Category Archives: Poetry

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.

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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.

 

Writing on the Wall: How can Poetry Can Save the Planet?

Poets, thinkers, writers and people who care for the natural world will gather in Waterloo on Saturday, June 3, 2017 for a unique interactive day of exploring and learning how poetry can help us protect the environment.

We’re delighted to announce that a number of Awen authors will be participating in this event.

Writing on the Wall is:

  • A day of poetic action and reflection for the planet. The first in a series.
  • A chance for new and established poets, budding writers, fans of poetry and anyone stirred by the environment message and crisis to build a vision of what the world might be, using poetry as a catalyst.
  • A new collaboration between poets and the wider world of faiths, ecologists and governments
  • Supported by The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), WWF-UK and the Southbank Festival’s Belief and Beyond Belief, of which Writing on the Wall is part.

The conservation movement’s language is so often of fear, anger and despair. But poetry can take us down different paths, and find wonder there. Our invitation to the audience during this interactive day is to help build a vision, through words, of what the world might be. To go beyond the boundaries of despair and think again about the way we live in this world. And to explore a way of being together, being part of the world and not apart from it.

“Poetry, at its best, speaks directly to both heart and mind,” said poet Jay Ramsay who has put the programme together for the Southbank Festival. “It can do what little else can do. It can speak a language that moves beyond the data of climate change, beyond the tragedy of habitat loss and species extinction, into a place of truth, where we can find a vision of a different kind of ending. Effective poetry stirs us, evoking reactions and provoking thought and, hopefully, action and commitment.

Writing on the Wall is an invitation to everyone to step “beyond a world of eco-deliverables and eco-miserables” and to delight in the wonder of the world around us.

The full day programme includes a writing workshop on how to incorporate a true and authentic vision of nature into your writing. Throughout the day there are talks, discussions, meditations and performances featuring poets, musicians, conservationists, writers and representatives from faith, spirituality and publishing groups.

The poets, speakers and musicians include: Jeni Couzyn, Glyn Davies (WWF), Aidan Andrew Dun, Irina Kuzminsky, Paul Matthews, Caroline McCausland, Niall McDevitt, Jehanne Mehta, Gabriel Bradford Millar, Helen Moore, Anthony Nanson, Peter Owen Jones, Jay Ramsay, Nigel Shaw and others.

 

Next steps

This is just the beginning. There are plans for an event at Dartington College in April 2018 and the project encourages anyone who is interested to take this further, using poetry – their own poems or other people’s – to provoke discussion, encourage debate and give hearts and minds a good shake.

 

Details:

Venue: St John’s Waterloo

Date: Saturday June 3, 2017

Times: 10.00 to 17.30, activities throughout the day. Tickets: £20

Further details and bookings: https://www.waterloofestival.com/poetry