Tag Archives: Kirsty Hartsiotis

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

Wetting the Worm’s Head

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Friday saw an excellent evening at the Stroud Story Supper, here in Stroud. The Black Book Cafe was filled with a lovely attentive and supportive crowd. We had fine contributions from the floor – many on the dragon-theme of the evening, as this was the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest – published that very day. Chantelle started the proceedings with the ballad of the ‘Laidly Worm’, and then I introduced my book before plunging into the ‘Dragon of Llanrhaedr’. There followed excellent contributions from Kate Hibbert from the Cardiff Circle (who told a meaty version of Ashputtle and the Stoor Wurm), Fiona Eadie, fresh from her National Trust storywalks in Wiltshire, splendid poetry from Robin Collins and Jo Woolley, and others. Jehanne and Rob Mehta finished off the first half with a rousing song about King Arthur (Pendragon!) which got us all singing along.

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, 'The Long Earth' at the Desiring Dragons launch

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, ‘The Long Earth’ at the Desiring Dragons launch

 

Fiona Eadie - storyteller at the launch

Fiona Eadie – storyteller at the launch

Jim completes his epic saga - with a friend

Jim completes his epic saga – with a friend

After the break, I told ‘The Gurt Wurm of Shervage Wood’. We had a surprise special guest – Adam Horovitz – who stirringly recited his poem ‘The Long Earth’, which features in the new book. We had the final instalment of Jim’s epic tale of the ‘Thousand Year old Woman’ (his spin on an Icelandic saga, complete with puppet), a fantastic telling of the ‘Maid and the Maggot’ by Kirsty Hartsiotis, and a lovely song from Rob and Jehanne to end with. All in all, a successful evening. We well and truly wetted the worm’s head with our awen-filled words!

Fiona’s feedback afterwards sums it up beautifully:

Just wanted to thank you for an excellent Story Supper last night. You held it beautifully and it was very interesting to hear the background to Desiring Dragons.

I thought all the contributions were really engaging – especially your lusty dragon tale and Chantelle’s ballad of the Laidly Worm

Kevan and Chantelle - post launch, by Kate Hibbert

Kevan and Chantelle – post launch, by Kate Hibbert

The next morning Chantelle and I set off for the Sunrise Celebration near Chepstow where we tested out our new show, ‘The Snake and the Rose’, in the fabulous fairy glade. Splitting it over two days was a good idea for this first run-through. It seemed to go down well, going by our feedback… ‘A fantastic duo …’ ; ‘Made my festival’. Bodes well for our up and coming performances at the Rondo Theatre, Bath; the White Horse Camp in Wiltshire; the Green Gathering; and the Castle of the Muses in Scotland. Here’s to a successful tour!

Launching 'The Snake and the Rose' at the Sunrise Celebration 2014

Launching ‘The Snake and the Rose’ at the Sunrise Celebration 2014

 

Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Find out more about the show here: https://taleandsong.wordpress.com/

Awen 10 Celebration

Image

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

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!



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.

PB010811

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…

Bardic Birthday Bash

40th Birthday Bardic Showcase

22nd August

the green man at 40 - birthday bash, Bath

the green man at 40 - birthday bash, Bath

Oh, my head…!

I turned forty last Wednesday (had a lovely dinner party in my garden with close friends) and decided to push the boat out with a big bash at Chapel Arts Centre on Saturday. Having had a few quiet birthdays, I mulled over how I would like to spend my fortieth and decided that I could think of no more agreeable a way of celebrating than having a bardic showcase featuring my friends, and so, with this in mind I set to work.

I planned it months in advance, but as ever, everything seemed to need doing at the last minute. After a fraught week it all fell into place.

My good friend from Iceland, Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson secured the venue, prepared the buffet and MCed the evening – what a giant! He had returned from his homeland the day before (I half expected a beard rimed with hoar-frost, fresh back from the ‘land of ice and snow’ but he was, as ever, freshly shaven ;0) We caught up over a quick drink at the Brazz and then…we set to work.

While we ‘hunted and gathered’ for the buffet in the sterile wilderness that is Sainsburys, Jonathan the venue manager for the night set up the sound and lights.

Everything was prepared, ready – and looking great (cabaret style seating, atmospheric lighting, a showreel of embarassing photos, good tunes…) by the time the first guests arrived.

And the party began!

Svanur introduced the evening and got everybody to sing happy birthday to me in Icelandic!

Happy Birthday in Icelandic - courtesy of Svanur

Happy Birthday in Icelandic - courtesy of Svanur

Then I came on and did a couple of ‘old classics’ of mine: Maid Flower Bride (for all the women who’ve blessed my life – and had to put up with me!) and One with the Land (my green man poem – for all the guys). I got everyone to join in on the second one – and it seemed to work. Relieved of my bardic duties, I then got down to the serious business of making merry.

I sat back and was entertained by my dear, talented friends…

Jay Ramsay, poet and psychotherapist from Stroud, did some wise and heartfelt poems, delivered with complete authenticity and passion.

Brendan the pop poet, and 6th Bard of Bath did a couple of his classics on request.

Brendan the pop poet rhymes again

Brendan the pop poet rhymes again

Saravian, sexy jazz siren performed some lovely cool numbers.

Anthony Nanson, fellow storyteller of Fire Springs, performed an amazing feat of memory with his wonder voyage of Bran mac Ferbal. A lost island myth close to my heart!

Then … no Bard of Glastonbury, (lost in the mists of Avalon…?) and so we went straight to the break, as we were running a ‘bit behind’.

This was fine – allowed people to chat, for me to mingle with my guests and be inundated with more presents, rapidly filling up the front of the stage. Oh, and drink more champagne (mixed with mead in a dangerous concoction called ‘Druid’s delight’ – although after the hangover it gives me I think it should be renamed ‘Bardic blight’)!

Things were going swimmingly –  the second CD had kicked in, ‘Dancin’ Pants’ and the atmosphere was buzzing, the hall looking pretty full  – there had only been a couple of technical hitches. We couldn’t get the Chapel’s system to play my first prepared CD, ironically it was called ‘Let the Ceremony Begin’! And the projector proved temperamental – at one point the photo showreel disappeared completely and Jonathan struggled to get it back. He finally gave up, but suddenly, during the second half we had my desktop projected onto the stage. I struggled to relaunch the showreel – my cursor wavering behind the heads of the performers. Hilariously, I wasn’t able to see the image clearly as I didn’t have my glasses – so I just had to hit and hope and fortunately, it kick-started the photos again.

There was a fantastic crowd, but also absent friends – and I missed my dear old Dad (rest his soul), brother and sister not being there – but many of them were represented in the photos, which was an inadvertent portrait of my relationships/friendships over the years as much as anything.

Marko - a man you don't meet everyday

Marko - a man you don't meet everyday

After the break we had Marko Gallaidhe, a man you don’t meet everyday. He was somewhat caught on the hop and in the gap – while he made his way to the stage – everyone sang me happy birthday, which was very touching. I felt truly blessed.

After Marko did a couple of fine tunes (‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Between the Tweed’) Richard Selby came up and did a great story.

Another Fire Springer followed, Kirsty Hartsiotis, with a tale and a beautiful poem by her mum, inspired by me called ‘Bard Song’ (below), which blew me away.

Then, it was the turn of Wayland, who was delighted to see had made it down from his Smithy in Oxfordshire to perform a fine story. A former bardic student of mine – he has come into his own as a good performer.

The first of a pair of friends from Northampton came next, Jimtom Say – a true shaman bard who shared some of his incredible poetry and a song.

Peter Please was next on, but was nowhere to be seen – but then he turned up right on cue, just arrived from his singing group … and, a true pro, was able to go right on stage and deliver his great stories.

Finally, it was the turn of my oldest friend, Justin, who delivered a blazing set of poetry and music, culminating in a poem especially written for me, for my big day – based (bizarrely, but brilliantly) upon the Billy  Joel tune ‘He Didn’t Start the Fire’: ‘2009: A Kevan Odyssey’! Hilarious and impressive:

‘He didn’t start the fire, but he his Bardic learning helped me keep it burning.
He didn’t start the fire, but he helped me light it … though I tried to fight it.’

(J. Porter, after B. Joel)

Justin gets his groove on - Birthday Bash, Bath

Justin gets his groove on - Birthday Bash, Bath

I thanked everyone and then … it was time to dance! I was looking forward to this and it was great to ‘cut some rug’, even if we risked looking like the adults that were embarrassing to watch dancing when you were a kid! But that’s was all part of an old git rites-of-passage I guess!

It was great to get down with my friends.

you can dance if you want to...

you can dance if you want to...

Alas, all good things …. after a few stomping tunes, we’d passed the curfew and the music was turned down – but I had allowed for this, arranging to go around the corner to the Lounge. About twenty of us left for this ‘promised land’ – Sara insisted I led my merry band, mead horn in hand. We piled downstairs, where we took over the room. Unfortunately the music was rather jarring – hard techno – so I went back to get my CDs only to discover their machine ‘couldn’t play them’. Instead, Marko did a rousing ballad after I had revived him with a glass of wine. And then Justin led the Southern Baptist song ‘Down to the River’, which we all joined in with in a drunken religious fervour! It felt like the foundation of some kind of guerilla folk republic – but it was short-lived, as the music came back on. Fortunately, this time it was decent Latin Jazz, and suddenly we were up dancing. It was a great way to end the evening. After that, things went downhill – J got a round of tequilas in, then knock them over before we could knock them back. Maybe should have seen that as a sign…It was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to be helped home – the guys managed to get a taxi to take me after some difficulty. I somehow got home and into bed – it’s all a blur…

The next day, I suffered…In the immortal words of Withnail ‘I feel like a pig shat in my head’. A weak, pathetic bed-ridden thing unable to hold anything down or even hold a conversation for long, I wallowed in my self-inflicted misery. Fortunately, the guys got it together (three of them had crashed in my living room). My old friends Justin and Jimtom went back to clear the place and collect my stuff – stars! – amazingly I hadn’t lost anything in my drunken stumblings. They dropped Wayland off at the station – and hit the roads themselves … onto another party!

I went to bed.

Yet, despite my sufferings – it had all been worth it. Without a doubt, one of the best night’s of my life. I glow with happiness at the memory of it all. Never had I felt so truly blessed. It felt like the first forty years of my life had … meant something.

That evening, slowly recovering, I savoured opening the many presents I had been showered with. I have a pile of beautiful things, for which I am deeply touched, but, of course, true friendships forged (old and new) are the greatest gift of all.

To all those who made the effort to come, and made it such a success – thank you!

PS there were many talented friends there at the Chapel – not all of them could perform, but I would like to share some of the beautiful words they gave me (stars all):

To Bardic Kevan

Shaman of his clan,

word spinner,

story weaver

from the warp and weft

of Celtic love.

Miner of the Loadstone

of Arcana,

May you wear

your star studded

cloak of wisdom

with youthful ease,

even as this birthday

heralds a milestone

in your timeline.

Brian Goodsell

Stuff and Nonsense

‘They’ say that life begins at forty

but ‘they ‘are really rather naughty

for life, we know, starts on day one

and only ends when all the fun

and games are well and truly done

No-one can say when that will be

It is the greatest mystery

of many that elude our knowing

so all our days can be spent growing

and intimations of mortality

serve just to make us feel more free

forty’s not old if you’re a tree!

‘live in the moment’, ’embrace the now’

though nobody can tell you how

it’s no rehearsal one time show

you write the script, as you well know

So I hope today we’ll celebrate

and dance and sing until it’s late

and night brings sleep and golden dreams

and all that is and isn’t seems

to melt into a tale of things

yet to be told by Kevan Manwaring…

…within these pages perhaps

Happy Birthday!

Yvonne (accompanying a lovely journal)

Bard Song

He sings the song of the earth.

Finds among the rocks a small seed,

nurtures and tends

and from it grows

The tale.

Rooted and strong limbs stretching,

Reaching, unfurling.

The words seek out the shy creatures,

Give colour to the flowers

And music to the hum of life.

He sings the song of the sea.

Words like waves

Rolling, flowing,

Tell the tale.

From deep and secret caverns

The bubbles rise and burst,

Rush to the shore

and sparkle, glowing.

He sings the song of the air.

Flying free, words like wings

Tell the tale.

Up over the green earth

Over the blue, grey sea.

As one.

He sings the song of the world.

Brings life into the earth song,

Finds depth in the sea,

Spills light into the air song.

And gives, of himself,

The tale.

To Kevan, Happy Birthday from Cherry Wilkinson

Talk in the Mountains

1st-4th May

Talk in the Mountains

You ask me, ‘Why dwell among green mountains?’

I laugh in silence; my soul is quiet,

Peach blossom follows the moving water;

Here is a heaven and earth, beyond the world of men.

Li Po, 8th Century

In Padarn Country Park, Snowdon in the background

In Padarn Country Park, Snowdon in the background

The Ecobardic Minifest was a small gathering exploring how we can use the Bardic Arts (poetry, storytelling, song-writing and music) to raise awareness about environmental issues), inspired by An Ecobardic Manifesto (co-written with Fire Springs) at Eric Maddern’s amazing place in North Wales, Cae Mabon – an eco-retreat centre founded in 1989. Eric, an Australian born storyteller who has put down roots in Snowdonia, was inspired by the manifesto and felt it warranted its own special event.

I travelled up with fellow Fire Springers, Anthony and Kirsty. Anthony gave me a lift from Bath – after a false start, waiting in the rain for half an hour at the wrong bus stop (it was May Eve and the Good Folk were already making their presence felt!). It was nice to have time to chat with Anthony, and then his partner Kirsty, on the long ride up. Our job was to keep Anthony awake with our conversation – a challenge for 6 hours, even for bards! We made pit-stops at the Cravens Arms and Oswestry before heading ‘into the wild’. The roads became increasingly dramatic as we headed into the heart of Snowdonia. The half-full moon seemed to be leading us all the way there (perhaps not surprising, since we were heading west but it was a reassuring ‘moon illusion’) Around midnight we paused at Pen-y-Pass, at the highest point of the Llanberis Pass, and got out to enjoy the magical moonscape. The golden section of moon sat on the dark craggy outline of the mountain, beneath a field of stars. It was a cold, clear night. Anthony drew my attention to the sound of the water running down the mountainsides, gathering in streams – skeins of silver on satin – near and far, their soft song countless murmuring echoes in the darkness. We savoured the acoustic spectacle, letting the place work its ancient wordless magic upon us. It felt right to pause at this threshold place – both physical and temporal, as we crossed ‘over’, for it was the witching hour of Beltane Eve, when the veil is thinnest. What could be a more dramatic portal than Llanberis Pass at such a time? This pause before the plunge was important – it helped us to adjust to the different reality we were about to enter. Three days of sacred time in a sacred place. The gentle magic of the water had helped us to smooth some of the brittleness of the journey. We were ready to proceed – completing the final stage in a kind of dream. Certainly the access to Eric’s place was like something from a Winsor McCay cartoon – Little Nemo in Slumberland, or perhaps more appropriately, Dreams of a (Welsh) Rarebit Fiend – as the car negotiated increasingly more absurd hairpin bends and slopes. Somehow, we made it to the small carpark – surreal in the middle of a wood on a mountain side – and lugged our packs down the fairy path into Cae Mabon’s magical kingdom, strange in the darkness, with only Anthony and Kirsty’s headlamps lighting the way. ‘Behold the shining brow!’ Anthony alarmed slumbering hobbits trying to locate our chalet. Eventually we found our cabin – Eric had kindly left on the lights – and we gratefully dumped our stuff. I cracked open a bottle of Wild Hare to celebrate our arrival/Beltane Eve and to help me get to sleep. It was nearly 3 am. I sat in A&K’s room briefly while we ‘decelerated’. After an exhausting journey – when we were all in danger of nodding off – now we suddenly felt (relatively) wide awake. As soon as we had arrived and had stepped out of the car, it felt like all the effort of the journey had been worth it – the fatigue had melted away. I felt like I could of stayed up until dawn – and see in the May – but I wanted to be able to function the next day, so I made myself go to sleep. But no sooner had my head hit the pillow, I was off into the Land of Nod.

Cae Mabon roundhouse

Cae Mabon roundhouse

Despite being so late to bed I was the first one up for breakfast – my stomach is the best alarm clock! I made my way down the path to the hall – enchanted by the beauty of the place in the daylight, beholding it for the first time. Cae Mabon consists of a small ‘village’ of eco-buildings: a cob-house, hogan, roundhouse, longhouse, hobbit hut, etc. Many had turf-roofs with blue bells growing on them. The shapes were rounded, organic, as though they had grown out of the land, responding to the aesthetics of place – the curves and kinks in the landscape with slate, wood, thatch. I can see why Cae Mabon has been named the best eco-building project in Britain. Seeing a place like this gives me hope for the future.

Cob-house, Cae Mabon

Cob-house, Cae Mabon

I met Martin – our incredible chef for the weekend – and Keith, a chippy who lives on sight. I got to have first pickings at his wholesome breakfast – fruit porridge, freshly baked bread, fresh eggs, gallons of tea – as the other participants started to appear.

We gathered officially at ten for our first meeting and discussed what we wished to do over the next three days. The weekend programme evolved in a very organic democratic way. Eric had a gentle hand on the tiller.

We agreed to create a ceremony to celebrate Beltane (May Day) later that day, but the morning was given over to a general discussion about Ecobardism – triggered by Anthony’s excellent ‘keynote’ speech. After the first of increasingly superlative meals, we had a session on ‘Mapping the Fields’ – the territory of Ecobardism. Basically what it means, what it involves, what it tries to tackle.

After this brainwork, we set to work devising our ceremony…

Eric, in his ‘creation myth’ of Cae Mabon, wisely writes:

‘One thing that is common to many groups is the creative use of ritual and ceremony. It seems that for many the old religious rituals do not serve any more. But they cannot dispense with ceremony entirely.

‘The impulse to ritual – the symbolic use of words and actions to intensify experience, to create meaning and to dignify the individual – is deep. In a place like this it is possible to devise rituals that pay homage to ancestors, that honour Nature, that appreciate beauty, that draw on traditions, that reflect the life stories and dreams of the people involved.’

We discussed what elements we wished to include: a honouring of the Green Man and the Goddess; contributions of poetry and song; the four elements; use of the immediate environment as a ritual landscape; Welsh May customs, including a lighting of a sacred fire from nine native woods, the procession of the Cangen Haf, the Summer Pole, and a Welsh Calan Mai carol. These later, indigenous elements, were given authenticity by the presence of two Welsh speakers – Gwynn, a man from the north and Angharad, a woman from the south. Because of arrivals and departures around 5pm we had a finite amount of time and a tight turnaround. We were given half an hour to prepare – select a branch from our chosen tree, gather rags for the Summer Branch, create a posy for the Spring Goddess, prepare the fire, etc – but the time limit galvanised us into action and it all came together really well. The spontaneity of the ceremony gave it a vitality – the spirit was with us. Eric gathered us in the roundhouse with a blast of his horn. He introduced the ceremony, speaking briefly about Beltane, before lighting the Bel-fire, onto which we cast our branches, one-by-one. Then we processed nearby, following the Summer Branch to the main outdoor circle, flanked by upright slate ‘megaliths’ and a tree stump carved with a green man. Here I asked people to connect with the Earth – by forming a circle as a symbol of the planet and feeling it beneath their feet and all around them. I performed my jaunty green man poem, One With The Land, which I had first performed for Beltane about seventeen years ago, ending with the declaration ‘we are one with the land’ as we bent down and touched the earth. Then we moved onto the stream side, where An gharad performed a beautiful poem in praise of Blodeuwedd, whose lovely effigy we could behold opposite, carved into the flank of an oak tree. Then we crossed Aber Fachwen (small white stream) to place the garland at the goddesses feet, before briefly communing with her as we passed. Then onto the grove of bluebells, where Eric asked us to connect with water as Eliot sang his lovely water song. Gwynn then shared his Calan Mai carol, before we tied our rags to the Summer Branch, stating our intention for the coming year. We ended with a suggestion from Kirsty, three cries of Joy as the Greek Nymphs used to shout on the Arcadian mountains: ‘Hara!’

Our Cangen Haf

Our Cangen Haf

The ceremony had flowed beautifully, and afterwards we were all buzzing. I felt like I needed to reflect on the experience and I went for a walk up to the waterfall, shown the way by Ken the Kiwi. I felt sensitized after the ceremony and the sun-dappled forest through which the white stream gurgled, seemed especially beautiful. Ken took me into Padarn Country Park, which Eric’s land abuts, to a viewpoint overlooking Llyn Padarn and Snowdon. Here I enjoyed the stunning view, before descending – much in need of a snack and a sit down.

We had an early evening chat while we waited for dinner – Eric regaled us with tales of his recent ‘bee-line’ around north Wales, travelling by foot, bicycle and horse to perform his ecoshow, What the Bees Knows, at various venues. His itinerary included walking over Snowdon and spending a couple of wild nights at Dinas Emrys and on Cader Idris – which he nearly got blown off of, but survived, coming down a ‘dead mad poet’ (the legend goes if you can spend a night on the mountain, you will come down either dead, mad or a poet). We were joined by a pleasant young American guy called Elias from Oregon. We partook of an excellent feast from Martin. Afterwards we gathered in the roundhouse for stories, songs and poems. Kirsty performed her funny First Nations dogs tale, Anthony shone with his ‘A Cobra Hissed’ literary recitation. Ellie sang a wonderful wolf-song, accompanying himself on his haung – a flying saucer style steel pan. I shared my Aristaios the Apiarist of Arcadia, story – which provided an entertaining way of exploring ‘why the bees are dying?’, a worrying contemporary environmental issue. It was late and it was smoky by the time I went on, so I don’t know if I, or the audience, were at their best by then (after 5 hrs sleep the night before and a full day), but the evening passed pleasantly enough. I chipped in The Child of Everything towards the end (round midnight?), my anti-GMO poem. Eric entertained us with some great eco-songs – notably his Long Time Coming cosmic ballad. But then I was ready for bed. It had been a bard day’s night!

The next day we packed a lot in – there was second intensive session of Mapping the Fields, a long session discussing Ecobardic Projects, a salmon feast and ceremony, and a hot tub. The highlight for me was performing my long poem Dragon Dance in the dragon snug, followed by a session on using ceremony and ritual in performance. It was powerful to do it on Beltane, in North Wales (where the dragon in the land is so evident) beneath a ‘dragon’ mountain no less, as Eric informed us.

the Dragon Snug - the perfect venue for Dragon Dance!

the Dragon Snug - the perfect venue for Dragon Dance!

The salmon feast is worth mentioning. A salmon became unexpectedly available, and Martin showed his culinary excellence in preparing for lunch – it looked magnificent. To honour its spirit, Elias played his bagpipes (a totemic variant on piping in the haggis). Afterwards, we performed a brief ceremony, casting its bones back into the stream – much to the distress of the onlooking cat.

Cae Mabon - a place of healing and inspiration

Cae Mabon - a place of healing and inspiration

We had a mini-session in the round-house, with Gwynn relating an amazing ecobardic epic, which we encouraged him to send to a radical Welsh poetry radio programme and try to get published. Eric treated us to a sample of his What the Bees Know? Eco-show, with songs, stories, poems and bee-facts. This prompted a discussion on the thin-line we tread with such shows between preacher and performer. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this further as it was dinner time. Another magnificent feast from Martin – this time with a mountain of a pudding, dripping with ice-cream, which excited Elias into Homer Simpson-esque euphoria. He couldn’t wait long enough to finish his greens to tuck in.

That night, everyone was rather wiped out – so we didn’t have another roundhouse session. Instead, we had a free evening. The hot-tub was fired up and most of the men took the waters (the prospect of sitting in it naked with men somehow didn’t appeal to the ladies of the group!). It was wonderful to be immersed in the hot water underneath the stars and trees and the glowing moon, Aber Fachwen gurgling merrily passed. I recited The Song of Wandering Aengus to my fellow bathers to celebrate the magical moment. This seemed to fire up the young American with the ‘fire in the head’. Elias erupted skyclad from the tub to chase his two young friends who had been fire juggling, casting dancing shadows around time in the darkness. He seized the fire spear from them and swirled with it in the stone circle – the very picture of a young Celtic fire god. Lugh lives!

The last morning I was awoken by Anthony knocking. The meeting had started and everyone was waiting for me! I had overslept – and the meeting had been brought forward half an hour without my knowledge. I groggily dressed and dashed down to the hall, to grab a mug of tea and some porridge as we discussed our final activity: a story walk. Anthony pulled this together well welcome lucidity and alacrity. We each were asked to find a place in the locality to tell a story about, or recite a poem or song. I knew immediately what I wanted to use – a yew tree, for The Yew Tree of the Disputing Sons, a bleak Irish myth of eco-karma. I hadn’t rehearsed it – and now found myself with 30 minutes to do so. I was also asked to end the story walk with a ceremony! A good job a bard can think on his feet – and as last night’s naked hot-tub performance proved, he is never without material!

The story walk started with a poem by Liz Clarke, youth worker from Bath, who was there with her cute toddler, Lily, who won over everyone’s hearts – and became our ‘Mabon’ for the weekend, the golden child we should never lose within ourselves. Next, we processed up to the hives area, where a drainage pit had been dug. Here, Kirsty performed the story of the Green Children, from St Mary-in-the-Wolf-Pits, Suffolk. A few yards on, I performed my yew tree story, talking about the significance of the tree. We processed over the stream into the sessile oak forest, where had a moving rendition of the Passenger Pigeon tale from Anthony; Elias’ storytelling debut with a parable about the man who sold his heart to Mammon, relocated to Uist in the Western Isles, (Llyn Padarn serving as a loch); then Ellie shared an amusing tale from Africa about the alligator and the hare (at which point a steam train chuffed by, Ivor the Engine-like – along a narrow gauge track once used for transporting slate to the Menai Straits, now tourists). We wound our way back to the grove of the Summer Branch, via a tree where Gwynn shared a poem in Welsh. We gathered, feeling a little chilly – so I got everyone to raise some chi and blow on their hands before we held them! Then I shared my praise-song to creation, encouraging the circle to give thanks in their own way. I ended with a call-and-response Celtic valediction and three shouts of ‘Hara!’

The final lunch was an incredible curry feast – setting us up for the long journey home, or perhaps preventing our departure! It seemed unlikely we would achieve ‘escape velocity’ from the lovely vortex of the place with such a pay-load! We made our final farewells, swapping emails and gifts. Our group had been small, but that meant we had all mattered in a more obvious way than in a larger group – and we had all connected. Friendships forged, a connection with the land renewed, commitments made to ‘carry the fire’ of the Cangen Haf and our intentions into the wider world, we hit the road.

Rather than go straight back to Bath, which would have felt too abrupt – as though I had been thrown off the end of a conveyor belt, I decided to share the lift back with A&K to Stroud and stay at a friend’s place. It gave us a chance to ‘debrief’ and have a kind of plenary session. There was a lot to process from the weekend and it was nice to chat about what we made of it all. The sun shone and the pleasant scenery of the Welsh Marches eased us back into ‘reality’.

The next day I went to the open day at Hawkwood College, Stroud, where I participated in Jay’s poetry workshop. He read out a poem from Rumi, ee cummings and Mary Oliver, and asked us to think about the effect poetry has on us, which prompted this poem of mine:

Poem Flowers

Poetry is the opening of a flower –

beautiful explosions

of sound and consciousness.

Sonic orchids scattered

in the mind’s stream.

Flimsy petals of luxuriant richness

drawing us in,

intoxicated by exotic scent,

colours of a different palette.

Their pollen sticks to us

and we pass it on.

Its soul-nectar sweetens

our heart’s hive.

During the workshop I could hear the strains of the May-pole dancing music drifting across, inspiring this piece:

The Bright Ribbons of May

The bright ribbons of May

plait the pole of the World-Tree.

The children laugh,

eyes shining with story wonder.

Young men and maidens

dance the ancient dance.

The land smiles again.

The widow of winter

changes into her summer dress.

Hope whispers from the hedgerows.

The seven sisters in their bright dresses

circle in the night,

eyes flashing, spells in their hair,

knowing truths

unspoken on their lips.

And between two fires

the stoic herds are driven

to fairer pastures.

***

After Jay’s workshop, we squeezed into the tipi, to catch some of the excellent storytelling by Kirsty and Fiona. Packed in amongst the little ‘uns, we all became children again, entering the kingdom of the imagination. Unfortunately, I felt myself nodding off after a whirlwind fews days. It was all catching up with me.

Afterwards, we decamped to the Woolpack in Slad, Laurie Lee’s local, where, over a pint of Budding, I read out my new poems, ‘ink still wet’, to my creative friends – Anthony, Jay, Gabriel and Miranda – in our poets’ snug. Jay and Anthony shared theirs, then it was time to go – I had a train to catch – but we walked up to Laurie Lee’s grave to pay our respects to the Bard of the Five Valleys. Then Miranda dropped me off at the station, and I caught the train to Swindon and onto home, wearily lugging my pack up the hill to my hobbit abode, glad to be finally back.

It had been a May Day to remember – I felt I had well and truly celebrated it and been fired up by beauty, friendship and awen.

Eric, whose vision has created Cae Mabon over the last twenty years should be applauded. If you can ever make it up, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, check out his show What the Bees Know, if he’s in your neck of the woods. FFI: http://www.caemabon.co.uk

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A Feast of Friends

A Feast of Friends at Ruskin Mill

A Feast of Friends at Ruskin Mill

7 November

 

A Feast of Friends

Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth

 

This event was organised by poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay, whose seminal Psychic Poetry I read long before I actually met him. In the Eighties he held an event called Angels of Fire at the Albert Hall – which might be seen as influential as the Beat readings there in 64. He performed with his poetry group, Phoenix, at the first Bardic Festival of Bath in a freezing Walcot Chapel – it was amazing their harper, Fred Hargender was able to play, consider his fingers must have been numb! This event was far cosier, in the beautifully renovated old paper mill – we were in a downstairs which had a real fire roaring in the corner. This was to be another ‘fiery’ combination, between Phoenix, and our group Firesprings – a fecund meeting of bards. The line up was going to be Firesprings members Anthony (who started the evening with an ecobardic epic called ‘The Story of People on Planet Earth’), David (who offered a spine-tingling trio of ‘death ballads’), and myself, plus Bath-based poet and Awen author, Mary, who performed some of her ‘Iona’; the second half was predominantly Phoenix poets Jay, Gabrielle, Ella & her partner, Sam, playing didgeridoo, plus Geoff offering us amusing Andalucian tales to end with accompanied by flamenco guitar from his friend Dave.

 

I had had an exhausting week – with all of my teaching, with a new class starting Friday afternoon, with 5 new students to add to my other 114! When I got back home I was shattered, and just flopped. When I awoke it was practically time to go out again, with no time to eat. I was hoping to grab some chips on the way, but didn’t think I had enough time. I should have made time, as my energy levels sank dangerously low before the performance. Fortunately, Jay offered me some chocolate and I had a can of Red Bull, which was just enough to see me through the first half. Luckily, my fifteen minute slot was then. As always I got nervous before hand – worried that my fatigue would impair my performance, but as happened once in the Bath Literature Festival, during our ‘Voices of the Past’ show, when I was spaced out with a cold, I turned in one of my best performances. With nothing left to lose, I tapped into something real, something edgy.

 

I had rehearsed down by the water in the moonlight, which helped to centre me and to evoke the atmosphere I wished to evoke. I performed my ‘winter set’ – wolf in the city, the wicker man, wild hunt, one with the land, and finishing with the ‘Prophets of Los’, which I preambled by saying with imagination anything is possible (as the events earlier in the week had proven). I had been deeply inspired by Obama’s winning speech on Tuesday, which showed the power of the spoken word. I was feeling perhaps less noble though and less on an even keel than ‘No Drama Obama’ – my separation from Jennifer had left me feeling miserable, wounded, and like a wounded beast I snarled and bit back! My wolf poem performance is always a crowd-pleaser, but tonight it had real bite – at one point I made a girl in the audience gasp with shock (although afterwards she came up to thank me for my poems, and roared – she had got in touch with her own beast). I introduced my set by saying ‘There’s an animal inside all of us, and sometimes it comes out!’. Bang – straight in. A short, punchy, pithy, preamble like that is far more effective than the flabby openings I hear some people come out with – sometimes longer than the piece itself, deflating any tension it may have, making it a long-winded affair. I kept my links to a minimum. I made sure I really connected to the audience – looking at them hard in the eye, defiant, prowling, like a cornered wolf. Unashamed of what I am or what I was offering them. A performance is not the time to hide one’s light under a bushel (or as I like to say, it can ‘set your bushel alight’). You should blaze – but not at one pitch. Like a fire, vary your radiance. Flicker and glow, flare up, die down, blaze. This keeps the attention up – makes it unpredictable. Spontaneous composition.

 

I had set a book stall up upstairs – Awen’s titles nearly covered the whole table, with the addition of the newest titles, Simon’s poetry collection, The Book of the Bardic Chair launched the previous weekend. I sold some, which helped to make the event even more worthwhile. But what made it a buzz was the full house – the energy was reciprocated, unlike the gig at the Victoria Art Gallery the week before. A small audience, however willing, is harder work. Your get less energy back for your efforts.

 

We all ended the night feeling on a bit of a high – Jay was keen for us to keep the flame burning. This kind of creative collaboration we felt to be the way forward. A new working model, which we expound upon in our manifesto – due to be launched at the end of the month. It would have been nice to have had a drink with folk afterwards, especially since it was Kirsty’s birthday the next day and it was nearly midnight, but I had a face-to-face tutorial with my Advanced Creative Writing students the next day and David was the driver. Plus I was starving, and there was a chance I might catch a takeaway on the way home, which I gratefully did. It was nice to have time to chat with David, a very decent bloke, an excellent bard and a true professional.

 

This latest experience has renewed my enthusiasm for Firesprings, which I admit was flagging. Joining forces with Phoenix, in these irregular events, has given it a new lease of life. The next one is due the end of the month, on William Blake’s birthday – Blake being another rallying point, the ‘William Blake Congregation’ as Felicity Bowers and Helen Elwes like to call it. ‘Hear the Voice of the Bards!’