Review of A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke

by Diana Durham

Gods are forces with which we as mortal humans eternally engage. This is the fundamental insight writer Lindsay Clarke explores in his new collection of poems A Dance with Hermes from Awen Publications:

 

Where is the habitation of the gods

if not in us? And where are we if not

inside the mysteries they perpetrate

about us and around?

 

And in particular, as the title tells us, these poems are about the multi-faceted, shifting forces embodied by the winged god Hermes – messenger god of thresholds and trade, guide of travellers and of the newly dead, part unreliable trickster, part helpful companion. In addition to these attributes and roles, Hermes holds the Caduceus, entwined with two snakes, which is associated with healing and, as precursor to the magic wand, with the transformative powers of the imagination. Hermes, inventor of the lyre, also represents music and poetry. And in his many guises, moods and roles Hermes represents the unpredictable, spontaneous dance of our imaginative and creative potential.

In addition to a foreword by Jules Cashford (translator of The Homeric Hymns for Penguin and author of The Moon: Symbol of Transformation from Greystone Press), there is a helpful introduction by Clarke, in which he lays out a condensed yet clear overview of the evolution and attributes of Hermes from primitive times to his appearance in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes around the seventh century BC, and how later his name was given to the western Hermetic tradition of thought, an influence vital to the energies of the Renaissance and to the occult, symbolic world of alchemy.

Clarke also recounts how the origin of this collection was inspired by his friend John Moat’s memoir Anyway … about a ‘life lived in service to the Imagination’, which Moat equated with the figure of Hermes. Moat, founder of the Arvon Foundation, was in the later stages of a terminal illness when he finished his memoir, and in the poignancy of this transition, a time when the god waits on us with compassionate equanimity, Clarke wrote a poem for his friend about Hermes.

The poem is called ‘Koinos Hermes’ and, to quote Clarke, it ‘conflated the attributes of the Greek god Hermes with those of Mercurius Duplex, the agent of transformation in alchemy while at the same time making use of anachronistic contemporary references’:

 

the sly

light-fingered god of crossways, transit,

emails and exchange, the wing-heeled, shifty

wheeler-dealing go-between, who’ll slip right

 

through your fingers if you try to pin

him down. For he is labile, street-wise

and trans-everything. He is the one

two-fold hermaphrodite who’ll rise

 

up sprightly from the earth and turn to air,

and then descend into the underworld

to point his wand at philosophic gold.

 

This poem, which now begins the collection, catalysed what Clarke modestly terms the ‘procession of poems, verses, squibs – call them what you like –’ that comprise these 50 pages of poetry. The poem’s tone and its form of ‘four quatrains held together by the regular use of half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god – something almost grasped but not quite – with occasional full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence’ set the style for the poems that followed in a swift and easy way ‘almost by dictation’.

Clarke explains that therefore not only in this collection’s content and form but also in the manner of its emergence the nature of the god is present and at work. The verses roll along in carefree, sometimes careless ease of movement in which moments of literary buffoonery –

 

What he loves

best is to astound the mind with such deceptive

 

art as brings about true transformation,

and it’s the virtue of his wand to wide-awaken

into lucid dreams of the Imagination

those who don’t yet see we are myth-taken

– mingle with lines of soul touching lucidity (in my opinion, Clarke’s default and hallmark) –

 

He is the tutelary deity of night,

close kin to burglars and to writers and to those

asleep in cardboard boxes on the street.

He oversees the drowsy and the comatose,

 

has heard the chimes at midnight and will

act as a prison visitor to those for whom

the lonely stretches before dawn become

the penitentiary of mind.

 

– and deft light-handed wisdom – like this:

 

and Hermes knows the universe expands

each time we think we’ve got the explanation.

Not this, not that, but both, or maybe none

of the above, his tricky wisdom understands

 

what unassisted reason often fails to see:

the tongue can’t taste its buds; the only snake

to swallow its own tail does not mistake

itself as literally true … and nor, he thinks, should we.

 

And this:

 

For nothing speaks more truly than a dream,

and where else (asks Hermes), in the jangle

of a time so fast to change that even

wisdom seems redundant, shall we keep

those secrets that the soul discloses

for our welfare while we sleep?

The task of any writer using archetype – especially in today’s world when ‘wisdom seems redundant’, when we seem to be in danger of succumbing to a dense and stupified literal-mindedness, or, as writer Iain McGilchrist would say, to the depleted values of a left-brain dominated society – is often to teach and explain as well as evoke. And Clarke robustly and effortlessly incorporates this responsibility into his verses, so that we learn the context at the same time as we make the connections and absorb the personal meaning:

 

The god in the louche hat, the liminal,

crepuscular and volatile grand master

of quick whispers and shady deals, can pull

deft tricks and optical illusions faster

 

than the pixels shift in CGI. He seduces us

and mystifies our senses with his wand,

the Kerykeion or (latinate) Caduceus –

that snake-twined staff he carries in his hand

 

to work such vivid magic as draws doves

from darkness, or releases some poor captive

from a cabinet of knives.

While the gods are alive, so are we, and while Hermes dances, no one else can take over our imagination. Mythic archetype, narrative and pattern belong to this realm in ourselves, and their symbolism helps guide our way back to a life that has mystery, potential and zinginess. Many thanks to Anthony Nanson of Awen for making this unique and life-affirming collection available from one of our greatest lyric masters of language.

 

Diana Durham is the author of the nonfiction The Return of King Arthur from Tarcher, three poetry collections including Between Two Worlds from Chrysalis Poetry and a novel The Curve of the Land from Skylight Press. www.dianadurham.net

 

Awen’s new Intern

By Morgan Blanks

My name is Morgan Blanks and I have recently become an intern for Awen, for whom I will be managing a project involving the authors published by the company. I’ve recently set about sending questionnaires to each of the authors as a start to finding reviewers for their books.

As I am currently in my first year of studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, I thought what better way to gain a bit of experience than by doing an internship. So, when the opportunity arose I grabbed it with both hands and threw myself into the deep end by attempting something that I hadn’t done before. In other words, I wanted to get my hands dirty with a project that was unfamiliar to me, and one that I could learn from for the future.

Creative writing has always been a big part of my life and has been an ambition that I have never wavered from. At the age of nine years old I started writing a children’s book called ‘The Desert Island’, which was self-published by AuthorHouse and can be found on Amazon. Currently, on my course, I have been trying out new forms of creative writing that I’d never even heard of before, including Nature Writing and Experimental Writing, all of which have really helped me to home in on the type of writing that I want to succeed with. I am most enthusiastic about writing more novels, which will hopefully be publishable; as a writer I know that the process is long, but that it is also never too early to try and get published. My increased interest in poetry has also been thanks to the Creative Writing course; but I have truly enjoyed reading some of the poetry published by Awen, which, I have no doubt, will inspire me to write some of my own.

Pilgrim Station

by Dominic James

I am grateful to Anthony Nanson for inviting me to contribute a few lines on my poetry collection, Pilgrim Station, recently brought out by SPM Publications. Anthony, who offered me some comfort over waiting periods on poems and stories last year, kindly re-confirmed my ecobardic credentials in a lightly worded rejection slip for some other wild project of mine only the other month. And it comes to mind that I have bumped into and worked beside several members of the Awen and Fire Springs pantheon over the last couple of years. Our sympathies overlap.

Pilgrim Station is my first collection, made up of poems I have written since taking up poetry seriously, about eight years ago. A writer of short stories with a bookish background, I always kept a watchful eye on poetry. It has been the advent of middle age, that downhill-sloping, happy time, that has brought me to concentrate on poetry, the subject at hand. The attraction is that it has the spiritual/philosophical edge that is always present but generally unobserved, or unsummoned, in our day-to-day communication. We express these things quietly to ourselves, in our thoughts – but if we could speak as nimbly, poetry would be the result. Or the aim.

For these poems I have gone back and forward through my life from my twenties to the recent tales of more contented, if occasionally troubled times. And as this is a first collection, raw in places, sometimes vulgar and sometimes, I have allowed, a shade opaque, I have tried out styles, followed and broken forms, played the sedulous ape (thank you Robert Louis Stephenson). In short, I have drawn a line under my time of life with a shaping of my past into my present and so arrived at my future direction. I think at some point we should all establish that we can say so much. Making this stop, at this station, or at this time of life, has been one of the pleasures, and the more poetry I write the deeper I go into the common journey and, I hope, the better the poetry gets. Reader, Pilgrim, I hope you treat the world so kindly yourself.

Awen.

‘James is indeed a traveller in an ancient and modern land. A true European, he risks loss of identity in his quest to establish it and in a remarkable series of anecdotes and vignettes we share his struggle in this muscular and fragile collection.’ Peter Pegnall

Pilgrim Station by Dominic James (SPM Publications, 2016) is available from Stroud Bookshop, the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Nailsworth, and amazon.co.uk

http://djamespoetic.blogspot.co.uk/

Hermes with Lindsay Clarke

by Lindsay Clarke

It was a true delight to participate in the event at the Chapel Arts Cafe in Bath on the evening of 10th March. The cafe, which provides a friendly and comfortable ambience already has a strong literary reputation locally, having hosted readings by a number of distinguished writers, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the event sold out quickly. An audience of fifty lively and responsive people were drawn by the excellent tapas meal that was on offer as well as by the programme of poetry readings and music.

My own presence along with Richard Selby, who is a good friend of Anthony (and proofread the text of A Dance With Hermes), gave a strong Awen feel to the occasion. Richard acted as a jovial MC for the programme which alternated the readings with music from Paul Darby, a well-known singer in the folk tradition, and from the Bookshop Band, which consists of the very talented duo Beth Porter and Ben Please (and Beth’s passenger, currently known as Bumpy). Paul sang songs of his own composition and from a wider repertoire to guitar accompaniment, while Beth and Ben accompanied on their stringed instruments a number of songs they have written around themes inspired by books they have loved.

Crysse Morrison got the evening off to a witty start with some recently written, characteristically feisty poems and later reading from her recent collection Crumbs from a Spinning World. Peter Please also read some new work, both in verse and prose, inspired by his love for and careful observation of the natural world. I talked briefly about my great, and now sadly late friend, John Moat (co-creator of the Arvon Foundation) and how his vision of Hermes as tutelary deity of the Imagination and the poetic basis of mind had provided the inspiration for a poem which, to my astonishment, proved to be the precursor of 48 others, from which I read a representative selection.

All the performances were warmly received and applauded, and the whole evening was a highly enjoyable mix of delicious food, good humour, beautiful music and vivacious language. A genuine treat for the senses.

Scenes from the Tapas Soiree

On the 9th of March 2017, Lindsay Clarke read from his poetry collection A Dance With Hermes at the Chapel Arts Cafe in Bath. it was a Tapas soiree, and also featured writers Crysse Morrison and Peter Please, along with music from The Bookshop Band and Paul Darby.

Lindsay Clarke reading

 

Peter Please sports the blue and back shirt.

 

Beth and Ben – The Bookshop Band

 

Paul Darby
Crysse Morrison

Photographs c. Crysse Morrison

On the cover: Words of Re-Enchantment

Anthony Nanson’s Words of Re-enchantment brings together his writings on myth, storytelling and the ecobardic arts, and we wanted a cover image that spoke of the discovery of enchantment out in the natural world. The image on cover the dates from a trip we took a few years ago to Turkey, and the walk to discover this place was, indeed, one of enchantment.

Anthony and I have spent a lot of time in Greece, and during that time we got into a rhythm of visiting the kind of sites we like best – mythological ones. We have a huge atlas of mythological sites in Greece, with differing categories of what you might see there, from huge sites like Delphi to places where it might just be an open hilltop where some god pursued some nymph! But although the land mass that makes up modern Turkey is intimately connected, historically and mythologically to the world of Ancient Greece, we didn’t know very much about it, and reeled around from tourist spot to tourist spot feeling slightly dazed.

Eventually, and still very much on the tourist trail, we came to Olympos. Now, Anthony has climbed all nine and a half thousand feet of Mount Olympus in Greece, so we were excited to be near another one. There are, apparently, over twenty Mount Olympuses  in the Med, all, presumably the local highest mountain, where, logically, the gods lived. This one had an ancient city at its feet, also called Olympos, but it’s no longer a thriving port. Instead, it lurks, romantic, seemingly forgotten by time and smothered by nature, along the winding Ulupınar Stream along a path that takes you down to the sea.

The image on the cover comes from a necropolis, a city of the dead, part of the family complex belonging to Marcus Aurelius Archepolis, and, like everything else, it has been taken back by nature. Olympos is a managed and maintained archaeological site, but the archaeologists have allowed us the magic of discovery, of seeing an enchanted place. When we were in the heat of summer, it was lush and green, and thick with flowers; the waters rippled, birds sang, and the white stone rose up out of this jungle.

One of the other tombs, for Captain Eudemos, has this beautiful poem on it:

The ship sailed into the last harbour and anchored to leave more,
As there was no longer any hope from the wind or daylight,
After the light carried by the dawn had left Captain Eudemos,
There buried the ship with a life as short as a day, like a broken wave.

Mount Olympos is famous, too, for the fire in its head, making this image doubly fitting for a bardic book. That night Anthony was taken up see the fire that never dies on the mountain, at Yanartaş, the ancient Mount Chimaera, where flame leaps all day and night from the rock, much as we hope the fire leaps in the head of the ecobard!

Images and text copyright Kirsty Hartsiotis

Find out more about Words of Re-Enchantment here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/words_of_re-enchantment.html

Review for A Dance With Hermes

dwh-front-coverA Dance With Hermes, by Lindsay Clarke was published in December 2016. Recently, Adam Randall has reviewed it on his blog. Here’s a snippet:

“It’s quite short, but it’s enjoyable. I have never read a sequence of poems like this before, but I would certainly consider doing so in future. It’s an easy and pleasant read, but this accessibility does not come at the expense of intellectual depth as there are often very clever ideas within the poems. I also enjoyed reading the introduction and the notes at the end: they gave context to some of the things I didn’t understand and provided an endearing personal connection to the life of the author, Lindsay Clarke.”

You can read the review in full here – trustywaterblog.co.uk/book-reviews/a-dance-with-hermes-by-lindsay-clarke/

Buy the book here – amazon.co.uk/Dance-Hermes-Lindsay-Clarke/

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