Tag Archives: Poetry

Hidden Stories: hiding in plain sight

Carol Leeming performing at the Hidden Stories launch, the Phoenix 31 March 2015

Carol Leeming performing at the Hidden Stories launch, the Phoenix 31 March 2015

Reading Marginalia, by Pamela Raith Photography

Reading Marginalia, by Pamela Raith Photography

Schmoozing the launch, Pamela Raith Photography

Schmoozing the launch,
Pamela Raith Photography

The culmination of a significant multi-media project (Affective Digital Histories: exploring de-industrialised landscapes from the 1970s to the present), Tuesday, 31 March saw the launch of an anthology of the commissioned pieces, Hidden Stories, at the fabulous Phoenix arts centre, in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter – the focus of much of the new writing. I visited it about a year ago to begin my research – and now I was returning as one as the published writers. I felt honoured to have been included in such an excellent collection (which first manifested as the very cool App), to be rubbing shoulders with eight distinctive and accomplished writers. Gathering at the Phoenix on the final day of the project was Divya Ghelani, Carol Leeming, David Devanny, myself, Pete Kalu and Fereshteh Mozaffari, and Mark Goodwin and it was in that order that we performed to a full auditorium of over a 100 people. The evening was introduced by Dr Corinne Fowler, who has led this project alongside Dr Ming Lim – both from the University of Leicester. It has been a team effort from beginning to end, and many talented people have been involved – from my supervisor, Harry Whitehead (who suggested the commissions should be in different forms), special collections librarian Simon Dixon, designers Gino and Matteus, who between them crafted the app and the anthology, Sarah Vallance at the Phoenix, who co-ordinated the launch, and of course all the writers. To hear extracts of six of the commissions reinforced their diversity and excellence. These are really high quality pieces – each flourishing within its own format, whether its flash fiction (Divya’s glittering ‘An Imperial Typewriter’), choreopoem (Carol Leeming’s compassionate soul-song for St George’s (‘Love the Life you Live, Live the Life you Love’), play (Pete Kalu and Fereshteh Mozaffari’s ‘5 Glossop Cats’), or poetry (David Devanny’s ‘Crow Steps in the Quarter’; and Mark Goodwin’s ‘Mist’s Rave’) – the latter crafting it into an immersive soundscape and impressive short film which ended the performances in spectacular fashion. Afterwards there was a chance to schmooze, chat to Radio Leicester, pose for photos, slap backs, sign books, but most of all to celebrate our collective achievement. In a quote for the Leicester Mercury I summed up my feelings: ‘I feel delighted to have been part of such a fantastic project – it has been a real cross-fertilization of art forms and disciplines, with talent from near and far. Such a polyphonic expression of voices sends out a strong message of creative excellence through diversity – more important than ever in these troubled times! Thank you to Corinne, Ming, the staff of the Phoenix, and all involved.’

Carol & Kevan at the launch

Carol & Kevan at the launch

It is healthful for a community to hear its stories being told, being celebrated. The narratives of the Cultural Quarter and Glossop show the fascinating, life-affirming weaving of multi-cultural and transparadigmic threads which offers a strong message in these challenging times. Britain is what it is because of its rich rainbow heritage, a blending of many voices, many cultures, many colours, faiths and traditions. Our project, offers in its modestly localized (but non-provincial) way, a microcosm of how bold vision, decent funding, inspiration, ingenuity and skill, can create fruitful collaboration. Bravo!

Kevan & Harry at the launch

Kevan & Harry at the launch

Dr Ming Lim and me, at the launch, Pamela Raith Photography

Dr Ming Lim and me, at the launch, Pamela Raith Photography

 

Now Available from http://www.phoenix.org.uk/hidden-stories-book/

Now Available from http://www.phoenix.org.uk/hidden-stories-book/

FFI: http://affectivedigitalhistories.org.uk/

 

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If Your Memory Serves You Well…

Poetry By Heart

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of MCing the Gloucestershire finals of the Poetry by Heart competition. This is a national initiative set up by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. It is a poetry recital competition for 14-18 year olds. The contestants must choose 2 poems from the fat anthology containing a timeline of verse from Beowulf to 21st Century poetry: a pre-1914 and post-1914. And this year they were asked to select a third poem, from a First World War anthology. With these three poems committed to memory they must first compete within their schools, in front of class mates; and then the school winners must compete with their county. The winners of these heats get to go to Cambridge in March to perform in the regional and national finals.

The learning of poetry by heart is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem, improve public speaking skills, and foster a deeper understanding of language – transferable skills that can help in many ways; and the poems can become wise friends for the reciter – guiding through life. And you’re never short of a party-piece!

The essence of the contest is very bardic and similar to the Eisteddfod system of which I am very familiar – having entered, won and judged several Bardic Chair contests (the latest being the Bard of Hawkwood which I set up last year). Any initiative that encourages the Bardic Tradition is good by me and this is a particularly well thought out one.

To warm the audience up I offered my comic poem, ‘Phone Tree’, and later on, a couple of my favourite poems, ‘A Musical Instrument’ by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by WB Yeats.

I was relieved not to be judging last night – always a tricky thing to undertake, especially when the quality is so high. And it certainly was in the Gloucester Guildhall. The five contestants (all girls, sadly, as the only boy dropped out at the last minute – but well done to the girls for being so brave!) were all of a very high standard. I was deeply impressed by all of them – bringing alive some of my favourite poetry (Kubla Khan; Dover Beach; Lights Out; Journey of the Magi).

There were three judges – all experienced in poetry and drama. We had a guest poem from artist-scientist, the Purple Poet; and a set from Joy-Amy Wigman, the ‘red haired pixie of doom’, who entertained the audience whilst the judges deliberated.

The Guildhall is a great venue – a classy old building which is now an arts centre, with cinema, bar, hall and workshop rooms. It looked like alot was going on.

The judges returned and the winner was announced – Sophia Smout – who will go onto Cambridge. Prizes were handed out – and all those who took part achieved alot by just stepping up the mark. They deserve our respect. As do their parents and teachers for supporting them.

Tim Shortis, from Poetry by Heart, said after that I ‘…did a great job as MC, soothing and encouraging and generally wafting people towards the light.’

I’m a good wafter!

Whatever age you are – it is always worth learning a poem: a friend for life.

http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/

Smooring the Hearth

Solstice Sunset

Resisting night’s gravity

I rise to the Heavens,

clay on boots,

dusk at my heels,

slipping up to the

lonely grove on the brow,

where a year ago,

we planted a circle of hope.

Now I stand alone

in silent vigil.

Aurora of the day

sliding away, behind

Rodborough’s bear shoulders.

It is a satisfying death –

a great actor’s swansong.

A star born for this moment.

The lights fade, and, on cue,

another nova.

No desecrating ruckus

at a stone circle is needed

to mark this annual valediction – leave

the vandals to their

trilithon abuse and stoned selfies.

I have no need of the Am-dram

of dodgy rituals,

the posturing of ill-cast hierophants.

My gaze is for the sun alone.

Quietly, I say goodbye.


Burning News

The old year

is an empty grate,

solstice-black and cold

as a spurned lover’s heart.

Waiting to be filled with

kindling – scrunched news,

or the celebrity tittle-tattle

that passes for it

these days,

fat splinters of shattered tree,

glottal stops of coal,

black bile of angry mines,

the simmering earth

beneath our feet. Its fury

on slow-burn. The fuse of

ancient forests sizzle.

Coal scuttle, clatter and clinker.

With the rasp of a match,

paper curls, catching flame –

spreading like hungry gossip.

Inflammatory rumours

blaze into headlines of fire,

snagging our gaze.

We try to turn away,

but too late.

We’re hypnotized.

Smooring the Hearth

The clock ticks towards

the midnight chimes.

The sands of the year drain away.

Sip your anaesthetic,

reflect upon all that has gone,

the deeds un/done, the words un/said.

Bank the fire down, my friend,

before going to bed.

The memories glow and fade

like the coal, slow time

locked in its fossil heart.

Each a dream, once cherished,

come morn, a pail of dust

to be scattered on the dormant earth.

The day a squall of rain,

the nights come as fast.

The solsticed sun instructs us

to hiatus, to put down our tools.

Endless struggle, surrender arms,

as the Christmas ceasefire commences.

For a while we no longer

have to be anything.

Merely drop down into our being.

It is okay, friend, we can stop buying.

We can stop pretending to be nice,

so desperate to be loved back,

to be popular. For surely,

this is the measure of success.

That, and how much you own.

What you can show off to visitors,

the guests guessing your soul

from what’s on your shelves.

Shallow the depths of society’s

criteria. As though our lives

are no more than a lifestyle magazine,

a trending meme.

The fire dies down,

and what is discarded

slips through the bars of the grate.

Leaving the sine qua non of embers –

the truth only found

at the eleventh hour,

say, on the eve of execution,

when we face the cold, naked fact

of our mortality, our swift sparrow-flight

the length of a mead-hall.

Yet still, we bank the fire down –
thanking the warmth and light it has

bestowed, its borrowed grace –

in the hope that come dawn,

the last star can rekindle

our wintering king,

before it winks out

vanishing with the night.

Poems copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Is there Peace?

The Arch-Druids calls out “A oes Heddwch” - Is there Peace?

The Arch-Druids calls out “A oes Heddwch” – Is there Peace?

As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War there is a hyper-abundance of media-attention and a plethora of TV dramas, documentaries, plays, albums, shows, and so forth, flogging a dead war horse… One could be forgiven for a certain fatigue – and we’ve got four more years of it to go! Yet there are some stories that break open the heart.

An especially resonant one for me is that of Hedd Wyn.

hedd-wynn

‘Hedd Wyn’ was the bardic name of Ellis Humphreys Evans, a Welsh farmer-poet, who won the 1917 Bardic Chair of Birkenhead posthumously (a prize given in an Eisteddfod, the original ‘Game of Thrones’ if you will). Having had some success in previous eisteddfodau (but not the National Welsh one – the most prestigious) Ellis enlisted, having resisted the Call Up for three years. He was not opposed to War, he said, but didn’t relish the thought of killing a man. Because his parents had four sons of age, it was decided by the War Office that one of them must be sent to the Front. Although Ellis, the eldest, did not want to go, he couldn’t bear his younger brother going in his stead. Ellis felt it his duty, as big brother, to step up. Tragically, he was slain in action, but not before he had submitted a long poem to the National Eisteddfod. Fortunately the censors let it pass (though it was initially suspected of being written in code and revealing sensitive information – in fact it was a cri-de-coeur against the inhumanity of all war). The adjudicators decided that it was the best poem, and awarded the Chair – a beautiful carved ‘throne’, to the poet known only under his pseudonym, ‘Hedd Wyn’. He was killed in action before he was able to claim his Chair, but it was awarded post-humously in his honour and became known as the Black Chair.

In 1992 a moving film was released of his story – Hedd Wyn — and it went on to be Oscar-nominated for the Best Foreign-language Drama (it is in Welsh, with English subtitles), as well as winning a BAFTA for Best Picture, and a string of other awards.

Hedd Wyn film poster

Last night, a special Remembrance Sunday screening was held at Hawkwood College, Gloucestershire. The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood was present – an original Eisteddfod Chair from the 1882 contest in Denbighshire. This has been in the family of Richard Maisey for decades, and he has kindly lent it to Hawkwood for the contest, which is to be held at the Open Day, May Day Bank Holiday Monday 2015. The theme is ‘Flood’ and any original poem, song or story by a GL5 or GL6 resident is eligible. Richard said a few words about the Chair, and I introduced the film. Afterwards we had a discussion about some of the issues raised by the heart-rending drama. Considering the countless voices that were silenced by the vast tragedy of the Great War – all those who didn’t make it back from the Trenches, or were injured beyond repair mentally or physically – it was felt that our opportunity to express ourselves creatively is a ‘sacred gift’ that shouldn’t be squandered. Many good men and women have died so we can have that freedom. Peace always comes at a price – and this time of Remembrance is a poignant moment to reflect upon that. To pray for peace. Watching Hedd Wyn I once again felt how could we possibly have let this happen again? Such an exercise in futility as the ‘War to End All Wars’ was, the obscenity of war should not be allowed by civilized people to ever happen again – and yet it has, again and again. By telling these true stories I hope we can make people say No! to all acts of aggression, to the Arms Trade, and the whole industry of aggrandizing War and those who fight in it. Violence is never the solution. There is always another way.

And if we forsake our creativity in the face of conflict then we have forsaken our humanity.

y-gadair-ddu

Observe the 2 minutes’ silence at the anniversary of the Armistice, 11th November, 11am GMT, and remember all victims of war. Make a donation to the Peace Pledge Union to support the ongoing campaign for peace.

North of the Wall: Eildon Tree

Eildon Tree

The Rhymer's Stone - marking the spot of the Eildon Tree. Photograph copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

The Rhymer’s Stone – marking the spot of the Eildon Tree.
Photograph copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Two slim trunks entwine like lovers.

Words, ripe as rowan berries

hang poised for the plucking

from the quickening air.

Here, at the Rhymer’s Stone

worlds meet

and poetry is born.

The sun shines its benedictions down,

a fey breeze stirs the trees.

A nameless bird sings,

is replied to.

Stillness after the city,

meeting the Muse for a coffee,

hoarse from the Fringe,

heartsore from love’s disappointments,

she points me the way on the battered road atlas –

three roads to choose from:

cairn or kirk or loch.

Roots snake deep into the peat,

draw up the sap of inspiration

conjured from the alchemy of

sunlight, rain, wind and night.

I lay like Thomas of Ercildoune on Huntlie Bank,

and the Queen of Elfland rides into view –

a woman cyclist in her lycra and helmet,

exchanging a bit of banter with two old characters

about the secrets of the gates

known only to them.

They had been sitting behind the hedge

putting the world to rights.

Had I overheard?

The Eildon Hills in the distance - and a visiting Bard on a Bike. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

The Eildon Hills in the distance – and a visiting Bard on a Bike.
Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Beneath the Eildons’ three peaks,

split it is said by a demon that

wizard Michael Scot confounded,

still to this day failing to make rope

from the sands of the Tweed,

the magical and the mundane rub shoulders.

The upper and lower get acquainted.

The unfathomable realms of man and woman,

the eternal mystery of their dance

come alive in timeless tableau.

Climb up behind the Queen,

let her guide you to her hidden kingdom.

The jingle of her rein sends you into a trance.

Long hair coiling, blood lips enticing,

the tendrils of her song

piercing your heart.

Follow her siren call

to the end of all that you know.

Be prepared to not be

the same upon your return.

The Rhymer's Stone photography copyright  Kevan Manwaring 2014

The Rhymer’s Stone
photography copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Kevan Manwaring Summer 2014

North of the Wall: Walking to Maia

Day 4 - Sycamore Gap to Holmhead (14)

Hadrian’s Wall – looking east towards Craig Lough. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

WALKING TO MAIA*

‘…pronouncing in silence this long sentence of stone’ Noel Connor

Walking to stillness,

walking to wind through the dry grass,

walking to the gentle lap of the outward tide.

I’m walking to Maia.

Walking away from the bullshit,

walking away from the banks,

walking away from Westminster,

from the politicans’ self-interested dance.

Walking away from the rolling news bombardment,

vomiting violence 24/7,

making us fear the other,

fear our neighbour,

nurture a culture of fear,

and feed the cycle

that sells the news,

sells the guns, sells the bombs,

sells the panic rooms, the state-of-the-art tombs.

I’m walking to Maia,

walking away from the High Street,

everything-must-go-closing-down-forever-two-for-one-75%-discount-sale.

Walking away from Legoland and Lego people.

Walking away from servile stations,

from motorway gridlock,

from toomanycars,

from the littering doggybagshitters in the parks.

From animal sadism

and people masochism,

from zero hours contracts,

and fat cat bonuses.

I’m walking to Maia.

Walking away from Putin and Netinyahu.

Walking away from Isis militia and Ebola.

Walking away from everyday sexism and FGM.

Walking away from childhood hero child abuse

and internet porn – the virtual voyeurism which is the norm.

Walking away from the NSA, from GCHQ and hacking hacks.

I’m walking to Maia,

I’m walking to Maia.

Along my long straight road

following a wall of will,

to the vanishing point,

where I hope the land runs out

before my legs.

Six days of feet jazz,

of sheep bleat and stile hop.

Six days of tracking white acorns

and map origami on windy crags.

Six days of hostel hopping,

of top bunk grabbing,

of soggy sock drying,

of full English (veggie),

of caloriecarbcramming,

of sugar-jamming.

Six days of waterproof-dancing,

of goretex and sunhats,

of tshirts and wax jacks,

of blister-feet and sweaty backs.

I’m walking to Maia,

alone together,

in conversation, in silence,

in solitude, in company,

in high spirits, in doldrums,

in heel-to-toe iambs,

in hiking trance,

in hyper-awareness,

walking awake-asleep,

walking into your body

and into the land.

I’m walking to Maia.

The end of the Wall - Bowness on Solway. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

The end of the Wall – Bowness on Solway. Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Arriving to estuary emptiness,

the Solway at low-tide,

a dog licking its wounds –

lazy lap on mud-flats,

skirl of a lonely gull,

tang of salt and seaweed.

A terminal shack interpretation,

no victory pint from the closed pub.

The world returns to

tea-room and bus-stop.

Over the water, Scotland awaits.

The wind whispers

it’s the journey.

Walking to Maia.

Mantra of footstep

And breath. Balancing

Inside the Roman

And the Pict.

* Maia is the name of the last Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Bowness-on-Solway, West of Carlisle, 84 miles from Wallsend, the start, East of Newcastle.

Breaking Bard

https://i0.wp.com/schmoesknow.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/BBR-1.jpg

Going for a drive in the country

‘The chemistry of poetry…’

Yo, listen up! This is how it goes. A world-weary creative writing teacher called Graham Gray discovering he has a case of terminal boredom decides to venture into the sleazy world of rhyme. He enlists the help of a unpromising student, Gwion Pinkman. Together they compose batches of illicit verse, which they disseminate among the poetically-starved. Haiku is the gateway drug to this dark underbelly. One ode and you’re addicted. Graham Gray is forced to maintain a respectable front – a muse and home to support – while all the time transgressing in realms of the imagination. Writing to the edge, he becomes hooked on breaking literary taboos. Gray and his accomplice at hounded by the threshold guardians of the establishment – the Dull Enforcement Agencies of the status quo – keeping one step ahead. Each week we thrill at their escapades. Gray’s condition worsens – he’s de-composing. Undergoing rhymotherapy, the Chef of words loses his ‘flashing eyes and floating hair, which identify him as a Romantic. He is forced to become a Realist and write painfully self-aware novels about his so-traumatic childhood and the Way The World Is. The laudanum had unfortunate side-effects anyway.