Category Archives: Book News

Silver Branch book launch 19 August 2018

On 19 August 2018 we gathered in the Ale House in Stroud to celebrate two things: the launch of Awen’s newest title, Silver Branch: Bardic Poems & Letters to a Young Bard by Kevan Manwaring – and also the author’s birthday! 

Kevan organised the evening with his usual generosity of spirit, giving us a showcase of bardic talent from Stroud and Bath – and beyond. There were poets, musicians and storytellers sharing many different versions of the bardic arts that Kevan has worked in and encouraged for 25 years, representing a cross-section of his acquaintance with bards from his youth in Northampton, through his time living in Bath and now in Stroud.

He started the evening himself, with a rendition of ‘Taliesin’, from the poetry cycle The Taliesin Soliloquies, about the tale of the legendry British bard who is said to have lived in the sixth century. Kevan has taken great inspiration from the tale, the poetry and the man himself over the years.

Next up was Kevan’s partner in the storytelling and music duo Brighid’s Flame, and fellow Fire Spring, singer-songwriter Chantelle Smith, performing her song about the banshee.

Another Fire Spring followed, Kirsty Hartsiotis, bringing in the third bardic art of storytelling with a rendition of the tale of Mabon son of Modron in the Welsh story of Culwch and Olwen.

Two Stroud-based poets came next, Tim Bannon and Jehanne Mehta.

Then publisher and fellow Fire Spring Anthony Nanson with another bardic piece – a storytelling rendering of the Song of Amergin, one of the legendry forefathers of the Gaels of Ireland.

Kevan acknowledged the inspiration he had had from the next performer, his old friend Marko Gallaidhe, who continued the Irish theme with a song and a tune.

Marko was followed by one of Kevan’s students in the bardic arts, Wayland the Skald, who said that Kevan was one of his favourite people – and thus gifted him with his favourite folktale, a Yorkshire tale in which the Devil comes good!

He was followed by Earthwards, who are Jehanne and Rob Mehta and Will Mercer, who sang a song about Runnymede – the ‘rune meadow’ where the Magna Carta was signed.

Two more Stroud poets followed, Robin Collins, and Jay Ramsay, who delivered from memory a bardic poem about the fire in the head of bardic inspiration.

Current Bard of Bath – the 20th, Kevan was the third – Kirsten Bolwig gave us a true tale from her work with teenagers, which had us on the edge of seats – a tale of tempers, stories and stolen double-decker buses on the Mile End Road!

Recent Stroudie, but old Northampton friend, Simon Andrews gave us a song about unity. Jeff Cloves contributed a poem about book launches – and Nina Simone – from his own recent collection.

Then Peter Please told a spine-tingling story of dream and connection and birthdays and resonation through the generations – all the way back to the Ice Age. The evening was rounded off with a poem of Rumi’s, performed by storyteller Fiona Eadie, and then finished with a bang with another song by Simon.

We’d like to thank the Ale House in Stroud for providing a venue, and we thank all the performers and all the listeners!

If you missed the Stroud launch, Kevan will be launching the book in Bath at Poetry and a Pint at St James’s Wine Vaults in Bath on Wednesday 19 September, 7.30pm.

If you’d like to see some videos from the evening head on over to our Twitter account @Awen_Books, and you’ll discover Kevan and friends there!

All images copyright Kirsty Hartsiotis, save for the image of Kirsty, copyright Chantelle Smith and that of Peter Please, copyright Kevan Manwaring, all 2018.

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Mysteries – Stories and Poems of Faerie by Chrissy Derbyshire

 

9781906900458.jpgBy Anthony Nanson

Chrissy Derbyshire is a master of style – lyrical and accessible, archly ironic, and yet at the same time charged with the sensual feyness of Faerie. The eight stories in Mysteries take tropes from myth and fairy tale and animate them, through the alembic of lived experience, with a potent contemporary spark. The ten poems also included in this collection do the same,  in a more focused epiphanic way. In the literary cosmos, Chrissy’s work fits somewhere between Tanith Lee, only with more sense of humour, and Storm Constantine, only more lyrical. Ten years after this book’s first publication, Awen is pleased to release a second edition, including an additional story and three extra poems, with a foreword by fantasy author Kim Huggens and stunning cover art by Tom Brown. You can order Mysteries, like all our books, from the website.

Here’s the information from the back of the book:

This enchanting and exquisitely crafted collection by Chrissy Derbyshire will whet your appetite for more from this superbly talented wordsmith. Her short stories interlaced with poems depict chimeras, femmes fatales, mountebanks, absinthe addicts, changelings, derelict warlocks, and persons foolhardy enough to stray into the beguiling world of Faerie. Let the sirens’ song seduce you into the Underworld.

‘All of the pieces in Mysteries are entertaining. But they also speak twice. Each one has layers of meaning that touch on the ultimate that cannot be put into words and speak to our inner landscapes that are so full of desire for meaning. Chrissy’s journey, elaborately retold in the arena of mythology, is our own journey.’  Kim Huggens

Pilgrimage by Jay Ramsay

9781906900540.jpgThis Friday 20 April we’re publishing a major new work by Jay Ramsay, to coincide with his 60th birthday. It’s called Pilgrimage – a journey to Love Island. The Love Island in question is Scotland’s sacred isle, Iona, so the new book will be big brother to Mary Palmer’s Iona (Awen, 2008).

Jay will be reading from the book at Hawkwood College, Stroud, on 20 April as part of an event with Andrew Harvey on the theme of sacred activism (8 p.m., £12/£9).

The FREE LAUNCH PARTY for Pilgrimage is on Wednesday 25 April at Black Book Cafe, Stroud GL5 2HL (7.30 for 8 p.m.) and includes poetry by Steve Morris, Polly Howell, and Gabriel Millar and music from the Day Jobs. Everyone is welcome!

Pilgrimage is available to order from the Awen website. Here’s some info about the book from the back cover:

In the summer of 1990 Jay Ramsay set out on pilgrimage with an interfaith group from London to Iona. The result is his most ambitious book-length poem, an astonishing tour de force in the tradition of Wordsworth and Chaucer. Epiphanic, conversational, meditational, psychological, political, it divines ‘the cross’ of spiritual and ecological being in Britain’s radical tradition, as symbolised by Iona as the crown of the Celtic church and the direction that Christianity lost.

Constructed as a series of 25 ‘days’, the narrative builds symphonically like waves of the sea up to its visionary climax. Full of stories, reflections, memories, and images, Pilgrimage is above all a love poem, an invitation into the greater love that is our true becoming where we can find the God most personal to all of us – alive in the heart of Life.

Pilgrimage is an important outpouring from one of Britain’s leading poets wrestling with the Christ story, the human story, and the story of where we need to go as a species. Travelling with Jay is never anything less than a journey into the past, with adventures in the present, and visions of hope for the future.’ Martin Palmer

‘It is strange and beautiful how everything he passes comes into colour, into focus – is born. And I ran along after him and listened as he changed the colour of the sea and broke down doors.’ Peter Owen Jones

 

 

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.

 

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.

Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils

by Anthony Nanson

Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils is rather more than a collection of poems. It will have a particular interest, not only to admirers of edgy and crisply constructed verse, but to anyone engaged with medieval romance, legend, and epic, especially in Celtic, Old English, and Arthurian traditions.

Awen have now published a new edition of this book, first published in 2012, with an expanded introduction by the author in which she goes into more detail about her fascinating method. The ‘Glossing’ in the title refers to the ‘glosa’, a poetic form that functions as a gloss, or commentary, upon a pre-existing text. Each of the poems in Glossing the Spoils takes a short extract selected from a medieval source – such as Beowulf, Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Parzival, and many others – and expands this into an expertly metred poem that imaginatively both unpacks that moment in the source story and evokes resonances with the modern world. This nuanced relationship between ancient and modern is then neatly reinforced by concluding each stanza with one line from the source extract.

Let me show you what I mean with an example. Charlotte’s poem ‘Tree’ is based on this extract from the Arthurian tale ‘Peredur Son Evrawg’ from Mabinogion:

 

On the bank of the river,

he sees a tall tree:

from roots to crown one half is aflame

and the other green with leaves.

 

The first stanza of ‘Tree’ goes like this:

 

She passes through a skeletal wall,

door blown off, its skeletal

frame leaning inwards. The drone

of the bombing squad begins to fade

as an eerie music like wind through the ribs

of something large grows louder,

rising over the rubble, stirring her

to cry and laugh and wish to sleep,

not knowing whether, like a dreamer

on the bank of the river,

 

— and so the narrative continues into the next stanza …

An encyclopaedic knowledge of medieval literature lies behind these poems. Charlotte Hussey is a scholar in this field and teaches courses on Breton, Irish, and Arthurian literature at Dawson College in Montreal. The poet Lorna Smithers has described Glossing the Spoils ‘as exemplary in re-envisioning the oldest myths of Western European tradition with formal mastery’. This is truly bardic poetry and I hope you will enjoy it.

Buy directly from Awen – awenpublications.co.uk/

Buy from Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1906900523