Tag Archives: Kevan Manwaring

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

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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.

The Windsmith Elegy – Steampunk and Bardic Fantasy

By Anthony Nanson

WE2_RGB72dpi.jpgAs I write (August 2017), Kevan Manwaring is attending Asylum, the huge steampunk jamboree in Lincoln. He’s performing there and also showing off the new editions of three volumes of his epic Windsmith Elegy, a genre-crossing work that Nimue Brown has made a compelling case for regarding as steampunk (among other things). Indeed, back in 2012 Kevan promoted the previous editions of the books with a stage show performed by his Steampunk Theatre Company.

The new edition of Volume 1 – the rather less steampunky The Long Woman – came out last December. The next two volumes – Windsmith and The Well Under the Sea are newly republished and looking very smart in, once again, their Steve Hambidge cover designs.

These are the biggest two volumes of the five-book series. Each is self-contained in its own distinct setting within Shadow World, the realm of the dead. In Windsmith, this is an analogue of Bronze Age Wessex, informed by real archaeological finds in that region,  tales from Celtic mythology, and the images embossed in the Gundestrup Cauldron. The Well Under the Sea is set in and around the luxurious island city-state of Ashalantë, which conflates the mythology of Atlantis and other ‘lost islands’ (see Kevan’s non-fiction book Lost Islands), and adds into this milieu the ‘lost of history’ – individuals who have vanished without explanation during the history of our own world. A particular case in point is the aviatrix Amelia Earhart, with whom the protagonist, Isambard Kerne, becomes romantically involved. In both books, the detail of world-building involves a back-extrapolation of stories behind the piecemeal relics of antiquity that survive in legend and archaeology; the same kind of impulse that drove Tolkien’s mythmaking.WE3_RGB72dpi.jpg

Another thing I love in these novels is their committed exploration, in the course of all the drama and romance, of the pathway of a bard’s development; a theme very close to Kevan’s heart, since, outside his fiction writing, he has himself followed a bardic path for many years. In Windsmith, this has mainly to do with Kerne’s mastery of the Ogham, understood as a system of ‘woodwords’ that can work bardic magic in times of need. In The Well Under the Sea, Kerne learns to train his mind to summon winds, and thence to compose and sing a song that will enable him to fly.

As I’ve already hinted, the Windsmith books defy neat genre categorisation; they have elements of antiquarian fantasy, liminal and portal-quest fantasy, steampunk, mythic fantasy. One reviewer referred to them as ‘bardic fantasy’, and this strikes me as a particularly fitting label, given their bardic concerns, which are embedded even in their protagonist’s name, Isambard. I look forward to announcing, soon, the new editions of the remaining two volumes, The Burning Path and This Fearful Tempest.

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.

Events with Kevan Manwaring

Awen author Kevan Manwaring has a lot of events coming up this summer…

28 May – Stroud Out Loud
9 June – Ballad Tales launch showcase, British School, Stroud.
19 June – Bath Storytelling Circle Ballad Tales special.
24 June – Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder, St Briavels (Brighid’s Flame premiere their new show, ‘Brighid’s Flame’!) http://englandevents.co.uk/lydney-tales-of-witchcraft-amp-wonder-2017/1007386
25 June – Stroud Out Loud
12/13 August – Brighid’s Flame: New Forest Fairy Festival (12/13th August). Chantelle Smith and Kevan Manwaring will be performing their new show at the New Forest Fairy Festival in Burley, New Forest, Hampshire.
25th – 28th August 2017 – Asylum Steampunk Festival
Lincoln  Tom & Nimue Brown (Hopeless Maine) bookstall and mischief; Kevan Manwaring performs stories inspired by his series The Windsmith Elegy. http://www.asylumsteampunk.co.uk/
Find out more about Kevan’s work with Awen on his author page – https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/kevan-manwaring

Steampunk literature

By Nimue Brown

Isambard Kerne may be an Edwardian gentleman rather than a Victorian, but there are many reasons the Windsmith series ticks the boxes as Steampunk literature. It’s not just the goggles on the hat. Dieselpunk, a significant sub-culture within Steampunk (as I see it, others may see it differently!) covers this era anyway.

We’re in the early stages of flying when Isambard makes the ill fated journey that marks the beginning of his otherwordly adventures. A later title in the series – The Well Under The Sea brings together historical figures who are influences on modern Steampunk. Willful anachronism and playing with history abound, all manner of things get airborne for purposes of adventure and discovery. Magic and technology meet and co-operate… if you love the things that underpin Steampunk, then this is a series to relish.

 

I’ve been actively involved with Steampunk for years now, it’s been a great joy luring Kevan Manwaring out to events and introducing Steampunk folk to his writing. Photos in this blog were taken at the Steampunk market in Chepstow, April 2017.

The merry crew – author and windsmith Kevan Manwaring left, James Colvin 2nd from left, (explorer and reprobate), Tom Brown (illustrator and tea pirate, spoons at the ready) Nimue Brown on the right, (blogger, author, somewhat threatened by this new fangled photographic technology).

Start the Windsmith series here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Woman-Windsmith-Elegy/dp/1906900442

Reviews for The Long Woman

The Long Woman is a re-release, which means many of its older reviews haven’t followed it into this new incarnation. So, here’s a round-up – snippets from things reviewers have said about the book in its former incarnation on Amazon.

L Phillips said: “I thoroughly loved reading this book. The author blended the mystical elements of the story into the plot in a way that supported the story, without taking over. The melancholy mood of the book was lovely and comfortable to read.”

MS: “A delightful book and one which defies simple description: Is it a love-story; an historical novel; a fantasy; a ghost story; an ode to the English countryside; a patchwork of literary references; a challenge to staid values? Yes, it is all this and more besides but, most importantly, it is a narrative that fully and skilfully engages and transports the reader to a different time and many different places, including some that are not on this corporeal plane.”

Lorna: “Plumbing the highs and lows of human experience, ‘The Long Woman’ is full of surprise. In a lively and engaging manner it puts into question our modern presuppositions about our relationship to the natural world and life after death. I’d recommend this to everybody.”

Nimue: “Beautiful, imaginative, poignant, magical writing. A great story with memorable characters.”

Ola Yemaya: “Skilfully crafted and brimming with knowledge about the period and its esoteric renaissance, the author offers a convincingly ordinary and genuine heroine as travel companion that might prove to be inspiration to explore one’s own places of loss and denial in relation to the deep healing that can be retrieved in nature. Combining a gentle yet evocative language with deep spiritual insight, “The long woman” is an inspiring journey into the heart of “all things” and a delightful read for anybody who explores the ways we are inseparably interwoven with each other and creation in order to face and master our own life’s lessons.”

Lyn Wiltshire: “I could not put this book down and found it both entertaining and educational.”

Ian Davidson “It takes a magical look at a woman’s journey of discovery through her trying to understand her dead husband.”

Buy the new edition of Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Woman