Thursday, 27 August 2009

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Ok folks-this is the big one-listen up! The Westcountry School of Myth and Story is proud to announce its very first Conference of the Arts from friday evening Oct 30th through to Sat the 31st,'THE WILD HAWK IN THE LOVERS GARDEN: exploring the soul in poetry, myth and music'. We have a frankly steller line up-Coleman Barks-world famous poet and translator of RUMI, David Darling-grammy nominated musician and collaborator with Joseph Campbell, Lisa Starr-Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, and some british guy telling stories and talking bout the myth-world.

There will be two evening events and an intimate day gathering. The price is an unbeatable £100 so no concessions.Non-residential and based in the South Hams area. Tickets are first come, first served, and are strictly limited-so send cheques payable to Martin Shaw at:

Tregonning House
27 eastern rd,
TQ13 7AP

Pawn the silver, grab a begging bowl, peel potatoes, lap dance-whatever it takes,
but get to this event-it will be a rare and precious thing.

'Myth is the place where music and poetry are yet to diverge' Robert Bringhurst

Friday, 21 August 2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Having just glided in from some snarly, humming but glorious Otherworld (i.e. leading a Vision Quest group up on Dartmoor), and removing the final burning embers from my tangled locks, i realise that is only weeks before i take the iron bird to Turtle Island to teach with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff the story of IRON JOHN over in Minnesota. My modest notes have swelled over the summer into a commentary on several of the stories un-chewed details. What i wanted to drop in here was a small section on metaphor i'm working on-as a kind of afterthought to the main essay. It's not finished, and twists around like a startled fish. I always fish with a straight hook anyway.

Metaphor as Magical Practice-
The Power of Imaginative Leaps

The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities.
Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which
God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.

(1) Jose Ortega y Gasset

I write when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have
Written I see words flying about the room in all directions.

(2) William Blake, Ibid, p.21

Metaphor is always a linguistic turn of the head. Done well it provides a form of relief. Some green shape soars overhead and for a second the literalist in us scrambles for breath, a delicious blow to the heart winds us. But winds bring associations; venision, dust, the tang of the ocean. Metaphor is a way of allowing fresh air into the page or room or conversation.

In the terminology of this essay it is ‘forest language’; unwieldy sometimes, noisy, tangled, but offers dialogue with deep waters. But it also longs for its dancing partner of discernment and logos, to help affirm and hone its shape. I am suggesting metaphor as a gateway to the eternal,as a discipline to be practised, as a way of getting near the Wildmans spring with the golden fishes.

Something happens in the movement from simile to metaphor. When someone is no longer ‘like’ a troubled Lion but IS a troubled Lion, some kind of un-truth is rolled back , the imagistic power is clearer, truer. In the inclusive universe of metaphor could there also be a desire to reach out to certain sensed energies at the edge of our vision; that by offering associative incantation we attempt an accord with the occult, the river beneath the river. Is metaphors inclusiveness a kind of nervous twitch towards attempted control of ungovernable beings?

Art, no matter how minimalist, is never simply design. It is a ritualistic
reordering of reality. The enterprise of art, in a stable collective era
or an unsettled individualistic one, is inspired by anxiety.
Every subject localised and honoured by art is endangered by its opposite.
Art is a shutting in in order to shut out. Art is a ritualistic binding
of the perpetual motion machine that is nature….Contemplation is
a magical act.

(3) Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily
Dickinson, Penguin, 1990, p.29

In this light, myth-telling becomes a warding off, an attempt to define community agendas, to designate dance steps to all our shaggy fears. Are gatherings like the one in the Minnesota woods a collective attempt to shape a place for the unwieldy machinations of our terror-spots? Are we merely(as tellers) reassuring the crowd, standing sentry duty at the edge of the village?

I think Paglia is partially correct, but what she misses is the ecstatic, the leap, the joyous quality in arts propulsive mutterings. She lingers too long in paranoia. Art is not always an attempt to neuter nature, but sometimes an offering honestly given. The assumption also that Art is somehow devoid of impulses from the wild is artificial also, it’s not simply one-way traffic.

The Cunning Man or Woman does not go into the wild to dictate terms, but to hold the efficacy of the tribe in dialogue with the majestic and troubling mirror of the living world. Levels of surrender are paramount to the experience. Whilst holding certain truths, in this instance Paglia still feels too anthropocentric. Blakes’s being ‘commanded by the spirits’ hardly indicates dominion.

This is not to deny the libational quality of the experience, but also to re-emphasise the un-scripted process described in chapter one. As tellers we are not trying to unduly wrestle a shape onto the moment but to stay honestly curious to the vaguries of the stories movement through the hut, psyche and community. We don’t seek a homegenized picture, but many image-centres opening in the body, jostling for position. As Yeats’ says;

A symbol is a metaphor which does not have a restrictive first
term and which consequently has an indefinite number of meanings.

(4) W.B. Yeats, Poet as Mythmaker, Morton Irving Seiden , Michigan State University Press, 1962, p 4.

It is also vital to re-emphasise the element of impurity in the process. This isn’t an aspiration towards some imagined ‘right way of doing things’, a Saturnian return to some by-gone era. It is wrong to start hacking away completely at the street-savvy 21st century individual you also carry with you. The point is that’s it’s not all you are. The Peur and the Senex find a troublesome accord in the mythworld. The Peur carries the ambitious leaps of the imagination, the Senex is activated by both the connection to history and the repetitive quality of storytelling. Too much Senex and the story feels prescriptive, too much Peur and there is no archetypal resonance.

So as tellers we are mongrels, anti the pure-strain, beset with contradiction.

Yet Yeats’ poems are not in the strictest sense true to their ancient
prototypes. If he was primarily an Irish poet, he was also an author
writing in English and studying and being influenced by the masters
of English literature. The country of his birth may have given to his
muse her loveliest robes and the pedestal on which she stood; but
the jewels she wore came from across the Irish Sea. When he grew
past middle age, Yeats gave her a crown of flowers, the leaves and
petals of which he had gathered in the gardens of Europe and
the Orient. His muse was Irish but his pose was international.
(5 ) Morton Irving Seiden, Ibid, p.7

So as three tellers we come to the story not na├»ve to its history but also open to its present. Constellations of ideas formed around it may break off like exhausted crustations. On the other hand the community telling may mean that certain folks hold rigidly to old perceptions of the tale. In some ways this event is a microcosm of the relationship men and women have had with myth for thousands of years. Will the story breathe or will attempts be made to hold it frozen, becoming concrete, or ‘iron’, before our very eyes? A heavy religion.

Art is suggestive rather than explicit: it makes no attempt to persuade into a general agreement or provide mediocre levels of explanation. And the whole value of all culture disciplines is in this objective statement of vision.

(6) Northrop Fyre, Fearful Symmentry: A Study of William Blake, Princeton Paperback, 1947, p.87.

The artist does not seek unity; he seeks to unite various things, and the divine imagination of God is similarly a unity of varieties. “Exuberance is Beauty” says Blake: no one ever has enough imagination until he has too much, just as a volcano is never active until it spills over.
(5) Ibid, p.99.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Tony Hoagland Dances on the Tips of Spears While Speaking With Silverish Grace.

Some tufty bird is cawing at the edge of the kingdom. He has a boombox playing Fugazi covering that difficult third album by Blly Ray Cyrus. He has a cigar rolled on the cheerful thighs of a Tasmanian astronomer,he holds one claw to an indistinct sky and mutters something about the Norman Invasion. Should we let him in the castle gates? But of course! More on Mr.Hoagland later....

On a more sober note:
Well, School may be out, but it looks like the first year course may well be full by the end of this month, we only have a few places left. the website will get a little update next week, with new info and photos, but in the meantime here are the dates for both the first and second year courses:

Westcountry School of Myth Year Programmes 2009/10

All Weekends £165 (limited concessions availible).
We have tried to keep all price increases minimal.


9-11th Oct Blytheswood

27-29th Nov Blytheswood

8-10th Jan Heathercombe

12-14th March Heathercombe

7-9th May Wildwood


16-18th Oct Blytheswood

19-21 Feb Heathercombe

11-13th June Wildwood

No, the wood isn't named after Robert Bly. My hands are clean.

Myself and five others are preparing to venture up to the moors next weekend to begin a week long rite-of-passage: for four of those days they will be completely alone, without food or fire, just a tarp and water. Rumour is that the weather may be lively too....

The summer is moving along at dazzling speed it seems. I've noticed the surreal site of leaves starting to curl and brown-i havn't even made it to the beach yet. Well, not quite true. Me and the girls ended up in Whitstable last weekend, and a hip little place it was too.An Oyster and Beer festival, a gallery selling proper paintings (this is a rare, rare thing) and a great breakfast joint. They even had something called a 'reggae roast' at Sunday lunchtime-the mind boggles.

I'm back over in Minnesota this September with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff telling the story of IRON JOHN at the Minnesota Mens Conference 25th Anniversary
and then onto Providence, Block Island, and an Equinox show in New York with Coyote yelper Caroline Casey-which should be going out on her radio show, so please grab a swanfeather cloak and tune in. Easy to google. We havn't quite dotted the I's on these last dates but i will get them out there asap. I am also incubating some news about a MYTH SCHOOL FEST of workshops and events the very end of October and beginning of November. This is hugely exciting with some wildly brilliant international teachers, coming-some big hitters and new tigers. Scratch that week in your diary NOW Oct 30th-Nov 8th ish.

I wanted to throw in some Tony Hoagland. One of our great poets and a man who tickles the nose of certain mythic energies that live in the rims of spectacles, lunatic dance moves, unexpected forgiveness and black, heavy birds that sometimes sweep through a picnic.


If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

Tony Hoagland

Leap over the irritable nay-sayer that lives in your wallet and buy this mans work today! Taliesin himself will slip a coin under your pillow to get you started.