Category Archives: Reviews

Ballad Tales – not exactly a review

There are a lot of Awen author and Fire Springs folk in this anthology…

Druid Life

Last summer I was approached by Kevan Manwaring to contribute to an anthology titled ‘Ballad Tales’.  The premise was that people with a background in folk – be that as musicians, storytellers or enthusiasts, would re-write traditional ballads as short stories. I cheerfully dived in. So I can’t write you an unbiased review of this book! There are 19 stories, 18 authors. I knew most of the authors and most of the original material before I started reading.

The collection runs a broad range of interpretations. It opens with a faithful retelling of Tam Lin, from Fiona Eadie. Kevan Manwaring’s Thomas the Rhymer is largely faithful, but plays with the unreliable narrator in some inventive ways. Chantelle Smith takes on the Selkie of Sule Skerry. The Marriage of Gawain by Simon Heywood is also a largely familiar retelling.

Richard Selby places the song The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter in a landscape…

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Reviews for Words of Re-Enchantment

This book brings together the best of Anthony Nanson’s incisive writings about the ways that story can re-enchant our lives and the world we live in. Grounded in his practice as a storyteller, the essays range from the myths of Arthur, Arcadia, and the voyage west, to true tales of the past, science-fiction visions of the future, and the big questions of politics and spirituality such stories raise.

 

“Anthony’s account of this scene gave me goosebumps. It put me in mind of the rare occasions I’ve experienced the pagan gods speak through somebody. It illustrates the potential within our diverse religious traditions to draw upon the words of radical and prophetic figures to illuminate and critique our current political situation and also our responsibility as storytellers for our divinities.” Lorna Smithers reviewing for Gods and Radicals  read the full review here.

“As a writer and poet this book spoke to the core of my own approach. It talks about the need for our society to reconnect with nature and magic through storytelling. It is intelligently written, inspiring and convincing.” Stardancer, Amazon.

“This is a deeply philosophical book, asking what it means to be human, to be alive in this time and place, what it means to face up to the challenges and responsibilities of our moment in history. Given the subject matter, it’s a surprisingly upbeat and encouraging book. What I especially like about it, is that it offers meaningful ways forward to anyone who reads it.” Nimue Brown. Full review here.

More about the book here – https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/product-page/words-of-re-enchantment-writings-on-storytelling-myth-and-ecological-desire

Reviews for Soul of the Earth

Soul of the Earth is an anthology of eco-spiritual poetry, published in 2010.

Lorna Smithers, writing in 2016 for Gods and Radicals said “As I read through the pages from this year’s position of heightened crisis, I found the poems continued to resonate and feel important. Some do the essential work of critiquing the materialistic worldview of consumer capitalism responsible for our destruction of the earth.”

You can read the whole review here – https://godsandradicals.org/2016/05/26/review-soul-of-the-earth/

Stardancer on Amazon says “like the eco-bardic manifesto – this is an inspiring collection of writing”  and goes on to call for “a whole movement towards nature and magic in story and poetry and then see where it leads us.” that’s very much the sort of response the book was intended to create.

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Soul-Earth-Anthology-Eco-Spiritual-Poetry/dp/1906900175/

Review of A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke

by Diana Durham

Gods are forces with which we as mortal humans eternally engage. This is the fundamental insight writer Lindsay Clarke explores in his new collection of poems A Dance with Hermes from Awen Publications:

 

Where is the habitation of the gods

if not in us? And where are we if not

inside the mysteries they perpetrate

about us and around?

 

And in particular, as the title tells us, these poems are about the multi-faceted, shifting forces embodied by the winged god Hermes – messenger god of thresholds and trade, guide of travellers and of the newly dead, part unreliable trickster, part helpful companion. In addition to these attributes and roles, Hermes holds the Caduceus, entwined with two snakes, which is associated with healing and, as precursor to the magic wand, with the transformative powers of the imagination. Hermes, inventor of the lyre, also represents music and poetry. And in his many guises, moods and roles Hermes represents the unpredictable, spontaneous dance of our imaginative and creative potential.

In addition to a foreword by Jules Cashford (translator of The Homeric Hymns for Penguin and author of The Moon: Symbol of Transformation from Greystone Press), there is a helpful introduction by Clarke, in which he lays out a condensed yet clear overview of the evolution and attributes of Hermes from primitive times to his appearance in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes around the seventh century BC, and how later his name was given to the western Hermetic tradition of thought, an influence vital to the energies of the Renaissance and to the occult, symbolic world of alchemy.

Clarke also recounts how the origin of this collection was inspired by his friend John Moat’s memoir Anyway … about a ‘life lived in service to the Imagination’, which Moat equated with the figure of Hermes. Moat, founder of the Arvon Foundation, was in the later stages of a terminal illness when he finished his memoir, and in the poignancy of this transition, a time when the god waits on us with compassionate equanimity, Clarke wrote a poem for his friend about Hermes.

The poem is called ‘Koinos Hermes’ and, to quote Clarke, it ‘conflated the attributes of the Greek god Hermes with those of Mercurius Duplex, the agent of transformation in alchemy while at the same time making use of anachronistic contemporary references’:

 

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.

 

This poem, which now begins the collection, catalysed what Clarke modestly terms the ‘procession of poems, verses, squibs – call them what you like –’ that comprise these 50 pages of poetry. The poem’s tone and its form of ‘four quatrains held together by the regular use of half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god – something almost grasped but not quite – with occasional full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence’ set the style for the poems that followed in a swift and easy way ‘almost by dictation’.

Clarke explains that therefore not only in this collection’s content and form but also in the manner of its emergence the nature of the god is present and at work. The verses roll along in carefree, sometimes careless ease of movement in which moments of literary buffoonery –

 

What he loves

best is to astound the mind with such deceptive

 

art as brings about true transformation,

and it’s the virtue of his wand to wide-awaken

into lucid dreams of the Imagination

those who don’t yet see we are myth-taken

– mingle with lines of soul touching lucidity (in my opinion, Clarke’s default and hallmark) –

 

He is the tutelary deity of night,

close kin to burglars and to writers and to those

asleep in cardboard boxes on the street.

He oversees the drowsy and the comatose,

 

has heard the chimes at midnight and will

act as a prison visitor to those for whom

the lonely stretches before dawn become

the penitentiary of mind.

 

– and deft light-handed wisdom – like this:

 

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 tricky wisdom understands

 

what unassisted reason often 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 … and nor, he thinks, should we.

 

And this:

 

For nothing speaks more truly than a dream,

and where else (asks Hermes), in the jangle

of a time so fast to change that even

wisdom seems redundant, shall we keep

those secrets that the soul discloses

for our welfare while we sleep?

The task of any writer using archetype – especially in today’s world when ‘wisdom seems redundant’, when we seem to be in danger of succumbing to a dense and stupified literal-mindedness, or, as writer Iain McGilchrist would say, to the depleted values of a left-brain dominated society – is often to teach and explain as well as evoke. And Clarke robustly and effortlessly incorporates this responsibility into his verses, so that we learn the context at the same time as we make the connections and absorb the personal meaning:

 

The god in the louche hat, the liminal,

crepuscular and volatile grand master

of quick whispers and shady deals, can pull

deft tricks and optical illusions faster

 

than the pixels shift in CGI. He seduces us

and mystifies our senses with his wand,

the Kerykeion or (latinate) Caduceus –

that snake-twined staff he carries in his hand

 

to work such vivid magic as draws doves

from darkness, or releases some poor captive

from a cabinet of knives.

While the gods are alive, so are we, and while Hermes dances, no one else can take over our imagination. Mythic archetype, narrative and pattern belong to this realm in ourselves, and their symbolism helps guide our way back to a life that has mystery, potential and zinginess. Many thanks to Anthony Nanson of Awen for making this unique and life-affirming collection available from one of our greatest lyric masters of language.

 

Diana Durham is the author of the nonfiction The Return of King Arthur from Tarcher, three poetry collections including Between Two Worlds from Chrysalis Poetry and a novel The Curve of the Land from Skylight Press. www.dianadurham.net

 

Review for A Dance With Hermes

dwh-front-coverA Dance With Hermes, by Lindsay Clarke was published in December 2016. Recently, Adam Randall has reviewed it on his blog. Here’s a snippet:

“It’s quite short, but it’s enjoyable. I have never read a sequence of poems like this before, but I would certainly consider doing so in future. It’s an easy and pleasant read, but this accessibility does not come at the expense of intellectual depth as there are often very clever ideas within the poems. I also enjoyed reading the introduction and the notes at the end: they gave context to some of the things I didn’t understand and provided an endearing personal connection to the life of the author, Lindsay Clarke.”

You can read the review in full here – trustywaterblog.co.uk/book-reviews/a-dance-with-hermes-by-lindsay-clarke/

Buy the book here – amazon.co.uk/Dance-Hermes-Lindsay-Clarke/

Reviews for Mary Palmer

Poet Mary Palmer has two collections published by Awen – Tidal Shift,  and Iona.

Reviewing Tidal Shift, Helen Moore said “Throughout we experience the communications of a compassionate heart – sometimes burning with fierce irony, elsewhere disarmingly tender – yet steadily maintaining a courageous gaze in the face of others’ suffering.”

It’s a long and detailed review for Caduceus which can be read in full here – http://www.natures-words.co.uk/Review and concludes “At the end of her life, Christian faith and love have become Palmer’s main source of nourishment. However, her concern remains predominantly with others – the poet’s often fragmentary utterances are epitomised by her desire to extend a ‘Lifeline’ to those she’s leaving behind: “I believe in going/ the oyster way/ in weaving meaning/ around the grit/ in leaving you/ a rope of pearls.” But ultimately, I feel her courageous surrendering to death is the greatest gift she offers her readers – “give yourself/ to the surgeon’s knife/ let go/ an outpouring of love/ your miracle.” ”

Geoff Hall says the following of her work “Her poetry eroded the boundaries we allocate to things like spiritual and physical, sacred and secular. She knew there were no such divisions; no duality in her understanding of the world.”

And

“Mary’s Celtic spirituality meant that she was connected to the earth as well as transcending it. Her word images are metaphors which point beyond our experience of the world around us, to capture a moment, a brief moment of bliss. They are pointedly sensual and I’ve noticed that mystic poets (St John of the Cross comes to mind) always seem to stir the most sensual images and translate their meaning from the here and now, to an eternity of bliss.”

You can read his blog post here – artsmentoring.co/art-and-spirituality/mary-palmer/

Find out more about Iona here – .awenpublications.co.uk/iona.html

find out more about Tidal Shift here – awenpublications.co.uk/tidal_shift.html

 

Glossing the Spoils

Glossing the Spoils is a poetry collection by Charlotte Hussey, and published by Awen.

Reviewing the collection for The Druid Network, Lorna Smithers described it as “explaining, interpreting, re-imagining, bringing ancient often obtuse fragments to life for a contemporary audience.” She went on to say “I would highly recommend Glossing the Spoils to all students of Druidry as exemplary in re-envisioning the oldest myths of Western European tradition with formal mastery. Charlotte’s methodology has been central my poetic and imaginative practice since this book was released in 2012 and I can’t thank her enough.”

You can read the whole review here – https://druidnetwork.org/review/glossing-the-spoils/

Here’s an interview with Charlotte talking about her work:

 

TEASER: Glossing The Spoils Interview from Zoë Arniotis on Vimeo.