by Anthony Nanson
Kevan Manwaring excels in a wide range of creative pursuits. One genre in which it seems to me he’s made a particularly major contribution is that of ‘bardic poetry’. ‘Bardic poetry’ is a form of performance poetry, but may be distinguished from other kinds of performance poetry – such as slam poetry – by aspects of form and content that draw upon the bardic traditions that flourished in ancient times in the British Isles and have today been revived by Druidic and associated communities. So you will find in Kevan’s bardic verse the exaggerated wordplay and rhetorical tropes of Celtic bards, as well as kennings and alliteration as used by Germanic skalds and scops, and the deployment of motifs from an encyclopaedic knowledge of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Arthurian myth and folklore.
The scale of Kevan’s output of poetry of this kind is prodigious, ranging from individual lyrics to ambitious epics. For more than two decades he’s been performing such material in all kinds of situations, wherever opportunity has arisen. Much of it has been published in pamphlets and anthologies, sometimes mixed in with ‘page poetry’ of a more conventionally literary kind. It struck me that this line of Kevan’s work was such a significant achievement, and one potentially inspiring to others who feel drawn to writing and performing poems in this bardic tradition, that it deserved to be gathered into a major omnibus collection. Voila, Kevan’s new book, Silver Branch: Bardic Poems & Letters to a Young Bard, which brings together the bulk of his bardic verse to date. As the title hints, the book also includes Speak Like Rain: Letters to a Young Bard, a distillation of Kevan’s expertise in the art of composing and performing bardic poems, which complements the inspiration to be had from reading his poems with practical instruction and wisdom pertaining to this art form.
Silver Branch can be ordered through Awen’s website and the usual retail channels. Here’s what it says on the back cover, including a quote from Caitlín Matthews’s lovely foreword and also a comment from Philip Carr-Gomm of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids:
What does it mean to write and perform bardic poetry in the twenty-first century? This monumental collection, from the author of The Bardic Handbook and The Way of Awen, brings together 25 years of selected verse to explore that challenge. The diverse range of poems can be enjoyed for their own sake and will also inspire others to craft and voice their own creative responses to identity, ecology, and community, grounded in the body, the land, and conviction. Silver Branch includes an introduction to the author’s practice as a performance poet, originally published as Speak Like Rain, along with the Bardic-Chair-winning poem Spring Fall; Bio*Wolf; Green Fire; Dragon Dance; The Taliesin Soliloquies; Thirteen Treasures; poems from the stage shows Arthur’s Dream, Robin of the Wildwood, Return to Arcadia, and Song of the Windsmith; plus more recent bardic poems and songs.
‘Within Silver Branch, the ancient and modern worlds are woven together in the remaking with which we have to engage at every moment, perceiving the ancient and allowing its currency to irrigate our time and deepen our, often, surface culture. As ancestral structures fall away, as wise councils fall into argument … as the beauty of nature is despoiled, so it becomes our bounden duty to listen harder and deeper to the mythic levels of our collective life … Fall silent now and hear the voice of the bard!’
Caitlín Matthews, author of The Lost Book of the Grail and Celtic Visions
‘In addition to a selection of Kevan’s poetry, ranging from earliest to most recent, this book includes a detailed and enthusiastic exploration of what it takes to produce great performance poetry. “Speak Like Rain: Letters to a Young Bard”, inspired by Rilke’s famous “Letters to a Young Poet”, feels like required reading for any poet – aspiring or experienced. Utterly absorbing and inspirational!’
Philip Carr-Gomm, author of The Prophecies and DruidCraft