Thursday, 7 January 2010

It will be a thick missive this week. High Heathercombe-seat of this weekends gathering is snowed in, and so to my regret we have had to postphone till the first weekend in February. Gazooks-i hate to cancel man, hate to cancel. So i am throwing in various poems and questions to keep some mythic thread to these few days.

For students:
First challenge: Read below poem and write a five minute poem in response to it-any aspect-write at the edge of your understanding. There will be another at the end. They are two of mine i am tinkering with-a little overfull, but hopefully evidence that i'm joining in the tussle of all this poetry writing we do. This one is to do with the idea that desire needs some third element to arrive for it to truly activate, an old god or goddess to appear in some un-scripted manner.

The Gods of Hay and Love

Two wait alone for the rambunctious commander,
To glue all desire into the bees of their bodies
In tiny rooms they séance for
The smile-foxed awakener
He that lays tracks in the sullen valley,
He that threshes timber and holds mountains apart

No gentle crooner,
But leathered, rounded, unbending.
Some strong trunk of focus
an unrepentant arrow
that spits out the trembling centuries

As berry-large rain twists
In a cup of strength,
As a wash of salt
Licks the harbours fiery maidens
This charging wheel fractures its consorts

He will not leave the low places
But coax smoke from the anxious kindling
Tranced always by the girl
of appetite, of her thatch of memory, of her ghost
family, her animal flanks.

All the lights in this house are out,
Late afternoon
The empty rooms lean in an inch
To catch some word-butter from
The boney caves of love.

Dust moves a fraction on the sill
Water pours from an old jug
And for a second the world is
full of magicians.

Second challenge: What do you think the differences between a myth, folk-tale, legend and fairy tale are?
Please consult NO book for this-work through your own feelings-think of their connections to time, history and geography. responses can be sent to and will be read with interest.

Here is some of the essay-following on from the 'pastoral and prophetic' and 'a Culture of Wildness' sections in previous blogs.


The beautiful thing about traditional tales, the thing that makes them interesting, and endlessly adaptable, is that they do not speak their truths directly. Traditional tales use the hidden language of metaphor…you could say there are as many hidden stories within a narrative as there are tellers and listeners.

Sally Pomm Clayton, Into the Hidden Country (Society for Storytelling Press, 2008) p.7

My concern with much contemporary storytelling is a hesitancy to explore metaphor, that a superstitious code prevents any deeper implications being explored. In a society that largely ignores depth and metaphor in favour of the shallow and literal, Pomm Clayton’s ‘hidden stories’ are not always accessed. The folk-tale sits rather like a wedding cake- we scrape off the icing but never dig our spoon into its fruity depths.

As a storyteller I am fascinated by this language of place, by place-names and their
etymology-the Thwaites, Thorpes, Duns, Bournes, Combes-and all the mysterious composites: Hetty Peglars Tump, Grimes Graves, Wookey Hole, the Gog Magog
Hills…(i) encircle myself with a personal poetry of place

Hugh Lupton, (The Dreaming of Place, Daylight Press, 2001) p.6

I like the direction that the great storyteller Hugh Lupton hints at.The imagination of Lupton is now, fired by language, moving downwards into associations of both localised history and folklore, and, as a storyteller, makes an assumption that this is a natural point of enquiry. Ted Hughes invokes the element of the wind;

Almost every poet, when he mentions the wind, touches one of his good moments
of poetry…the Old Testament prophets were often carried off to their visions in a great wind, or heard extraordinary things out of unnatural stillness.

Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making (faber and faber, 1967) p.33

Hughes’s quote is grandiose, but maybe, I wonder, not inflated enough! In a de-constructed, irony infused environment, does the aspiration of a personal, visceral relationship to landscape both inner and outer invoke derision? Probably. But I contend that Lupton and Hughes haven’t gone far enough in their ruminations, that they should have allowed more lunacy into their wonderings, created more trouble with the intelligentsia. As this essay continually suggests, the doors towards that archaic relationship with nature are far from bolted. However, a dialogue like that could create a character that is as introverted as the stillness of mid-winter, or as ridiculously abundant as spring- both imply an excess of feeling or sensation.

In the following quote from William James we detect an advocacy for such grandiosity, Blakes’s ‘road of excess leads to the place of wisdom’; that a place for desire in the centre of ones life creates just the necessary tensions that make it truly engaging. In the language of the essay this involves concerted attention on both the Village and the Forest.

Man's chief difference from the brutes lies in the exuberant excess of his subjective
propensities his pre-eminence over them simply and solely in the number and in the
fantastic and unnecessary character of his wants, physical, moral, aesthetic,and
intellectual. Had his whole life not been a quest for the superfluous, he would never
have established himself as inexpugnably as he has done in the necessary. And from
the consciousness of this he should draw the lesson that his wants are to be trusted; that even when their gratification seems furthest off, the uneasiness they occasion is still the best guide of his life, and will lead him to issues entirely beyond his present power of reckoning. Prune down his extravagance, sober him, and you undo him.

William James, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, (Harper Perennial, edt Bly, Hillman, Meade, 1992) p14

This quote from Francis Ponge i love completely and is probably the great summation that these strange chunks of essay writing have been moving towards.

Hope therefore lies in a poetry through which the world so invades the spirit of man that he becomes almost speechless, and later reinvents a language…true poetry is what does not pretend to be poetry. It is in the dogged drafts of a few maniacs seeking the new encounter.

Francis Ponge, News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, Edt Robert Bly, (Sierra Club Books, 1980) p214

Here's to our dogged drafts!

So here is the next poem to take five minutes from. If the other one is about love in the afternoon (as it were), this is about the stresses all artists feel when presenting their work, whatever that may be. Have fun with this-let your darkish self wander the lines!

My Whip Hand (At the End of a Week of Curating)

Sitting by an open door is an insult to many important things
A prolonged, deliberate, attack on myself
It’s been a weak harvest-
And my fingers hold the tension
My spiderish bone-tangle
crackles weaker skulls from its counting- tips

I have signed up to depletion,
to never see gold bears at the stream anymore
Or great pyramids that lurch from a child's jaw
The urchins of night have leapt back into the crescent
Its twenty years since an oar troubled the vines

This disdain of mine is a vineragy gate
That the old shelter in for a second while shopping,
But, eager to be pulled back to the laughter
They don’t take my eye for long

My whip hand wheezes in dismay
keen for instruction from the ailing General
The urge to flail
Or better to strike
A bruise could be a dark pool we could both bathe in.

I can’t wait to hand the keys in
To trade my damage
For the milky walk home

All this disappointment is really not as satisfying
As i had hoped it would be
I thought I’d somehow settle into its wry horror
But no, I’m an exhausted lunatic,
eating horse tails and choking on sunlight

My good friend Rebecca had been interested in the relationship between arts-painting, sculpture,installation etc and the mythic world. I am sure many of you
could write huge lists of individuals involved. Painting links could be:


Few of the connections are overt as such, just something i sense and respond to.

I have something of an allergy to art that is clearly and entirely devotional work to the natural world, i like to see some tension, complexity and im-purity creep in-us humans are good at that. That might sound weird, judging from my position on many things, but i don't respond to work that is purely banging some eco-message over my head. Just ain't cool-i'm looking for a more subtle, unique response to being alive at this point in time.

My big guy for years was JOSEPH BEUYS. so here's a few lines on him (some of this i put in a few months ago)on this story-theme....

It is not the role of this essay to make a sweeping denotation that the role of storyteller inevitably carries with it the role of Witch or Cunning Man; our societal conception of what story offers is to wide for that, but does seek to re-emphasise its primary function-as an intermediary between societies shared language and an invitation to ‘otherness’ to present itself, imagistically, to the group, and, in doing so, expand our capacity for knowledge. The largesse of the role I describe is certainly problematic and ripe for inflation-it is a call for something to burst open in the individual. It requires a certain shamelessness. However, when you become an eagle you attract the hunter.

The German artist Joseph Beuys embodied this shamelessness, and was suitably attacked;

'He was a bullshit artist of unrivalled ambition and stamina…pure hokum,and yet we readily succumb to its lyricism.'

Robert Storr, Joseph Beuys: Diverging Critiques, (Liverpool University Press)

‘We readily succumb to its lyricism’ indicates Storrs awareness of the desire for enchanters, even in the late twentieth century. His wider essay on Beuys is appropriately conflicted; “he was able to inject energy into outmoded roles and replenish a poetically bankrupt mysticism” Storrs opens the controversial ground of Shaman and Showman, acknowledging a cultural desire for the former and the reality of receiving the latter.

We know of Beuy’s being shot down as a Luftwaffe pilot, ruptured with shrapnel, and then being rescued by a nomadic people, the Tartars, and brought back to health by being wrapped in felt. This conspicuously mirrors elements of the descent, rupture and renewal process we locate in myth and rites-of-passage. Rather too well, claims Storr.
In certain shamanic initiations young Shamans are invested with 'medicine bones' that are placed into the reshaping of the initiate’s body; items such as rock crystals replace the previous body part-the anatomy now containing information from the mineral world, a wrenching and distortion bringing life into a new, expanded harmonic. One account from the Unamatatjera recalls the climax of this process:

"In the morning the old man came and looked at him and placed some more atnongara
stones inside his body, and in the joints of his arms and legs and covered his face with leaves. Then he sang over him till his body was all swollen up. When this was over he provided him with a complete set of new inside parts, placed a lot more atnongara stones in him, and patted him on the head, which caused him to jump up and live."

B. Spencer and F. J. Gillian, The Northern Tribes of Western Australia, 1904, p457

A positive appraisal could suggest that Beuy’s "Medicine Bones" were the shrapnel lodged in his physical form, elements that collided biology and machinery, colluding in his descent into illness and the rapture of his renewal. The breaching of the skin also perforates ideas of unequivocal containment. In shamanism these new attachments to the body are seen to contain distilled consciousness of the arena they originate from: mineral, plant, animal etc, so we encounter Beuys receiving concentrated knowledge of the atmospheric of war, the shadow of his own people’s psyche, appalling in its intensity. In one infinite moment Beuys is suspended in the death space, is split open by the projected violence of combat and is left changed, holding through experience a key to the expanding possibilities of the community.

Beuys is an exceptional figure for bringing an explicit ritual sensibility to modern art that didn't feel hackneyed and clumsy. He refused the one -sided, tribalised myth of thirties Germany and became a Grief Man for some of the distorted and poisoned mythology of that era. The rawness of his work but also the Apollian intelligence and ambition he presented has caused him to become a totemic figure in a very confused field. Of course, distorted myth is not purely a German problem, but an international dilemma of how a society subverts and distorts its mythologies-no one has clean hands.

It is interesting to note Stoor’s use of the word ‘bullshit’-we see Trickster entering the picture with the controversy around Beuys,all sorts of shadowy, scatalogical, half-formed suspicions form a noose for his heretical neck. It is appalling for the enlightened mind to feel that compulsion towards the murky, spell- like atmosphere of the story-man arise yet again, as if Descarte never happened.
But Beuys was nothing if not cunning (a very Tricksterish quality) and understood that controversy will always accompany true art-maybe his scar tissue toughened his skin.
Of course, cunning derives from cunnen-to know.

FINAL CHALLENGE: Which characters, or energies, or mythic archetypes do you draw on most in your life? (Wolfish Lover, Gregarious Queen etc) Where would you see their influence? (mostly unconscious).
How is mainlining a particular force causing an imbalance?

Write about their atmosphere-scent, smell, color, mood. When and why did they appear in your life? How are they related to your families influence?

Answers the back of a one-legged, boozy crow and sent to Tregonning House.

OK-more soon.


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