Tag Archives: Transition

Houdinis of Bewilderland

Creative Escapology in the Age of Austerity

by Kevan Manwaring

This article was written as a commission for the Doggerland journal –  to make it more web-friendly, I will serialize it here in digestible extracts. It’s initial title was ‘Prepping for the Art-apocalypse: creative survival in the Age of Austerity’ but I decided that just fed into the current Neoliberalist, survival-of-the-fittest, paradigm and its predilection for ‘disaster-porn’. I want to offer a more  positive approach, although the question I started it with still stands:

In an era of philistine-funding cuts in the arts, corporate-controlled channels of consumerism, and a fear-fuelled conservatism in commissioning and programming, what strategies are available to us to foster artistic survival?

houdini_photo_20

Part One

Welcome to the Smeuse-House

The whole is made up of holes. We stitch together our rags and tatters and make something out of nothing. Slowly the picture emerges. Metonymically, to the arrhythmia of the new fin de siècle. Fragments are offered. And we make of them what we will, piecing together a narrative of (all)sorts. The future archivist looks back and sees the crumb-trail, the pioneering projects, the unseen visionaries, the coteries and communities, the salvage-culture sculptors, apocalypso bands, escape artists of an imploding neoliberalism. Those who have found the gap in the hedge and wriggled through. Houdinis of Bewilderland, the artists and poets who wander amongst the ruins of the failed project of civilisation and etch broken songs onto singed codices.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2016

Next: Rhizomes with a View

This article was commissioned by Doggerland. An alternative version is available in print form in their latest issue, along with other thought-provoking contributions.  Check it out. Available from:  http://www.doggerland.info/doggershop

Keep in touch with Doggerland – an inspiring initiative by & for radical artists and writers.

http://www.doggerland.info/

 

 

Making Hay

Making Hay

11-14 June

Green Scythe Fair - deepest Somerset

Just back from three days in Avalon – Scythe Fair today, book launch yesterday and storytelling show on Friday (which was actually in Taunton, but it was called ‘Otherworlds’ so I’m including it!).

Friday afternoon Richard and I made our way down in the sun to Taunton – where we had a gig at the Brewhouse. We compiled an anthology show called ‘Otherworlds’ – I did a couple of stories from hotter climes (Al-Andalus; Yemen) and an Irish myth. Richard did stories from Scotland,

Ireland and ‘the fifth quarter’ – Romney Marsh. The set seemed to complement and flow well – but we could have done with a few more. We were competing with a squaddie dance company in the main auditorium – clearly more to Tauntonian taste (or perhaps it was the footie and the sun). Still the venue was impressive, felt well-received by our small but appreciative audience (‘absolutely brilliant!’) and had an enjoyable jolly. We sank a couple of well-earned beers (‘Wayland Smithy from the White Horse Brewery) when we got back. It was good to be doing some pro-storytelling again (last time was Italy).

Launching The Way of Awen at Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

The next day I prepared for my big book launch at the Cat & Cauldron in Glasto that afternoon. I enjoyed riding down to Avalon on my Triumph Legend with a box of books on the back. It promised to be a special night and it didn’t disappoint. We had a decent turn-out at Trevor and Liz’s shop – the launch had been timed to coincide with the OBOD bash in Town Hall. When I launched the companion volume, The Bardic Handbook, four years ago at Gothic Image we had a great turn out – with the late John Michell; Philip Carr-Gom; Ronald Hutton; and Michael Dames turning up (it turned out they were in town for the OBOD bash which I didn’t know was on – afterwards I was invited along – so I organised this one to synchronise).

The Bard and the Druid - Philip Carr-gom pops in to my book launch

Making it feel like full circle was having the first Bard of Glastonbury, Tim Hall, there who kindly played a mini-set, as he had done at my launch in 2006. It created a lovely atmosphere.

Tim Hall plays at my launch, Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury - with friends Amber & Phil

I introduced the book and read out a small selection of poems, which were well received. There were some good questions and the vibe was good. I left with only a couple of copies of the book – one of which I gave to Ronald Hutton and Ana Adnoch when I bumped into them at the OBOD gathering. It was great to go there afterwards, as a guest – launching a book 20 years in the making deserves a good knees up! Thanks to Philip I also got my friends, Nigel and Karola, in as well. We got ourselves a plate of food and enjoyed the bardic entertainment. Ended up having a dance with my old Dutch friend Eva – who I met on Glastonbury Tor one solstice twenty years ago! Bid farewell to my friend Nigel and staggered back to Amanda’s yurt, which she had kindly offered me for the night. My friend Karola had the short straw – sharing with me – and having to put up with wine-induced snoring but we’re good friends and she didn’t kick me once!

a Legend by the Tor

The next morning, after a much needed full monty (breakfast) and walk up the Tor, I went to the Green Scythe Fair in deepest Zummerset – riding passed scores of bikers on classic bikes out for a blat heading in the other direction, and hamlets with names like Little Gurning, I finally found the site – a campsite called Thorney Lakes near a village called Mulcheney Ham. It was only a fiver to get in – and you got free tea and cake if you came on a bike – I tried my luck but didn’t convince the lady in the tea tent (who had come down on a Bonnie). I bumped into folk and bimbled about, enjoying the ambience. You felt like you were breathing in carbon credits just walking about. It’s a very positive event with lots of green solutions – alternative fuel, food, housing, clothing, education – as well as being relaxed, picturesque (and picaresque) and just the right size. If it had a theme tune it’d be ‘Heavy Horses’ by Jethro Tull. It was very Hardy-esque and felt like something you’d expect to see Gabriel Oak at. There were scything championships – all very serious stuff (involving plenty of liquid preparation). Competitors carefully whetted their blades and assessed the quality of the grass. There were lots of wonderful craft stalls, info tents and music – including my friends Tim Hall and the Architypes (sic), who performed on Sangers fabulous horse-drawn solar-powered stage. There were bands with names like ‘Bag o’ Rats’ – who played ‘psychedelic folk’ to a good-natured crowd mellow on zider. There was plenty of fresh grass cuttings for kids to play with – and it kept them amused for hours (a Battle Royale grass fight; several grass burials took place). The sky had been darkly ominous all afternoon (a bit Bergman-esque with the reapers hanging around – as though waiting for a game of chess with Max Von Sydow). At one point the heavens opened and I found myself standing under a gazebo in a sandpit to stay dry. A rainbow came out soon after. After a suitably drunken delay (a missing cup) the scything champion was announced (4th year in a row) and the MC said the standard was so high he was confident we were now ‘ready for Europe’ – though the World Cup and Olympics might have to wait. I made my way back soon after – glad to get back after a fine weekend away.

I though the magic would be over with a stack of OU marking facing me Monday morning, but then a call from my friend Helen at midday meant I ended up going on a lovely trip down the river Avon to celebrate her birthday (‘life’s too short,’ she said, and she’s right – carpe deum!). We found a sunny spot to stop for a fabulous picnic. I read out some of my poetry, including ‘Let Love Be Our River’, and on the way back recited some Elizabeth Barratt Browning and Thomas the Rhymer as the ladies rowed (they insisted after us guys had rowed on the way out). It was all very Wind in the Willows. Very relaxing!

picnic by the river - Helen's birthday

Snow Flakes

13th January

time waits for snowman

As a nation Britain doesn’t cope very well with snow. A few flakes and everything grinds to a halt. We react like headless chickens. My Finnish and Icelandic friends think its rather amusing. Their countries regularly cope with subzero temperatures – sometimes as low as -30 or 40, yet they get by. Humans have for millennia. Our neolithic ancestors coped with such climate better than we can, here in the Twenty First Century, with all our technology – and lack of wisdom. I believe its largely an attitude thing – we get into a ‘chicken little’ state of mind. Of course, cold weather can bring hardship to the weak, the old, the vulnerable. It can make any journey risky. It can have a devastating effect on wildlife (remember to feed the birds!). When you’re freezing in a flat that you can’t afford to heat, or can’t get to the shops to by more food, or haven’t even a roof over your head it’s no laughing matter. Snow can bring tragedy as well as beauty. It gives us unexpected time-off, to play in the snow, to spend with loved ones, to be as children again – but it can prevent us from earning money, from making a living. In a time of Recession many peoples’ incomes are on a knife-edge as it is. A couple of weeks lost work could be the straw that breaks the camels back.

This last week or two I’ve had my nose to the grindstone – marking papers, running my tutor groups, planning the year and attending to the minutiae of life – but at least I can work from home (okay until you have a burst pipe or a power cut – I’ve had both).

Last night I started my new novel writing class – it was scheduled to be held at Bath Central Library from 6pm. I had booked the meeting room. I had 8 students make it. But then the staff at reception informed the library was closing early – all B&NES staff had been told to go home early. This was rather annoying – I had rung earlier in the day and checked: I was informed that a member of staff would be there until the end of our session. I suggested we decamp to the Green Tree, for at least a chat – but then a partner of one of the students kindly offered a spare room. Our workshop was back on! We left the library and made our way through the ‘blizzard’ – it wasn’t even snowing at that point. See what I mean by ‘headless chickens’? The new venue turned out to be the basement of a bookshop – I had run courses there before as it turned out – perfect! The session went well – a good group. I wish them all well on the writer’s journey – they have taken the brave step of embarking on writing a novel, which I liken to walking across antarctic.

On Monday, there was the first meeting of the Imagineers – artists interested in creative responses to the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change. It came about after a workshop by eco-poet and fellow Bard of Bath, Helen Moore’s workshop of the same name at The Big Transition Bath Event, last autumn at BRLSI. We decided to meet up and share our thoughts and initiatives. All we can do is keep creating. Apathy leads to oblivion.

Smallcombe in the snow - early Jan '10 KM

Here’s my poem – composed on 7th January – inspired by a walk in the snow.

The Sound of Snow

falling on snow.

A deepening silence.

The city is still,

platforms empty,

roads unburdened

of their incessant freight.

Trees, shuddering in the wind,

exfoliate ice blossom.

There’s probably a word,

in a culture accustomed

and observant of its nuances,

for this kind of snow.

Powdered crystal

over softer layers –

a cake of ground glass –

impossible to roll

into a snow torso,

like making dough

without water.

Churned up by

excited scurryings,

sledge runs,

snowman trails,

the moulds of dog noses,

bird feet runes.

Squeaking polystyrene

under boots,

like some cheap special effect.

To find a snow-field

unmarked by man –

to be the first

to place one’s foot

on virgin regions.

To make one’s mark

and to know it is

the original.

Prototype,

not pirated,

Nth generation

loss of definition.

Not to follow

in the blurred footfalls of others,

but to be the pioneer,

breaking trail.

One foot after another

into freshly fallen flakes.

Boot soundlessly slipping

into the place waiting for it.

Walking on angel down.

No one around.

No direction,

except your own.

Nothing to listen to

except

the sound of snow

falling on snow.

Kevan Manwaring

from The Immanent Moment,

published by Awen

to be launched at Garden of Awen, Chapel Arts Centre, Bath 7 Feb 2010

http://www.awenpublications.co.uk

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.

Bards and the Bees

16-22 November

It’s been a week of inspiring eco-artiness and inspiration.

Eric Maddern - eco-storyteller

Monday I went to see the fabulous show by Australian storyteller, Eric Maddern, What the Bees Know: Songs and Stories to Sustain and Restore the World – an engaging and galvanising blend of story, poetry, song and environmental awareness raising. I saw a preview of this at the Ecobardic Minifest at Cae Mabon, Eric’s amazing eco-retreat centre in North Wales way back in May, but it was well worth seeing the full show, which had so much more in it. Eric’s charismatic presence filled the Chapel Arts Centre and took the small but committed audience on a 2 hour ‘bee-line’ from the malady to the remedy, honey being a traditional cure-all, and one of the rich gifts these industrious pollinators bestow upon humankind: beeswax, royal jelly, mead, various medicines, and most of all – the pollination of plants. The UK bee population dropped by 30% in 2007 – in Spain, it was 50%, and the USA is experiencing similarly sobering trends. Without these key pollinators, the cycle of life could grind to a halt (25% of the global species depend on plants pollinated by bees). Uber-brainbox Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”…Despite the gloomy predictions, Eric’s show left the audience feeling uplifted – the creative act is affirming in itself, and is another example of the remarkable power of the human imagination, with which anything is possible – including solutions to these mounting environmental problems. Homo sapiens may be the problem, but is also the solution – and has proven over the millennia, since it first discovered fire, flint and the paintbrush back in the caves of our ancestors – that it is nothing but ingenius.

There are various good folk offering ‘plan B’, notably The Global Bee Project. We can all do our bit (eg plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden).

Eric is still touring his show – catch it next Spring, or even book it for your venue or group. Next month he’s off to Copenhagen – the place to ‘bee’ for such a committed eco-campaigner. Long may the story-honey flow from his lips.

it's been a long time coming ... Image from Home, words from Eric Maddern

On Saturday I went to the spectacular setting of Bath Abbey to see a film by Earth from the Air visionary, Yann Arthus-Bertrand called Home – deeply beautiful and moving. The Abbey was packed out with nearly a thousand people. It was very forward-thinking for the Abbey to allow this film to be shown. It was an interesting experience – the large screen in front of the altar, the haunting music drifting up into the vaults, hushed reverence, enduring the discomfort of the hard pews … a kind of surrogate religiosity pervaded the film – I would argue a genuine one, based upon awe of Creation, the miracle of this precious and fragile planet we live on. Perhaps if they had more events like this the Church would find its houses filled once more. Many are overwhelmed and despairing at the crisis facing us. Is it time for eco-churches – centres of energy descent, where folk can ‘pray’ not for their own salvation, but the salvation of the planet? The consolation of faith perhaps has its place – life without a spiritual dimension is shallow and ultimately futile – but we have to act now, before it’s too late. A good place to start is the Transition Movement, as mentioned last week. Read about the burgeoning Transition Culture here

In a week of extreme weather ravaging Britain, this seems more poignant than ever.  The flood gates are open.