Tag Archives: seasonal

Shaking the Silver Branch



The foliate mouth, Kevan Manwaring 2016


Twenty five years ago I published my first collection of poetry, Remembrance Days, which celebrated the wheel of the year. It was crudely produced, typed up in upper case (why? Was the shift key on my typewriter stuck?), photocopied and stapled together, and yet three of the poems within it – The Bride of Spring, One with the Land and Summer’s Wake – I still perform today. I had worked late into the night high in the ‘art block’ of Coventry Polytechnic typing it out … one finger at a time (no wonder it took so long!). By the time I was finished I found myself locked in. Everyone else had gone home and I had spend the sleeping under my desk to be awoken in the morning by the cleaner’s vacuum cleaner humming near my head. An auspicious start! My first print run was modest – I printed 20 copies off to force upon friends and family as Yule presents; and have been inflicting similarly ever since, albeit with better production values. Over the following two and half decades I have put together around a dozen such collections – from chapbooks to professionally published volumes. To celebrate this anniversary I have decided to gather together all of my bardic poems together in one volume, entitled Silver Branch, it is to be published by Awen next year. I discovered very early on that few people are willing to read poems from an unknown poet, so the best way to ensure an audience is to perform them – which I started to do at ‘open mics’. I quickly realized that learning them by heart is far more effective than merely reading them out – there is no barrier between you and the audience, and there is a level of kudos about committing work to memory. Folk appreciate the effort. So, the essential criteria for this next collection – what defines them, in my mind, as bardic poems – is the fact they have been performed in public, from memory, at some point. And many were written with that in mind – thus I embedded within them the kind of mnemonic devices that have served bards, scops, skalds, mimesingers, etc, for centuries: alliteration, assonance, consonance, end-rhyme, anaphora, refrains, imagery, and other kinds of oral/aural patterning. Some have been commissioned (e.g. Dragon Dance), some have been composed as part of a book (e.g. The Taliesin Soliloquies, for The Way of Awen), or for a larger collaborative performance (e.g. material for the Fire Springs shows ‘Arthur’s Dream’, ‘Robin of the Wildwood’, and ‘Return to Arcadia’). One sequence won me the Bardic Chair of Caer Badon (Bath) in 1998: Spring Fall – the story of Sulis and Bladud of Bath. They have been written for protest (e.g. ‘The Child of Everything’, performed from memory spontaneously in front of thousands of people at an anti-GMO rally, on a podium by Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square); for celebration (e.g. ‘The Wheel of the Rose’, for a friends wedding in a castle in Scotland); for healing (‘Heather’s Spring, for a friend dying of cancer and used several times since); and for ceremony (‘Last Rites for John Barleycorn’, and several others in my previous ‘bardic’ collection, Green Fire). Common themes running through all of the poems include an evocation and honouring of the sacred as manifest in all living things; a celebration of numinous places and remarkable people; the passionate defence of the fragile web of life and the precious glory of this planet we call home; and a mythic sense of negotiating reality.

Poetry has been there from the start of my journey as a writer and it has informed everything I do. First and foremost it is an act of perception – a way of seeing and being in the world. I find it effective at capturing the little epiphanies of existence, moments of heightened awareness, of beauty and truth. It has enriched my prose, my performances and my life.

I look forward to sharing my awen with you. May it inspire your own.

SILVER BRANCH: bardic poetry by Kevan Manwaring forthcoming from Awen Publications 2017


My Garden Universe

A garden universe in Stroud

A garden universe in Stroud


My garden universe, on the cusp of autumn – I walk up it at the beginning and end of the day, natural diurnal punctuation, the parenthesis in which my life fits. The various fruit trees this neck of the woods is graced with are like sephiroth on a Tree of Life – or one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology… Appleheim, plumheim, pearheim… I pick blackberries in the rain, and my fingertips turn pink. I return to the hyperabundance of the orchard and pick a bagful of different varieties (and some plump toms).  Then, one more time for kindling. Thank you, bountiful garden. Now I have a crumble in the oven and firewood ready for burning. Its lashing down on my conservatory, but my heart feels blessed.

Since moving into my new place in August I’ve seen the fabulous garden (shared with my landlords) in its summer glory, and now laden with autumn riches. I am loving ‘tending the hearth’ (inside and out) and feel blessed to have such a space. This Sunday was a particularly idyllic day – I awoke in my bell-tent, where I had decided to spend the night, to the most perfect autumnal day, the trees emerging through the morning mist, slowly burning off in the light of the new sun. Richard Jefferies wrote that ‘the dawn makes a temple of the Earth’, and that’s how it felt that day. I made porridge on my stove in the tent, and picked blackberries from the bushes to go on it. I greeted the day with my ‘Sunrise Praise’ then set to picking apples – for today was ‘juicing day’. Our neighbour had made a hydraulic apple press, and everyone on the street was bringing their apples to press. Picking fruit is a soothing and satisfying thing to do. This is ‘hand-to-mouth’ living the way nature intended.

apples from the garden

apples from the garden

Ready to wash

Ready to wash

After getting washed and dressed, I helped wash the apples collected from our mini-orchard with the children. The youngest rescued ‘chucky pigs’ – her cute name for bugs – from the dunked apples. C turned up and when went for a spin on my motorbike to May Hill – walking in the footsteps of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, exactly a hundred years on from when they first met and started to forge their creative friendship – supporting each other in their writing, while living a stone’s throw from each other near Dymock with their wives and children. They enjoyed long literary rambles, which they termed ‘walks-talking’, and visited May Hill on several occasions – a noticable landmark in this part of Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we trekked up through the woods to the hilltop. Sitting on a bench we had our packed lunch whilst enjoying the stunning views over the Severn – which snaked like a silver serpent in the distance. We read out poems in situ – most notably ‘Words’, which was written on the summit.

Reading Edward Thomas' 'Words' on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

Reading Edward Thomas’ ‘Words’ on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

When we got back we chilled out a bit, listening to a Poetry Please special on Charles Causley, (well C knitted socks while I had a bardic siesta ;0) before taking down the bell-tent, which had been up for a couple of months – it felt like ‘rolling up summer’, or ‘bringing the hearth inside’, as C put it. By the time we had lugged everything inside, there were three bottles of apple juice awaiting us and a small jar of tomato chutney – what riches!

Improving your socks life - with C.

Improve your socks life – with C.

Apple juice from 'Chateau Richmond' - freshly pressed

Apple juice from ‘Chateau Richmond’ – freshly pressed

Autumn Riches - tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Autumn Riches – tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

With a bag of apples from the garden, we made a Dorset apple cake; and then I made a nut roast for our main course. Later, by a crackling fire we shared stories we had written – the perfect end to a perfect autumnal day.

A garden feast

A garden feast

Notes from the Garden…

(I’ve never been green-fingered, and normally like nothing more strenuous than hanging out in my hammock in the garden, but something about this new place inspires me to get ‘stuck in’ – there are raised beds, fruit trees, peace and space. It would be a crime not to make the most of it).

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk - best to check that mushroom guide!

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk – best to check that mushroom guide!

A local heaven

A local heaven

Tuesday 9 October

I pick apples from the espalier, near where the bees buzzed around the lavender only a few weeks ago. Logs are stacked from a tree (sadly) felled to make room for the conservatory – now my dining area. Clearing room for new growth is a part of the life-cycle of all things – if there is no break in the canopy, new trees cannot flourish. We all need some light, rain and soil, and deserve a place in the sun. In the summer, I sit by the woodstack, where windchimes spiral lazily in the breeze. Behind, a compost bin is like a seething cthulu city – its pungent loam rich, dark and warm. A yew tree shelters a cross-section of bikes – in ascending sizes, like a tree-ring of childhood. The hedgerows are neatly cut back – given a sensible short back and sides for winter. Leaves from the three plane trees planted by the owners, lie curled and brown on the lawn like screwed up of poems. The ash tree – a witches knot of trunk and branches – sits in the corner in its own realm, laden with bunches of ash-keys, wreathed in ivy, overshadowing the swings like a kindly old crone waiting for a visit. The brambles have lost most of their bounty now – the few remaining berries losing their sweetness daily. Leaves like tongues turn to flame – the colours so livid, as though they have been dipped in dye. There’s a brown patch where the tent was – the hole of summer. The tomato plants have so many red fruits – like a collection of clown noses. The apple trees, stripped of their casual treasure, have been pruned back. At the top of the garden, a secret realm – of hidden delights: a plum tree, a pear, a giant Scots Pine, guarding the border of our kingdom like some wizened sentinel. There’s a through-route for a family of foxes, their den nearby. One night I saw a trail of their burning eyes, caught in the beam of my headtorch. A pile of undersized apples moulders on a neighbour’s compost heap like unwanted metaphors – our windfalls are collected for Paul’s pigs. Standing amid the orchard is like suddenly stepping into a fairy tale – you are presented with a Goblin Market of choice. A grey cat appears – its fur like smoke. It sidles up and mewls like a baby, letting me stroke it. The walnut tree has been ransacked by Ratatosk – but I’m just as guilty, scrumping the toms, I carry a load back in the belly of my cardy like some marsupial papoose, hoarding autumn – the last blessings of summer.

The embers of summer

The embers of summer

The Bear Moon Licks its Paws of Frost

Turning the Wheel Tour

9-10 December

Back on the road again as my Turning the Wheel tour continues. Riding this time of year can be beautiful … but deadly. The cold sun is blindingly low in the sky, but it illumines the bleak landscape and bare trees in a wonderful way. Our wooden cousins arch over the winding A46 down to Bath like Rackham-esque Ents – waiting to pluck the unwary traveller to their doom! On the way home a couple of days later, they were silhouetted against the full moon – lovely, but not so enjoyable when you’re freezing your butt off!

I hooked up with my old pal Sally (AKA Saravian) to do a combined book talk and gig at the Bear in Holwell – an amazing coaching inn outside Frome. Run by the Reverend Zak Ezelove, Tash and Anita, it is not quite in this world. Decorated with stunning fluorescent Mayan artwork (from Tas Bell – see below), dragons (the landlord’s Chinese astrology sign) and psychedelic foliage, it is a fantastic place to party – and that night, a young man called Fin was celebrating his nineteenth birthday there with an all-night knees up. They were setting up the decks when we arrived – given a lift by Saravian’s fellow musician Paul (after a sunny, but chilly ride down from Stroud on my two wheels it was a relief not to have to ride in the dark – as the temperatures plummeted on the cold, clear night – the moon on the cusp of full). The sign of The Bear echoed this – the pub’s totem portrayed silhouetted against a moonlit background. Saravian and Paul set up, and I put out my little stack of books. Another musician had already set up his PA and it turned out to be my friend, the multi-talented James Hollingsworth – who happened to be performing there, after us. Synchronicity! Saravian and Paul provided some good vibes with their fine tunes, then I gave a brief talk which led into an interesting discussion about ‘turning the wheel’ – no doubt influenced by the far out decor, it was pretty cosmic. Afterwards, James did a fantastic warm-up routine, using his loop machine and pedals to build up a wall of sound. His talent is staggering and he really should be playing stadiums. Yet, as I often find with real stars, his ego doesn’t outstrip his talent, as it sometimes does in those with lesser ability. A modest diva – now there’s an oxymoron to conjure with.

I really hope this place flourishes – it is trying to offer a creative alternative to mainstream monoculture. Beleagured by the forces of commerce and mundanity, they are like endangered species – a polar bear on an ever-diminishing iceberg. Such places stop life being too normal – as with certain eccentric seasonal events, as I said in my talk this evening, it ‘widens the gene pool of the imagination’! Long may it thrive!

Afterwards, we popped to Saravian’s local for one – The Griffin, home of Milk Street Brewery. Similarly decorated with original artwork, with live music, it’s great to see such grassroots creativity. My hostess runs the Frome Live Lounge show on the local radio station – and has plans for other community-focused initiatives. The town reminds me of Stroud – it has a similar feel about it: a creative buzz, a green scene, free-thinking (except for the odd small-minded bookseller), great music and cafes. Another locus of alternative modality – like Totnes, or my next destination (albeit with more sense, and less sparkle).

The next morning I set off across the frost-christened Somerset Levels to Glastonbury – for the next date on my Turning the Wheel tour: a book-signing at the Cat & Cauldron, run by Trevor and Liz Williams (SF author). They’ve kindly hosted several of my book events in town and once again made me feel welcome. There was alot going on it town that day – the Frost Fayre, the OBOD Winter bash and the usual Glastonbury madness! There was a lovely atmosphere on the High Street – stalls of festive goodies; the mayor opening the Frost Fayre (in its second year – and perfectly timed, to coincide with the first frost); the Holly King strode up and down in his Yuletide regalia. I asked him if he had to defeat the Oak King to win his title, but he also plays that part and so he had to ‘wrestle with himself’, he joked. Later I saw an altercation on the doorstep of the Cat & Cauldron that seemed to be an amusingly symbolic re-enactment of that very ritual combat: two local ne’er-do-wells (a barrel-chested warrior-type and a weasel-like opponent – which one was Oak, which Holly, I wouldn’t like to say) were duking it out on the road – chasing each other up and down in comic fashion. It reminded me of gruff walruses snarling and clashing on a wave-lashed islet – something from Frozen Planet perhaps). Father Christmas rode by accompanied by drummers (including a formidable Ice Queen – part of the Narnia-themed event); my old friend the  Green Man hawked his golden bough; Mr Tumnus popped in for some of my mead; the talented Bards of Ynys Witrin performed by the Market Cross; druids and faeries got in some retail therapy. In short, another day in Avalon. Fabulous!

It was lovely to catch up with old friends and made it all worth while. I had to dash to make the most of the fading light and heat. By the time I got home from my long-ish ride I was chilled to the bone and needed a good long soak. After a week of being out and about (Bournemouth, Frome and Glasto) I feel like tending the hearth and getting in touch with my inner bear – time to hibernate (if only the demands of the season would allow it – but I doubt there will be much peace to be had this side of the solstice)!

Lonely is the man...