Category Archives: Author Reflections

‘It’s All One Place’ – recollections of and tribute to my friend Jay Ramsay

by Diana Durham

Diana Durham edit.jpgMy poems were still in the bottom drawer of my desk, and the very idea of performing them was challenging, when I first met Jay, around 30 years ago. Like many other poets before and after me, I got to experience Jay’s extraordinary kindness and encouragement, and soon had a first volume of poems from the Diamond Press with the help of Jay and publisher Geoffrey Godbert. Not long after that, I joined the other members of what was probably the second generation of the performance group Angels of Fire, with Jay, Lizzie Spring, Carolyn Askar and Taggart Deike.

Jay became a lifelong friend and colleague, editing four poetry anthologies that I contributed to, editing two of my poetry books, writing endorsements, offering his Chrysalis imprint for my collection of sonnets. He came over to America after I moved there with my family, and we had a lot of fun giving workshops and readings. My daughter was eight years old at the time, and I will never forget the ‘living sculpture’ of driftwood and flotsam she and Jay built down along the marshy edge of the tidal pond close to our home. It stood for a surprising number of years before tides and weather dismantled it.

Jay’s generosity functioned within his own passion for and dedication to the craft of poetry. The number of his poetry books alone is legendary. But, more than this, what I valued always was his unabashed staking out of what he called ‘the visionary dimension’. Jay’s perennial theme is that the worlds of vision and form are intertwined:

I cross the threshold, and wade

Where the breath hangs in the sunlight and the green

And there’s no sound, only the breath whispering,

Humming inaudibly like bees, at my feet …

 

And the light pours down, the light is pouring down

Over my head, drawing me into silence

So there’s no difference between the light

And what it’s shining on—it’s all one place

from Pilgrimage

Why is this important? Because: ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ Visionary awareness brings coherence, brings life. And for Jay this is what poetry enacts, what it is for:

Poetry, stuck like a rare transparency

Pressed between the pages of a book

When we need it written all over the air

A mile high, so blind eyes can see?

from ‘prelude-for Ted’ in Monuments

Jay persisted in this understanding, the poems flowing out through decades dominated by the intellectual arrogance of postmodern nihilism, reductionist science, and the juggernaut of global markets. His poetry forms a significant thread in the gold weave of vision sustained by all great poets – and which in turn sustains us.

Recently returned to the UK from America, I managed to see Jay twice. Once in a sunny cafe, when he looked radiant, the second time at the launch of The Dangerous Book, when he looked more gaunt. Now he is no longer here, in form anyway, although I know he is here in presence. Nevertheless, I will miss him, miss co-creating, miss hearing his beautiful voice.

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Some words about Jay Ramsay

by Lindsay Clarke

lindsay-picThe last time I saw Jay was at the launch of A Dance with Hermes in the Black Book Cafe and I remember how astonishingly well he looked despite the various ordeals of both illness and treatment he had so recently undergone. It felt characteristic of his courage and resolution that he coped so well with conditions that might have left a lesser spirit utterly debilitated. As with my old friend John Moat, he was fortified and invigorated by the presence of poetry within him and the indomitable power of the spiritual imagination.

He and I were friends – at times close friends – for around a quarter of a century, during which time I often teased him for an occasionally over-portentous seriousness of purpose which, in these days of arid intellectual scepticism, I also deeply admired. I must have tried his patience at times but he always received my jocular critique with good humour and a shrewd awareness of my own deficiencies in the spiritual realm. In many ways, he was like a younger brother to me, one from whom I had much to learn.

Jay carried light within him through this dark time. It shone through his work as it resounded, unforgettably, in his voice. That illuminating presence will be deeply missed by me and by the many others whose souls it so feelingly touched.

Jay Ramsay, a Tribute

by Verona Bass

verona bass croppedI knew him as Jay, although he tried to revert to being known as John near the end of his life. I have a book of poems by him acquired in 2008, with an inscription addressed to me: ‘for Verona. In your heart’s life and dreaming, warmest and best, Jay. Waterstones. (9.10.2008)’

The title of the collection is Out Of Time, which seems poignant now that I know that he ran out of time on 30 December 2018, just over ten years later.

On the dedication page are several quotes, all of which now seem prescient:

Time becomes more and more dreamlike. It’s often only possible to know something happened or somewhere was visited by seeing the marks I made … (Kurt Jackson, Sketchbooks)

This is journey without distance, to the place you never left. (Tom and Linda Carpenter, Healing the Dream)

How we imagine our lives is how we will go on living our lives. (James Hillman, Healing Fictions)

Jay (or John) influenced people both by who he was and how he wrote. I didn’t know him well, and didn’t often see him, but it doesn’t take that much time for someone to have an impact. He seemed kind, had an instinctive understanding of the human condition. He was a performer of great power and presence with a quiet authority. They say he was a healer. He practised psychotherapy. He conducted teaching sessions to encourage creative writing, and it is here I encountered him in a day of in-depth writing at Hawkwood College in Stroud. I booked to attend a longer course with him, somewhere remote, which he had to cancel because of his father’s illness.

In Out of Time, there are poems about his father: ‘Driving Home on Christmas Day’ and ‘Golden Leaves’. In the latter one he describes sweeping up golden leaves on the garden path in the last light of day, with his father indoors, ‘wondering if you can see me’ … It was a task, a duty, but an act of devotion for his dad, and it begins, poignantly:

I was in the darkness, Dad

and you were already in the light.

One of my most telling encounters with him was when we both tried to offer support to a fellow poet and friend, Mary Palmer, before she needed to go into a hospice. It was a short but sympathetic overlap.

These moments are the stuff of what makes us human, what informs the transactions we regularly make as we navigate the currents carrying us through life. Jay’s flow has entered a different realm but we will feel the ripples in the wake of his passing.

The launch of Green Man Dreaming and By the Edge of the Sea, 5 December 2018

On Wednesday 5 December Awen was delighted to host the launch in Stroud at the ever-wonderful Black Book Café of two of our newest books. These were Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth and Memory, Lindsay Clarke’s selected essays; and By the Edge of the Sea, a short story collection by acclaimed New Caledonian author Nicolas Kurtovitch, translated into English for the first time by Anthony Nanson. Lindsay travelled up from Somerset to join us – and Nicolas beamed in from what was for him the following morning in New Caledonia, which is 11 hours ahead of Great Britain.

Last minute hook up with Nicolas as Richard starts the event! Thank you, Glenn!

There was a nervous few minutes while we waited for Nicolas to appear on the skype call that our good friend Glenn Smith had set up for us – after all, when we called Nicolas it was only 6.30am! But, bang on the dot of 8pm our time he appeared, ready to share a virtual coffee with us. Anthony then interviewed Nicolas about New Caledonia and its situation in the world – poised between Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – Nicolas’ inspirations for his long writing career, and particular for this writing collection. He spoke about how he had gone to live on Lifou, an island off the main island of New Caledonia, among the Kanak, the indigenous people, and how the landscapes and people he knew came into his stories – and how he wanted to share his relationships and personal experiences with the world, to bring the lives of the Kanak into a wider view. At that time in the 1990s, New Caledonia was just emerging from a period unrest following a failed bid for independence from France – ironically, just weeks before the launch of this collection in 2018, there had been a referendum on whether to stay part of France or become an independent nation. This time, the New Caledonians voted to stay – but not as many did as was assumed. Here’s a clip of Nicolas talking about inspiration from Australian travels – apologies for the sound quality, he’s coming from a long way away!

Anthony and Nicolas then read part of one of the stories from the book, ‘Desert Dreaming’, Nicolas starting it off in the original French, and then Anthony picking it up in English. Here’s a taster:

Then it was time for Lindsay, ably introduced by our emcee for the evening, Richard Selby, who runs the story, song and poetry night, What a Performance!, in Bath.

It’s probably best to leave Lindsay to speak for himself on the reasons for pulling together this collection of his essays, lectures and personal anecdotes of the many other literary figures he has known. Here, he talks about some of his thinking and philosophy towards the raising of consciousness that he feels is so desperately needed in both the individual, in society as a whole and beyond:

He then went on to read from the book, exploring, first, the concept that we all have our own, personal, daimon – and what that means for us:

More readings followed, going into dreams, and back out again, via the I Ching, and into his novels, The Chymical Wedding and The Water Theatre, and back to the personal. We’ll be sharing some of this on the blog at a later date. Then there was time for a question and answer session – and the all important book signings!

Putting on a launch event is always very much a collective effort, so we’d like to say our thank yous! Of course, big thanks are due to Lindsay and Nicolas for joining us and sharing their thoughts to create a meaningful, warm, fascinating evening. Thanks also go to our hosts Black Book Café for providing such a warm and welcoming atmosphere … as well as coffee and cake! Thank you to Richard for the excellent emceeing, big thanks to Glenn for coming down and making the tech happen for us, thanks to Kirsty for managing the book stall – and, of course, to the audience!

We’ll see you at the next event!

 

Behold, the Shining Brow!

By Kevan Manwaring (Lughnasadh 2018)

9781906900427.jpgAs a mode of enquiry for a creative practitioner interested in the bardic tradition, my poetry has, for over a quarter of a century, been a sustained commitment to what I eventually called the ‘Way of Awen’ (from 2004). I began to write poetry in 1991, inspired by a trip hitchhiking around Ireland – a young man interested in Celtic legends, with a nascent inclination towards Paganism. I met my ‘muse’ figure in a park in Galway and corresponded with her, writing her long letters (in those low-fi days before the internet became ubiquitous) and my first attempts at poetry. I wove in magical symbolism, inspired by W.B. Yeats, Dion Fortune, William Blake, and Jim Morrison, among others. I started going to ‘open mike’ events and inflicting my poetry on others. I quickly realised that reading from a text can create a barrier between the performer and audience, and so I began learning my poetry by heart. This freed up my hands, allowed me to make greater eye contact, and, by hard-wiring the poetry into myself through repetition, enabled me to embody the archetypal energies I was invoking. Each poem became an invocation to a particular deity, genius loci, or sacred festival. Over the next few years I wrote more poems, and expanded my repertoire to encompass the full ‘wheel of the year’ – material that I finally collected together in one volume: Green Fire. I started performing as a storyteller too, and weaving in the occasional ‘bardic poem’ into the texture of my shows. Invitations to perform at events started to happen – Witchfest, Wessex Gathering, Mercian Gathering, Druid Camp, Lammas Games, handfastings, and Bardic Chair competitions. In 1998 I had won the Bard of Bath competition with my epic poem, Spring Fall, which relates the legend of Bladud and Sulis of Bath. I hosted open mike events, ‘bardic showcases’, and book launches (after I founded Awen Publications in 2003). Often I would drop in a poem to set a mood, warm up the audience, break up the evening’s texture. I performed my poetry at Tate Britain (& Modern) and in front of thousands of protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square. On one memorable occasion I performed my Green Man poem naked while waiting to go into a sweat lodge at a Male Mysteries gathering! I realised then that, even if I was ‘skyclad’, I would never be short of material! As a bard I carry a library in my head – a repertoire of hundreds of stories, poems, and, these days, songs. I continue to use my bardism in key aspects of my life – teaching, guiding, and writing – and over the years have passed on my bardic skills to many students, helping the awen to keep flowing. The Taliesinic Effect is one too precious and powerful to be contained or controlled by one person, or a single organisation. I believe that all brows should shine. It is our innate potential awakening within us.

Silver Branch: Bardic Poems and Letters to a Young Bard is published on 19 August 2018. It will be available direct from Awen Publications here.

Grit and Pearl: An Exploration of the Cancer Journey, with Poetry

Jay Ramsay has made a short film about his experience of the cancer journey, including some of the poetry it has inspired. He was due to give this presentation at the AHP Conference ‘Love, Madness & Transformation’ in London on 28 June 2018, but instead filmed it at Hawkwood College, Stroud. The text will appear in the AHP journal Self & Society.
You can view the film here: https://vimeo.com/277625151

Transparency in Action

by Jay Ramsay

Jay Ramsay Pembroke College cropped (2).jpgIt occurs to me again today that the task for poetry couldn’t be clearer where poets are choosing to bring their work into the field of social justice and (as Andrew Harvey would say, with utmost relevance) ‘sacred activism’.

The real story, which is surely the environment now, is being masked by a puppet show diverting our attention from what urgently matters in our collective consciousness. However, every effort is being made through the best of social media to keep that story at the frontline of our awareness.

Of course, our human story matters as well: we live at a time when all the world’s wrongs are being exposed in a time of transparency. This great transparency, in my view, has the absolute backing of the spiritual world where that transparent light originates. When that light informs a poet’s eye, we also have poetry that matters.

You must have asked yourself, as I have many times, what does the spiritual world make of the state we are in? With a new century so quickly mired in sourness that is at the same time an unavoidable process towards our awakening, the dark before the dawn, the End Time, Revelation … and now with two important films released recently on both sides of the Atlantic: The Post, with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, recalling the great Vietnam cover-up through a series of White House administrations, and the Washington Post’s brave decision to publish leaked documents; and on this side of the pond Darkest Hour, where Churchill stood firm in 1940 against all the forces of appeasement to take Hitler seriously as the very real threat that could have (would have) changed our island history.

As a dear friend and local poetry lover, Sally Whitman, said who saw it (and I paraphrase): ‘I mean, what kind of Britain do we want ? A trivial nation, or what?’

This is transparency in action, through the Self, through intuition; and of course this is fire in the heart which is the passion that knows how much it matters: this is where we will recover our moral compass, and not only that, but our own authentic orientation as people living now who want to make an empowered contribution.

As Robert Bly, 92 this year, put it in ‘Advice from the Geese’:

Every seed spends many nights in the earth.

Give up the idea the world will get better by itself.

You will not be forgiven if you refuse to study.

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(Reproduced in Diamond Cutters: contemporary visionary poets in America and Britain, ed. Andrew Harvey & Jay Ramsay, Tayen Lane, San Francisco, 2016)