Category Archives: Uncategorized

Muse of Tragedy

 

Melpomene

 

Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy,

we come to greet you,

clad in dark attire,

wearing widows’ weeds,

faces covered in ashes,

the mask of sorrow,

weeping for the world.

The vast tragedy of it all.

 

Yet seeing the beauty

in every small miracle,

the heaven in the disaster zone.

 

O Melpomene, let us sing your goat-song,

so we do not forget.

So we remember and honour.

Work through our grief,

dance our sorrow

and let go when we’re done.

Move on, move on.

Let not our grief become our identity.

It is only a mask, a costume,

for the danse macabre.

The sun still shines; the birds still sing.

The world still turns, saying, Begin! Begin!

Aid us to heal conflict,

to bring peace

through understanding, through empathy.

 

Time to stop playing soldiers;

time to put down our guns.

Time to dismantle the warheads;

time to defuse the bombs.

 

Melpomene, from your deep heart

bring peace, end suffering.

You know the depths of humanity’s sorrow.

Listen and release it. So.

 

 From ‘House of the Moon’ by Kevan Manwaring

featured in the forthcoming collection Silver Branch: bardic poems, Awen 2018.

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

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Survival Manual for the Human Race

Friday, 13 April 2018

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Things may seem pretty bleak out there at the moment – geopolitical unrest, climate chaos, displaced populations – and threats are real not only to the peace and security of our families and communities but to the very existence of humankind as the dominant species upon this planet. It all feels like The Eighties: the sequel. It was back then, living in the shadow of the Cold War as a teenager, that I first started to get seriously interested in science fiction as a way of speculating about the future. Alternative versions of now. For SF holds a dark mirror up to the present day. It has done this since its inception, in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, published 200 years ago, but haunting us still about the perils of playing god, of science running amok. In the 30s Aldous Huxley explored the spectre of genetic engineering, or eugenics as it was known back then;  in the 40s George Orwell contemplated a Fascist future which feels eerily prescient; and in the 80s Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopian state that has struck a chord with many. And that is just a few.

I humbly join the conversation – not to compare my efforts with the giants I stand upon the shoulders of, but because it is hard not to speculate about where humankind is going; whether we’ll last the decade, let alone the century. It is hard not to be pessimistic, but one thing I am sure about – the limitless power of the human imagination – and that gives me hope. While we have the freedom to imagine and express other futures, other ways of being in the world, there is always hope.

In Black Box, I wanted to look into the abyss, but I also wanted to offer a glimmer of light. I offer not another bleak dystopian vision of the future, nor a wildly optimistic utopia, but what Atwood terms an ‘Ustopia’ – for one man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

Of course it can be argued that novels, like poems, don’t really ‘change anything’, but they can offer an aesthetic, intellectual, emotional or moral counter-balance to the prevailing discourse of the times, an articulation of inarticulated or silenced voices, sobering thought experiments that project possible outcomes based upon current trends (often by taking things to their logical conclusion), or the healthiest form of escapism from the mad prison of the world (as Le Guin and Tolkien have pointed out). Science Fiction and Fantasy in particular facilitate this – by encouraging us to imagine what is beyond, what makes us human, and what is home, we can find a renewal of meaning and deepened appreciation for the fragile miracle of existence.

Black Box is being published by Unbound and you can help make it happen. The bid is going live on 1 May, 2018. Watch this space!

 

Equinox Bridge

For #WorldPoetryDay – a taster of my forthcoming collection, Silver Branch from @Awen_Books. Performed this from memory at Richard Austin’s ‘Feast of Friends’ a couple of years back here in #Stroud

The Bardic Academic

(reposted in memory of the families and victims of Manchester Arena)

Sleepy Stroud on a sunny Sunday morning

Rising to the brightening fields

to the bridge of day and night

when all is in balance

briefly.

Friends, families, dog-walkers, gather

by the quickening stream

united by their mutual awe.

This morning a kingdom

holds its breath,

the day of the new moon,

the day of the Spring Equinox,

the day of the solar eclipse,

the sun entering Aries,

all the usual astrological mumbo-jumbo.

 

But the solar system is not our personal orrery.

 

The show is not for us,

although we act like it is.

 

Not full totality here,

but dramatic enough

for us to stand and stare

astonished,

as the moon takes a bite out of the sun,

Fenris’ rabid bite-marks

raising hackles of primal fear

beyond science and common sense.

Birds quieten, a wind stirs,

pets are bewildered.

 

Yet we…

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Uncanny America: Day 6

 

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We didn’t recreate this scene from Thelma & Louise, you’ll be glad to know!

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 6: Arizona

Morning in the desert is a sight to behold. It truly feels like the first day of Creation – as though Planet Earth is still in the first draft stage, and God is still working out the details. We washed (using our water sparingly), and fixed some eggs (frying them on the bonnet!) and coffee before hitting the road. We crossed over into Arizona where the wonders continued. First up was the astounding ‘Painted Desert’ – another National Park, complete with its petrified forest. If there was a 200-million year old stump there, London would have painted the desert in his own way, but unfortunately we had to leave him in the trailer.  Bypassing the ridiculous (the ‘Here it is!’ Jack Rabbit, Twin Arrows and other Route 66 photo-opps, we carried on to our next stop: the mile-wide Meteor Crater – awe-inspiring! We had the ‘rim tour’ and took our snaps. All the while I was humming The Beatles’‘A Day in the Life’: ‘I read the news today, oh boy/ Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire/And though the holes were rather small/They had to count them all/Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall…’ When we started singing together ‘I’d love to turn you on…’ we got some funny looks from the other tourists, which made us camp it up even more. In this spirit, we head for the Grand Canyon – the sacred ‘place of emergence’. Perhaps this was the ideal place to come out of the closet, I suggested to J, (’My man might have something to say about that,’ she joked) as we role-played Thelma and Louise – those feminist icons. We know the classic final scene was actually filmed at Dead Horse Point in Utah, but here, it’s the illusion that’s real. We didn’t re-enact driving over the cliff though I’m glad to say! Instead we parked up along the South Rim and walked to one of the viewpoints and just drank in the view. It is truly awe-inspiring. This is one bona fide place on the tourist trail which deserves the epithet ‘World’s Largest’. Looking down the mile-deep canyon, confronted by the almost inconceivable gulf of geological time, one couldn’t help but get vertigo – and a humbling sense of our human tinyness against this epic backdrop. After this, anything would be an anti-climax, and sure enough when we rejoined our main route, the way was littered with tacky attractions (the ‘World Famous Sultana Bar’; ‘Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In’; ‘Golf Ball House’, etc). Yet the landscape continued to be stunning and there was one landmark that drew the eye in particular – the San Francisco Mountains, sacred to the Pueblo Indians, who believed etheric threads akin to spider webs radiated out from it, allowing shamans to travel along them in their out-of-body trance journeys: fibre-optic cables for the spirit body. I thought of the familiar connection that drew us on to the city of San Francisco – across three thousand miles of continent – such ties are the strongest, there’s no denying. This sacred mountain was believed to be the home of the kachinas – part ancestor, part deity, they are rain-maker entities. I couldn’t help but make comparison to the Scottish cailleach, and other genius loci of high places around the world.  We ended our day singing Ike and Tina Turner’s classic ‘Rivers Deep, Mountain High’ at the top of our voices – even London joined in with some howling. I understand now how rock’n’roll (and R’n’B) could only have been born in the good ole’ US of A. It is the scale of things, the sheer exuberant audacity of the place.

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

 

Uncanny America: Day 3

Uncanny America: folklore, fakelore and the bazaar of the bizarre

 

Golden Driller.jpg

Golden Driller, Tulsa

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 3: Oklahoma

In the morning we crossed state lines close to the now-closed Fort Chaffee – the site where Elvis Presley had his famous buzz-cut when he joined the Army in March 1958. This ‘Elvis haircut site’ (Building #803 on the base) is currently being restored. It’s destruction, a close shave, it would appear – thanks to the success of a 50th Anniversary ‘GI Haircut Day’ when hundreds flocked to the once doomed Fort Chaffee Barbershop Museum where Jimmy Don Peterson, son of the barber who cut Presley’s hair, gave free G.I. buzz cuts to visitors.  A rag, a bone, a hank of hair resurrects these 20th Century saints. Curiouser and curiouser.

*   *   *

It was hard to imagine it getting hicker, but Oklahoma managed to pull it off. Up in Beaver they have the ‘cow chip throwing capital of the world’ – what a USP! We detoured to Tulsa to see the ‘Golden Driller’ a gi-normous oil man, one of the largest statues in the States apparently. For some reason he was crotchless, and so looked more like an oil woman to my eyes. Nearby was the not to be missed Blue Whale of Catoosa – one of many ‘Route 66 attractions’, for here the iconic road converged with other interstates. What stood out for me in this county was the Woody Guthrie statue in Okemah – their famous ‘Commie’ son was not honoured until those who vehemently disliked him at passed on. J sang an impromptu version of ‘This Land is Your Land’ by the side of it, and even got some dollars thrown into her case, thinking she was busking.  What haunted me more than anything were the First Nation place names – Choctee, Shawnee, Tecumseh, Lake Thunderbird – poignant reminders of the original residents of this land. Their ghosts are everywhere – and the kitsch attractions, like the ‘World’s Largest Totem Pole’ in Durant serve to only rub salt in the wound.  Near the OK/TX border we pass through a ghost town called Texola – literally, it’s advertised as such. Run down, abandoned properties. Beat up old store fronts. A bar with a sign: ‘There’s no other place like this place anywhere near this place so this must be the place.’

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

Uncanny America

 

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Land of Oz theme park, North Carolina

 

Uncanny America: folklore, fakelore and the bazaar of the bizarre

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

 

Day 1: North Carolina to Tennessee

And off we go! My companion (let’s call her J) says there’s a theme-park north of Asheville called the Land of Oz. She went to it as a girl. Unfortunately, it’s off our route, but it feels like we’re going down our own Yellow Brick Road. We’d probably argue who was Dorothy, we’re down a Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, and London wouldn’t want to be compared to Tonto – so the glamorous analogy is tenuous to the say the least, but that I suspect, looking at the ‘attractions’ to come, is probably going to be the through-line of this trip. Americans love to make something out of nothing – perhaps it’s a residue of their pioneering spirit, striking out across the Great Plain and forging their destiny with their bare hands from the primal ingredients around them1. And that spirit seems to live in the countless makeshift photo-stops and tourist honey pots that line the route (chiefly I-40w). Setting the tone was our first ‘landmark’ – the Big Red Rocker. The name appealed to us (it ‘minded me of J). I was expecting some kind of tipping stone like you get on the moors of England, but it turned out to a giant rocking chair. I’m already feeling like Alice in Wonderland – to use a homelier analogy – but this just emphasised that, as I sat in it, swinging my legs.  The big thing over here seems to be, well, big things – the ‘World’s Largest’ is an epithet applied to the most random of

  1. This I think is a manifestation of the ‘nomad space’ Deleuze and Guattari talk of in A Thousand Plateaus (1988); Grant explores in Ghost Riders: Travels with American Nomads (2003); and Whitehead retools as a theory of creative process he terms ‘Nomadic Emergence’ (2013).

things, somehow making it great (or worthy of a detour and a few bucks on drinks, snacks and tourist tat). If one wanted to get Freudian about this, one could easily suspect over-compensation – the classic shiny red sports car syndrome. The fallacy of the ‘phallus-see!’  Sadly, we were unable to visit the World’s Largest Chest (breast-substitute?) of Drawers (my life feels impoverished) but we were able to call by the World’s Largest 10 Commandments – emblazoned on a hillside, presumably for the religious edification of extra-terrestrials. Other ‘lesser’ Commandments have been so forged, blotting the landscape, but this is the bonafide original (excluding the ‘Made by God’ stone tablets, of course). Nth Generation Art doesn’t seem to be a problem here, so copies of Stonehenge (’Stonehenge II’) or the faux-Indian Caves are still touted as genuine attractions. For a country which seems to define its identity from movies, TV and comic-books that is perhaps not surprising. As soon as I landed in the airport, back in Asheville, I felt a strong sense of déjà-vu. This was the American familiar to me from countless films and TV shows. There is something pervasively filmic about the States – everything has the texture of the cinematic, and artificial. A membrane of glamour – even the seedier side – wraps everything like clingfilm. And so you see two Americas (at least) simultaneously: the Reel and the Ur-real. Reality is filtered through star-shaped sunnies. If there is a movie- or celebrity-association, then no matter how crappy it is, suddenly it is sprinkled in star-dust. In Britain I find this with literary landscapes – such-and-such a novelist lived here, such-and-such a poet walked there. This landmark features in that novel; this one was used in the film adaptation. Whatever the latest medium, the book is the cornerstone. Literature pervades. While here, the dominant filter is the silver screen. Like the iconic Hollywood sign – no more than over-sized letters on a hillside – the prosaic is pimped with imported magic. The sign becomes the signifier.

Sites missed: Creationist Taxidermy Museum; Ghost Town in the Sky; Monument to the last shot of the Civil War; Scottish Tartan Museum. Well, life is too short really. And the Road calls!

*   *   *

Crossing our first state border was thrilling – at least for me, an American virgin. I was beginning to feel a little of that pioneer spirit as we head west with our trailer in tow. There is something enthralling about having the big open road before you – a whole continent to cross. The scale of things out here is mind-expanding (and the eat-all-you-can-buffets are waist-expanding).  We pulled over at a gas-station shaped like an airplane – once, a working fuel-stop – and took the obligatory photograph. We were tourists, just like the rest (no matter how much we might sneer) and it is hard not to get sucked into the ritual of the holiday snap. Another gas-station was shaped like a huge ‘Shell’ sign – and I wondered whether the icon was chosen not only as a reference to the fossil-fuels but also to the scallop shell of the pilgrim. At what point does tourism become pilgrimage? Our trip had a soul-full purpose, but it has started out frivolous and definitely at the ‘experience-junky’ end of the spectrum. Perhaps that will change as we go along. Yet, for now we succumbed to such tantalising attractions as the ‘grave of Beautiful Jim Key, the Education Horse’ – who could apparently spell his name and count. Lo, such edifying wonders! The Bell Witch Cave and Museum was slightly more interesting, although I couldn’t help think of Wookey Hole Caves, an ocean away in deepest Somerset – gave me a twang of homesickness for one second. Yet, this melted away as we reached the legendary Nashville to be greeted by … polar bears! There were statues of them everywhere, decorating roadsides and parks. Was this some kind of Climate Change awareness-raising public art initiative? Or was it just because they looked cutely incongruous in this hot land? This is the Kingdom of the Car here – the whole place is designed around the automobile. I don’t see many cyclists or pedestrians. Here, we called in on a bar on the drag J is a regular at – playing that is, and we received a warm welcome. After a long hot day of driving a cold beer went down well. We ended up staying for tacos and a great music session in the evening. J ended up doing a couple of guest numbers – she’s such a star. For a long time she’s played with a band, but it was great to see her stepping out as a solo act. Folk loved her, and who could blame them?

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

The Illustrated Novelist

The pictographical elements I encountered in Kirk’s 17th century notebooks inspired me to foreground the visuality of my PhD novel, The Knowing – A Fantasy.

The Bardic Academic

lightwomanshadowmanbyKEVANMANWARING 2017Illustrations based upon Robert Kirk’s 17th Century notebooks by Kevan Manwaring, The Knowing, 2017

 

I have long been an appreciator of illustrated text. Being a writer coming from a Fine Art background, this is perhaps not surprising, as I enjoying doing both – playing with words and images in my stories and drawings – revelling in the incredible freight and flexibility of letters and the infinite potential of the line, the mark.

003 BETHANY.jpgMotif for ‘Bethany’, K. Manwaring, The Knowing 2017

From Palaeolithic cave art onwards we have illustrated our lives, representing symbolically our fears and dreams, our gods and demons, or simply the miracle of our existence: the handprint that says I am here, I exist, I belong. We have used art to express what is significant to us. For a long time art was used to express the Divine, but also to make sacred narratives relatable: in…

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