Tag Archives: Resurgence

Stories to Save the World

26-29 November

A flurry of fabulous events over the last few days – a feast that I’m still digesting…

Thursday I was invited back to be a guest panelist in the Cafe of Ideas, this time held in Bath at Chapel Arts Centre – once again discussing narrative and its impact on things. The audience was ‘intimate’ – it was hard to compete with a Hollywood movie star turning on the lights – but it was a quality event nonetheless, with a thought-provoking discussion evolving from questions from the host, Pete, and the audience. I talked about one of my favourite themes, the Hero’s Journey, and cited as an example the event up the road: the celebrity switch-on of Bath’s Xmas lights, relating it, with a nod and wink, in mythic terms (the discussion had been largely dominated by economics – perhaps not surprisingly as a banker was on the panel)… A benighted land devastated by the great dragon, Recession, needs a hero – fortunately one lives close by (until recently a house in the Circus, and Midford Castle). A man called Cage comes to aid of the townsfolk, who have gathered together in anxiety – hoping their prayers will be answered. Cage is the Lightbringer – with his electric power he banishes the night and, all hope, the dragon Recession, bringing prosperity and happiness to the town once more. The tills rang out and the shopkeepers lived happily ever after. The end.

Narrative is all around us – the myths we live by, the consoling fictions, the grand narrative that dominate the Way Things Are. By being aware of them, we can work with them, even change them. Certainly change our own. The world needs different ‘stories’ to live by, because the ones we have are clearly not working.

And without narrative, life is meaningless – we are storytelling creatures, pattern-makers. Story is how we make sense of the world, our messy lives.

And even the storyteller needs to be to told a story now and again – to simply listen and be held by another’s narrative.

On Friday I went to see a play of my friend and fellow gardener, Svanur – a two-hander called The Big Deal, followed by a play called The Small Print – a brilliant ‘double-act’ (the two talented actors played different roles in each – a suicidal woman and an ‘angel’; a Council worker and an inquisitive old woman). As great concept often are, it’s very simple – a play in a pub – but I haven’t seen it done so well before. The staging, production and direction was all professional. The show is going to Clifton, Bristol, later this week – the Lansdown Inn, Thurs-Sat. Worth catching!

Saturday was the event of possibly the year – Heaven’s Gate, Stroud’s first festival of storytelling, poetry and music, co-organised by my friend Jay Ramsay and Rick Vick to celebrate William Blake’s birthday. It was a night of a thousand bards (but only one bar – which unfortunately closed before I could get a well-deserved beer … waiting til after my set, which wasn’t until gone eleven! It had been a long-haul – a Bard Day’s Night) I was performing along with a fantastic line-up including Robin and Bina Williamson (they bumped into me while looking for the venue); Phoenix (the supergroup of Stroud – Jay and friends); Kirsten Morrison; Aidan and his lovely pianist companion from Prague; Anthony Nanson, storyteller; William Ayot; Paul Matthews and a host of other poets – plus, most magnificently of all, Irina Kuzminsky, who had come all the way from Melbourne to launch her book, Dancing with Dark Goddesses, published by my press, Awen, with an incredible dance-recital tour-de-force. After the gig, I popped the champagne to wet the baby’s head with Irina and Angela, the designer – a fab team effort, as was the evening in a larger sense, a collective act of art. Everybody shone and the audience were very supportive and appreciative – the Sub Rooms, a large venue, were packed out. A fantastic success!

I performed a story I wrote especially for the event, The Gate, inspired by Blake’s phrase – Heaven’s Gate (reclaiming it from its associations with Michael Cimino’s ‘disasterous’ overbudget flop). I responded to Rob Hopkins challenge in a recent Resurgence:

there are a paucity of stories that articulate what a lower-energy world might sound like, smell like, feel like and look like. What is hard, but important is to be able to articulate a vision of a post-carbon world so enticing that people leap out of bed every morning and put their shoulders to the wheel of making it happen.

This, coupled with Blake’s gate, was my inspiration, and that is what I set out to do with my simple parable, which I kept deliberately ‘light’ (following the notion that we can enter the kingdom of heaven as children – by letting ourselves be ‘held’ by a story, in a state of Keatsian negative capability, or Blakean innocence). The response was very positive. I believe art, at its best, is a gateway (rather than a mere mirror of the world) and get us closer to achieving this goal. We need stories of hope and deep beauty to defeat the gloom, the paralysis of despair, and the denialists.

The next morning we had a post-gig breakfast in Costa (the only cafe open in Stroud on a Sunday. We would have preferred lovely independent wholefood eatery, Star Anise… Instead, we turned this chain into the Left Bank of the Cotswolds for a couple of hours, as the surviving bards gathered). We were all wiped out from an epic night – but this broke down any remaining barriers. There was warmth, there was awen – and something wonderful happened. For a little while, the gate opened… Such a huge act of love will not go unnoticed by the universe! Well done to Jay, Rick and all those who performed and made it happen. Absolute stars, all of them – shining beyond the light pollution of the mainstream, the gaudy dazzle of the Media. Blake would have been touched by such a show of artistic solidarity … the City of Art descended and Albion’s children shone.

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The Fecund Earth

Resurgence Camp 25-26 July

Resurgence Camp

Green & Away, Bransford

Just returned from an inspiring time at the Resurgence Readers Camp, the annual gathering for readers of the fabulous magazine ‘at the heart of Earth, art and spirit’. This was held at Green & Away, an eco-conference centre near the Malverns. Both organisations are inspiring, taking positive steps to live in harmony with the planet and each other – seek them out!

I was booked to give a talk on Awen Publications and its ecobardic ethos (as summed up in An Ecobardic Manifesto by Fire Springs) Sunday morning, thanks to my friend, poet Jay Ramsay – who was down to run a poetry workshop there. Fellow Bard of Bath Helen Moore was due to perform but had to drop out, so I stepped in: Number 3, rather than 8!

I rode up on Saturday afternoon in the sun, after dealing with ‘bikefright’ (a flattish battery). After a productive, but full-on week (getting to the end of Book II of The Wounded Kingdom; preparing The Well Under the Sea for publication; writing the introduction to Mary’s posthumous collection, Tidal Shift…gathering in the harvest) perhaps my batteries were low too, but it was worth the effort. The site is beautifully managed, in a permaculture way – lots of green things growing amongst the tents – used throughout the summer and run by a core team of G&A volunteers who have clearly put love into the place. Food was laid on, which was a pleasant surprise – and a relief – as after I’d loaded the bike with Awen stock and my tat there wasn’t room for any cooking stuff!

Saturday night’s main entertainment was with Ashly Ramsden, who performed an impressive solo show that last over 2 hours! It was a narrative woven around the wise stories of Sufi folk hero, Nasruddin, stories Ashley has made his own. There was some musical accompaniment from Jay, his friend artist Hereward Gabriel and others, which helped to break things up a little. It was a testimony of Ashley’s skill (& stamina) that the audience stayed the distance until the end, gone 10. We had been well and truly ‘hodja’d’!

Afterwards, I enjoyed the campfire and the ‘village pub’ before deciding on a whim to experience the sauna/sweat lodge. I stripped off, my poncho serving as a towel/robe. It was an intimate session – just five of us. We sat in the steaming darkness, ommed, sang daft songs and gave thanks. I get folk to do an awen, which really resonated there – so I repeated the activity the next day at my talk. Afterwards, emerging naked into the night, felt wonderfully alive, gazing up at the stars whilst enjoying a shower!

The next day, I penned this poem in Jay’s ‘edges’ poetry workshop:

A Green Way

The fecund earth

breathes

damp green goodness.

Plums ripe on the tongue

release their slow sunlight.

Naked in the dark, glistening,

reborn from the hot, wet womb

wearing a skin of stars.

Fireworks explode,

fruit of light.

I met a man looking

for a mirror in the dark.

Songs in the silence,

prayers swirl in steam,

skirls of smoke.

Swimming in sleep

we plunge into the river’s dream.

***

After a final plenary, when feedback and ideas were shared, we all struck camp – barrowing our tat back to the carpark like post Peak Oil hoboes. Bid fond farewell to Jay & Hereward and hit the road – a long ride home in the rain, (any ride in a downpour is too long) but it certainly worth it.

A magical place – a lovely group of people. Recommended!

***

A sad coda – I got home from this inspiring event to discover the Big Green Gathering had been cancelled. It sounds like the Blue Meanies did their very best to make it impossible for the organisers to continue, and so they were forced to pull the plug. This is a damning indictment of the kind of skew-whiff society we live in, when such a positive, creative event gets squished. The Big Green Gathering has been running since 1994, emerging out of the Green Field at Glastonbury Festival, and is the best, big festival around for my money. When so many festivals have huge environmental impact and implode on themselves after three days, bloated beasts of mainstream consumer culture, the Big Green pioneered a low-impact sustainable approach, with many wind, solar and pedalled powered stages, recycling, permaculture, compost loos, organic and fair-trade fare … long before such concepts became trendy. At BGG it wasn’t about big name bands who are deemed successful by how much money they make for the corporate coffers, but grass-roots creativity. You could spend five days doing fabulous green craft workshops; getting ‘genned’ up in the Campaigns Field or Green Forum; hanging out in lovely cafes, or the beautiful magical spaces made with love; hearing mind-expanding talks in the Earth Energies field; receiving healing vibes in the Healing Field; dancing to some up-and-coming band or festival favourite; meeting old friends and making new ones… The BGG is an inspiring expo of green solutions. It is more about lifestyle, than superficial fashion. Attitude than income. You get the feeling that the majority of BGG contributors walk their talk – they live it, year round, not just for one weekend a year. If the authorities stop something as positive as this, then that shows how morally and intellectually bankrupt they are. We can see all around us signs that the ‘System’ is not working – indeed it is collapsing before our eyes, as banks and big businesses go into tail-spin – the BGG, in its colourful way offers alternatives. Which, do you think, is more valid? Which ark would you rather be on? Long live BGG! May it rise from the ashes of small-mindedness.

Read The Guardian article by John Vidal here

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival