Category Archives: Poetry

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.

Advertisements

On the Cover: Glossing the Spoils

 

by Kirsty Hartsiotis

b694b1_08f653f8784c44929d43a376cccf6604mv2I’ve always been fascinated by hoards. To me they are deeply poignant and offer a glimpse into a moment in another person’s life. It’s easy to imagine a scenario from the thin thread of evidence – the coins tucked away in a bag or pot – and see a desperate person hastily digging a hole, stuffing in their only treasure, covering it over, staring at it to try to drum the place into their memory, then snatching up a child, the rest of their belongings, tugging away a horse, and running from the chaos they’ve left behind, a raid, a battle, perhaps, but with one thought in mind – I will come back. Implicit in there is the thought, I will come home again, and pick up the reins of my old life, and all will be as it was. But we know that that didn’t happen. For whatever reason, the person who buried the hoard didn’t return, and the little bag of coins remains there until a metal detectorist or archaeologist strays on it one day and the ancient metal is brought to light.

When I first saw the cover image for Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils, that’s exactly what I thought we had. The coins on the cover are from the Hallaton Hoard, a massive collection of Iron Age and Roman coins found near Market Harborough in the East Midlands. How fitting, thought I, a coin hoard is the perfect cover for this collection of poems expanding out, glossing, inspired by medieval texts from all over Western Europe. So often, in early medieval writing at least, all we have are the remains, the scraps, and our understanding of the complex meanings behind the poems in the Anglo-Saxon corpus, say, or the Mabinogion, and the lost tales they reference is like our understanding of coin hoards – we can imagine a bigger picture, we can gloss and explain all we like, but to capture that moment of writing, the societal context of the poet, the writer, and their world view, that’s all but impossible.

However. Some coin hoards are not like the one imagined above. Sometimes there’s a whole lot more going on. The coins on this cover are just a few of the 5296 coins found in no less than fourteen coin hoards on the site. They were deposited at some point just before or soon after the Romans came to Britain, but not because people were running away from invaders or civil war; rather, as part of a collective, community ritual. The people who deposited these coins came to the place, feasted, and held a ritual that resulted in the burial of these coins and the bones of the pigs they ate. And a Roman helmet. And, sadly to us today, it seems that the site was important enough to need to be guarded at all times – three dog skeletons have been found, psychopompic guards protecting against all spiritual comers. The coins show the exuberant horses, dots, and symbols of Iron Age coins, mixed in with the artistic inspiration – coins from the Empire across the Channel. What relationship did these people have with Rome? Who were they beyond the name Corieltavi? How did they get the helmet? Why did they stop coming?

Always there are more questions than answers. A quick glance won’t do. That’s what I take from the cover – and from the poems inside the book. There is everything to be gained from looking under the surface. In those deeper places lie discoveries – not just the materially obvious hidden treasure, but an elucidation of hidden lives and, perhaps, a glimpse into ourselves and a chance to have a deeper connection with both ourselves and the the myriad lost lives of the past.

You can find out more about the Hallaton Treasure here, and if you’d like to dig deeper into Hussey’s book, it’s available here.

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

Poem: Migratory Roots

By Robin Collins

 

Britain,

this great mnemonic,

land of the English, Celt and flint knappers of another age.

The seas wrap around her cliffs,

never letting the kingdom sleep,

haunting her people

with the foam capped thud of waves,

telling us to remember, remember.

The seas carried our distant ancestors,

unrecorded faces and names,

making the way across,

that ancient pollination of migration.

 

Britain in the becoming,

the great life stream of cultures.

Without the crossing over,

this island would be unnamed;

for all the towns and rivers

we speak were names

on a tongue that came

over the waves.

This is who we have,

swirling in the coda of our blood:

Migrants.

The sea reminds us we all go back

to some long forgotten family in a boat,

making the journey to stay,

to home make.

This island in the midst of moving peoples.

Poetry news from Words and Ears

By Dawn Gorman

How appropriate for a Words & Ears falling on a hot, hot evening that we should find ourselves among Liz Watts’ Beached imaginings, and cooled, in the imagination if not literally, by the water-and-shady-woods imagery from Elephant’s Footprint films. That, though, was just the start of things at the Swan last week. The one-off collaboration between sculptor and film-makers produced something quite ‘other’ for the senses – the gorgeous synergies of those skies, wavelets and woods flitting and flickering over Liz’s work, the plinths and the walls, (clouds beneath sea shells and sea women – a poem in itself) created what felt like a brand new, three-dimensional, multi-layered art form. There was something mesmeric and soothing about the readings, too – Chaucer Cameron’s poems were all the more powerful for their uncomplicated delivery, without preamble. ‘Water seeps into our land’, she said, and so the theme settled with us all – Liz let the whales and blue fin tuna swim free, while in the open mic, Pey was ‘as indivisible as water’, Paul gave us George Mackay Brown’s ‘dreaming plankton’, and with Peter is was possible to ‘catch fish with our eyes’. In the second half, we were treated to a curation of rich and gentle poetry films by Helen Dewbery, showing something of what is possible with this delicious form. Jodie Hollander maintained the mood with a powerful but lilting reading from her new collection My Dark Horses and, among many wonderful poems in the second open mic, we were treated to a reading of Rosie’s poem The Heaven That Runs Through Everything, which recently won the Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition.

Coming up this month there are two Words & Ears events – we are Live! At the Old Road Tavern In Chippenham on Saturday 24th June as part of ChippFest, with open mic plus guest poets Crysse Morrison, Moira Andrew, Ruth Marden, Partrick Osada, Peter Wyton and Maggie Harris (£3 on the door) – please visit www.chippfest.org for more details of this brilliant arts and music festival.

Then we are back at the Swan on Thursday 29th June for a three-woman poet night with Kate Noakes, Beatrice Garland and Lisa Brockwell, plus, of course, open mic (£4 on the door – with more poets’ expenses to cover, there’s a teeny price increase this time).

You can find more information on Dawn Gorman’s website http://www.dawngorman.co.uk/words_and_ears_info.php

Koinos Hermes

A Dance With Hermes is a verse sequence in which award-winning novelist Lindsay Clarke explores the trickster nature of Hermes, the messenger god of imagination. Clarke travels with Hermes into the shifting possibilities of language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors, alchemy and the otherworld.

Here’s a poem from A Dance With Hermes:

Koinos Hermes

The work begins and ends with him: 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.
You’ll find him anywhere and nowhere,

ever the unexpected messenger, who sends
you glimpses of the wet fire and the lit dark
in the loded stone. With him the magic work,
of which one may not speak, begins and ends.

Buy the book directly from the publisher – https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/product-page/a-dance-with-hermes-lindsay-clarke (buying directly is of greatest benefit to the author)

Buy the book on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dance-Hermes-Lindsay-Clarke/dp/1906900434

 

Irresistible Resistance

By Robin Collins

 

Let our resistance

be an irresistible,

bringing together

of the Stars and the Earth in our lives.

 

Let our resistance

be insistence on beauty and wonder,

let us be beyond

the deadening repetition of machines.

 

In all ways

we are evolving towards

the spiralling of creation.

 

Spirals in the resistance

will take us like starlings,

murmuring through

the shattering pieces

of where

we have come to,

arrived for the first time

in the middle of ourselves.

 

Spinning in the

time we create,

let our resistance,

weave worlds into our words,

adorn our paths,

through day and night,

with friendship,

 

Let this be our resistance,

sound as a well built house,

we can stand,

and belong in the place we are now,

taking,

sun,

wind,

rain,

and frost.

 

We become,

irresistible

in our resistance,

to the webbing

of life’s fullness.

 

Of all we

lock away

now the walls and chains

are blown away.

 

Today,

we have found

child’s play,

is irresistible in our resistance.