Tag Archives: Helen Moore

Deep Time, Deep Love

Saturday 9th May: Deep Time launch, Stroud

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Saturday saw the culmination of a lifetime’s obsession – the publication of my friend Anthony Nanson’s first novel, Deep Time. This 300 thousand plus word magnum opus Nanson has been plotting and planning consciously since the mid-Eighties, but as a charming childhood booklet, The Lost World, revealed read out by Anthony’s father, the author had been haunted by dinosaurs and the depths of time for a long time (in human terms). Many friends and family gathered at the ‘British School’, behind the popular Star Anise Café at the bottom of town, to celebrate Anthony’s 50th birthday on – and what a way to celebrate: with the launch of the handsome trade paperback edition of Deep Time by innovative Stroud-based publisher, Hawthorn Press. The dress code was ‘tropical’ and some guests had made a real effort with the costumes. We were invited from 7pm although things didn’t really kick off officially until nearly 9pm – Anthony wanted people to have plenty of time to mingle and browse the book, or rather books, as it was a double book launch – the other title, Ecozoa, published by Permanent Publications, is the new collection by radical Frome-based eco-poet, Helen Moore (another dear friend from my Bath days). Anthony, in his typically gracious way, shared the limelight with Helen – their work was thematically simpatico, and she also celebrated her birthday – as well as with other bardic friends. David Metcalfe, long-time host of the Bath Storytelling Circle MC ed the evening with his usual gravitas, starting with the crowd-pleasing Big Yellow Taxi (setting the ecobardic tone of the evening). Local poet singer Jehanne Mehta – another birthday girl (on the actual day itself – Helen and Anthony’s straddle either side of it) recited a couple of stirring poems about Albion (another Blakean nod) and Wales. Poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay introduced Helen most eloquently and passionately. Helen performed 4 poems from the collection, one from each ‘zoa’ (the collection is structured on the 4 Zoas of Blake) with her trademark sincerity and clarity.

Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic - poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Join the Party! Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic – poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Then fellow Bath Spa lecturer Mimi Thebo introduced Anthony, singing his praises, before Anthony introduced the book and the long journey of its evolution. Jay was invited back up to recite his epigraphic poem, before Anthony regaled us with an extract recited, impressively, from memory. Holding the book like some peripatetic preacher wielding his bible for authority (as John Wesley probably did, preaching from a butcher’s block in the Shambles, when he used to pass through Stroud), Anthony conjured up his vision of deep time with conviction and storytelling brio. He held the audience spell-bound. Some earlier drumming by Jay and local artist Herewood Gabriel evoke some kind of tribal aesthetic, and Anthony’s word-sparks now conjured up the story fire of the rainforest, the textual simulacrum of such now brought to life with his living breath. Afterwards, glasses were charged for some heartfelt toasts – to his publishers and to his parents, most poignantly his mother, whose ill health prevented her from attending. Anthony’s father took to the stage to share the embryo text from Anthony’s childhood palaeome. Finally, David finished off with his stirring version of ‘She Moves Through the Fair’. And then the revels continued for a little while longer – dinosaur cupcakes were to be imbibed (raising money for a children’s’ cancer charity) and hearty Adnams ale from Southwold, courtesy of Kirsty’s generous stepfather, Dave. There was much clearing up but many hands made light work. The babies’ respective heads had been wetted, and guests departed heart-warmed by this double-birth spectacle, but more from the quality of love that poured towards the man at the heart of it all, enjoying the harvest of half a century.

Deep Time is available from Hawthorn Press: http://www.hawthornpress.com/books/art-and-science/deep-time/

Read Anthony’s blog (with guest poet from Helen) here: https://nansondeeptime.wordpress.com/

Ecozoa Cover

Ecozoa is available from Permanent Publications: http://permanentpublications.co.uk/port/ecozoa-by-helen-moore/

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Kali Exorcism

Check out this awesome apocalyptic video-poem from my friend Helen Moore, Frome-based eco-poet whose new  collection, Eco-zoic, has just been published.

‘Kali Exorcism’ is a collaboration between poet Helen Moore and film-maker Howard Vause.

Inspired by the tradition of exorcism in Beat poetry, this video-poem deploys text, sound and imagery to invoke the purgative energies of Kali so as to cleanse the world of the military-industrial complex and the state of perpetual warfare that the system requires.

The poem ‘Kali Exorcism’ features in a new collection, ECOZOA, by Helen Moore published by Permanent Publications (2015). This book offers intimations of a possible future ‘Ecozoic Era’, where we live in harmony “with the Earth as our community”, in stark contrast to the current period of planetary ecosystems ravaged by industrial civilization and war.

Poem: Helen Moore
AV production and animation: Howard Vause
Poem performed by Helen Moore and Howard Vause
Music: Howard Vause feat. PJ Leonard, Emma Harris, Patricia Fewer
Hand dance performed by Karine Butchart

Awen 10 Celebration

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On Thursday night, October 31st – Samhain, Summer’s end, the time of honouring the ancestors, of death and rebirth, the Celtic New Year – a celebration was held in Stroud at Black Book Cafe to mark 10 years of Awen Publications. I founded the small press in Bath a decade ago with the launch of Writing the Land: an anthology of natural words (with proceeds going to the local Friends of the Earth group). Since the start Awen has been a community publishing initiative with an ‘ecobardic’ flavour – this quality was articulated by Anthony Nanson, who discussed the small press’ list. Anthony and I (along with his wife, Kirsty Hartsiotis, and David Metcalfe) were founded members of Fire Springs storytelling company and in our pamphlet ‘An Ecobardic Manifesto’, published by Awen, our creative ethos was explained – offering a ‘new vision for the arts in a time of ecological crisis.’ The performers who contributed to the evening’s showcase all exemplified these ‘core values’* – in their eco-conscious poetry, storytelling and music. I hosted the evening – kicking things off with a brief speech about Awen’s origins. There followed a packed programme: Anthony’s mini-lecture; poems for the late Mary Palmer read by Verona Bass and Jay Ramsay; poems of the late Simon Miles read by his brother (it felt apt to honour these two departed Awen authors on Samhain); next up was eco-poet Helen Moore from Frome; Jehanne and Rob Mehta offered a song and a couple of poems; then Gabriel finished the first half with her perfectly crafted poems.

The host and his lovely 'assistant' :0)

The host and his lovely ‘assistant’ :0)

After a short break we had a poem read on behalf of Margie McCallum, down in New Zealand (Awen is a small but our authors hail from Europe, North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Then Dawn Gorman (host of Words and Ears in Bradford-on-Avon) read, fresh from her book launch in New York; Jay stepped up and performed a small selection of his poetry, including one of his Sinai sequence – aided briefly by Kate on rainstick; then Kirsty (author of Wiltshire and Suffolk Folk Tales from The History Press) offered a lively Japanese folk tale; before we had a sneak preview of work by two poets published by Chrysalis Poetry – a long-term initiative of Jay’s – Kate Firth and Angie Spencer. The evening was rounded off by the dulcet tones of Chantelle, who sang a beautiful version of the ‘Wife of Usher’s Well’.

It was an emotive evening – the summing up of ten years’ of my life, of alot of effort (a team effort, mostly, with various talented editors, typesetters, and designers involved), and a cornucopia of inspiration. Under its aegis so many fabulous events have been held – book launches, showcases, forums, podcasts…

Awen’s future is uncertain – a dearth of funding and exhaustion on my part means it is unlikely to continue. But it is good to honour what has been achieved. Very rarely in life do we get a chance to bring closure to something – to ‘end well’ – and I hope that has been achieved.

I’ve been fighting off a cold all week, and promoting and running the evening took alot of energy – I feel ready to hibernate now, or, as I like to put it ‘smooring the hearth’ – preserving my flame through the dark winter days ahead, so that it can rekindled in the Spring – reborn with fresh inspiration and energy.

Five ‘ecobardic’ principles:     

(1) connecting with one’s own roots in time and place while celebrating the diversity of other cultures and traditions;

(2) daring to discern and critique in order to provide cultural leadership;  

(3) respecting and dynamically engaging with one’s audience as a creative partner; 

(4) cultivating the appreciation of beauty through well-wrought craft;   

(5) re-enchanting nature and existence as filled with significance.  

From An Ecobardic Manifesto, by Fire Springs, published by Awen 2008

Find out more about Awen at www.awenpublications.co.uk

Web of Life

Web of Life 13 July

Weboflife

On Wednesday I took part in an inspiring event in Frome – the Web of Life Community Art Project, part of the Frome Festival. I travelled down with my fellow performers from Stroud and we navigated our way to the backstreets of the charming Wiltshire town to find the Sun Street Chapel – beautifully transformed by curator and eco-poet Helen Moore and her team of artists and volunteers. In each of the corners was an altar dedicated to four elements and themes based upon The Work That Reconnects of Joanna Macy. The centre piece was a purple coffin decorated with icons of extinct species. The previous Saturday an ‘artistic funeral‘ was held in the town – with a procession in masks up St Catherine’s Hill, which culminated in a service led by Charles in the chapel.

The majority of performers were part of ‘The Rolling Tyger Revue’ – a loose affiliation of poets, musicians and storytellers who take their inspiration from the life and work of the Bard of Lambeth, William Blake. Niall McDevitt introduced the evening with a triptych of Blake songs – accompanied by the ‘Flies’ or ‘Flyettes’ as his impromptu backing vocalists called themselves (John Gibbens and Amorel Weston, who performed later as The Children). Next, John impressed everyone by reciting a small set of poems from memory. Helen Moore followed with an impassioned performance, accompanied at times by her partner, Niall. Jay Ramsay finished off the first half with a similarly heartfelt performance, ably assisted by Herewood Gabriel on flute, djembe and ballaphon – hypnotic and haunting.

After the break I was on – and I decided to throw in a story for contrast – my Garden of Irem tale – a strategy that seemed to pay off. Then I performed my Breaking Light poem – as the focus of the evening (for me) was Awen’s eco-spiritual anthology, ‘Soul of the Earth’. Afterwards, I was able to relax with a glass of wine and listen to Niall’s set; followed by the ever-dazzling Rose Flint; and finishing off with a sublime set from The Children. It was an impressive line-up and the attention to detail in the exhibition was exquisite – the chapel felt re-sanctified, restored as a place of worship dedicated to Mother Earth and all her children.

Solstice Shenanigans

15-19 June

It’s been a busy few days, as everything seems to reach a crescendo towards the summer solstice on Tuesday.

Wednesday I did an interview with Kate Clark on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, promoting my novel, The Burning Path. Later, I participated in the Stroud Prose Group, workshopping a chapter from a brand new novel project (after 9 years of following Isambard in the Underworld, a refreshing change). Friday I took part in Stroud’s Story Cabaret at the Hall, Five Valleys Project. Special guests were musician Matt Sage, and Armenian storyteller Vergine Gulbenkian. I performed my new locally-inspired story, The Heavens. There were fine contributions from the floor, including my friend Ola, up from Bath.

Saturday I did my stint in the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, recording folk who dropped by with poems for Stroud Out Loud! (SOL) the podcast I’m compiling with poet Adam Horovitz. In the afternoon I took part in a multi-media poetry workshop with members of Flash – a group of mainly Bristol-based performance poets performing later that evening in what used to be called The Space (in Stroud, things seemed to be named in such a way, eg The Field, The Hedge, The Shed :0). It was good to see something that was trying to push the envelope a little (between poetry, theatre, spoken word, 4-D art, etc) rather than playing it safe. A refreshing alternative to the Slam Slum.

Sunday morning I blatted over to picturesque Burford for my friend’s private view – William Balthazar Rose is exhibiting in the Brian Sinfield Gallery there for a couple of weeks. It was nice to catch up with him and his family and friends – a contingent of Bath folk rocked up in a pretty Cotswold town. It was a flying visit, as I had to get back for a gig that afternoon – as part of Salam, an exhibition of photographs from Fez taken by local artist Marion Fawlk. Marion had invited me to perform some stories on a Sufi-theme. It was a very stylish event with a Moroccan oud player creating a magical ambience. A good crowd turned out for a Sunday afternoon – alot has been on over the last few days in the SITE festival, and its easy to get festival fatigue. I was starting to flag by Monday, but I had to host the Garden of Awen’s solstice extravaganza at the Star Anise Cafe. I summoned some sunshine from somewhere and made my way there in the pouring rain. We did intend to hold it in the courtyard but in the end we were crammed into the backroom. We certainly had a full house, with standing room only. We had a fabulous line of local and regional spoken word artists, including Helen Moore, Jay Ramsay, Rick Vick, Dawn Gorman, Karola Renard, Kirsty Hartsiotis and floor spots from the audience. Jehanne, Rob and Will got us all to sing along to some heartfelt songs with their band Earthwards – I offered quotations about light in the links – and the awen really flowed, like ‘liquid sunshine’ as Helen suggested. We certainly saluted the sun – and if it wasn’t up there in the sky, it certainly was in our hearts.

Raising the May

Padstow May Day

Obby Oss and Teaser at Padstow by K. Manwaring 01.05.10

There is no better place to be in England on May Day then Padstow in North Cornwall, where every May 1st for many years (no one knows exactly how long it has been celebrated here, but it is probably a couple of centuries at the least) visitors are greeted with a spectacle both exotic and quintessentially English – locals dressed all in white, and either red or blue neckerchiefs and sashes, process through the streets following what is called either the Old Oss (red) or the Peace Oss (blue) – virtually indistinguishable to all but the trained eye –  both manned by a frisky local wearing a round black skirt of waterproof material topped by a black pointed head-dress decorated in an African style, who wheels and jigs through the packed crowds, lured on by a ‘teaser – usually a local girl wielding a phallic ‘bladder-stick’, accompanied by a hypnotic drum-beat, accordions, whistles and singing. The atmosphere is at the very least merry – although at times it becomes wildly unBritish, something you might see in a Mediterranean religious street festival or one in say India. The narrow streets of the small fishing village are festooned with foliage and flags. There’s a fun fair and the pubs do a roaring trade. Thousands of visitors descend, causing the tiny village to gridlock. Yet the ambience remains pleasant. After the winter, especially a hard one like we’ve had this year, there’s a palpable sense of ‘easing off’ as we celebrate the start of the summer. The Silly Season starts here! Such events are a real boost to the local economy and this is often an overlooked reason why these ‘traditions’ start – medieval monks weren’t averse to ‘discovering’ some dodgy relics to boost their coffers; and modern enterprising pagans are no different, ‘reviving’ traditions – always ancient and mysterious in origin. A whiff of antiquity mixed with the weird always seems to go down well. It’s amazing what you can conjure up. A traveller was hawking that gypsy standard, ‘lucky heather’, which he promoted as ‘Cornish viagra’. In a way, Padstow May Day is a kind of economic variant – helping to resurrect the dormant ‘fertility god’, Cash Flow.

The last and only other time I had made it to Padstow was in 1997 – on the eve of a Labour landslide. I had visited it with my new friend from Bath – Steve – and I have a shot of him, running off down the road with a Tory placard. A number of these kept us warm at night as we camped on the beach. Thirteen years later and it feels like full circle – we’re on the eve of another general election and it looks like Labour is on its way out, the euphoria of their victory, when Tony Blair seemed like the Britain’s new hope, long gone in the squalid aftermath of a second Gulf War; and the gloom of the Broon Years.

Then, Padstow seemed to capture the ‘feel good’ factor that was sweeping the country. This time – who knows? A sense that, if the country is going down the tubes, let’s party while we can?

This time, I was picked up from my flat on Bathwick Hill – where I had been living ten years to the day (moved in on the first of May 2000) by my friend Kevin in his ‘Panzer’, a 1985 convertible Mercedes Benz. I helped him take the hard roof off the day before and we rode down ‘topless’ – hair blowing in the wind. As we left Bath early Saturday morning Kevin played Maddy Prior’s Padstow song on his car stereo – the song that had started it all for him. It blasted out across Combe Down and we sang along to the (until then) quiet, empty streets, probably waking up half the neighbourhood. We were in good spirits – it was great to be setting off on an early May morning, the energy not only of the day, but the whole of summer, the whole of awakening nature, behind us.

My skipper took the scenic route, over the Mendips via Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury – where they were many celebrations going on over the weekend. No doubt folk were up the Tor or in Chalice Well – we saw some likely suspects dressed in robes, obviously on their way home for breakfast after greeting the dawn. A couple of years ago I had leapt the Bel-fire in the field above Chalice Well and helped raise the May-pole. It’s a great place to celebrate it, but I was glad to be going Cornwall today.

We cruised across the Somerset Levels, crossing the M5, running the gauntlet of Taunton and out the other side – Kevin decided on a whim to go ‘cross-country’ and we ended up in some obscure backroads. But it turned out good in the end – more by luck than anything, we managed to find a pretty route along a B-road via Wiveliscombe, Bampton and other lovely places hidden within the inviting folds of Devon.

We started to fantasize about cream teas and knew it was time to stop for a break – having been on the road for nearly 3 hours.

In desperation we came off the Atlantic Highway, thinking we could find sustenance in Clovelly – much in need after a cuppa, after the weather turned damp and chilly. Guided by insistent signs, we parked and found ourselves in a surreal complex – a kind of tourist Auschwitz where new arrivals are ‘processed’. It turned out you had to pay to get into the honeypot village – all we wanted was a cuppa. We reassured the woman at the counter that we didn’t want to visit the village, just the cafe. There was a bizarre deal at the cafe where it cost more to have a straight black coffee, than a latte. The girl at the counter was unable to explain the logic of this – she was ‘only following orders’.

A little recuperated, on we went – eager not to miss the celebrations. We arrived around midday and parked up in the campsite a ‘couple of miles’ from the village as Kevin somewhat euphemistically put it. Five miles later, dying for a pint, we made it into Padstow – it seemed like all the celebrants were leaving – but it was just the ‘morning shift’ breaking for lunch. The next dance was at 2pm – time for a much-needed pint and pasty. We sat on the quayside, amongst the crowds and buntinged boats and tucked in. We had made it!

We went to see the Peace Oss at 2pm – although it was impossible to get knew the institute where it ‘lived’. My heart sank, thinking I was not going to be able to see it properly – I didn’t remember it being that busy 13 years ago, but Padstow is a changed place. Rick Stein has set up shop and the Yuppies have moved in. It has become somewhat gentrified as of late – going by the shops and some of the crowd. But there was still an excellent atmosphere.

We tagged along with the Peace Oss procession as it wended its way up the ‘high street’ towards St Petroc’s church – it became easier the see it the further it went as the hills thinned out the crowds. Finally, some decent photo-opportunities! We followed it into the church – I was told by a bullish Blue Oss followed not to bring my pint into the hallowed place – but a frollicking pagan fertility icon was obviously okay. The drums sounded extraordinary in the church – as though inside a long barrow. It was great to see the church come alive with the drumming, dancing and merry crowds.

Out the other side it went – and back down into town, for a while. We left it as it seemed to ‘die’ halfway up a little side street – walking back towards the Ship, where we met up with Kevin’s old university buddy, Steve and his family. More pints were procured and downed – quaffable local ale, Doom Bar was a popular choice. Not much of that to be had in Egypt, so I made the most of it. Kevin’s biker buddies, John and Aaron, rocked up – a little tender from a lock-in at the Tintagel Arms the night before. They had ridden across from Sussex on their Harleys – an impressive ride. We took a stroll to the quayside and enjoyed the sites, including a fine wooden figurehead on a ship with impressive curves. When you start finding carpentry erotic, you know you are in desperate need of female company! But I had other priorities at that point…

I needed a cup of tea desperately – it was all catching up with me (the Italian odyssey; workshop in Wales; a week’s marking; an early start and long car drive). I found a cafe and gratefully took a seat. Ended up chatting with a local lady – asking her about her colours: ‘How do you become a follower of the red or blue Oss?’ I wanted to know – ‘You are born into it,’ she explained – her grandfather, then father had been Old Oss stock and, thus, so was she. And her children and grandchildren. It seems an accident of birth then, which creates this friendly schism. The Peace, or Temperance Oss was started after the Second World War – so perhaps belonging to that indicates ‘incomers’, as opposed to old Padstownians. The woman enthused about it, saying how ‘It’s a kind of freedom,’ until that is the politcally-correct brigade (anathema of Daily Mail readers ) come along and spoil it, which they’ve already done with the dubiously named ‘Darkie Day’, when Padstow’s temporary black population used to be celebrated, on their annual day off. She became increasingly racist in her opinions after that – what Gordon Brown would call ‘a bigoted woman’, but not to her face. ‘Are you one of those Liberalites?’ she asked, sensing my disquiet with her loathsome opinions about Asylum Seekers and so forth. This somewhat tainted my impression of events – which now looked, in the light of this conversation, to be a thinly-disguised white power demonstration, but the Oss transcends that. Really, it’s just a bit of good old fashioned silliness. People like to ‘justify’ it by saying it’s an ancient fertility custom – practised since time immemorial – but it probably is only a couple of centuries old (Kevin thinks there are Napoleonic references in the songs – but the lyrics he quoted could easily be read in all sorts of ways). Ironically, the tradition of the Oss – the trappings of white costumes and black masks – might have been imported by Moorish mariners, but I didn’t feel like pointing this out to the Tory racist. Her theory about its origins sounded just as feasible – during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was seen approaching. All the men were away – and so the women dressed in white, as sailors, to make the French think the place was ‘manned’. It seemed to work. When the men returned from war they were so taken by this, they started to do this themselves – women were not allowed to take part. Leaving Daily Mail woman, I rejoined my friends. We walked around the harbour, then up to the war memorial, which afforded fine views over the estuary mouth. The sun was just setting behind the headland and – after a rainy afternoon – the clouds broke. It felt like a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ moment, I observed. I shouldn’t have invited in such ‘thought-forms’ for later on someone called me Compo, since I was wearing my woolly hat in an attempt to retain my rapidly vanishing body heat.

Our small but merry band made its way back into the village to get another one before the six o’clock dance of the Old Oss. This time I was determined to get a good view, and so I waited outside the Golden Lion inn, the ‘stables’ of the original Oss. At 6pm the Ossers emerged, sporting different coloured rain macs, as though part of their ritual regalia. The black Oss squeezed out of the narrow front entrance – a painful birth – and started jigged about furiously, falling into the crowds and being pushed back into the middle, as it zig-zagged down the lane. Touching its black skirt is meant to bring luck – get taken under it and it’s meant to make you pregnant!

My friends found me in the crowds and we followed the Oss to the ‘village square’ where it converged with the rival Oss – jigging around the enormous May Pole. The crowds packed in – but we were right up the front. The atmosphere was fantastic – the Oss was really going for it. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits. It really felt like we were tapping into something powerful and primal here – rightly or wrongly. It felt real. You could feel the sap stirring – and the carefree spirit of summer coming in after the sober days of winter.

Old mates reunite at Padstow - Kevin, John & Aaron

Buzzing, but in need of some hot food we went to get some from the quayside. More beer followed and I was beginning to flag – it had been a long day and it wasn’t over yet! The final dance was at 10pm. A siesta would’ve been good – but seating space was at a premium. We went to the Golden Lion – with its incredibly low ceiling, as though at any moment its going to collapse in like a soggy paper bag. Finally a seat appeared and with relief I slumped down into it, trying to save some energy for the final stint.

The drumming started again – it will stay with me for days – and we made our way outside, girding our loins with, you’ve guessed it, a final drink. I had a shot of Jagermeister, which seemed to do the trick. The Oss appeared – the dancers and drummers in a kind of shamanic trance (induced by a day of drumming, dancing and beer). They were wilder than ever – the atmosphere was positively Bacchanalian – and I felt we had all become lost in a kind of collective folk consciousness. We followed, we sang, we cheered with the slightest of encouragement.

With one final loud cheer the drumming stopped – the dance was over – the day’s celebrations were officially over. Folk stood around chatting – bubbling with the good vibes. I was ready for bed though. It took a while to extricate the lads from their respective chinwags. We made our way up out the village – passing a couple of police. ‘You must be relieved it’s over’, I suggested. ‘Same again tomorrow,’ one responded, to my surprise. Apparently, it’s repeated the day after, which was news to me – not widely advertised. Maybe a recent addition, to cope with numbers and the uncertainties of the weather?

We made our way back along the dark country roads, feasting on a sky full of stars. We had a couple of torches between us to help us avoid being run over walking along the main road in the pitch black. I led the way like a Signalman, sending a warning flash to approaching drivers.

Despite the slog back to the campsite we were in good spirits – but not completely sozzled. The walk soon sobered us up, which made it easier putting up the tent in the dark. Finally, I slipped into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, satisfied at experiencing such a magical, unique celebration of British culture.

Oss Oss, Wee Oss!

Garden of Awen: Raising the May

2 May


This Garden was themed to celebrate May Day – the Celtic festival of Beltane; the International Workers’ Day; and the start of summer. I arrived back from Padstow, where I had seen the Obby Oss with my friend Kevin the day before, at 5pm – giving me an hour to turnaround (life seems to be like that at the moment – the next morning at 6am I was off to Egypt for a month – fortunately I had packed on Friday night).

Coco Boudoir, a regular burlesque, normally on Saturday was double-booked – upstairs in the Chapel – I was concerned about the noise pollution and a bit disappointed that they had done this, when the first Sunday of the month has been our regular slot since the Garden’s inception in November last year. I thought we was going having to cancel – but I managed to find a solution, by bringing it forward an hour and having the poets on first; the drumming, dancing and music in the second half. This worked out okay. We didn’t have a large crowd – but you don’t need many to fill the cafe space and it looked healthy. With it being the May Day bank holiday weekend alot of people were away or burnt out from bringing in the May. Nevertheless, it was a good atmosphere – a mixture of old friends and new faces turned up, including a contingent from Glastonbury.

I introduced the evening with my green man poem, One With the Land, getting everyone to join in with the chorus. This helped to warm things up – including me! I was tired from the long ride back, on top of everything else. It has been a full on few weeks. But that is the energy of May, I find, when the quickening of Spring reaches its climax.

Then I welcomed up our first guest poet, Helen Moore, a fellow Bard of Bath and now resident of Frome. She performed an excellent set of topical and beautifully crafted ecobardic poems, including one about Hedge Funds – both the green and greedy variety – and another called Cunt Magic – reclaiming the word from its derogatory connotations and getting into the spirit of May.

Afterwards we have some floor spots, starting with Ken Masters who had accompanied Helen on a variety of instruments, including a piper with which he emulated the noises of a washing machine for a poem called ‘Green Wash’. He shared with us a poem based upon his Greek dancing holiday.

Next, we had a poem by Verona Bass – ‘loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ – before moving on to the second guest poet, Jeff Cloves, rebel poet of Stroud, who performed his first solo set of poetry for 20 years, with readings from his new collection. He brought some of the anarchic Labour Day spirit into the proceedings – May Day was also a time when the status quo was turned on its head and the Lord of Misrule prevailed.

We ended the first half with ‘parish notices’ and a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Amanda.

During the break I caught up with a couple of friends – it was all a bit of a whirlwind, taking money, buying drinks, and dealing with everyone.

After the break, I started the second half with my poem to the Spring Maiden, Maid Flower Bride – which flowed well, despite my fatigue, and provided the perfect intro for Ola’s amazing dance to Oshun, an African fertility goddess, which she did with real fire, accompanied by her friend on djembe. It was great to see the Garden come alive with movement like that – the last time we’d had a dancer was in December (Irina Kuzminsky from Oz). This time it was Ola from Bonn performing African dance – we’re nothing if not international1

We had a couple more floor spots – a rendition of The Padstow May Song from Kevin Williams, dressed up in his Navy Officer’s uniform; a great ‘butterfly’ story from Kirsty; and a couple of poems from Amanda (one inspired by the Way of Awen weekend). We were meant to end with my friend Justin – but he didn’t make it, alas – but things worked out okay as Ken led us in a Greek dance with smooth the crossing for all travellers (something I could relate to). And so another Garden came to an end – in good spirits. A modest but pleasant success.

Afterwards some of us went up to enjoy the second half of Coco Boudoir – enjoying the exotic cabaret, which definitely helped to raise the May!

Blazing Bright in the Year’s Midnight

28th October-2nd November

James Hollingsworth setting the night on fire at the first Garden of Awen - photo by Crysse Morrison

Now the light falls

Across the open field, leaving the deep lane

Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon

(East Coker, TS Eliot)

Finally have a chance to catch up after a hectic few days of bardic busyness – it’s that festival feeling again, as a flurry of events occur around Halloween, the deadline of the year (in Celtic Tradition the festival was celebrated as Samhain, summer’s ending, and Celtic New Year – for Celts, midnight was considered the middle of the day, and so the ‘midnight of the year’ – as I feel Samhain is, more than the Winter Solstice, which has a glimmer of light, as the sun is ‘reborn’ – would similarly be its negative axis – the dark pole around which the wheel of the year turns).

As Mary Queen of Scots put, stitching the shortening threads of her alotted time: ‘In my end is my beginning’ and as TS Eliot added in The Four Quartets, ‘In my beginning is my end.’  It is an Alpha/Omega time of year (although in truth, things are always ending and beginning – it just depends on when our awareness starts). With the nights drawing in, it feels like a shift of focus, a turning inward – nature hunkers down – but life, alas, has other plans for us human animals! Hibernation is not an option!

Wednesday saw another Guest Writers in Conversation with fabulous female poets, Helen Moore and Rose Flint talking at Bath Writers’ Workshop, the event I co-run with screenwriter David Lassman. Helen and Rose’s work and ethos shared some common ground but also has interesting differences – teased out through the insightful talk and critical response they gave. They both performed a selection of their work and answered questions from the audience. Another superb evening – it was fascinating to hear the poets talk about the evolution of their work and themselves as writers. Lesser know writers rarely get a chance to discuss their work in such depth and have a fellow writer interview them and offer an insightful response. Both are great poets – check them out!

Thursday, after an exciting test run of a beautiful Triumph Legend – my next bike! – I went to Bristol with David for the Cafe of Ideas, a monthly forum. I was invited to be on a panel discussing narrative with a bank manager, professor and BBC presenter. Held at Co-exist, an arts collective based at Hamilton House, the space was transformed with performance poetry, music and a buffet. A sister event (same theme, format and panel) will take place at the Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, on November 26th.

Friday I was a guest performer at What a Performance! – a monthly open mic held at St James Wine Vaults, Bath. MCed by Richard Selby, keeping the spirit of Dave Angus (it’s founder and original host) alive and kicking. The evening was dedicated to the writer Moyra Caldecott – in her eighties and now unable to perform her work due to a stroke. Moyra has been a great influence and inspiration on me – she has supported my work for the last ten years – so it was a pleasure to participate in this event to honour her. I read out 3 of her poems as well as my own 14 page epic, Dragon Dance (from memory). My fellow guest performer Kirsty was on form with her three fabulous tales – and there were many other great contributions.

A Bard and a Druid at Stanton Drew by Helen Murray

Talking to Ronald Hutton at Stanton Drew

Saturday I attended an OBOD open ceremony at Stanton Drew, a stone circle not far from Bath. It was very moving, as we were asked to think about those we have lost, and what we wanted to let go of. A pint in the Druids Arms afterwards  helped to bring us back into the land of the living! Later, for something ‘completely different’ I went to a ‘Halloween Chic’ party. It was interesting – two very different ways to celebrate the same festival!

into the barrow by Helen Murray

Entering Stoney Littleton long barrow - something watches from inside...

Sunday looked like it was going to be a washout but the skies miraculously brightened after midday and I went for a quick rideout to Stoney Littleton long barrow, travelling back five thousand years as I crawled into the narrow Neolithic burial chamber to remember my ancestors at the time of Samhain.

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Anthony Nanson launches Garden of Awen with a spooky tale - Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, 1st November 2009

Later, I hosted the first Garden of Awen at Chapel Arts Centre, Bath – an event I put on with Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions did the business once again. A guest, Rosie, said she had never seen the venue look so good. A Bath Spa art student, Jennifer, painted two great backdrops to help create an Arcadian feel. Foliage was festooned on screens. Green candles and poem flowers decorated the tables. Chapel technician Jonathan provided some snazzy lighting. Svanur brilliantly choreographed the acts: Anthony Nanson, storyteller, got things going with a gripping and stylish start with an atmospheric tale about a vampire. Nikki Bennett launched her new poetry collection, Love Shines Beyond Grief, with a bang (or a pop and a fizz – as we wet the baby’s head with flutes of Cava). David Metcalfe ended the first half with a powerful set of British death ballads and his spine-tingling poem, The Last Wolf. The second half started with a tune from Marko Gallaidhe, just back from Bampton Festival, but with still enough puff in him for a song. Richard Austin shared his poetry with aplomb. Marion Fawlk, also from Stroud, looked regal on the stage in her lovely velvet dress – sharing her deeply felt goddess poetry. The evening ended with a blistering set from guitar-shaman and sublime songsmith, James Hollingsworth. He was ‘resurrected’ for a stunning encore of Led Zep’s classic ‘In My Time of Dying’ – a suitable way to end our evening themed on ‘Death & Rebirth’.  And so, the 1st November, Celtic New Year, saw the birth of a sparkling addition to Bath’s literary firmament – a professional spoken word showcase on the first Sunday of the month. Writer Crysse Morrison, in her blog said: ‘

‘Great to see such an atmospheric venue join the local network of alternative entertainment.’

The Garden will return with its ‘high quality diversity of spoken word and music’ on the 6th December with an amazing line-up. Check out www.awenpublications.co.uk for details.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get me some quality zeds…