The next Frome Poetry Cafe on Monday 24th features two major names, both reading from their new publications: Whitbread-winning author Lindsay Clarke is joined by Bristol poet Matt Duggan, whose previous collection won the 2015 Erbacce prize for poetry, in an unusual collaboration which we think you will find fascinating and thought-provoking.
by Diana Durham
Gods are forces with which we as mortal humans eternally engage. This is the fundamental insight writer Lindsay Clarke explores in his new collection of poems A Dance with Hermes from Awen Publications:
Where is the habitation of the gods
if not in us? And where are we if not
inside the mysteries they perpetrate
about us and around?
And in particular, as the title tells us, these poems are about the multi-faceted, shifting forces embodied by the winged god Hermes – messenger god of thresholds and trade, guide of travellers and of the newly dead, part unreliable trickster, part helpful companion. In addition to these attributes and roles, Hermes holds the Caduceus, entwined with two snakes, which is associated with healing and, as precursor to the magic wand, with the transformative powers of the imagination. Hermes, inventor of the lyre, also represents music and poetry. And in his many guises, moods and roles Hermes represents the unpredictable, spontaneous dance of our imaginative and creative potential.
In addition to a foreword by Jules Cashford (translator of The Homeric Hymns for Penguin and author of The Moon: Symbol of Transformation from Greystone Press), there is a helpful introduction by Clarke, in which he lays out a condensed yet clear overview of the evolution and attributes of Hermes from primitive times to his appearance in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes around the seventh century BC, and how later his name was given to the western Hermetic tradition of thought, an influence vital to the energies of the Renaissance and to the occult, symbolic world of alchemy.
Clarke also recounts how the origin of this collection was inspired by his friend John Moat’s memoir Anyway … about a ‘life lived in service to the Imagination’, which Moat equated with the figure of Hermes. Moat, founder of the Arvon Foundation, was in the later stages of a terminal illness when he finished his memoir, and in the poignancy of this transition, a time when the god waits on us with compassionate equanimity, Clarke wrote a poem for his friend about Hermes.
The poem is called ‘Koinos Hermes’ and, to quote Clarke, it ‘conflated the attributes of the Greek god Hermes with those of Mercurius Duplex, the agent of transformation in alchemy while at the same time making use of anachronistic contemporary references’:
light-fingered god of crossways, transit,
emails and exchange, the wing-heeled, shifty
wheeler-dealing go-between, who’ll slip right
through your fingers if you try to pin
him down. For he is labile, street-wise
and trans-everything. He is the one
two-fold hermaphrodite who’ll rise
up sprightly from the earth and turn to air,
and then descend into the underworld
to point his wand at philosophic gold.
This poem, which now begins the collection, catalysed what Clarke modestly terms the ‘procession of poems, verses, squibs – call them what you like –’ that comprise these 50 pages of poetry. The poem’s tone and its form of ‘four quatrains held together by the regular use of half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god – something almost grasped but not quite – with occasional full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence’ set the style for the poems that followed in a swift and easy way ‘almost by dictation’.
Clarke explains that therefore not only in this collection’s content and form but also in the manner of its emergence the nature of the god is present and at work. The verses roll along in carefree, sometimes careless ease of movement in which moments of literary buffoonery –
What he loves
best is to astound the mind with such deceptive
art as brings about true transformation,
and it’s the virtue of his wand to wide-awaken
into lucid dreams of the Imagination
those who don’t yet see we are myth-taken
– mingle with lines of soul touching lucidity (in my opinion, Clarke’s default and hallmark) –
He is the tutelary deity of night,
close kin to burglars and to writers and to those
asleep in cardboard boxes on the street.
He oversees the drowsy and the comatose,
has heard the chimes at midnight and will
act as a prison visitor to those for whom
the lonely stretches before dawn become
the penitentiary of mind.
– and deft light-handed wisdom – like this:
and Hermes knows the universe expands
each time we think we’ve got the explanation.
Not this, not that, but both, or maybe none
of the above, his tricky wisdom understands
what unassisted reason often fails to see:
the tongue can’t taste its buds; the only snake
to swallow its own tail does not mistake
itself as literally true … and nor, he thinks, should we.
For nothing speaks more truly than a dream,
and where else (asks Hermes), in the jangle
of a time so fast to change that even
wisdom seems redundant, shall we keep
those secrets that the soul discloses
for our welfare while we sleep?
The task of any writer using archetype – especially in today’s world when ‘wisdom seems redundant’, when we seem to be in danger of succumbing to a dense and stupified literal-mindedness, or, as writer Iain McGilchrist would say, to the depleted values of a left-brain dominated society – is often to teach and explain as well as evoke. And Clarke robustly and effortlessly incorporates this responsibility into his verses, so that we learn the context at the same time as we make the connections and absorb the personal meaning:
The god in the louche hat, the liminal,
crepuscular and volatile grand master
of quick whispers and shady deals, can pull
deft tricks and optical illusions faster
than the pixels shift in CGI. He seduces us
and mystifies our senses with his wand,
the Kerykeion or (latinate) Caduceus –
that snake-twined staff he carries in his hand
to work such vivid magic as draws doves
from darkness, or releases some poor captive
from a cabinet of knives.
While the gods are alive, so are we, and while Hermes dances, no one else can take over our imagination. Mythic archetype, narrative and pattern belong to this realm in ourselves, and their symbolism helps guide our way back to a life that has mystery, potential and zinginess. Many thanks to Anthony Nanson of Awen for making this unique and life-affirming collection available from one of our greatest lyric masters of language.
Diana Durham is the author of the nonfiction The Return of King Arthur from Tarcher, three poetry collections including Between Two Worlds from Chrysalis Poetry and a novel The Curve of the Land from Skylight Press. www.dianadurham.net
by Lindsay Clarke
It was a true delight to participate in the event at the Chapel Arts Cafe in Bath on the evening of 10th March. The cafe, which provides a friendly and comfortable ambience already has a strong literary reputation locally, having hosted readings by a number of distinguished writers, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the event sold out quickly. An audience of fifty lively and responsive people were drawn by the excellent tapas meal that was on offer as well as by the programme of poetry readings and music.
My own presence along with Richard Selby, who is a good friend of Anthony (and proofread the text of A Dance With Hermes), gave a strong Awen feel to the occasion. Richard acted as a jovial MC for the programme which alternated the readings with music from Paul Darby, a well-known singer in the folk tradition, and from the Bookshop Band, which consists of the very talented duo Beth Porter and Ben Please (and Beth’s passenger, currently known as Bumpy). Paul sang songs of his own composition and from a wider repertoire to guitar accompaniment, while Beth and Ben accompanied on their stringed instruments a number of songs they have written around themes inspired by books they have loved.
Crysse Morrison got the evening off to a witty start with some recently written, characteristically feisty poems and later reading from her recent collection Crumbs from a Spinning World. Peter Please also read some new work, both in verse and prose, inspired by his love for and careful observation of the natural world. I talked briefly about my great, and now sadly late friend, John Moat (co-creator of the Arvon Foundation) and how his vision of Hermes as tutelary deity of the Imagination and the poetic basis of mind had provided the inspiration for a poem which, to my astonishment, proved to be the precursor of 48 others, from which I read a representative selection.
All the performances were warmly received and applauded, and the whole evening was a highly enjoyable mix of delicious food, good humour, beautiful music and vivacious language. A genuine treat for the senses.
On the 9th of March 2017, Lindsay Clarke read from his poetry collection A Dance With Hermes at the Chapel Arts Cafe in Bath. it was a Tapas soiree, and also featured writers Crysse Morrison and Peter Please, along with music from The Bookshop Band and Paul Darby.
Photographs c. Crysse Morrison
A Dance With Hermes, by Lindsay Clarke was published in December 2016. Recently, Adam Randall has reviewed it on his blog. Here’s a snippet:
“It’s quite short, but it’s enjoyable. I have never read a sequence of poems like this before, but I would certainly consider doing so in future. It’s an easy and pleasant read, but this accessibility does not come at the expense of intellectual depth as there are often very clever ideas within the poems. I also enjoyed reading the introduction and the notes at the end: they gave context to some of the things I didn’t understand and provided an endearing personal connection to the life of the author, Lindsay Clarke.”
You can read the review in full here – trustywaterblog.co.uk/book-reviews/a-dance-with-hermes-by-lindsay-clarke/
Buy the book here – amazon.co.uk/Dance-Hermes-Lindsay-Clarke/
On 9 March 2017, Lindsay Clarke will be reading some poems from his new book A Dance with Hermes, alongside writers Peter Please and Crysse Morrison and musicians Paul Darby and the Bookshop Band.
This will be an Awen-laden event as Peter Please wrote the foreword for Writing the Land, the very first Awen book. The Bookshop Band includes Beth Porter, who has often performed separately with Awen author (and storyteller) Richard Selby.
New for December 2016, A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke.
In a verse sequence that swoops between wit and ancient wisdom, between the mystical and the mischievous, award-winning novelist Lindsay Clarke elucidates the trickster nature of Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors, who is also the presiding deity of alchemy and the guide of souls into the otherworld. Taking a fresh look at some classical myths, this vivacious dance with Hermes choreographs ways in which, as an archetype of the poetic basis of mind, the sometimes disreputable god remains as provocative as ever in a world that worries – among other things – about losing its iPhone, what happens after death, online scams, and the perplexing condition of its soul.
Awen Publications is also in the process of re-releasing the back catalouge. This December saw the re-release of Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman.
An antiquarian’s widow discovers her husband’s lost journals and sets out on a journey of remembrance across 1920s England and France, retracing his steps in search of healing and independence. Along alignments of place and memory she meets mystic Dion Fortune, ley-line pioneer Alfred Watkins, and a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle obsessed with the Cottingley Fairies. From Glastonbury to Carnac, she visits the ancient sites that obsessed her husband and, tested by both earthly and unearthly forces, she discovers a power within herself.
This is the first in a five book series and opens the door onto a fantastic, speculative world rooted in myth and folklore.
You can buy The Long Woman on Amazon.