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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.

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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