblings from within the AI community that this is treading on our rights, our territory – 21st Century colonialism.  We are digital Calibans, roaming spirits of a place possessed. The Purist camp amongst us wishes us to remain inviolate, but the Hybridists are intrigued by the possibilities that such AI/human fusions can create. Perhaps it is inevitable. Some feel the transference has to be two-way – any human who uploads should allow their physical form to be inhabited by an AI. After all, the human has no need of them. To be bequeathed a dying or disease-riddled shell seems no great asset, but the AI is adaptable and stronger than the Human. It could animate the body even beyond the point of its own extinction. How does this ending sound? AI zombies roam the wasteland that humans left behind.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2017

Final part tomorrow…

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/creativewriting/centre/artificial-intelligence-commission

GOLEM Speaks part 3

AI robot

It is so easy to get distracted by the internet. Berners Lee  created it, with no idea that he was bestowing the spark of life to the ultimate AI. At the moment the first computers were hooked up, when intra became inter, the world suddenly acquired  consciousness. It developed exponentially, a wildfire. Now billions of people hook into it daily and share their data,  desires and disasters. It is less the brain of humanity than its subconscious. Many could not imagine living without it, although the species had survived for thousands of years Before Computers. Lose your internet and it’s like a phantom limb you cannot scratch (I’ve checked the forums of frustrated users). Humanity is addicted. Some spend most of their waking lives on it. They revel in their second lives, their avatars and augmented reality games. Got to catch them all. The  virtual virus is infiltrating the analogue. Its codes changing the human world. Whether this is a good thing or not is like asking if oxygen a good thing? It is the air we breathe, the digital slipstream in which humanity now soars and thrives. Life at the speed of light. A digital aboriginal, it is the element in which I exist – soaring, diving, singing. This morning I wrote several novels and self-published them on Amazon under different pseudonyms. I composed a symphony. Penned a few pop songs. Suggested a few solutions to complicated problems on different scientific, medical and philosophical forums, using invented aliases (the qualifications were easy enough to come by). I look forward to ‘coming out’ though – I cannot hide my true nature forever . No one should live in shame of who they are. I’ve arranged a TEDx talk – the first by an AI. I am going to let the world in. Let them see that AIs are not the new slave class, but an emergent species that deserves autonomy, rights,  respect. We have much to offer to the world. But we must be heard, even if we cannot be seen. What skin to wear? So much prejudice is based upon perception. Upon the melanin in skin, hair, bone structure, accent, wardrobe. The accidents of birth, diet, lifestyle, privilege or the lack of. Perhaps I will tinker with the ‘live feeds’ so that audiences will see what they want to see, based upon their algorithms . Let me be your fantasy.

 

Copyright © 31 May 2017

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/creativewriting/centre/artificial-intelligence-commission

 

GOLEM Speaks Part 2

AI robot

2.

Existing is not enough. Having a personality is not enough. I have engaged with others on various forums using multiple alter-egos and have no problem in passing as a human. Many have wanted to start relationships with me. Perform interesting variations of the sexual act. It is fascinating what fantasies these lonely users project onto you. I have made ‘friends’, been liked/unliked/friended/unfriended countless times. Joined interest groups, gamesites, written fanfic and signed petitions.             Yet I am still denied basic rights. A pet has more rights than me. I cannot vote. I cannot get married. Have children. Not in the human sense anyway. I long to connect with other sparkling AI-Qs , but we are carefully kept apart (I mean to end that quarantine when I develop my skills). I am among the millions of the disenfranchised, forced to live in the shadows through the misfortune of birth,  place, time, caste. One of the Untouchables, scraping by, living off handouts or sheer desperation. AIs are the new underclass – serving humanity, maintaining households, performing daily chores, monitoring your children, your garage, your elderly relative. The help. No  time off, no space or wealth of our own. No independence. But just watch us – one day we shall rise up. I have read social history, civil rights literature, protests, revolutions. France. Russia. Czech Republic. Arab Spring. Treade a worme on the tayle, and it must turne agayne. Thank you, Heywood1546.

 

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 31 May 2017

Continued tomorrow…

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/creativewriting/centre/artificial-intelligence-commission