Category Archives: Poetry

‘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.

Advertisements

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.

Jay Ramsay (1958–2018)

by Anthony Nanson

Jay Ramsay Pembroke College cropped (2)I heard last night that our beloved Jay Ramsay had passed away that morning (30 December), peacefully and without pain. I saw him in hospital in Torquay on 23 December. He was very poorly, and both medics and family were preparing for the worst, yet there was such a fire in him still that I hoped he might bounce back once more. He said, ‘See you!’ not ‘Goodbye.’ His last words to me, just as I was leaving, were, ‘Give my love to everyone.’

I can’t yet believe he’s gone. He will leave such a big space in the healing and poetry communities of which he’s been such a leading light. He was Awen’s biggest champion, just as he championed and encouraged so many individuals on their creative and spiritual journeys. He said to me once that for him poetry and psychotherapy were essentially the same thing, equally concerned with transformation. He had no time for poetry that didn’t have some kind of transformative intent.

Jay referred to his cancer journey as an ‘initiation’. I feel privileged to have got to know him more personally during these last years, when new levels of courage and grace blossomed in him. Although he fought so hard to find healing, and felt there was much he still wanted to do in this life, he seemed not to fear death. I remember him saying, ‘It’s just a gateway, after all.’ Conversations with him reinforced my conviction that death is not the end and there’s a multiplicity of possibilities of what comes after.

Jay was the author, editor, or translator of 48 books, by my count; three of them just this year. He launched The Dangerous Book, his interpretation of the Bible, at a well-attended event in Stroud on 1 November. Perhaps it was fitting that such a supremely ambitious work, accomplished while he had cancer, should be his swansong.

In the course of the past year, Jay attempted to revive his true name, John. He felt an affinity with St John, the beloved disciple, the one who tradition says laid his head on Christ’s chest during the Last Supper and thus heard the heartbeat of God. The heartbeat of God certainly pounds through Jay’s writing, just as it did through his life.

Kevan Manwaring and Bardic Poetry

by Anthony Nanson 

9781906900427.jpgKevan 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

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.

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