‘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.

Some words about Jay Ramsay

by Lindsay Clarke

lindsay-picThe last time I saw Jay was at the launch of A Dance with Hermes in the Black Book Cafe and I remember how astonishingly well he looked despite the various ordeals of both illness and treatment he had so recently undergone. It felt characteristic of his courage and resolution that he coped so well with conditions that might have left a lesser spirit utterly debilitated. As with my old friend John Moat, he was fortified and invigorated by the presence of poetry within him and the indomitable power of the spiritual imagination.

He and I were friends – at times close friends – for around a quarter of a century, during which time I often teased him for an occasionally over-portentous seriousness of purpose which, in these days of arid intellectual scepticism, I also deeply admired. I must have tried his patience at times but he always received my jocular critique with good humour and a shrewd awareness of my own deficiencies in the spiritual realm. In many ways, he was like a younger brother to me, one from whom I had much to learn.

Jay carried light within him through this dark time. It shone through his work as it resounded, unforgettably, in his voice. That illuminating presence will be deeply missed by me and by the many others whose souls it so feelingly touched.

Oxford launch of The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie

9781906900557.jpgAwen are thrilled to announce the launch, on 17 January 2019 at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Alistair McNaught’s long-awaited novel The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie.

7.00–8.45 p.m.

48–51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1. Free admission.

The book is adorned with stunning cover art by the printmaker Andy Kinnear, which marvellously captures the likeness of the eponymous Glaswegian playwright. The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie can be ordered directly from Awen’s website or via the other usual channels. Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

The question that haunts Ian Alexander MacDuffy is why the playwright Campbell McCluskie was murdered at 10.30 p.m. on Wednesday 16 June 1954, for that was the very moment that Ian’s mother died giving birth to him. The coincidence suggests that some universal meaning may lie behind that gratuitous and painful event. Ian tries to uncover every detail of Campbell’s short but colourful life: the guilt-ridden hypocrisy of his grandfather; his father’s success as a shoe manufacturer; his childhood in Clydebank; the death of his favourite aunt; his bewildering role in the D-Day landings; his post-war success as a playwright; his passionate and eventful love life; his ambiguous relations with the criminal underworld; his violent death – because as Campbell himself wrote, in his inimitable style, ‘It’s all down tae patterns and figures; if you can decipher them, then Auld Nickie-Ben’ll dance tae your tune.’

‘Alistair McNaught’s ingenious fictional biography brings to life not only slain playwright McCluskie but also the mid-twentieth-century Glasgow he inhabited. McCluskie’s literary career, social life and erotic escapades are vividly evoked against a backdrop of smoke-filled bars, sombre tenements, and back streets haunted by prostitutes and razor gangs.’  Andrew Crumey

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.

The launch of Green Man Dreaming and By the Edge of the Sea, 5 December 2018

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.

Last minute hook up with Nicolas as Richard starts the event! Thank you, Glenn!

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!

We’ll see you at the next event!

 

Translating Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900533The second book, besides Lindsay Clarke’s Green Man Dreaming, that Awen will launch this Wednesday 5 December (Black Book Café, Nelson Street, Stroud, doors 7.30 p.m., talks 8 p.m.) is By the Edge of the Sea – an English translation of Nicolas Kurtovitich’s short story collection Forêt, terre et tabac.  

I first read Forêt, terre et tabac, and another of Nicolas’ collections, Totem, about three years ago, in the course of my research for a novel in progress that’s set in Nicolas’ homeland, New Caledonia. I loved the way his stories conjure an enchantment of place and also an enchantment of moments of being, inviting the reader to contemplate how there’s more going on within and around us than we may readily perceive or understand. Part of the way he does that is through his wonderfully lyrical yet varied style; he is very much a stylist writer, and indeed the greater part of his oeuvre is poetry.

I was so impressed by his style that I was inspired – just for fun – to start translating one of the stories in Forêt, terre et tabac into English. When, a year later, I travelled to New Caledonia to do field research for my novel, I was lucky enough – quite unexpectedly – to meet Nicolas. From this meeting arose the project of translating the whole book and of Awen publishing it. The experience of translating Nicolas’ stories felt at the same time an immense privilege of trust and a compelling intellectual challenge, unlike anything else I’d done as a writer or editor, since this was the first time I’d translated a book. No doubt the experience will be familiar to other translators of literary writing: the need to immerse your sensibility in the (French) text and then carry the feeling of that as you craft English sentences that may be structurally very different and yet aim to impart a similar effect. In reviewing my translations, Nicolas repeatedly referred to the importance of rhythm and I was hugely gratified by his affirmation of the rhythms of my English.

I’ll finish this blog with the two comments from the back cover of By the Edge of the Sea the first by another prominent New Caledonian writer, the second by a scholar and translator of francophone Pacific literature:

‘Charm of expression, restraint in tone, precision of line, nuance, and rhythm – these are the prime qualities of the writing of Nicolas Kurtovitch, a gifted poet and story writer. But beware – the innocuous advance from one line to the next leads us inexorably into profound existential questions, and though his texts may be set in the Pacific this geographical precision can swiftly vanish to evoke the Universal. By the Edge of the Sea – twelve fascinating short stories that compel us to look at ourselves anew.’ Claudine Jacques

‘Nicolas Kurtovitch has been at the forefront of French-language Pacific literature for four decades. He has explored many different genres, but remains a poet at heart as this work in prose attests. This fine collection of short stories, the author’s first, takes us from the lagoon of his native New Caledonia to the ocean, from the mainland to the islands, from Kanak fields to Australian desert, from suburbia to the bush. Yet whilst the author always has a keen eye for place and space, the narrator does not always specify locality. These stories of beguiling simplicity take us on a complex inward journey, if we are prepared to read across the blurring of borders. By the Edge of the Sea, full of inter-cultural dialogue with self and others, remains relevant not only to New Caledonian society, striving to find its multicultural future out of its socially and racially divided past, but also to wider humanity, in the Pacific and beyond. There is, too, an abiding ecological sensitivity in this writing that conjoins human and physical geography. In short, this collection of stories retains its appeal and importance, its freshness, a quarter-century after it first appeared, and that can now be appreciated for the first time by an English-speaking public thanks to Anthony Nanson’s careful and sensitive translation.’ Peter Brown, Université de la Polynésie française / Australian National University

Book Launch in Stroud: Lindsay Clarke and Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900564.jpgOn Wednesday 5 December, Awen has a launch party in Stroud for two new books – at the Black Book Café, Nelson Street. It’s a free event; doors open at 7.30 p.m. and the talks start at 8.00 p.m.

Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth, and Memory is a definitive gathering of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring essays and talks. Those of his essays which had come my way in past years had a big impact on my life, and I think the same has been true for many other people, so I’m really thrilled that Awen is able to make this amazing body of work available in book form. Lindsay is as inspiring a speaker as he is a writer, so if you’re in reach of Stroud do seize this opportunity to come and hear him.

9781906900533.jpgWe’re also launching By the Edge of the Sea, a collection of short stories by Nicolas Kurtovitich, one of the leading literary lights of New Caledonia, whom I had the pleasure to meet during a research trip there in 2016. The book was originally published in French as Forêt, terre et tabac. It was a tremendous privilege to translate Nicolas’ gorgeous lyrical prose into English. I will read from one of the stories at the event, but we also intend that Nicolas will be present via skype from New Caledonia and have chance to speak to us.

The evening will be emceed by the irrepressible Richard Selby. Please come if you can.

Below is some information about Green Man Dreaming. I’ll say more about By the Edge of the Sea in a subsequent blog post.

The transformative power of imagination, the elusive dream world of the unconscious, our changing relationship to nature, and the enduring presence of myth – these subjects have preoccupied Lindsay Clarke throughout the thirty years since he emerged as the award-winning author of The Chymical Wedding. Assembled in this definitive collection are the major essays, talks, and personal reflections that he has written, with characteristic verve and insight, on these and other themes relating to the evolution of consciousness in these transitional times.

Speculative, exploratory, salty with wit, and interwoven with poems, this book brings the Green Man and the Daimon into conversation with alchemists, psychologists, gods, and Plains Indians, along with various poets and novelists the author has loved as good friends or as figures in the pantheon of his imagination. This lively adventure of the spiritual intellect will take you through shipwreck and spring-water into the fury of ancient warfare, before dropping you into the dark descent of the Hades journey and urging you on to the fabled land beyond the Peach Blossom Cave. Through a reverie of images and ideas, Green Man Dreaming puts us closely in touch with the myths and mysteries that embrace our lives.

‘Among the many things we need right now is a voice as sane, wise and affectionate as the one deployed so compellingly in these pages. Lindsay Clarke is the original northern powerhouse. Green Man Dreaming is an important book.’ Andrew Miller

‘Lindsay Clarke’s magical prose elucidates the deep wisdom held at the depth of our soul. Green Man Dreaming brings together some of the gems of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring and imaginative writings. This is truly gold dust.’ Satish Kumar 

‘There is something simultaneously elated and searching about Lindsay Clarke’s writing which makes it quite distinctive and immensely attractive. He is an inspiring teacher and talker and a gathering of his occasional pieces is to be heartily welcomed.’ Adam Thorpe

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

Honouring

The Bardic Academic

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…

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