Tag Archives: community

Honouring

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

 

 

Earthwards by Kevan Manwaring

 

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In Praise of Friendship

dorset-rainbowEmpathy born of good will is often the only genuine communication between individual consciousnesses, and must be nurtured as an antidote to loneliness.

Introduction, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne

 

In an age where aggressive competitiveness, isolationism, and rapacious use of shared resources (aka a Neoliberalist agenda) seems to have won the day, it is more essential than ever that we celebrate our communities, our connections and our camaraderie.

I have long been inspired by creative fellowships and artistic communities, and here in Stroud, Gloucestershire, my home since 2010, we seem particularly blessed by such an eco-system (the natural analogy is intentional, for I believe that by drawing upon examples from the natural world we can learn to survive and thrive in a sustainable way).  The town and its surrounding valleys has a long tradition of creative activity, one I was aware of stepping into when I upped sticks and moved thirty miles up the road from Bath, which, despite being beautiful, steeped in heritage and lively with creativity activity, lacks the community feel of Stroud (a fault of cities more than the individuals who live there). A small town mentality can, of course, be stifling, but here the risk of provincialism is countered by a ‘Think Global, Act Local’ ethos in its Farmers’ Market, Transition Town and Green Party conflux, by lively arts festivals, and by the cross-fertilisation with artistic and intellectual nodes elsewhere in Britain and beyond. That feeling that ‘everyone knows everyone else’s business’ can be claustrophobic, but also instils accountability, mutuality and a sense of collective ‘holding’. We look out for each other. Few are allowed to fall through the cracks, unlike in a city where you can die in your bedsit and not be noticed for months. A death here is like a great tree falling in a forest, with devastating effects on the community. The unwell are showered with healing, the infirm with practical care, and the bereaved are supported. New arrivals, unions of love, anniversaries and achievements are celebrated joyously. Funerals are transformed into moving ceremonies of deep beauty. In Stroud’s many circles and support networks feelings and thoughts are shared – through movement, word, art, prayer, food and fun.

On a personal level I feel the need to celebrate the creative circle I am part of – you know who you are – all very talented, intelligent, witty, open-hearted individuals.  With hand on heart, I salute you all! But wherever you live, you can enjoy such creative camaraderie. Create the circle you want to be part. Open your heart, give something to your community, and it shall be returned threefold.

The tribe and the gift are separate, but they are also the same – there is little gap between them so they may breathe into each other, and yet there is no gap at all, for they share one breath, one meal for the two of them.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: how the creative spirit transforms the world.

Unity in Difference

 

dorset-rainbow

Many of us have been left reeling by the result of the EU Referendum – and perhaps find ourselves going through the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger… The mood in Stroud, the small Cotswold market town where I live, transformed dramatically over night – from a sunny Thursday with Remain campaigners on the High Street feeling positive at the response they were getting from passersby (one of them said, ‘if it’s like this across  the country, we’ll walk it.’); to a brittle, traumatized ambience as Stroud folk walked around in shell-shock at the victory of the Leave campaign. The fact that we in Stroud voted to Remain (80% turnout) provided little consolation. John Marjoram, our Green Party councillor called it a ‘tragedy’. But whatever the result we now have to live with what is (although over two million have signed the petition for a second referendum, asking for at least a 60% majority before such a dramatic and irreversible move can be forced on us all). Many of our European cousins living in this country have felt deeply hurt by the result (NB we are all Europeans, and for a while, still British – the two are not mutually exclusive). The country feels lesser somehow. It is an ignoble result – isolationist, xenophobic, selfish and divisive. Everyone who voted Leave had their own reasons – and some had thought things through carefully, rather than just follow the propagandist lies of the Murdoch press. But this is what the Leave message says to the world: We will pull up our drawbridge and its ‘Them against Us’. It’s  a Trumpish way to conduct ourselves and we should be better than that.

And yet, what to make of the mess? and how to pick ourselves up from this difficult place?

With that in mind, yesterday morning I was compelled to suddenly organize a Unity Gathering. I rang around a few venues and within half an hour had booked the Star Anise Cafe, and had emailed everyone I know in Stroud. My partner promoted it via Social Media. We put it out there – and waited.

I was heartened by the response. Many good folk turned up – importantly of all stripes. Whatever people voted – or not – all were welcome. We broke bread together and shared our thoughts and feelings as a talking stick was past around (in the form of a plastic spoon!). Some shared poems, stories or songs – others offered the long, deep or wide view. Much wisdom was shared. We gained an insight into the reasons some voted to Leave. It wasn’t simply the response of the racist. Lexiteers saw it as a way of challenging the Neoliberalist rhetoric of a Free Market, and the corrupt bureaucracy of Brussels. For me it seemed to be a kneejerk protest vote against ‘Everything That is Wrong in Broken Britain’, but this was more than just the voice of Daily Mail readers, the 51.9% includes the voice of the disenfranchised  – the disgruntled, disempowered Austerity-crushed working class that demands to be listened to. We heard the voice of the young, the  non-British resident, the left-winger, anarchist, Christian, Green, Pagan, and non-voter. Complexity was found in both camps – and, through our colloquy, more tolerance and understanding.Such eloquent, considered, conscious and respectful debate seemed to be sadly missing in the mainstream during the days leading up to the referendum. It was only the tragedy of MP Jo Cox’s death which made all parties stop their respective trumpet-blowing, name-calling, fact-manipulation, and fear or hate-dealing, for a day or two at least.  Yet before and since it has felt like the new Civil War. Once more we risk being divided and ruled.

More than ever we need to remember Jo Cox’s words: ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’

I think last night, in Stroud, we demonstrated that.

It was a heartwarming event that left many of us with more hope. As one participant said:

‘…it was a very helpful evening and did much to keep the despair at bay and think about how to work with it and beyond…’

I left feeling a little more optimistic about things – or at least more optimistic about our ability as communities to face the challenges ahead. While people can gather in solidarity, share, and see beyond differences as well as respecting them – then there is hope for us all.

I encourage others to organize Unity Gatherings – many already have in their own quirky, creative ways – and help heal the trauma this county is facing. We are stronger together. And it is important to let all sections of the community know they are welcome and have a place at the circle – and a voice that needs to be heard.

 

Send a message of hope, love and inclusive out to all sections of your community.

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

My Garden Universe

A garden universe in Stroud

A garden universe in Stroud

 

My garden universe, on the cusp of autumn – I walk up it at the beginning and end of the day, natural diurnal punctuation, the parenthesis in which my life fits. The various fruit trees this neck of the woods is graced with are like sephiroth on a Tree of Life – or one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology… Appleheim, plumheim, pearheim… I pick blackberries in the rain, and my fingertips turn pink. I return to the hyperabundance of the orchard and pick a bagful of different varieties (and some plump toms).  Then, one more time for kindling. Thank you, bountiful garden. Now I have a crumble in the oven and firewood ready for burning. Its lashing down on my conservatory, but my heart feels blessed.

Since moving into my new place in August I’ve seen the fabulous garden (shared with my landlords) in its summer glory, and now laden with autumn riches. I am loving ‘tending the hearth’ (inside and out) and feel blessed to have such a space. This Sunday was a particularly idyllic day – I awoke in my bell-tent, where I had decided to spend the night, to the most perfect autumnal day, the trees emerging through the morning mist, slowly burning off in the light of the new sun. Richard Jefferies wrote that ‘the dawn makes a temple of the Earth’, and that’s how it felt that day. I made porridge on my stove in the tent, and picked blackberries from the bushes to go on it. I greeted the day with my ‘Sunrise Praise’ then set to picking apples – for today was ‘juicing day’. Our neighbour had made a hydraulic apple press, and everyone on the street was bringing their apples to press. Picking fruit is a soothing and satisfying thing to do. This is ‘hand-to-mouth’ living the way nature intended.

apples from the garden

apples from the garden

Ready to wash

Ready to wash

After getting washed and dressed, I helped wash the apples collected from our mini-orchard with the children. The youngest rescued ‘chucky pigs’ – her cute name for bugs – from the dunked apples. C turned up and when went for a spin on my motorbike to May Hill – walking in the footsteps of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, exactly a hundred years on from when they first met and started to forge their creative friendship – supporting each other in their writing, while living a stone’s throw from each other near Dymock with their wives and children. They enjoyed long literary rambles, which they termed ‘walks-talking’, and visited May Hill on several occasions – a noticable landmark in this part of Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we trekked up through the woods to the hilltop. Sitting on a bench we had our packed lunch whilst enjoying the stunning views over the Severn – which snaked like a silver serpent in the distance. We read out poems in situ – most notably ‘Words’, which was written on the summit.

Reading Edward Thomas' 'Words' on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

Reading Edward Thomas’ ‘Words’ on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

When we got back we chilled out a bit, listening to a Poetry Please special on Charles Causley, (well C knitted socks while I had a bardic siesta ;0) before taking down the bell-tent, which had been up for a couple of months – it felt like ‘rolling up summer’, or ‘bringing the hearth inside’, as C put it. By the time we had lugged everything inside, there were three bottles of apple juice awaiting us and a small jar of tomato chutney – what riches!

Improving your socks life - with C.

Improve your socks life – with C.

Apple juice from 'Chateau Richmond' - freshly pressed

Apple juice from ‘Chateau Richmond’ – freshly pressed

Autumn Riches - tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Autumn Riches – tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

With a bag of apples from the garden, we made a Dorset apple cake; and then I made a nut roast for our main course. Later, by a crackling fire we shared stories we had written – the perfect end to a perfect autumnal day.

A garden feast

A garden feast

Notes from the Garden…

(I’ve never been green-fingered, and normally like nothing more strenuous than hanging out in my hammock in the garden, but something about this new place inspires me to get ‘stuck in’ – there are raised beds, fruit trees, peace and space. It would be a crime not to make the most of it).

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk - best to check that mushroom guide!

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk – best to check that mushroom guide!

A local heaven

A local heaven

Tuesday 9 October

I pick apples from the espalier, near where the bees buzzed around the lavender only a few weeks ago. Logs are stacked from a tree (sadly) felled to make room for the conservatory – now my dining area. Clearing room for new growth is a part of the life-cycle of all things – if there is no break in the canopy, new trees cannot flourish. We all need some light, rain and soil, and deserve a place in the sun. In the summer, I sit by the woodstack, where windchimes spiral lazily in the breeze. Behind, a compost bin is like a seething cthulu city – its pungent loam rich, dark and warm. A yew tree shelters a cross-section of bikes – in ascending sizes, like a tree-ring of childhood. The hedgerows are neatly cut back – given a sensible short back and sides for winter. Leaves from the three plane trees planted by the owners, lie curled and brown on the lawn like screwed up of poems. The ash tree – a witches knot of trunk and branches – sits in the corner in its own realm, laden with bunches of ash-keys, wreathed in ivy, overshadowing the swings like a kindly old crone waiting for a visit. The brambles have lost most of their bounty now – the few remaining berries losing their sweetness daily. Leaves like tongues turn to flame – the colours so livid, as though they have been dipped in dye. There’s a brown patch where the tent was – the hole of summer. The tomato plants have so many red fruits – like a collection of clown noses. The apple trees, stripped of their casual treasure, have been pruned back. At the top of the garden, a secret realm – of hidden delights: a plum tree, a pear, a giant Scots Pine, guarding the border of our kingdom like some wizened sentinel. There’s a through-route for a family of foxes, their den nearby. One night I saw a trail of their burning eyes, caught in the beam of my headtorch. A pile of undersized apples moulders on a neighbour’s compost heap like unwanted metaphors – our windfalls are collected for Paul’s pigs. Standing amid the orchard is like suddenly stepping into a fairy tale – you are presented with a Goblin Market of choice. A grey cat appears – its fur like smoke. It sidles up and mewls like a baby, letting me stroke it. The walnut tree has been ransacked by Ratatosk – but I’m just as guilty, scrumping the toms, I carry a load back in the belly of my cardy like some marsupial papoose, hoarding autumn – the last blessings of summer.

The embers of summer

The embers of summer

The Power of the Word

12-16 October

Kevan performs at the Bristol Story Cafe

It’s been a particularly rich ‘bardic week’.Wednesday night my friend Ola and I performed our show ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’ at the Bristol Story Cafe, held above the funky wholefood shop, La Ruca, in Bristol. I started things off with a bit of Rumi, then my Garden of Irem story, finishing with Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun’, a Greek myth which explains how the deserts of the world were created. Ola then stepped up to the plate to regale us with the tale of the Woman who gave birth to the Moon – a story from her collection, ‘The Firekeeper’s Daughter’. Mine were inspired by my novel, The Burning Path. Escaping Bristol, we wended our way back to the genteel suburbs of Bath.

On Thursday I caught up with my friend and co-writer, Terry James. We listened back to the recording of the Dymock Poets Story read-thru – a week on. It was magical, hearing our words brought alive by the ‘company’. Lots of exciting emails have been whizzing back and forth recently about famous directors and actors who might become involved. Can’t say any more than that at present!

Friday night I treated my partner to a mystery night out – taking her to see the master storyteller Abbi Patrix and his talented percussionist partner Linda Edsjö at the Playhouse in Cheltenham – part of the mega Litfest on at the moment. A small entourage of us went over from Stroud, in Fiona’s ‘bardmobile’ – following the moon along the scenic Birdlip route. While climbing to our seats in the stalls I commented to an elderly lady heading in the same direction: ‘This literature lark keeps you fit!’ She replied ‘Nothing can keep me fit!’ It was AS Byatt. We got chatting about her new book Ragnarok – which she was talking about the following day. She was a charming lady – unpretentious and approachable; as was her fellow Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, who also happened to be sitting in the same row as AS, two rows down from us. Afterwards, enjoying a post-show drink and discussion in the bar, I bumped into him on the way out. We shook hands and had a brief discussion about the wonderful show, which I called ‘Shamanic’. ‘The perfect word for it,’ he said. He asked my name, and what I did. He had a lovely graceful presence. Meeting two writers I admire in one night – I went home happy!

The next day I popped into town and enjoyed the atmosphere of market day – bumping into friends old and new on the High Street – feeling I am lucky to live in such a lovely, friendly place with a vibrant, creative community, stunning countryside and great pubs! Later, I paid a visit to my local, the Crown and Sceptre, joining the Saturday afternoon crowd watching the match. I supped my Budding in its mug and perused the papers – it’s one of those pubs where you can have a quiet read in the corner and no-one thinks you’re an alien with two heads. Along with their weekly nights of ‘stitch ‘n’ bitch’; Up the Workers Wednesdays; bikers & poker night, they also have the occasional arts event – eg a film show with live soundtrack or the up-and-coming book launch. I talked to the landlord Rodda about holding one their for my imminent book, Turning the Wheel.

That evening I went to the Lorca in England finale at Whiteway Colony Hall – which had links with the Spanish poet and his Civil War comrades in the Thirties. It took some finding along the dark backroads – the weird no man’s land that is the ‘Cheltenham triangle’. Eventually we pulled into the carpark in time to hear the jazz – Lorca’s poems set to music, against the backdrop of an impressionistic ‘Lorca-mentary’ made by a local film-maker. In the summer, a competition for the best Lorca poem in translation was held. Tonight the shortlisted poems were read out – by the entrants who could attend (one had come from Paris), or by local Rimbaud, Jeff Cloves, and the judges – two American poets, flown over especially for the event. The suitably international winner was announced (an Italian living in France). Another well known local poet, Philip Rush MCed the whole event in a witty and informative way – a cool school-teacher daddy-o. The rioja flowed as we hobnobbed with the crowd of poetry-lovers afterwards. It’s not often one goes to a bilingual poetry reading – and has a good night. The whole thing wasn’t so ‘worthy’ as to be dull – it had a slightly anarchic air to it. The archive footage of the Wall Street Crash and soup kitchen queues, the spectre of Fascism and the fopdoodle of the media made the whole thing eerily resonant. One could imagine Lorca being at home with the protesters around the world who took part in a global anti-austerity/corporate greed demos today. Power to the People!

And today – Sunday – there is the Stroud Short Story night at the SVA. Words galore! What a place to live!