Tag Archives: Awen Publications

A New Awen

 

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(From left) Jay Ramsay, Lindsay Clarke and Anthony Nanson, Awen Book Launch, Black Book Café, Stroud, 1 December 2016

 

On the first day of December towards the end of the slow-motion car-crash that is the year 2016, a small group of kindred spirits gathered together to rekindle hope.

The setting was Black Book Cafe, the book-lined refuge from the mainstream, which sits at the top of Stroud high street, cocking a snook to the world. This is a popular venue for spoken word events and mindful convergences – in the past it has hosted Story Suppers and Acoustic Sundays, a Death Cafe and a chess club (which in my mind blur in surreal ways!). Tonight it was the location for a book launch hosted by Awen Publications – the ecobardic small press founded by yours truly in 2003 and now run with aplomb by Anthony Nanson.

The chilly Thursday night saw the culmination of substantial effort behind the scenes by Nanson and Hartsiotis, the husband-and-wife literary powerhouse, situated in the town since relocating from Bath (where once upon a time four storytellers met and formed Fire Springs, now augmented ably by Richard Selby and Chantelle Smith: Awen Assemble!).

Three years ago at the end of November (so almost to the day) I held a tenth anniversary event in the same cafe, where I announced the end of Awen – for me at least, for I was embarking on a Creative Writing PhD and, after a decade at the helm, had found myself burnt out and nearly bankrupt from publishing some thirty titles by authors from across the world. I had given my all and had nothing left to give, so it was time to move on.

After the aftermath of that book-pocalypse had settled, a glimmer of hope emerged in a conversation with Anthony – long-term friend, walking companion and Fire Spring. He was willing to take it on and I couldn’t think of a safer and more competent pair of hands, and so I passed the whole business to him, for what it was worth, sans lock, stock and barrel (it had been running at a loss since its inception). With the spirit of a new broom, he has been busily consolidating the back catalogue and is now starting to publish new work. The first of these is A Dance with Hermes, a themed poetry collection by Lindsay Clarke (my old mentor from Cardiff University). An award-winning novelist, this was something of a departure for Clarke, although he revealed in his introduction that he had started out with hopes of being a poet, until a woman in his first audience observed: ‘You’re a good storyteller, but definitely not a poet.’ Dear Reader, he married her – there followed forty years of marriage and a successful career as a writer of literary fiction with an esoteric flavour. His best known work is the masterful The Chymical Wedding (Picador 1990), although his latest, The Water Theatre (Alma 2012) shows him getting, if anything, even better with age.

dwh-front-coverAnd so it was with a sense of fan-boy excitement I went along, happy to be a punter for once, although the seating meant I didn’t end up lurking at the back as I’d intended – but found myself inadvertently thrust into the limelight as each of the three readers kindly name-checked me.

First up was Anthony to kick things off and after he said some very heart-warming things about my input into the press, he read a poem by the late Mary Palmer, ‘Black Madonna’ (from Tidal Shift, her 2009 collected works which I published shortly after her premature death).

 It was incredibly poignant to have one of Mary’s fine poems start the proceedings – as she had performed at the first launch of Jay Ramsay’s collection, Places of Truth: journeys into sacred wilderness, a showcase I had organised and hosted at Waterstones, Bath in 2008. It felt like full circle in some way, or rather, a spiral, because we had not simply returned to the beginning, but overlapped psychic and physical spaces as we move into the next cycle.

 Anthony then welcomed up Jay, who performed a confident and eloquent set of his poems from Places. These poems inspired and impressed me the first time I read, edited and published them, and they did again. It was like visiting old friends – his Sinai sequence had kept me company while I was in residence at El Gouna, on the other side of the Red Sea in 2010 (prompting my poetic reply, ‘Desert Brother’).

And Jay and Lindsay were similarly sympatico as the ‘Alchemical Brothers’, both having written on the subject in prose fiction (The Chymical Wedding), non-fiction (Alchemy: the art of transformation; The Crucible of Love) and poetry – the latter manifesting most recently in Clarke’s ‘debut’ collection, A Dance with Hermes.

The author decided the best way to introduce the poems was … to read the introduction, and I am so glad he did, because it was like sitting in on one of his lectures – which I remember so fondly from my Masters). A Cambridge-trained, Classicist, this was no mere display of erudition or elitist knowledge, but a download of wisdom. In the Q&A that followed I likened it to an invocation to Hermes, for it really felt Clarke had manifested the god of communication and cunning in the room by the end of the evening, with his ludic and lucid poems, which danced with form and content in delightful and daring ways.

A Dance with Hermes, crafted with care and handsomely published, boldly announces Awen is back in business – with wings on its heels.

I left the bookshop fired up by a reconnection to the profound triple-aspect mystery which had inspired me to start Awen in the first place: fellowship, inspiration, and art.

Kevan Manwaring, 8 December 2016

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Publisher and MC Kevan Manwaring (far left) with Peter Please, Mary Palmer, Richard Selby, Jay Ramsay, Anthony Nanson, Kirsty Hartsiotis, Helen Moore, Ken Masters, and David Metcalfe at the  original launch of Places of Truth, Waterstones Bath, 2008.

FFI: http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

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Creative Fellowship

This post was written as an article for Literature Works; but I’ve added it here as it relates directly to the Cotswold Word Centre project.

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Earth Day 2009 - organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (in blue)

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Bath, Earth Day 2009 – organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (3rd from left), plus bards from Bath, Stroud and Frome

In the summer of 1914 a group of friends gathered in a village in Gloucestershire to share poetry, ideas and support each others’ creative journeys – they were Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke and they became known as the Dymock Poets. The imminent First World War was to have a devastating effect on their coterie, but for a brief while the poets and their families enjoyed the fruits of creative fellowship. On their famous ‘walks-talking’, Frost and Thomas would range far over the fields and hills, discussing the intricacies of poetry and their lives. Around campfires and country cottage feasts the poets shared their poetry – washed down with plenty of cider – inspiring each other to write some of the best loved poetry in the English language: ‘Adlestrop’; ‘The Road Not Taken’; ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’; ‘The Soldier’ – many of which first saw print in their own self-published journal, New Numbers, produced in their homes, a literal cottage industry. The shadow of war reached to even this sleepily idyllic corner of England, and tore apart the Dymocks. Thomas and Brooke went to war and did not return; Drinkwater, Abercrombie and Gibson did their bit on the homefront; and Frost returned to America, where, with his reputation as a poet made by his friend and renowned critic, Thomas, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize no less than four times, reading at JFK’s inauguration and becoming known as ‘America’s beloved poet’ – and yet he never forget his time with the Dymocks and maintained his friendship with Thomas was the ‘the closest friend I ever had and I was the closest friend he ever had.’

I find the story of the Dymock Poets deeply moving and inspiring – enjoying some of that fellowship in the co-writing of a feature-length screenplay about them (with Terence James, former ITV news editor) over the last 4 years. I have been inspired by other similar creative fellowships – notably the Inklings (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and others) who met every Tuesday lunchtime in a pub in Oxford to share their work-in-progress – including drafts of The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books. I wrote a radio drama about their story – ‘The Rabbit Room’ – and that has resulted in a collaboration with a Stroud-based theatre company, Spaniel in the Works, who have performed it script-in-hand at their scratch theatre nights and recorded it for an audio CD.

Of course, there are other famous creative fellowships – the Bloomsberries (Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Brooke, et al), William Blake and the young Samuel Palmer; Rimbaud and Verlaine; George Sand, Chopin and Alfred de Musset; and in popular music, the perfect storm of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Page and Plant, and others.

Whatever the intricacies of these often volatile (but productive) liasons, what is the benefit to the modern writer?

Creative fellowships can offer mutual support; camaraderie; the creative buzz of sharing ideas and generating new ones; discussing theories and trends; experiencing and critiquing other creative works; a group identity and shared vision; a collective marketing presence which enables a bigger ‘pull’ and impact; and dear friends to share the highs and lows of one’s craft.

For ten years I ran a small press, Awen Publications, and I organised several successful book launch events and showcases – great evenings made more special because they are the culmination of a shared creative journey. By the time I handed over the reins Awen represented over thirty international authors on its lists – and I saw this as an artistic eco-system interpenetrating the wider communities in which the authors existed – cross-fertilising within the group, but also with the outer world, sharing out and drawing in inspiration (soil, water, and sunlight into oxygen). Such organic grassroots structures creates resilience in their communities – mutually empowered and sharing the load, we feel stronger. Our roots are deep – embedded in where we live, our love for our particular patch of Earth, our neighbourhood and local ‘scene’ – and our branches reach far, making creative connections.

Writers’ Cafes, writers’ networks (such as Literature Works, or the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network, co-ordinated by Rona Laycock), e-bulletins (e.g. Spoken/Written Newsletter, produced my Shane Wolfland), open mics, small press anthologies, lit-fest showcases, group book launches, and so forth, can help to facilitate these fellowships. If you lack one, and want one, then the best way is to start one – put the word out and see who comes out of the woodwork.

Here, in my neck of the woods I have recently created the Cotswold Word Centre, in collaboration with Hawkwood College, as an umbrella for all the wonderful word-based activity in the area – writing groups, book clubs, small presses, live lit performances, commissions, walks, etc.

And this summer I am co-organising a centenary symposium on the Dymock Poets, along with my friend and fellow poet, Jay Ramsay, celebrating Gloucestershire writers past and present. We wish to encourage creative responses to the works of the Dymocks, (who were writing in the shadow of the First World War); but more than just commemorate that vast tragedy, I wanted to focus on the creative response to conflict, and to the voices of those living in the area now – so we are not strangled by heritage, but have a conversation with it across time. It is respectful to honour the great writers of the past as long as it doesn’t turn the present into a museum, e.g. ‘Jane Austen’s Bath’. We can be inspired by the creative fellowships of the past in the stimulating connections we seek and make – helping us to survive and thrive in the modern world.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring April 2014

Cotswold Word Centre: a platform for language, literacy and literature (based at Hawkwood College, Best Venue in the South-West, Spark Awards 2013) http://cotswoldwordcentre.wordpress.com/

The Golden Room: a celebration of writers of Gloucestershire past and present, takes place at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Saturday, 26th July. www.subscriptionrooms.org.uk

The Fecund Earth

Resurgence Camp 25-26 July

Resurgence Camp

Green & Away, Bransford

Just returned from an inspiring time at the Resurgence Readers Camp, the annual gathering for readers of the fabulous magazine ‘at the heart of Earth, art and spirit’. This was held at Green & Away, an eco-conference centre near the Malverns. Both organisations are inspiring, taking positive steps to live in harmony with the planet and each other – seek them out!

I was booked to give a talk on Awen Publications and its ecobardic ethos (as summed up in An Ecobardic Manifesto by Fire Springs) Sunday morning, thanks to my friend, poet Jay Ramsay – who was down to run a poetry workshop there. Fellow Bard of Bath Helen Moore was due to perform but had to drop out, so I stepped in: Number 3, rather than 8!

I rode up on Saturday afternoon in the sun, after dealing with ‘bikefright’ (a flattish battery). After a productive, but full-on week (getting to the end of Book II of The Wounded Kingdom; preparing The Well Under the Sea for publication; writing the introduction to Mary’s posthumous collection, Tidal Shift…gathering in the harvest) perhaps my batteries were low too, but it was worth the effort. The site is beautifully managed, in a permaculture way – lots of green things growing amongst the tents – used throughout the summer and run by a core team of G&A volunteers who have clearly put love into the place. Food was laid on, which was a pleasant surprise – and a relief – as after I’d loaded the bike with Awen stock and my tat there wasn’t room for any cooking stuff!

Saturday night’s main entertainment was with Ashly Ramsden, who performed an impressive solo show that last over 2 hours! It was a narrative woven around the wise stories of Sufi folk hero, Nasruddin, stories Ashley has made his own. There was some musical accompaniment from Jay, his friend artist Hereward Gabriel and others, which helped to break things up a little. It was a testimony of Ashley’s skill (& stamina) that the audience stayed the distance until the end, gone 10. We had been well and truly ‘hodja’d’!

Afterwards, I enjoyed the campfire and the ‘village pub’ before deciding on a whim to experience the sauna/sweat lodge. I stripped off, my poncho serving as a towel/robe. It was an intimate session – just five of us. We sat in the steaming darkness, ommed, sang daft songs and gave thanks. I get folk to do an awen, which really resonated there – so I repeated the activity the next day at my talk. Afterwards, emerging naked into the night, felt wonderfully alive, gazing up at the stars whilst enjoying a shower!

The next day, I penned this poem in Jay’s ‘edges’ poetry workshop:

A Green Way

The fecund earth

breathes

damp green goodness.

Plums ripe on the tongue

release their slow sunlight.

Naked in the dark, glistening,

reborn from the hot, wet womb

wearing a skin of stars.

Fireworks explode,

fruit of light.

I met a man looking

for a mirror in the dark.

Songs in the silence,

prayers swirl in steam,

skirls of smoke.

Swimming in sleep

we plunge into the river’s dream.

***

After a final plenary, when feedback and ideas were shared, we all struck camp – barrowing our tat back to the carpark like post Peak Oil hoboes. Bid fond farewell to Jay & Hereward and hit the road – a long ride home in the rain, (any ride in a downpour is too long) but it certainly worth it.

A magical place – a lovely group of people. Recommended!

***

A sad coda – I got home from this inspiring event to discover the Big Green Gathering had been cancelled. It sounds like the Blue Meanies did their very best to make it impossible for the organisers to continue, and so they were forced to pull the plug. This is a damning indictment of the kind of skew-whiff society we live in, when such a positive, creative event gets squished. The Big Green Gathering has been running since 1994, emerging out of the Green Field at Glastonbury Festival, and is the best, big festival around for my money. When so many festivals have huge environmental impact and implode on themselves after three days, bloated beasts of mainstream consumer culture, the Big Green pioneered a low-impact sustainable approach, with many wind, solar and pedalled powered stages, recycling, permaculture, compost loos, organic and fair-trade fare … long before such concepts became trendy. At BGG it wasn’t about big name bands who are deemed successful by how much money they make for the corporate coffers, but grass-roots creativity. You could spend five days doing fabulous green craft workshops; getting ‘genned’ up in the Campaigns Field or Green Forum; hanging out in lovely cafes, or the beautiful magical spaces made with love; hearing mind-expanding talks in the Earth Energies field; receiving healing vibes in the Healing Field; dancing to some up-and-coming band or festival favourite; meeting old friends and making new ones… The BGG is an inspiring expo of green solutions. It is more about lifestyle, than superficial fashion. Attitude than income. You get the feeling that the majority of BGG contributors walk their talk – they live it, year round, not just for one weekend a year. If the authorities stop something as positive as this, then that shows how morally and intellectually bankrupt they are. We can see all around us signs that the ‘System’ is not working – indeed it is collapsing before our eyes, as banks and big businesses go into tail-spin – the BGG, in its colourful way offers alternatives. Which, do you think, is more valid? Which ark would you rather be on? Long live BGG! May it rise from the ashes of small-mindedness.

Read The Guardian article by John Vidal here

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival