A New Awen

A recent blog from Kevan Manwaring about Lindsey Clarke’s new title, and launching ‘A Dance with Hermes’ in Stroud.

The Bardic Academic

wp_20161201_21_40_46_pro(From left) Jay Ramsay, Lindsay Clarke and Anthony Nanson, Awen Book Launch, Black Book Café, Stroud, 1 December 2016

On the first day of December towards the end of the slow-motion car-crash that is the year 2016, a small group of kindred spirits gathered together to rekindle hope.

The setting was Black Book Cafe, the book-lined refuge from the mainstream, which sits at the top of Stroud high street, cocking a snook to the world. This is a popular venue for spoken word events and mindful convergences – in the past it has hosted Story Suppers and Acoustic Sundays, a Death Cafe and a chess club (which in my mind blur in surreal ways!). Tonight it was the location for a book launch hosted by Awen Publications – the ecobardic small press founded by yours truly in 2003 and now run with aplomb by Anthony Nanson.

The chilly Thursday night saw the…

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Considering speculative fiction

A guest post from Alistair McNaught

In his review (for Vector) of the The Water Knife by Paul Bacigalupi, Anthony Nanson expressed the concern that speculative fiction dealing with the threats posed to the world by uncontrolled corporate capitalism may present such a despairing vision of the future that it risks becoming self-fulfilling prophesy. It was a pertinent argument that has become, if anything, more pertinent in the light of the US presidential election, and it got me thinking about what it is that I look for in fiction. I confess that I most admire fiction that is precise in description but ambiguous in intent, and which offers little in the way of positive outcomes.

It struck me that the hope I seek in fiction lies rather in the beauty of the style of the work, no matter the subject matter. Don’t get me wrong; it is too easy to report the horror of the world and mistake that for the only true reality, which was a fault of some writings by Zola, for example. On the other hand, I don’t like unrealistically optimistic endings, despite the fact that they can be very satisfying on an emotional level.

I believe that what I get from writers like Nabokov, Perec, Calvino, and contemporary writers like Roberto Bolano and Alejandro Zambra that I have recently read is a sense that, no matter how arbitrary the world is, and no matter what horrors are imposed by society and by the complexity of human relationships, they all offer me a sense of a world opening up beyond the constraints of human thought and society. That was what I so liked about the mysterious conclusion of the central relationship in Anthony Nanson’s novel, Deep Time, and that is why I like open endings so much. It is a sense they provide of some shimmering possibility lying beyond our understanding.

For Brendan Cox – a poem

Written on William Blake’s birthday, 28 November, by Jay Ramsay.

The Metro, 24.11.16

We have nothing…the folded headline begins

until you open it out but pity

having lost the love of your life, your wife,

in the most brutal way imagineable

you stand as so few men could, or can,

and forgive.


Look at his eyes and goatee beard:

there’s no one there. Look at yours

and there’s presence, warm as your soul, strong;

there is I and all you stand in

that stands in you.


Goatee Satan and The Man,

and she is a living sacrifice

in realms we cannot understand

without him. She’s Magdalene-alive,

crucified by our ignorance

by the hate that can only divide—


and out of the wound pours love.

How can we sanction it ?

Cuchulain fights the sea, and fails.

How can we see the plan ?


There is a higher order in everything,

that’s how the light gets in

beyond our reckoning


but not our life as it fills

with its all-seeing eye that is

this I in you, Brendan.


The eyes of everyone else in the picture

around your oasis of family

lost as if in a dream—the policemen, the priest’s

in the flashlight and the motordrive,

but not you and yours. It is extraordinary.


You stand and you have everything

and we have, because of you.

No moral high ground or platitude

but a universe of love—


gathering towards its invisible crest like a wave

flooding all reason, all rationale


that a man can stand like this

and forever, and now, and again.
Jay Ramsay
28 Nov. 2016

(William Blake’s birthday)

On the Cover: A Drink with Hermes?

By Kirsty Hartsiotis

dwh-front-coverLindsay Clarke’s new book, A Dance with Hermes, which launches this Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud, is all about ‘Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors’ and on the cover is an image showing Hermes flying, dancing, running across the page.

Fittingly, this image is from a kylix, an ancient Greek wine cup, the kind used at Greek symposia, parties where like-minded men would gather to drink and talk, share poetry and enjoy entertainments. Symposia feature in Plato’s writing as places where learned men talk about the nature of life (and where other, drunker men gate-crash the party, sparking more chat!). In real life they may have been a bit more ‘lively’, with games such as kottabos, where the wine lees were flicked across the room to a target that would ring like a bell if it were it in the right way, and dancing and boys provided all kinds of entertainment.

Kylixes were made to be fun objects as well. They are usually decorated around the outside. The one from which the image on the cover of A Dance with Hermes is taken has athletes and trainers running around it. But with the wine brimming in the cup, you wouldn’t be able to see that there was an image on the bottom – a surprise when you had finished your drink! The surprise image was often of someone dancing or running, and our Hermes is no exception. He dances over the sea, clasping his lyre (complete with plectrum in red) and his caduceus – his staff with two intertwined snakes – as he goes.

The kylix is part of the British Museum’s collection, and dates from the 5th century BC – the cup type is much older, though, going back at least to Mycenaean times, decorated then with boggle-eyed octopuses. You can find out more about the cup here.

Join us for our very own symposium to share a drink and hear Lindsay Clarke talk about his book and share poems from it alongside Stroud’s own Jay Ramsay at 7.30pm (for 8pm) on Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud. Tickets £5 on the door, redeemable against the cost of a book.


Green Children and other English Folk Tales

With The Anthology of English Folk Tales (The History Press) released on 1 November, Kirsty Hartsiotis has been blogging about some of the stories featured in the book.

Blogging about the Green Children, Kirsty writes: “It’s an old tale, one of three in Suffolk Folk Tales recorded by the monk Ralph of Coggeshall in his Chronicon Anglicanum around the turn of the 13th century: the others being the Wildman of Orfordand Malekin. Unlike the other two, the Green Children has another source, a slightly earlier source, from the Yorkshire monk William of Newburgh. The stories vary a little, but not in their essentials – the discovery of children with green skin in the small Suffolk village of Woolpit just outside Bury St Edmunds, then a major pilgrimage site for the relics of St Edmund.”

You can read the rest of that post here – https://firespringsfolktales.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/the-green-children-of-woolpit-and-bardwell/

The story of King Raedwald of East Anglia also features in the anthology.

Kirsty writes: “A few months ago it was announced that Rædwald’s home had been found – exactly where it should be, at Rendlesham.   It is always remarkable when archaeology follows ancient sources, especially when those ancient sources postdate the actual events by a good century.”

Read the rest of that post here – https://firespringsfolktales.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/a-puff-on-wuffings/

Kirsty Hartsiotis, Anthony Nanson and Kevan Manwaring all have stories in The Anthology of English Folk Tales.

Lindsay Clarke reading in Stroud

By Jay Ramsay

lindsay-picLindsay Clarke is the foremost novelist of the imagination and the spirit alive today in Britain. He was the winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction for The Chymical Wedding (1989), and his most recent novel The Water Theatre (2010) continues his preoccupation with modern psychological initiation and personal transformation. He is a gripping storyteller as well.

Lindsay has always been a poet in essence. His last collection, Stoker, which recalls his upbringing in Halifax, is now followed by a return to alchemical themes in the figure of Hermes (aka Mercurius), traditionally the winged messenger of the gods. A Dance with Hermes (Awen, 2016) is the result.

He will be launching this book with a 40 min. presentation on Thursday 1 December at Black Book Cafe, Nelson Street, Stroud. I will be reading from Places of Truth now re-set in its 3rd edition. The evening will include Q&A and is also a celebration of Awen Publications, founded in Bath by Kevan Manwaring and recently taken over by novelist and ecologist Anthony Nanson (Deep Time, 2015). Doors open 7.30 for 8.00 p.m. start. Entry £5 (redeemable against the cost of a book). Please visit wwww.awenpublications.co.uk.

Those of you who saw Lindsay present at the Awen Forum Subscription Rooms series in 2012-13 will remember how enjoyable he is to listen to, and I hope you will join us for this rich evening.

The Story Behind the writing – The Journey to The Marsh

By Richard Selby

marsh-1How does a book fare on its journey from first idea to its final version? Well here’s the story behind a book: The Marsh. It is a volume of three of my poems illustrated by Nigel Davison in a private press edition, beautifully printed and produced.
The beginning was one afternoon, five years ago, I forget exactly what I was doing, it would be good to say I was writing but probably not. The phone rang. Ominous. Cold Caller? No!
It was a call from Nigel Davison who explained that he had bought a copy of my then current book The Fifth Quarter,  Awen, 2008. He liked the book and went on to explain that he was an illustrator and designer who had illustrated and produced a book of song lyrics by a Kentish singer called Bob Kenward. Was I interested in collaborating on a book with him? Well yes, I certainly was. He would send me a copy of The Singing Line, which duly arrived. A beautifully produced volume with wonderfully evocative prints. The journey had started.
We began to exchange emails with ideas from me, some poems I was already working on and some new ones for a possible collection based on Kent’s Pilgrims’ Way and though these struck a chord it was three long poems based on historical events on Romney Marsh that became the centre of attention.
I already had a draft of one poem for consideration, ‘Turning’, a poem focusing on the performance of Mystery Plays that took place in New Romney every year during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Romney had a seven play cycle, performed by local guilds and by groups from other small towns and parishes. The plays were performed at Crockley Green, behind Romney High Street. Nigel liked the invocation of atmosphere “The bleakness of the marsh seems to blow through these words” We were up and running.
The other two poems were completed in draft form and soon initial images were sent to me for ‘Beach’ – Nigel had chosen to illustrate just one voice from the poem – it is a multiple themed poem with different narrative lines running through it: from the present, the recent past and from the sixteenth century. The striking images of a group of actors travelling across the marsh over four hundred years ago perfectly set a scene that I was hoping to convey in the poem. The modern sections of the poem echo against this.
Interestingly, at this stage, Nigel had an exhibition in Tenterden, Kent of his recent woodcuts and linocuts and with Judith, my wife, we were able to arrange a couple of nights in Kent in order to attend the private view in the gallery.
An initial draft of the book was completed in 2014 and then the work on production began.
Nigel Davison continued the detailed work on the layout, on further illustrations, on the exact format, the cover; all aspects meticulously developed. Meanwhile arrangements were being made to print the book in Perpetua on Letterpress. I received images and a video of a Letterpress setting the type for printing. The signature printings began to arrive, a couple of pages at a time, ready for final reading and editing. All this was a part time undertaking by Nigel, fitted in around his career as a graphic designer.
Then a couple of photos arrived by email: a view of multiple copies of the book held in a book press and a photo of the book in its newly printed jacket.
The finished article!
A little more information on the book.
My family has had connections with Romney Marsh – The Marsh, since the 1930s and I spent many holidays in the 1950s and 1960s in my grandparents’ house and then my parents’ house when they moved down there from North Kent in 1969. It was a regular holiday destination for our family. I would buy any book containing references to The Marsh and have since accumulated a sizeable collection of relevant books.
The three poems in The Marsh are all based on historical incidents. ‘Lookers’ concerns the death of two shepherds, or lookers as they were known, in a particularly harsh winter in 1790. ‘Turning’, as stated earlier, harks back to when the town of New Romney was frequently host to small companies who performed Mystery Plays at significant times of the year. These were the forerunners of touring companies of players from Shakespeare’s times and it is documented that Shakespeare did tour and perform in this part of Kent. One of these companies make a fleeting appearance in the third piece ‘Beach’, which covers several time zones, focusing on the recent past and the years of the Second World War.
It’s been an intriguing journey and on 11th November there will be a launch event in St James Wine Vaults in Bath. Next spring we hope to hold an event on Romney Marsh, possibly in one of the small churches that are a distinctive feature of The Marsh.
There are themes that link the book and my earlier collection ‘The Fifth Quarter’ which contains prose, poetry and stories about The Marsh.
‘The Fifth Quarter’ Spirit of Place Volume 2. Awen Publications.  Find out more about that book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/the_fifth_quarter.html
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