Diana Durham will be reading poetry by Jay Ramsay and people are welcome to come and read their own favourites by Jay and/or poems of their own. Optional theme for open mic: ‘Vision’.
Jay Ramsay was author of Monuments (Waterloo Press), Kingdom of the Edge (Element), and Pilgrimage (Awen), among many more, editor of six anthologies of poetry, including Diamond Cutters (Tayen Lane, co-edited with Andrew Harvey) and Soul of the Earth (Awen), as well as two prose books about alchemy and some classic Chinese translations. Jay passed away on 30 December 2018, and many in the poetry scene are still getting used to the idea that he is no longer with us, so influential was his presence and work.
The aim of Lyrical is to blend the open mic + guest poet format with conversation and also expand the slot to include talks, book launches, and workshops. Each evening will have a theme, announced beforehand, which poets are free to explore or ignore.
On Wednesday 5 December Awen was delighted to host the launch in Stroud at the ever-wonderful Black Book Café of two of our newest books. These were Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth and Memory, Lindsay Clarke’s selected essays; and By the Edge of the Sea, a short story collection by acclaimed New Caledonian author Nicolas Kurtovitch, translated into English for the first time by Anthony Nanson. Lindsay travelled up from Somerset to join us – and Nicolas beamed in from what was for him the following morning in New Caledonia, which is 11 hours ahead of Great Britain.
There was a nervous few minutes while we waited for Nicolas to appear on the skype call that our good friend Glenn Smith had set up for us – after all, when we called Nicolas it was only 6.30am! But, bang on the dot of 8pm our time he appeared, ready to share a virtual coffee with us. Anthony then interviewed Nicolas about New Caledonia and its situation in the world – poised between Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – Nicolas’ inspirations for his long writing career, and particular for this writing collection. He spoke about how he had gone to live on Lifou, an island off the main island of New Caledonia, among the Kanak, the indigenous people, and how the landscapes and people he knew came into his stories – and how he wanted to share his relationships and personal experiences with the world, to bring the lives of the Kanak into a wider view. At that time in the 1990s, New Caledonia was just emerging from a period unrest following a failed bid for independence from France – ironically, just weeks before the launch of this collection in 2018, there had been a referendum on whether to stay part of France or become an independent nation. This time, the New Caledonians voted to stay – but not as many did as was assumed. Here’s a clip of Nicolas talking about inspiration from Australian travels – apologies for the sound quality, he’s coming from a long way away!
Anthony and Nicolas then read part of one of the stories from the book, ‘Desert Dreaming’, Nicolas starting it off in the original French, and then Anthony picking it up in English. Here’s a taster:
Then it was time for Lindsay, ably introduced by our emcee for the evening, Richard Selby, who runs the story, song and poetry night, What a Performance!, in Bath.
It’s probably best to leave Lindsay to speak for himself on the reasons for pulling together this collection of his essays, lectures and personal anecdotes of the many other literary figures he has known. Here, he talks about some of his thinking and philosophy towards the raising of consciousness that he feels is so desperately needed in both the individual, in society as a whole and beyond:
He then went on to read from the book, exploring, first, the concept that we all have our own, personal, daimon – and what that means for us:
More readings followed, going into dreams, and back out again, via the I Ching, and into his novels, The Chymical Wedding and The Water Theatre, and back to the personal. We’ll be sharing some of this on the blog at a later date. Then there was time for a question and answer session – and the all important book signings!
Putting on a launch event is always very much a collective effort, so we’d like to say our thank yous! Of course, big thanks are due to Lindsay and Nicolas for joining us and sharing their thoughts to create a meaningful, warm, fascinating evening. Thanks also go to our hosts Black Book Café for providing such a warm and welcoming atmosphere … as well as coffee and cake! Thank you to Richard for the excellent emceeing, big thanks to Glenn for coming down and making the tech happen for us, thanks to Kirsty for managing the book stall – and, of course, to the audience!
The friends in our life are a true measure of success – the harvest of a life well-lived.
I am fortunate to know many talented people who I find inspiring and good company to boot. To be around them is a buzz, and their achievements mutually empowering. We raise each other up by stepping into our own power, by not being afraid to shine. I love seeing my friends do well. I praise their successes, cheer them on. Because I know something of their journey, of their struggles and sheer effort. When I am with them I feel more complete, because in some mysterious way they ‘hold’ something for me, an aspect of my own personality that they manifest in full. They are fully themselves, of course, but something in them draws me to them. I sense a kindred spirit. We share common ground – interests, experiences, obsessions, ambitions, sense…
We walked alone together up the steep hillside, finding our own desire paths through the boggy heathland, climbing our own mental inclines, the hidden engines of our hearts driving us forward, the mental cable of our thoughts reeling us up the slope – providing the traction of deferred gratification. We had come the wild West Brecons to make mythopoeic pilgrimage to Llyn y Fan Fach, a glacial tarn associated with the Tylwyth Teg, the ‘Good Folk’ of the Brythonic tradition, and with the legend of a lake maiden.
On the brow of the hill, catching breath, we caught a first glimpse of the llyn, a cauldron of water held by savagely beetling cliffs, which dropped precipitously to its shimmering fastness. The surface was a digital mirror, pixilating with waves of re-rendering detail. The wind, kinked into tight vortices, catspawed the gelid waters into sudden surges of serration, looking for all the world like a murmuration of otherworldly beings just beneath its reflection of the apparent reality. Here, another was co-existent. It was easy to believe this place to be a portal to Annwn, or the parlour of identical lake maidens, giddy with their doppelgänger dance – lost in their own enchantment, their hall-of-mirror beauty echoed into infinity, and laughing at the maddening effect it had on incautious wanderers who became bedizened by their alluring shimmer.
It was hard not to be drawn in, not to succumb to the spell-binding gravitational pull of Llyn y Fan Fach’s gramarye of place. We found a ledge to eat our lunch on – with a reassuring boulder acting as a buffer zone between us and oblivion, hundreds of feet below. At three thousand feet the wind was breath-taking, and it was essential to sit out of its icy slap. Hunkering down, we broke bread, offering some to the tutelary spirit, with a bit of cheese to be on the safe side – though casting it into the void from the precipice was not risk averse. Such was the custom – and it’s wisest to heed local knowledge.
We chewed over aspects of the lake maiden story, turning it in our conversation to reveal different cleavage plains. Depending on the version, the apparently fortunate farmer is granted the comely lake maiden as his wife upon stern conditions set by her otherworldly father – that if he should strike three causeless blows, he would lose her forever. This seems temptingly easy to avoid, so he agrees, thinking that he would never strike his beloved new bride. But with folkloric inevitability, like salt to meat, the three causeless blows occur – sometimes ‘provoked’ by the fairy wife behaving in, surprise surprise, a fey-like manner: laughing wildly at a funeral, or crying sorrowfully at a christening. By the time the third ‘blow’ is struck (usually a playful tap on the shoulder), the farmer’s fortunes have reached their zenith. But with the geas broken, the lake maiden withdraws her favours and leads all their fat livestock into the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach. Remarkably, the offspring of their union remain (unlike in equivalent selkie tales), each with a strange gleam in the eye, and the descendants of these become the renowned Physicians of Myddvai, gifted with uncanny powers of healing.
The gifts of the Otherworld, it seems, arise mysteriously and can vanish just as unexpectedly. But on a more human level, perhaps the tale tells us never to take for granted the ones we cherish. That love, and its cousins – affection, friendship, companionship – are blessings we should count every day. Perhaps it is a proto-feminist folk tale. The female protagonist, has, for once, agency. She chooses to manifest before the farmer, and she chooses her time and manner of withdrawal. Her graces we can no more grasp and claim as our own than the catspaw upon the waters. An essentialist reading, however, would suggest that men and women are fundamentally different, and we will never fathom each other’s depths. Whatever the truth of the tale – and its facets are many and morphean – the overwhelming mystique of the place remains. If magic still lingers in these lands, then this is one such frost-pocket.
And it is in such places that I have found inspiration over the years – fountains of awen that I bathe in through my efforts of making pilgrimage. Innumerable times I have experienced their numinous power, their landscape-medicine, and felt compelled to articulate and honour the genius loci in, most of all, poetry, which I have found captures such little epiphanies more concisely, more holistically, than any other form. A photograph captures two dimensions, a poem, four, if not more. One’s body is the camera, and the experience is ‘recorded’ in an intensely visceral way. This embodied knowledge is poured into the poem, which distils it, one hopes, into memorable wisdom – though only time will tell. To be fully in the moment is all. Often the act of taking a photograph can take us away from the actuality of the encounter; whileas a poem (or drawing) can take us more deeply into the moment. A photo can act as a handy aide-mémoire, but notes – or a sketch – done in situ are far better. They retain the tang of the wild.
We traversed the perilous ridge of the Black Mountain and descended quickly as body temperature plummeted – this was not a place to dally, but for a brief while it felt like we had walked amongst the gods, imbibing the rarefied atmosphere of myth.
In the first essay of this remarkably wide-ranging book Jeremy Hooker refers to examining an entire life of a district. He looks at Gilbert White’s consideration of the “human (including antiquities) and nature where he found them, side by side; he did not need to go beyond the bounds of his parish to find the fullness of nature”. Hooker is looking at the idea of what might be contained in the word wilderness and recognises that there has been none in the British Isles since the Middle Ages:
“…even in the sense of the word given by Dr Johnson in his Dictionary (‘a desert; a tract of solitude and strangeness’), wilderness is nowhere to be found upon an American scale in these islands.”
I was tempted here to recall a passage from the ‘Anoch’ section of Johnson’s Journey to the Western Isles where the urban figure from the world of…