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

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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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Silver Branch book launch 19 August 2018

On 19 August 2018 we gathered in the Ale House in Stroud to celebrate two things: the launch of Awen’s newest title, Silver Branch: Bardic Poems & Letters to a Young Bard by Kevan Manwaring – and also the author’s birthday! 

Kevan organised the evening with his usual generosity of spirit, giving us a showcase of bardic talent from Stroud and Bath – and beyond. There were poets, musicians and storytellers sharing many different versions of the bardic arts that Kevan has worked in and encouraged for 25 years, representing a cross-section of his acquaintance with bards from his youth in Northampton, through his time living in Bath and now in Stroud.

He started the evening himself, with a rendition of ‘Taliesin’, from the poetry cycle The Taliesin Soliloquies, about the tale of the legendry British bard who is said to have lived in the sixth century. Kevan has taken great inspiration from the tale, the poetry and the man himself over the years.

Next up was Kevan’s partner in the storytelling and music duo Brighid’s Flame, and fellow Fire Spring, singer-songwriter Chantelle Smith, performing her song about the banshee.

Another Fire Spring followed, Kirsty Hartsiotis, bringing in the third bardic art of storytelling with a rendition of the tale of Mabon son of Modron in the Welsh story of Culwch and Olwen.

Two Stroud-based poets came next, Tim Bannon and Jehanne Mehta.

Then publisher and fellow Fire Spring Anthony Nanson with another bardic piece – a storytelling rendering of the Song of Amergin, one of the legendry forefathers of the Gaels of Ireland.

Kevan acknowledged the inspiration he had had from the next performer, his old friend Marko Gallaidhe, who continued the Irish theme with a song and a tune.

Marko was followed by one of Kevan’s students in the bardic arts, Wayland the Skald, who said that Kevan was one of his favourite people – and thus gifted him with his favourite folktale, a Yorkshire tale in which the Devil comes good!

He was followed by Earthwards, who are Jehanne and Rob Mehta and Will Mercer, who sang a song about Runnymede – the ‘rune meadow’ where the Magna Carta was signed.

Two more Stroud poets followed, Robin Collins, and Jay Ramsay, who delivered from memory a bardic poem about the fire in the head of bardic inspiration.

Current Bard of Bath – the 20th, Kevan was the third – Kirsten Bolwig gave us a true tale from her work with teenagers, which had us on the edge of seats – a tale of tempers, stories and stolen double-decker buses on the Mile End Road!

Recent Stroudie, but old Northampton friend, Simon Andrews gave us a song about unity. Jeff Cloves contributed a poem about book launches – and Nina Simone – from his own recent collection.

Then Peter Please told a spine-tingling story of dream and connection and birthdays and resonation through the generations – all the way back to the Ice Age. The evening was rounded off with a poem of Rumi’s, performed by storyteller Fiona Eadie, and then finished with a bang with another song by Simon.

We’d like to thank the Ale House in Stroud for providing a venue, and we thank all the performers and all the listeners!

If you missed the Stroud launch, Kevan will be launching the book in Bath at Poetry and a Pint at St James’s Wine Vaults in Bath on Wednesday 19 September, 7.30pm.

If you’d like to see some videos from the evening head on over to our Twitter account @Awen_Books, and you’ll discover Kevan and friends there!

All images copyright Kirsty Hartsiotis, save for the image of Kirsty, copyright Chantelle Smith and that of Peter Please, copyright Kevan Manwaring, all 2018.

Behold, the Shining Brow!

By Kevan Manwaring (Lughnasadh 2018)

9781906900427.jpgAs a mode of enquiry for a creative practitioner interested in the bardic tradition, my poetry has, for over a quarter of a century, been a sustained commitment to what I eventually called the ‘Way of Awen’ (from 2004). I began to write poetry in 1991, inspired by a trip hitchhiking around Ireland – a young man interested in Celtic legends, with a nascent inclination towards Paganism. I met my ‘muse’ figure in a park in Galway and corresponded with her, writing her long letters (in those low-fi days before the internet became ubiquitous) and my first attempts at poetry. I wove in magical symbolism, inspired by W.B. Yeats, Dion Fortune, William Blake, and Jim Morrison, among others. I started going to ‘open mike’ events and inflicting my poetry on others. I quickly realised that reading from a text can create a barrier between the performer and audience, and so I began learning my poetry by heart. This freed up my hands, allowed me to make greater eye contact, and, by hard-wiring the poetry into myself through repetition, enabled me to embody the archetypal energies I was invoking. Each poem became an invocation to a particular deity, genius loci, or sacred festival. Over the next few years I wrote more poems, and expanded my repertoire to encompass the full ‘wheel of the year’ – material that I finally collected together in one volume: Green Fire. I started performing as a storyteller too, and weaving in the occasional ‘bardic poem’ into the texture of my shows. Invitations to perform at events started to happen – Witchfest, Wessex Gathering, Mercian Gathering, Druid Camp, Lammas Games, handfastings, and Bardic Chair competitions. In 1998 I had won the Bard of Bath competition with my epic poem, Spring Fall, which relates the legend of Bladud and Sulis of Bath. I hosted open mike events, ‘bardic showcases’, and book launches (after I founded Awen Publications in 2003). Often I would drop in a poem to set a mood, warm up the audience, break up the evening’s texture. I performed my poetry at Tate Britain (& Modern) and in front of thousands of protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square. On one memorable occasion I performed my Green Man poem naked while waiting to go into a sweat lodge at a Male Mysteries gathering! I realised then that, even if I was ‘skyclad’, I would never be short of material! As a bard I carry a library in my head – a repertoire of hundreds of stories, poems, and, these days, songs. I continue to use my bardism in key aspects of my life – teaching, guiding, and writing – and over the years have passed on my bardic skills to many students, helping the awen to keep flowing. The Taliesinic Effect is one too precious and powerful to be contained or controlled by one person, or a single organisation. I believe that all brows should shine. It is our innate potential awakening within us.

Silver Branch: Bardic Poems and Letters to a Young Bard is published on 19 August 2018. It will be available direct from Awen Publications here.

Grit and Pearl: An Exploration of the Cancer Journey, with Poetry

Jay Ramsay has made a short film about his experience of the cancer journey, including some of the poetry it has inspired. He was due to give this presentation at the AHP Conference ‘Love, Madness & Transformation’ in London on 28 June 2018, but instead filmed it at Hawkwood College, Stroud. The text will appear in the AHP journal Self & Society.
You can view the film here: https://vimeo.com/277625151
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