Tag Archives: Jay Ramsay

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/

Souls of the Earth

Soul of the Earth launch Waterstones, Bath, Spring 2011

When I published Soul of the Earth in 2010, it felt like the culmination of the small press I started in 2003. Awen’s first book, Writing the Land: an anthology of natural words, was the outcome of a course I ran on ‘creative writing and the environment’ at Envolve, Bath’s environment centre. It was a group effort: I encouraged the students to contribute not only their words, but also to the editorial, design, and marketing process. Our modest vessel was joined by a number of other, more established writers, and I am pleased that familiar names from back then reappear in this later anthology. When Soul of the Earth was launched at a splendid event in Waterstones, I felt conscious of how far we, as a press, had come (in our craft; in our thinking) and how far we, as a species, still had to go (in our collective effort to live in more sustainable, harmonious ways).

As I write this the world looks in even worse shape than it did then. Not only are rapacious ideologies and practices continuing which damage this precious Earth (so much so that this epoch may be designated the ‘Anthropocene’ because of the lasting legacy we will leave in the Earth’s fossil record due to our massive impact upon the biosphere), but humanity seems intent on tearing itself apart. Conflict in the Middle East, in Africa, in Eastern Europe, and elsewhere continues to create human suffering on a massive scale. The war in Syria has resulted in the largest migration since the partition of India. The European project is fracturing. Right-wing extremism is on the march once again. Campaigners lobby for the closure of borders, for breaking away from the EU, for increasing parochialism. With such a bunker mentality, with selfishness, fear and loathing, and a perpetual heightened state of terror becoming the ‘new normal’, it is perhaps more poignant than ever to think of ourselves as ‘souls of the earth’.

The title I came up with for this collection, finely curated by Jay Ramsay, seems increasingly resonant. Perhaps we need to have the perspective of British astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station and remember what unites us: the sheer unlikeliness and precariousness of our existence on this fragile blue jewel. To remember our common humanity. If I may paraphrase the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott: the only nation is the imagination. We can choose hope or despair. In the Anthropocene epoch, perhaps, rather than allowing ourselves to be paralysed by the magnitude of what we face, we should reframe it as a ‘call to adventure’. Rather than leaving a legacy of environmental denudation, of ecological catastrophe, of mass extinction, why not a fossil record of artistic activity? We need to live here and now, of course. And ensure the planet is left in a better condition. But it is also wise to take the long view and hope that what will survive of us will be the love we lived by: for each other, the planet, and all that lives upon it.

With that wish we cast this message in a bottle into the ocean. May this new edition find sympathetic shores.

And we do hope you spread the word. If you believe in our vision, please spend a few minutes to share your reviews, comments, and thoughts through whatever medium you revel in. Words matter and, combined with meaningful deeds, can help to make a difference.

Kevan Manwaring

PS Happy Birthday, Jay 20 April!

Available thru Awen: http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/soul_of_the_earth.html

Laurie Lee – in his own words

Restarting after a summer break on 21 September, a weekly Sunday evening session is being held at the Woolpack, Slad – Laurie Lee’s local. This year we celebrate the Gloucestershire writer’s centenary (1914-1997) here in Stroud and the Five Valleys. There has been a rolling programme of events throughout the year. This initiative has been organised by local writers Richard Austin (who hosted) and Denis Gould of Letterhead Press.

At the first of the new season I joined fellow poet Jay Ramsay and Wiltshire songstress Chantelle Smith in the side-bar of the Woolpack, where we shared a personal selection of poems and prose from the great man. Jay’s readings were themed on ‘peace’ and ‘war’ and I offered a selection based upon the wildlife of Slad Valley, War, and Autumn, intermingling the poetry with prose extracts from Cider with Rosie. Chantelle finished off with a lovely set of theme-related songs. There was a good attentive crowd there, and the atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. Look at for these free (!) local spoken word events, every Sunday at the Woolpack until Christmas.

http://www.laurielee.org.

The Golden Room

Contributors to The Golden Room gather on the steps of the Stroud Subscription Rooms, 26 July 2014 by Ray Cranham

Contributors to The Golden Room gather on the steps of the Stroud Subscription Rooms, 26 July 2014 by Ray Cranham

On the 24th June, 1914, two days before the birth of Laurie Lee, a famous literary gathering took place in Gloucestershire. Just outside the village of Dymock, a group of friends met at The Old Nail Shop – the home of Wilfrid Gibson and his wife. Also present were fellow writers Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, and Robert Frost. There they shared their poetry, their words, their wit and wisdom and dreams. They went on to inspire each other to write some of the best-loved poems in the English language (‘Adlestrop’, ‘The Road Not Taken’, ‘The Soldier’ among others), many of which first saw light in their self-published anthology, New Numbers. They became known, years later, as The Dymock Poets. That first night was immortalised by Gibson in his poem ‘The Golden Room’ and on Saturday modern writers (many of them from Stroud and Gloucestershire) gathered in the Subscription Rooms to celebrate their legacy.

The day was co-organised by Stroud-based poets Kevan Manwaring and Jay Ramsay, with the former arranging the daytime programme of speakers and presentations, and the latter, the evening showcase of poetry and music.

The day started with a keynote speech from Chair of the Friends of the Dymock Poets, Jeff Cooper, who had come all the way down from his native Lancashire to introduce the Dymocks. As he is the grandson of their founder, Lascelles Abercrombie, this was especially resonant.

Next we had Anglophile American Linda Harte (a long-term resident of Malvern), the author of Once They Lived in Gloucestershire, to give a more detailed survey of the Dymocks, focusing on her fellow compatriot Robert Frost. She brought with her rare editions of Georgian Poetry (the movement-defining anthology of the era) and a complete set of New Numbers.

After the break we had the first of two short films by Scott Anthony and Geoff Poole – evocative interpretations of the works of Edward Thomas in music and image, and a welcome break to overheating left-brains.

There followed an engaging presentation on editor and critic Edward Garnett by Anthony Nanson, related to Garnett through his grandmother Barbara Newstead-Garnett. This once key figure, who mentored major literary figures of the early Twentieth Century (DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HE Bates, WH Hudson, and Edward Thomas among others) was justly brought into the limelight at last. Nanson emphasised not only Garnett’s perspicacity as a critic, but also his conviction that literary worth should be the chief criteria for publication, not commercial potential. This, and his championing of writing with environmental sensibilities, makes him an avant-garde and topical figure.

After lunch we were shown a film about composer and First World War poet, Ivor Gurney, entitled ‘Severn and Somme’, named after his iconic collection. This was made by Bristol-based film-maker Diana Taylor, who showed up just in time to answer questions about her self-funded, and moving portrait of the impact and tragedy of war.

Richard Carder, a composer and poet from Bath (Chair of the English Song and Poetry Society) followed this up with a presentation on Gurney and his music, giving several examples of his pieces – settings of the works of Thomas, himself and others – some of which Carder himself plays on in the recordings selected. Musicality and awareness of musical genres (folk, classical, music hall) run through much of the Dymocks’ work so this was a welcome addition to the day.

The final paper of the day was by Kirsty Hartsiotis, Curator of Decorative arts and Designated Collections at the Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. She talked to us about ‘Cotswold Characters’ – focusing on Dymock poet John Drinkwater and his connection with the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Cotswolds in a fascinating and well-illustrated presentation which unearthed many treasures – some of which can be found in the Wilson!

The daytime programme concluded with a plenary discussion about the themes of the day. Creative fellowship is the main thread that underpins not only the Dymock Poets story, but also the very special Stroud scene, which this was largely the fruit of (and which the evening showcase especially illustrated). An environmental sensiblity (what Nanson, Manwaring, Hartsiotis & Metcalfe term ‘ecobardic’) and a strong anti-war sentiment were also perennial themes that the works of the Dymock poets convey to us across the century, making their legacy more relevant than ever.

The evening showcase, hosted gracefully by Jay Ramsay, kicked off with the hypnotic sound of the HangHang Duo – Barry Mason and Lina Lotto playing the Swiss hang drum. There followed an exemplary succession of strong Stroud voices: Adam Horovitz, Marion Fawlk, Steve Morris, Gabriel Millar, Jay himself, followed after the break by Rick Vick, Jehanne Mehta, Karen Eberhardt-Shelton, Polly Howell, and Anna Saunders (from Cheltenham Poetry Festival). Each poet took at least one of the poems of the Dymocks and responded to it in their own way – conducting a conversation across a hundred years. These creative responses critically brought the focus of the event into the present day – for these are (some of) the Gloucestershire writers living and working in the county today, and, each in their way, carry on the work of the Dymock Poets, especially through the spirit of creative fellowship which pervades in this remarkable town.

This long, hot day of poetry and colloquy celebrated a special gathering and in doing so created its own ‘golden room’ – and whenever kindred spirits and creative souls gather together and share their awen, that golden room lives on.

Soundbites:

For Kevan Manwaring, co-writer (with Terence James) of the Dymock Poets screenplay, The Road Not Taken, this event was the culmination of several years’ interest. His ‘Dymock fever’ brought him to the county and he hopes that he and his fellow contributors managed to pass it on to the audience by the end of the day!

 
‘I feel inspired by the ethos and imaginative vision of the night and feel Stroud has a lot to teach Cheltenham. I’ve written two new poems since the event and feel that many of the poems I heard, have now influenced my own aesthetics.’ Anna Saunders, Director, Cheltenham Poetry Festival

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

Raising Things Up in a Dumbed Down World

AWEN FORUM 8 SEPTEMBER

Sunday saw the third of a triptych of Awen Forums, the bimonthly evenings for the ‘elevation of the word’, held at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud. The idea me and my co-organiser had was to combine an inspiring guest speaker with equally amazing performances of poetry, storytelling and music (from mostly Awen artistes), and round things off with discussion on the night’s themes. This final one of our run was to be the biggie – we were getting Andrew Harvey over from America (radical mystical author of The Hope and others), and some amazing talent from London and elsewhere – gathering together in the Ball Room, so we had a large space to fill (it seats up to 300). For the month leading up to it we were flat out with the publicity – mail outs, press releases, posters, banner, flyers, Facebook, etc – with the help of our friends (notably Tom and Bryn Brown, who, with their son James, handed out flyers with me in Stroud Farmers Market – Tom’s steampunk jacket of spoons, and James canine charm offensive worked wonders, and Bryn’s social networking skills helped afterwards too). Despite the pitiful lack of local press and media coverage (debates over the colour of bollards, etc, being obviously more important) whatever we did seemed to do the trick – and the hall filled on the night, Stroudies typically turning up at the last minute, just to keep us sweating. Everyone acted professionally and the awen flowed. The Sub Rooms staff supported us with stewarding and sound engineering. Having the backing of Paul Mclaughlin, the general manager, meant a great difference – thank you for believing in us! In the absence of core funding it is a life-saver to have some kind of support. We also had the good will of friends who pitched in – making this a real community event.

And so – let the ceremony begin! Jay asked me to introduce the evening, and I ended up MC-ing most of it, something I’m experienced at but wasn’t necessarily planning on doing, so I had to make a lot of stuff up on the spot. On stage, I’m a born waffler – so was able to fill in while the acts set up. I did my best to ‘big them’ up – a bardic fluffer. Afterwards, folk said I did well – pitching it just right, so phew! My main concern throughout the evening was the timings, and I was constantly aware of the clock. Nevertheless, everyone managed to stick to their slot – the delays crept in due to late arrivals and the logistics of getting over a hundred people to settle down. But finally we were ready to start. The lights dimmed and I introduced James Hollingsworth, guitar wizard and fellow member of the Steampunk Theatre Company, who topped and tailed the show with three stunning songs which blew people away. I know he’s great – I booked him because I believe in him – so it’s satisfying to see others appreciate him too. The next act, our main guest speaker, Andrew Harvey, was very impressed by him; as I was by Andrew. I had heard a lot about him, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. But, sitting in the front row I was blown away by his impassioned inspired outpourings. I got the full blast of his cri-de-coeur, imploring us to ‘follow our heartbreak’ and act with complete conviction and commitment. In this time of planetary crisis he insisted we need to take action now and form ‘networks of grace’, to counter the dark forces out to destroy the planet, or paradigms they oppose – not in conflict, but by positive social change, creativity and innovative ways of living lightly upon the Earth.

A brief discussion followed, a ‘conversation cafe’, facilitated by Trish Dickinson. Then, we had a much-needed break – not because the first half was long or dreary (the opposite) but because Andrew’s talk was so intense, so challenging. I found it rivetting – Andrew’s style was electrifying, and I felt I received a download direct from the Source, calling me to ‘arms’, in a spiritual sense – for the Higher Good. It was refreshing, to the say the least, to see someone who didn’t hold back in his performance (being at times on the verge of tears or hysterics); someone who really believed in what he said – delivering it with absolutely conviction, and conveying the charge direct to the audience. With self-deprecating humour he admitted he was a flawed conduit, and struggled with the challenges of sacred activism, but this made his message all the more accessible and endearing. In his talk he performed three Rumi poems, and these, along with all his anecdotes and erudite allusions (which were never pretensious) made for a scintillating experience. It was a bardic tour-de-force.

After the break we had a trio of fine poets – starting with Jay Ramsay, accompanied by Herewood Gabriel on various instruments (djembe; ballophon; flute), performing poems from his new collection and old classics. Then followed ‘the zero temperature dude of modern bardism’, as I called him, Aidan Andrew Dun, the Poet of King’s X, and his lovely pianist partner Lucie Rechrtoja from Prague, who performed hip poems set to ambient electronica – I was most impressed by Aidan’s ‘Son of Erin’ poem; and ‘Her Feet like Two White Swans’ was a lovely swansong to finish with. I imagined they could have performed all night, as could have the other bards, but we had other riches to share – and it is more effective and pleasurable for the audience to have a tight set than a sprawling indulgent programme. These talented people left their egos at the door, and pitched in – for the greater whole. Philip Wells, the Fire Poet, had to wait a long time to perform, but he was a true pro – delivering two stonking poems which lifted the energy, seemed to sum up the themes of Andrew’s talk, and act as a Greek Chorus for the evening.

We finished with a final song from James – ‘Mothership’, the final song from ‘Song of the Windsmith’ which I requested. After some deliberation, James agreed to play this – and it ended the evening perfectly. Afterwards, he was kept busy with CD sales and new fans.

Wiped out, we finally left around eleven – too late for the pub, alas (my two house-guests went back to mine for a drink and a snack, to wind down) but we all met up the next morning for a coffee in Star Anise Cafe. It was nice to see folk before they hit the road, although I didn’t catch Andrew, who was off to London, to catch a plane to Australia!

Bardic Breakfast at Star Anise Cafe, Stroud

Bardic Breakfast at Star Anise Cafe, Stroud

All in all, I think this was the most successful Awen ‘showcase’ event we have put on by far – everyone said we got the mix right, and the contributions were par excellence. This was the night when the Awen Forum really showed what it could offer – soul food and the elevation of the word – raising things up in a dumbed down world. Rather than playing it safe, playing it for laughs, going for the easy buck – we took a risk, bringing in ‘exotic’ talent and creating a formula that did not insult the audience’s intelligence, but invited them to step up to the mark of their own greatness. Stroud responded, which shows the quality of the audience here. They are there in the woodwork, but sometimes take a lot of teasing out – because there is so much good stuff going on here.

My latest brainwave is to create a way of shouting about all spoken and written activity in the area – storytelling, poetry, drama, publishing, creative writing groups, singing, literary walks, book launches, etc – with the support of Hawkwood College. As the first event to fall under the Cotswold Word Centre umbrella, this bodes very well indeed.

 

 

Feedback…

What can I say? It was a magnificently inspiring, life-affirming evening…’ Delny

 

Dear Jay and Kevan

‘A huge thank you from me personally and wearing my Hawkwood hat.  Thank you for bringing Andrew Harvey to Stroud and for supporting my initiative to invite him to Hawkwood for a weekend.

His talk at the Awen Forum was electrifying.   I enjoyed the rest of the evening, too, especially the new-to-me poet whose name escapes me. I hope you were pleased with the turn-out and that Paul McL was happy, too.

The weekend at Hawkwood was awesome – I feel re-calibrated, blessed and deeply encouraged in my path and my part in the arising consciousness/activism.  It was a blessing for all concerned, including the place.

Warm wishes to you both

Katie, Hawkwood College

 

Angie wrote: “Wow – last night’s Awen Forum here at the Sub Rooms in Stroud was astonishing! the truly amazing Andrew Harvey was talking about his book ‘The Hope—a guide to Sacred Activism ‘ … I am so glad I didn’t miss it. Thanks Jay Ramsay and Kevan for organising that… and lovely to have the company of two really intelligent women, Lindsay Hamilton and Sue Austin .. I real feast for the soul. Now back to work!”

 

Just wanted to say what a fantastic evening, I was blown away by all of it.  What an inspiring man Andrew is.

Thanks again for pointing him out to me, helps me on my path.

Many thanks and lots of love and blessings

Sue

 

 

What synchronicity Jay to have your evening  a week before World Cafe with Polly!what an opportunity for Stroudies  to create and build together and reach wider” networks of grace ” i want to thank you and Kevan for opening this avenue .

For offering such a rich experience last night -i feel shaken and stirred and more awake than i have felt the whole summer .i am not surprised Andrew has had such a profound impact on you [and many many others  ]over the years .i would love to meet him again and he wishes to meet Polly [so maybe you and i can cook this  up!]

The second half of the evening also has a huge impact for me –where yourself and others demonstrated for me the power of artists as central to peace building and hearing what was “breaking your hearts” was an honour-a perfect balance to Andrews “divine passion”  Trish Dickinson, Conversation Cafe

 

 

 

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.

Pushing Ink

Stroud & Glastonbury

10-11 June

Awen on the High Street, Stroud

Last week I took Awen stock with the help of my friend Jay to the ‘Spoken Word Assembly Rooms’, top of Stroud High Street – as part of the SITE Festival 2011 local writers and text-based artists have taken over an empty unit (former ‘paint-a-pot’ shop; Chinese and tattoo parlour – so following on in a weirdly apt way, pushing ink). On Friday and Saturday I did a couple of stints, invigilating. Took stuff to read, even some marking, but didn’t get a chance, as folk popped in for a chat – it was nice to feel part of a community initiative, championed by local patron saint of poetry, Rick Vick. The Awen shelf (a bookcase made by my grandfather) sat in the hearth alcove and very nice it looked too. Our small press has a growing list of distinctive titles.

Friday night I went down to SVA (Stroud Valley Artspace) to check out a zany collective from Falmouth ‘The Fate of Neutral Norway’. It was heartening to see such bright young things get passionate about the spoken word – and to pull in such a youthful crowd. Local poetry impresario Charles and I decided to hold fort in the ‘Old Farts corner’ and were inspired to form an impromptu trad. poetry combo, entitled ‘The Oxfarts’, reciting ‘poetry-that’s-good-for-you’ in a tweedy (or stentorian) fashion. We await bookings. I performed a couple of my poems (Phone Tree; and Wolf in the City) which seemed to go down well, especially the group howling at the end!

The next day, a tad tender from bardic grog, I did my second stint in the shop – this time joined by local poet superstar Adam Horovitz. Earlier in the Spring, over a pint of Budding we devised the idea of a spoken word podcast – Stroud Out Loud! or SOL for short – recording and promoting local voices (poets, storytellers, singers). We test run the ‘instant archive’- with a couple of poems from myself, Adam and Rick, who happened to be passing with his partner, Gypsy.

Rick records a couple of his poems for SOL - come & have a go this weekend!

Next weekend folk are invited to come along and record an original poem, Fri 1-3pm & Sat 1-3pm.

Adam, Gypsy and Rick - contributors to the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, Stroud

Afterwards I roared down to Glastonbury for the latest date on our ‘Words on Fire Tour’ – promoting my new novel, The Burning Path, (the 4th in The

Windsmith Elegy series) & Ola her first collection of short stories, The

Firekeeper’s Daughter. Once again, Trevor & Liz played the congenial hosts at their lovely shop, the Cat & Cauldron. Surrounded by witchy paraphenalia, Ola and I read out excerpts from our respective books after Phil Stretch, partner and Kali (new Bard of Ynys Witrin) created a charming atmosphere with their enchanting music. A nice little crowd gathered, enjoying the wine and the ambience. The response afterwards was positive. One lady had been following my

series since its inception in 2004 – and was ‘worried about Maud’ (the main protagonist from the first volume, The Long Woman).

Kevan reading from The Burning Path - Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

Later, after I had pitched my tent and grabbed some food I went along to the OBOD Summer Gathering, where Jay (running a poetry workshop at Chalice Well) and myself had been kindly invited by Philip Carr-Gomm. There was some splendid entertainment by the likes of Liv Torc, Paul Newman, & Damh the Bard – whose ‘supergroup’ rounded the evening off in lively style, with everyone dancing and singing along. I had a nice chat with Philip and the great historian Ronald Hutton (who I am equally honoured to know, from my days as Bard of Bath – he was one of the judges who awarded me the Chair of Caer Badon back in 1998). My friends Jay, Ola and Paul finally joined me – direct from the Carolyn Hillyer and Nigel Shaw concert at Chalice Well and we concluded our ‘baby-head-wetting’ with a wee bop together.

Reeling from the tunes (and the fabulous druid mead, especially fermented for this occasion) I made my way to my tent, under the stars on the side of the Tor – hoping Gwynn ap Nudd wouldn’t seize me while I slumbered (or rather the rain wash me away).

Damp, chilled & weary I made my way home the following morning (after a fortifying breakfast at Heaphy’s). Pushing ink can be hard work! Sometimes it’s hard to see the benefit – any reciprocation for one’s efforts can seem be difficult to fathom at times, but who knows what ripples one causes?

Touch one heart, and it’s always worthwhile.

Mistletoe, Roses and Thorn

5-8 December

Mistletoe the Line

Yesterday decided to visit Tenbury Mistlefest – Britain’s only mistletoe festival. This came about when the old mistletoe auctions were under threat. They had taken place in Tenbury for a hundred years. Tenbury mistletoe is exported all over the country and is renowned for its quality.

I waited to see what the weather was like before committing to going. I checked the BBC weather on my laptop and the forecast looked good – at least for the first half of the day. I decided to risk it and seize the day – I chucked what I needed in a daysac, togged up and set off. The run up to Tenbury through the Welsh Marches was beautiful in the winter sun – I felt glad to be alive and living in such a lovely country. This part of the land feels very special – an artery of quintessential ‘Englishness’, deep England, ironically on the border of Wales – and originally of course belonging to Wales. I can see why Tolkien was so inspired by it – it did have a Tolkienesque quality to it. Deep wooded vales, timber-framed houses, mysterious knolls, brooding hills – old Brythonic bears, licking their wounds. I made good time on my Triumph Legend – the roads were clear and it was sunny and dry. The 85 miles passed in a pleasant couple of hours. It was only when I reached the Rose and Crown, just outside Tenbury – where the druids were gathering for the procession – that I realised I had left without my wallet! I had about a seven pound’s worth of change in my pocket – enough for lunch and not much else. I put this problem to one side – there wasn’t much I could do about it – as the procession was about to start. There was a brief briefing in the pub and I was designated ‘hop carrier’ in the ceremony – my role was to pass around a bottle of beer!

Rose and Crown carpark, Tenbury - the druids gather for the procession

About twenty of us set off from the Rose & Crown carpark – some in full robes. Suzanne from Cransfield Bardic Arts led the way, leading us in a chant – (‘All Hail the Mistletoe, On the sacred tree does grow, Our blessing we bestow, All upon the Mistletoe!’) which we sang in a half-hearted slightly embarrassed English way as we crossed the bridge from Shropshire to Worcestershire into the town. The high street was lined with stalls – a Christmas market to coincide with this, the biggest day in Tenbury’s calendar. It wasn’t exactly buzzing, but the atmosphere was congenial. We passed a couple playing medieval instruments, all dressed up. minstrels, Tenbury MistlefestThey attempted to join our procession, but we were walking too fast! In previous years, the mistletoe ceremony had taken place in the heart of the town, but this year it took place in the gardens, under a lime bearing mistletoe overlooking the river Teme, flowing vigorously after the heavy rains recently – very much like Eliot’s ‘strong brown god’. (Tenbury has been badly affected by the floods in recent years).

The previous Tuesday a small contingent of the local druids (Cornovii Tribe) went to the Mistletoe Auctions and performed a discreet ceremony incognito (plain clothes druids!). In other years this has been more visual – in full regalia – to varying degrees of reception. Some traders claimed the blessed mistletoe did especially well, whileas others disagreed!

Mistletoe Foundation

We gathered in a circle by the Mistletoe Foundation banner, as a small crowd of curious and amused public looked on. Suzanne had a gentle touch and conducted the ceremony with grace and humour. Although the celebrants had to read from scripts it was done from the heart, albeit in a slightly ramshackle way. I did my bit – the ale is normally passed in a horn, but because of health and safety they were forced to use plastic cups – but they were forgotten! And so I had to simply pass around the bottle of local ale (Hobson’s Town Crier), saying to people to drink at their own risk – all the druids did! Folk were asked if they wishes to say anything about mistletoe – I said: ‘Our ancestors called this All Heal – may it bring healing to all who need it, especially to the planet – and may it bring wisdom to those in Copenhagen who are deciding the fate of the planet.’ After we blessed the mistletoe with water, fire, hops and apple everyone was offered a sprig of mistletoe. At the climax of the ceremony, the mistletoe was cast into the Teme. Suzanne said after: ‘words cannot describe how it felt to see the mistletoe taken by the river. So I won’t try.’

We then wended our back to the Rose and Crown for lunch. It was nice to chat to the celebrants. Later that evening there was going to be an ‘eisteddfod’ in the lovely old pub, but unfortunately I had to give it a miss, as I had a certain rendezvous with a troubadour! Saying farewell to these new friends, I left the warm embrace of the pub, with its crackling fire and good beer and put out into the drizzle of the chilly afternoon. I went back into the town to look around. By now it was grey and miserable. It was about 2.30pm – the crowning of the mistletoe queen wasn’t until 4pm (I missed this, although I did catch a glimpse of her, hanging about with her mates, browsing the stalls). I didn’t fancy hanging around for a couple of hours in the rain, so I decided to head back and make the most of the remaining light. I rang my friend Miranda in Stroud to say I would be passing her place around 4ish and would it be okay to drop by for a cuppa … this turned out to be a wildly optimistic ETA and travel plan!

Lighting the Darkness

6th December

Speaking from Inner Roses - Irina Kuzminsky, Dancing with Dark Goddesses

Garden of Awen on Sunday at Chapel Arts Centre was a magical banquet of bardism in the heart of Bath. To celebrate the solsticey theme of ‘Lighting the Darkness’ I had gathered a constellation of shining talent: sublime wordsmiths from Stroud, a jazz duo and a Bard of Bath, a troubadour from Paris and a Russian ballet dancer/poet from Australia.

This was the second Garden I had organised with playwright, novelist and all round Mr Fix it, Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions made it look so professional.

After a much needed lazy Sunday chilling out at home with my guest Paul we made our way to the venue laden with musical instruments, books, CDs and stuff! Svanur was there, co-ordinating the sound checks and attending to final details – he’s a wizard!

I MCed the night, introducing each act, assisted by ‘the lady with the satin larynx’ Anna D. – who recited the odd arcadian quote to punctuate the proceedings. First up was Jay Ramsay, poet of the heart, and Hereward on percussion – performing a deeply felt set of beautiful poems. Next was fellow Fire Springer, Kirsty Hartsiotis, who did a rivetting version of Pandora’s Box. Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath, followed – with an impressive triptych of poetry and song. We ended the first half with jazz duo Venus Eleven. Tracey Kelly ethereal vocals, accompanied by some mellow guitar enchanted the audience.

After the break, we had extraordinary poet, Gabriel Millar – our third guest from Stroud. She delivered a wise and spell-binding set of poetry. And then we had Irina Kuzminsky, the Russian-emigre Australia ballet dancer/poet, who performed her blistering ‘Dancing with Dark Goddesses’ set: a performance of complete commitment, passion and technical brilliance. Hereward and Jay came back on for some drumming to warm us up for the final act, Paul Francis, Le Troubadour, who ended the evening with a splendid set of songs that took the audience to an absinthe-soaked Left Bank for an all but brief time. Paul ended with a personal request – his magnificent song, The Sailor and the Magician, which has a chorus of fine sentiment: ‘May the Peace in East; Peace in the South; Peace in the West by the river’s mouth; Peace in the North; Peace across the Land; Peace, Love and Harmony…‘ I’ll drink to that – and we did!

I ended the evening with a quote from Scottish novelist and playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, who once said: ‘God gave us memories so that we might have Roses in December … ‘ I think all who came to the Garden that night left with a bouquet.

Head Gardener, Uncle Kevanya

Cutting the Thorn

8th December 2009

Today I attended the annual cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn at St Johns, on the High Street. The Glastonbury Thorn is said to be a cutting from the very tree that apocryphally sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea – Jesus’s uncle or brother (according to the vicar of St John’s, David) – plunged into the good soil of Somerset (traditionally on Wearyall Hill – appropriately named, as his journey’s end) when he made landfall here after his long voyage from the Holy Land, with or without a certain young messiah under his care (a new film is coming out that explores this, ‘Did Those Feet in Ancient Times?’) All rather dubious, but a wonderful notion – Glastonbury is obviously very proud of its its famous ‘roots’: a headline on a newstand read ‘Did Glastonbury Druids Teach the Young Jesus?’! And the brush with fame, albeit on a merely national level, continues. Every year a sprig of this tree is sent to the Queen, who has it on her Xmas table at Sandringham (apparently it is sometimes spotted in the background of her Christmas Day broadcast).

Cutting the Glastonbury Thorn, St Johns, 8 Dec 09 KM

Arriving in good time, I wandered up the High Street, browsing in the shop windows, until I was caught up in the ‘crocodile’ as hundreds of pupils from St John’s, St Benedict’s and St Dunstan’s converged in the grounds of the church, lining up in ranks of descending size in front of the Thorn. Local worthies were gathered in their finery. The town crier started proceedings in a typically stentorian manner, then Rev. David Mced the event, with contributions of cute songs from the local schools before the moment we had all been waiting for occurred. The ‘oldest pupil’ of St John’s cut the thorn, with a little assistance from the Town Crier and her mum. As the thorn sprig was held up, they were cheers – and the little girl, looking like a wee brownie in her pink woolly hat, beamed.

It was a heart-warming community event – a lovely way to mark the ‘first shoots’ of the festive season.

Here’s to a Merry Yule!