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The Gramarye of Place

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.

View of Llyn y Fan Fach (c) Kevan Manwaring
View of Llyn y Fan Fach (c) Kevan Manwaring

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.

Light on Llyn y Fan Fach (c) Kevan Manwaring
Light on Llyn y Fan Fach (c) Kevan Manwaring

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.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 3 May 2018

 

Silver Branch: bardic poems by Kevan Manwaring is published by Awen this summer:

https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

With thanks to Anthony for an epic day, another ramble-sublime!

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Ballads, Fire Springs and Awen

Ballad Tales, while published by The History Press features a number of Awen authors and Fire Springs members, so we’re giving it a shout out here on the blog.

The contributors are…

Fiona Eadie, Kevan Manwaring (Awen and Fire Springs), David Phelps,  Chantelle Smith (Fire Springs), Richard Selby (Awen and Fire Springs), Pete Castle, Malcolm Green, Simon Heywood, Alan M. Kent, Eric Maddern, Laura Kinnear, Karola Renard (Awen), Kirsty Hartsiotis (Fire Springs, and Awen, backstage) Nimue Brown (Awen backstage), Mark Hassall,  Chrissy Derbyshire (Awen)  David Metcalfe (Fire Springs), Anthony Nanson (Awen and Fire Springs). the book has a forward from Candia McKormack and the cover art is by Andy Kinnear.

Kevan Manwaring said “This fantastic launch event was the culmination of two years’ work – from my initial vision to publication by The History Press. It was great to celebrate the mutual achievement of all those involved with such high calibre performances from our ‘bardic dozen’ present. To see their respective contributions brought alive through storytelling, singing and exegesis was exciting. Any who didn’t make it really missed out on an excellent evening. We hope this will be the first of several such Ballad Tales revue shows.”

You can read a longer post from Kevan about the journey elading to the book – It Takes A Village To Raise A Story.

The next one will be:
Bath Storytelling Circle Ballad Tales special
Monday 19 June
8pm, free entry
upstairs at The Raven, Quiet St, Bath

Here’s a photo from the book launch…

Left to right… Candia McKormack, David Metcalfe, Mark Hassall, Karola Renard, Andy Kinnear, Laura Kinnear, Kevan Manwaring, Chantelle Smith, Kirsty Hartsiotis, Anthony Nanson, Fiona Eadie, Nimue Brown.

A Website with a Purpose

by Anthony Nanson

 

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve recreated the Awen website using more up-to-date software. It’s responsive now on mobile devices, you can order books directly from us via Paypal, and we’re making sure it has plenty of interesting information to advance the cause of ecobardic writing.

The homepage and About page outline in brief Awen’s mission to promote quality writing that ‘engages with the world’ – a phrase intended to convey the idea of a reciprocal relationship between literature and life: writing can draw inspiration and urgency from what’s going on in the world, and reading it can flip you back into the world with a new facets of insight and commitment. This includes our relations with the natural world, for sure, but also aspects of society and the bigger picture of spirituality. It’s a broad-church vision of engagement and  connection, not a narrow sectarian prescription.

There’s more detail about that in An Ecobardic Manifesto – the entire text of which can be found on the website. The original pamphlet of this document has nearly sold out; we may reprint it sometime, but it seems more important to have it available to as many people as possible online.

The website has lots of information about Awen’s authors and our books currently in print and on sale. We’re uploading contents pages and samples of text from each book so people can get a better idea what’s in the books. The author page of the late Mary Palmer includes a bibliography and links to a video of her performing, two poems written in her honour when she died, and the entire text of my short literary biography of her (printed in the second edition of her book Iona). This suite of pages is intended to be a lasting memorial online to Mary and her poetry.

There’s still plenty of work to do on this new website. Search engine optimisation, for example, is a fiddly business that is still underway. The facility to buy books by Paypal is up and running; please do use it! We hope soon to install an alternative credit-card payment option as well. A slate of new editions of Awen titles are coming back into print this year, plus a brand new title from Jeremy Hooker. Look out for information about them on this blog and on the website when they’re published.

Visit the site here – https://www.awenpublications.co.uk

Writing on the Wall: How can Poetry Can Save the Planet?

Poets, thinkers, writers and people who care for the natural world will gather in Waterloo on Saturday, June 3, 2017 for a unique interactive day of exploring and learning how poetry can help us protect the environment.

We’re delighted to announce that a number of Awen authors will be participating in this event.

Writing on the Wall is:

  • A day of poetic action and reflection for the planet. The first in a series.
  • A chance for new and established poets, budding writers, fans of poetry and anyone stirred by the environment message and crisis to build a vision of what the world might be, using poetry as a catalyst.
  • A new collaboration between poets and the wider world of faiths, ecologists and governments
  • Supported by The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), WWF-UK and the Southbank Festival’s Belief and Beyond Belief, of which Writing on the Wall is part.

The conservation movement’s language is so often of fear, anger and despair. But poetry can take us down different paths, and find wonder there. Our invitation to the audience during this interactive day is to help build a vision, through words, of what the world might be. To go beyond the boundaries of despair and think again about the way we live in this world. And to explore a way of being together, being part of the world and not apart from it.

“Poetry, at its best, speaks directly to both heart and mind,” said poet Jay Ramsay who has put the programme together for the Southbank Festival. “It can do what little else can do. It can speak a language that moves beyond the data of climate change, beyond the tragedy of habitat loss and species extinction, into a place of truth, where we can find a vision of a different kind of ending. Effective poetry stirs us, evoking reactions and provoking thought and, hopefully, action and commitment.

Writing on the Wall is an invitation to everyone to step “beyond a world of eco-deliverables and eco-miserables” and to delight in the wonder of the world around us.

The full day programme includes a writing workshop on how to incorporate a true and authentic vision of nature into your writing. Throughout the day there are talks, discussions, meditations and performances featuring poets, musicians, conservationists, writers and representatives from faith, spirituality and publishing groups.

The poets, speakers and musicians include: Jeni Couzyn, Glyn Davies (WWF), Aidan Andrew Dun, Irina Kuzminsky, Paul Matthews, Caroline McCausland, Niall McDevitt, Jehanne Mehta, Gabriel Bradford Millar, Helen Moore, Anthony Nanson, Peter Owen Jones, Jay Ramsay, Nigel Shaw and others.

 

Next steps

This is just the beginning. There are plans for an event at Dartington College in April 2018 and the project encourages anyone who is interested to take this further, using poetry – their own poems or other people’s – to provoke discussion, encourage debate and give hearts and minds a good shake.

 

Details:

Venue: St John’s Waterloo

Date: Saturday June 3, 2017

Times: 10.00 to 17.30, activities throughout the day. Tickets: £20

Further details and bookings: https://www.waterloofestival.com/poetry