Reflections on an evening with Lindsay Clarke at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 6 September 2017

by Ken Masters

‘Hello everybody, assuming you can hear me! I am the ghost of Aristotle, and I haunt the Elwin room at BRLSI, especially when the Philosophers have their meetings and are in their full, satisfyingly “middle-excluding” flow, forensically objectifying, reifying, and literalising everything that their minds can come up with. I must tell you, however, that I am in “shock”!

A Dance with Hermes‘Into this hallowed room (I remember a gratifying visiting Professor of Logic, who, whilst debunking “Eastern Philosophy”, and cutting short his fourteen pages of definitions of “consciousness”, waved his arms in the air, inviting in the energy to energise the very expression of his de-bunking – which intangibility I can not possibly recognise, classify, or exonerate) came one Lindsay Clarke, propagating one irritatingly intangible “(A Dance With) Hermes”, full of vital “presence”, whom I hoped I had seen off aeons ago. Give me Apollo any day. His Talk, (or was it a Lecture, or a Book-relaunch), had the normal BRLSI format of Introduction, Talk, and Questions – but how long would he go on for, with Questions, to give the audience time to sign that tall pile of books I could see, that they might or might not wish to buy?

‘My normal, space-excluding, rigorously defined categories, which allow no variation within them (for me, white is white, and black, black, rather than anything varying between), were challenged from the outset. So, a “A Talk is a Talk, not a Book re-Launch as well”, and I resent having my question-time squeezed! (I’ll have to invent another category, which will then also be “objecti-fiction”, but don’t tell anyone.) LC talked of Hermes as a “betwixt and between, THRESHOLD sort of creature; mischievous, equivocal and nonchalant about boundaries and definitions”. Ugh! (I once heard of an Anthropologist called Mary Douglas, who wrote a book called Purity and Danger. Plenty of impurity here! Of course, I must discount any emotional reaction I might have.) This trickster “god” already had us “by the goolies”, to use a metaphor that I shouldn’t. LC then went on to tell us that he himself had already received the same treatment! He explained that Hermes would never let him be pinned down (in any categorical system); so, were his “Poems” really poems, with or without the quotation marks, or were they verses, or “squibs” – “call them what you like”! If that was not enough, Hermes confused the rhyming schemes, again to defy the usual. Then LC mixed his talk with “poems” to illustrate just how far Hermes tweaks the “normal forms” and dancingly inhabits the “twixt thresholds”. When it came to Questions, I sensed that the audience, so transmogrified and bemused (the Philosophers had probably voted with their feet beforehand, and the event was promoted for a general audience rather than specifically for the poetry afficionados) that they could hardly articulate any question or argument sophisticated enough for my taste, even with LC moving to the front. BUT they found Lindsay Clarke, and what he had to say, “wonderful”! I was warned off from the outset, through the introducer’s accolades for LC’s novel, The Chymical Wedding – “alchemy”, I ask you! She then foreclosed the Questions – or were they Comments? – because there were few, so far—or perhaps because of that heap of books waiting? As a good empiricist, I do not have quite enough evidence to say. More shock – the queue was very long, and, instead of leaving, people talked while they waited. Few left immediately! All that vigorous though strangely calm hermetic “stirring up”, and the Clarkey intangible “presence”, had had its effect! I don’t begin to understand, or where to start on the “Content”!

‘I eavesdropped for a while, into their chat, their emails afterwards, maybe relevant for a blog, definitely not a book review: or have I got that wrong as well? What sort of category is “blog”? Anthony Nanson was talking with Ken Masters about a blog, who then went off to commune with an equally delighted Alan Rayner. Here are some snippets from what they had to say afterwards: Alan Rayner emailed to Ken Masters et al., “Hermes symbolises the ‘mutually-inclusive middle’, the immortal, intangible holder of the dynamic threshold that brings receptive spatial stillness (darkness) and responsive energetic flux (light) into the mutually inclusive embrace from which material form emerges in place-time.” What language! Hope he’s defined his terms! I should mention that that KM had asked AR to express what he perceived about Hermes and his Dancing “in a nutshell”. Actually, AR coined the expression “the vitality of the intangible” for Hermes, just afterwards. This man creates “poems” and “art” as well as precision in language that a philosopher or scientist might approve, even if what he says is “non-sense” within normal paradigms. BUT I’m belatedly realising that, as I categorise and objectify, everything starts to die …’

Hello everybody. I’m Ken Masters, an old colleague of Lindsay’s from way back, re-met in good old BRLSI; and I am now writing this blog by invitation. Hope I won’t let you down. Such a shame, Aristotle, that you continue to haunt, and not just BRLSI. Through your ‘abstract rationality’, and ‘scientific knowledge’ based on it, you dismiss the ‘intangible’, and objectify; for instance, as you start to train us to use would-be empathic, artificially intelligent robots; to perceive living organisms as machines, computers; see trees as ‘sticks in the ground’ rather than fountains of water-flow, etc., etc.! Perhaps Alan Rayner will help us to see how old Aristotle remains important – but in his place. Alan’s recent book is called The Origins of Life Patterns in the Natural Inclusion of Space in Flux, and he gave it to Lindsay at BRLSI. He also goes on to say, in another email, ‘yes, I think some others would greatly enjoy Lindsay’s book, notwithstanding a bit of “All-oneness” in places, which Hermes would not appreciate. It is a work of creative verbal genius and classical scholarship … I had this extraordinary dream about the tennis match between Apollo and Hermes (some years ago) before my breakdown/breakthrough into explicit awareness of Natural Inclusionality began … Humanity now needs Hermes, and it needs N.I. very badly.’ (Which is why I, KM, am blogging.) So, what’s this about a ‘bit of “All-oneness”’, and why would Hermes not like it?

My Commentary on the ‘nutshell’: I hoped Hermes would refuse to listen to poor old Aristotle, especially where the ‘living and the intangible’ are concerned; and instead of ‘excluding the middle’ between LIGHT and DARK, facilitate the ‘mutually inclusive embrace’ instead. ‘Dark and light’ are distinct, but never discrete, separate, or opposites. (We can consider the Daoist yin/yang sign, with the yin dynamically within the yin and vice versa.) They are not to be entirely merged into an invariable, indefinite, All-one, grey ‘whole’, as the world turns, but mutually and dynamically embrace, ‘distinct but never entirely discrete’. But this is not quite what Hermes seems to do, in ‘His Opus’, no. 3, ‘Coniunctio’. ‘“Separate; coagulate” … First analyse the mass in [separate, Aristotle] pieces, then [with Plato] bring together what’s been torn apart … Sun and Moon, the King and Queen are contraries that must be reconciled before he can be whole, and from their union, a child.’ Seems logical? Yes, but this is the very approach Aristotle likes: ‘coagulating “Oneness”’. However, in ‘He [Hermes] Takes Off’: ‘Beyond sleep and waking, life and death, he flies into that elusive space that opens up where fire and water, heavy earth and and weightless air, and all such opposites are reconciled by his sublime imagination.’ Something different does happen. What?

Lindsay quotes quantum physics, technological advance: ‘but what will it profit us if, in the process of gaining technological control of the world [i.e. following Aristotle], we lose touch with our soul’; and he thus celebrates ‘the intangible’. (Read ‘Envoi’.) Now Alan, as a serious life scientist, also goes right back to first principles and the quantum level, to explain how intangible ‘quantum’ space, at sub-atomic levels is empty, continuous, still, frictionless, receptive/non-resistant, un-cut-able, everywhere – not ‘bounded’ like any monotheistic God, into any separate ‘wholes’ – infinite, eternal. The very strength of the RECEPTIVITY of (not discounted, cf. normal physics) space, included as such in Natural Inclusional Science, produces energetic FLUX; and, from this, ‘particles’ are ‘in-formed’ by induction. By being made of 100 per cent space and energy, not 99.9 per cent, they have both a tangible and an intangible ‘presence’ – and ‘influence’ beyond their physical form. No ‘particles’, aggregated as space-excluding ‘building-blocks’ into solid ‘wholes’, can ‘cut’ space; rather, space, remaining STILL, permeates everything, animate or animate, when it moves, or moves itself. As I walk around in ‘place-time’ I therefore do not carry ‘my own space’, the same ‘bag of space’ with my body envelope. Different local space then permeates as I move. I receive it, and the receptivity induces a more or less ‘dynamically coherent’

energetic flow that the trained inner eye can actually perceive. This is why I am a Qi Gong practitioner, and why this authentic Daoist tradition validates Natural Inclusion as a perspective that I believe we need to become paradigmatic (though not ‘complete’). Neither Abstract Rationality nor Holism will quite do. ‘Wholes’ are usually thought of as ‘definitively, completely, and rigidly bounded “Unities”, entirely abstracted from context; either an aggregation of likewise separate, identical smaller “wholes”, or a “total, utterly homogenised”, merged, blend.

My introduction to Qi Gong, with a Chinese master, was to ‘imagine all the spaces in our bodies’ – e.g. between organs – then find that, with a light focus, they start to blend. We then become, within our skin, ‘empty’. In deep meditation, this skin itself ‘dissolves’ within consciousness, but not entirely. In Buddhist meditation, the body can appear entirely to disappear, into the ‘all’. In Qi Gong meditation, there is still perception of some ‘distinctiveness’. We do not lose our uniqueness into the ‘Unity’. Instead of ‘Wholes’, Alan prefers to talk about ‘Holes’, ‘Hollows’, ‘Emptiness’, in personal experience and his own Natural Inclusional ‘practice’. From this vitality of the imagination, emptiness, comes the sense and perception of ‘no severance’ from other life-forms, which implies being ‘fully-present-with’, immediacy. I sense this with Lindsay, and it involves a hermetic transformation. If we cannot do this, or at least accept it as a possibility, we are in the hands of building literal and perceptual WALLS to protect our (spurious) sense of ‘unity’ and ‘completion’.

Back to Hermes! ‘He Considers GUTS and Such’:

He likes it when we hanker after truth

in things, yet smiles to see how serious

we are in postulating theories

of everything …

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 tricksy wisdom understands

what unassisted wisdom 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 … nor, he thinks, should we.

I thank Alan Rayner, over the years, for sharing his naturally derived perspective, truth, of Natural Inclusion. His vitality and imagination, creativity in poetry and art, surely come, as do Lindsay’s, from ‘no isolation, or severance’.

I thank Lindsay Clarke for The Chymical Wedding, The Water Theatre, and now for his extraordinary and very special ‘Dance with Hermes’; for the wonderful ‘no-isolation, or severance’.

Words and logic alone cannot express truth as merely literal, even when talking of space, energy, flux, stillness, infinity everywhere and form somewhere. Look Alan up at the ‘bestthinking’ website, or on YouTube? His radical, evolutionary perspective of Natural Inclusion is something I need, like I need Hermes, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Lindsay wrote his ‘Note on the Threshold’ to introduce. He and Hermes seem to me to be also at the threshold of Natural Inclusion. Hermes, in ‘Koinos Hermes’, is ‘ever the unexpected messenger, who sends you glimpses of the wet fire and the lit dark in the loded stone’. But I’m not entirely convinced that the ‘magic work, of which one may not speak’, with HIM ‘begins and ends’ alone, unless it questions what he himself appears to say. I think it does.

POSTSCRIPT. As a dancer of traditional Greek and Balkan dance, I love Lindsay’s ‘poem’ A Dance with Hermes. As a homage to Hermes’s ‘winged buskins’, ‘lithe muscularity’, or ‘his kinetic stance that makes his godly body seem to dance where others merely walk’, I offer a short extract from The Broken Road, the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy telling the story of the eighteen-year-old ‘Paddy’ who set off in 1933 to walk to Constantinople. In the chapter ‘Dancing by the Black Sea’, Patrick, wet, cold, and starving (apart from the bottles of raki he has forgotten about in his knapsack), arrives at a cave near the beach, to find a fire, welcome, food, wine, six Bulgarian shepherds, and six Greek sailors, not to mention a broken bagpipe, mended by Patrick with an elastoplast. To cut a wonderfully told story short, dancing begins: ‘As the drone swelled, one of the younger fishermen began a burlesque Turkish belly-dance … It was very convincing, even to the loud crack that accompanied a particularly spasmodic wrench of haunch and midriff, produced by the parting of the two interlocked forefingers of either hands they were held, with joined pals above his head. The comic effect of this dance was all the greater, owing to the husky and piratical appearance of Dimitri, the dancer. “He needs a charchaff,” one of the shepherds cried, and bound a cheese cloth round the lower part of Dimitri’s face and across the bridge of his nose, like a yashmak. The rolling of his smoke-reddened eyes above his veil, turned him into a mixture of virago, houri and Widow Twankey.’

That was just the start of it. Hermes was surely at work. Hope you have enjoyed it.

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New Book by Jeremy Hooker about Poetry, Nature, and Place

DV front cover.jpgJeremy Hooker has been for many years a major figure as both poet and literary critic. He has had an enduring interest in nature, landscape, and place. So it’s both an honour and also a lovely fit for Awen to have published a collection of his principal essays on the relation between ‘poetry’ in the broad sense (including literary fiction) and the ecological. I’ll let the description and comments from the back cover speak for themselves:

Ditch Vision is a book of essays on poetry, nature, and place that extends Jeremy Hooker’s thinking on subjects that, as a distinguished critic and poet, he has made his life’s work. The writers he considers include Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, Richard Jefferies, John Cowper Powys, Mary Butts, and Frances Bellerby. Through sensitive readings of these and other writers, he discusses differences between British and American writers concerned with nature and spirit of place. The book also includes essays in which he reflects upon the making of his own work as a lyric poet. Written throughout with a poet’s feeling for language, Ditch Vision is the work of an exploratory writer who seeks to understand the writings he discusses in depth, and to illuminate them for other readers. Hooker explores the ‘ground’ of poetic vision with reference to its historical and mythological contexts, and in this connection Ditch Vision constitutes also a spiritual quest.

‘For thirty years and more I have admired Jeremy Hooker’s poetry, criticism, and journals. These essays touch both upon some of his familiar and deeply loved subjects, and on concerns that are more recent. His prose is clear and resonant, a pleasure in itself. His views are always challenging. He is, and has been for many years, a necessary voice.’ John Matthias

‘Lovely intense encounters with landscape come into these essays. Suddenly, in a discussion of poetry, there is the presence of warm earth on a Spring day in chalk country, or sunlight coming through trees, or drying shingle when the tide has just withdrawn. Throughout Hooker’s writing about poetry, place and environmental concern, there is this direct and frank openness to particular moments of experience, and the power they have to keep people constantly changing. Hooker searches for an environmentalism rooted in these moments of intense and poetic yet everyday experience, but also alert to global perspectives and to history. In this search, he reads other poets, including several who have been unjustly neglected, and tells the story of how place and memory influenced his own development as a poet. To all of this he brings the skills that his poetry, his childhood and his places have given him – his love of imagery, speech-rhythm, conversation and colour.’ Richard Kerridge

Karola Renard’s The Firekeeper’s Daughter

By Anthony Nanson

9781906900465.jpgI’m very pleased to announce that the second edition of Karola Renard’s collection of stories The Firekeeper’s Daughter, originally published in 2011, is now in print. It’s not just a collection, and the stories are not merely short stories. These tales may be described as ‘mythic stories’ in the sense that, though the characters and situations are of Karola’s own invention, at the core of each tale is a potent awareness of mythic archetypes – and, in particular, archetypes of the divine feminine. Karola’s concept of ‘firekeeper’ refers to the notion of a lineage through history of women who have a special calling to carry the flame of spiritual hope. What exactly this means in practice varies between different cultures and different time periods. They may be priestesses, they may be medicine women, they may be shamans, they may be mysterious figures who appear for a time from somewhere else and, having touched other people’s lives, vanish back wherever they came from. Maybe, whether you’re a woman or a man, you’ve been blessed once or twice in your life through encountering a woman of this kind.

So the twelve stories in The Firekeeper’s Daughter are threaded together by this theme, even though each story involves new characters and a new setting. The tales are arranged in roughly chronological order from ‘Daughter of Ice’, which takes place in a Palaeolithic Ice Age setting, to ‘Orchard of Stones’, set in twentieth-century Germany. One of the book’s elegances from a literary point of view is that the style of each story is adapted to the setting. The earlier stories, set in earlier periods, have the more oral intonation of myth, legend, or fairy tale, and Karola performed some of these tales live as a storyteller during the time she was developing them. The later stories converge towards the norms of contemporary prose fiction; that final story, ‘Orchard of Stones’, is structured as a fragmented narrative that jump-cuts back and forth between different decades. The Firekeeper’s Daughter is a book that can be enjoyed simply as a set of evocative, moving, and varied short stories; but for readers who are interested in the continuing importance of myth and archetype in our lives today, and especially of the sacred worth of the divine feminine, there is a deeper level of inspiration to be found here.

 

A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke – review by Fiona Tinker

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Book Review:  A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke    (Stroud: Awen, 2016.)

It is somewhat difficult to know where to begin with this slim volume of poetry: just as a bead of quicksilver will scatter in a thousand different directions, glittering and enticing you to follow their paths, so too will the ideas and images in this deceptively simple collection call you to follow the myriad directions of their dance. Indeed, the patterns of disturbed mercury brings forth  an image of thoughts, ideas and communications flashing through the mesh of neural pathways in the brain, synapses sparking as each new thought is transmitted and grasped. In turn, that image leads to pictures of the electronic interconnection of the world-wide web and a reminder of the Hermetic premise all is one.

Clarke’s collection of forty-nine poems transmits meanings on at least three levels. They begin as a biography of Hermes…

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A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke – review by Lorna Smithers

Signposts in the Mist

A Dance with HermesA Dance with Hermes is the first full poetry collection by the British novelist Lindsay Clarke. Serving as a messenger for Hermes, the winged-footed messenger god of ancient Greece, Clarke brings his myths to life in the twenty-first century in this series of masterfully crafted verses.

In his introduction, ‘A Note at the Threshold’, Clarke writes about his creative process. As a poet and polytheist I found this fascinating. The book began life as a ‘hermaion’: a ‘windfall’ or ‘god-send’ beginning with a single poem called ‘Koinos Hermes’ based on the presiding presence of Hermes in the life of his friend, John Moat. I was fascinated by this sense of gifting.

Most of the poems consist of four quatrains steering between ‘half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god’ and ‘full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence.’ Cleverly they shift between ABAB and ABBA rhymes echoing the dancing beat…

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The Windsmith Elegy – Steampunk and Bardic Fantasy

By Anthony Nanson

WE2_RGB72dpi.jpgAs I write (August 2017), Kevan Manwaring is attending Asylum, the huge steampunk jamboree in Lincoln. He’s performing there and also showing off the new editions of three volumes of his epic Windsmith Elegy, a genre-crossing work that Nimue Brown has made a compelling case for regarding as steampunk (among other things). Indeed, back in 2012 Kevan promoted the previous editions of the books with a stage show performed by his Steampunk Theatre Company.

The new edition of Volume 1 – the rather less steampunky The Long Woman – came out last December. The next two volumes – Windsmith and The Well Under the Sea are newly republished and looking very smart in, once again, their Steve Hambidge cover designs.

These are the biggest two volumes of the five-book series. Each is self-contained in its own distinct setting within Shadow World, the realm of the dead. In Windsmith, this is an analogue of Bronze Age Wessex, informed by real archaeological finds in that region,  tales from Celtic mythology, and the images embossed in the Gundestrup Cauldron. The Well Under the Sea is set in and around the luxurious island city-state of Ashalantë, which conflates the mythology of Atlantis and other ‘lost islands’ (see Kevan’s non-fiction book Lost Islands), and adds into this milieu the ‘lost of history’ – individuals who have vanished without explanation during the history of our own world. A particular case in point is the aviatrix Amelia Earhart, with whom the protagonist, Isambard Kerne, becomes romantically involved. In both books, the detail of world-building involves a back-extrapolation of stories behind the piecemeal relics of antiquity that survive in legend and archaeology; the same kind of impulse that drove Tolkien’s mythmaking.WE3_RGB72dpi.jpg

Another thing I love in these novels is their committed exploration, in the course of all the drama and romance, of the pathway of a bard’s development; a theme very close to Kevan’s heart, since, outside his fiction writing, he has himself followed a bardic path for many years. In Windsmith, this has mainly to do with Kerne’s mastery of the Ogham, understood as a system of ‘woodwords’ that can work bardic magic in times of need. In The Well Under the Sea, Kerne learns to train his mind to summon winds, and thence to compose and sing a song that will enable him to fly.

As I’ve already hinted, the Windsmith books defy neat genre categorisation; they have elements of antiquarian fantasy, liminal and portal-quest fantasy, steampunk, mythic fantasy. One reviewer referred to them as ‘bardic fantasy’, and this strikes me as a particularly fitting label, given their bardic concerns, which are embedded even in their protagonist’s name, Isambard. I look forward to announcing, soon, the new editions of the remaining two volumes, The Burning Path and This Fearful Tempest.

‘A Dance with Hermes’: an evening with Lindsay Clarke in Bath on 6 September

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Hermes, the messenger god, will be celebrated in a ‘power-poem’ presentation at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) on Wednesday 6 September 2017 by Whitbread Prize winning novelist Lindsay Clarke. He will read from his 2016 book A Dance with Hermes, examining how the messenger god of the imagination is as relevant to us in the digital age as he was in antiquity.

Lindsay will be looking at how creativity can flourish in a world that constantly bombards us with stimulus of all kinds. Mixing contemporary wit with ancient wisdom, he will explore how language, dreams, travel, tweets, and trading floors are all aspects of Hermes, the archetype of the imagination and the poetic mind. Rather than the modern world being a threat to our creativity, by harnessing our knowledge of these ancient mythical figures, we may in fact enhance it.

Lindsay Clarke is a writer and educator now based in Somerset. He won the Whitbread Prize for his novel The Chymical Wedding in 1989. His novels, poems, plays, and non-fiction have often featured myth, legend, and alchemy.

The presentation will begin at 7.30 p.m. Tickets will be sold on the door: £4 non-members and £2 for BRLSI members and students.

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is an educational charity based in the centre of Bath. The Institution runs a programme of more than 150 public lectures each year, on topics including science, philosophy, art, and literature. It also maintains collections of minerals, fossils, and other items, as well as a library of rare books. BRLSI’s Jenyns Room is one of Bath’s leading gallery spaces with a year-round programme of art and museum exhibitions.

BRLSI, 16–18 Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2HN. 01225 312084. www.brlsi.org

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