Saturday, 31 December 2011

Morning all. New Year's Eve.

Well, i did cook that goose, but have to admit i think i did a better job on the leg of lamb - goose requires a kind of artistry i may not possess yet - although its fat helped make the best roast potatoes i have ever eaten. Got a veritable treasure chest of esoteric and off the grid books for christmas who's titles and quick reviews i will try and lay out on the blog in the next few weeks. Also gifted a Donegal tweed, one bottle of Balvenie, one brown leather briefcase, one oiled wooden cigar box for my study desk (one heavy duty cigar per draft of a book - not a big smoker) and various other lovely gifts. Never made it to see the play Jerusalem with Mark Rylance in London's west end (regret that but prohibitive prices), but did stand on the south bank of the scat-dark Thames drinking mulled cider with my loved ones, and that softened the blow somewhat. Sad to report that Harris tweeds have gone up madly in price in charity shops, and oddly touched to note a Mod revival on the streets of the capital. Not a big one, but there they are, shuffling about.

Early 2012 offers more work on my new book which i hope will reach a strong draft stage by about April/May. My Parzival manuscript feels cooked (separate book) and i look forward to a five day telling of that genius epic at the Great Mother Conference in Maine, U.S.A. first week of June 2012. I will announce the full line up as soon as i have it.

Been an interesting year - Lot's of travel and teaching in America, completed PhD and got book out, enjoyed teaching alongside Robin Williamson, Gioia Timpanelli, Tony Hoagland, Caroline Casey and Alistair McIntosh, wandered Norway with Coleman Barks, got drunk with Robert Bly and collectively fell into a Minnesotan snowdrift, a weeks collaboration on fairy tales with John Densmore from the Doors, and sharing a stage at the Eden Project in Cornwall with the mighty Martin Carthy. So, whoopsy do. But it was also a hard time - my father's been ill and the school has experienced the same recession squeeze that everyone else is. So behind the scenes it certainly had its tough times. Also reflecting on the passing of James Hillman, Jackie Leven and my beautiful grandmother Christine Gibson, bless her wooly haired, bright eyed Crone-ness.


One rainy later summers day i drove up to North Tawton and wandered Ted Hughes's old haunts. The local pub still smelt of cigarette smoke which was wonderful, the moors felt oppressive and brutal up there in a way the south moor doesn't (north and south moor - i live on south). I sat in the church of his funeral and heard in my mind the reading Seamus Heaney gave. I saw his house in the distance and drove through the drizzle up towards the purple scarred tors that he loved so much. A strange village it was.

To go back in time a little - It’s late summer at the Westcountry Storytelling Festival 2010, up at Embercombe, outside Exeter. I’m in deep discussion with Hugh Lupton, a mesmeric British storyteller about Hughes and his work. He mentions a couple of books I know of but have not got round to. Four months on it’s Christmas Eve in Norfolk, two hundred and forty miles from our discussion. Remembering our chat, when in a old book shop I come across a copy of Hughes’s Moortown, I am delighted, and make a mental note to contact Hugh if I enjoy it. By now it’s starting to snow, so I tuck the book under my coat and head out into the frosty darkness.

Later, at Cara’s parents cottage I settle down by the fire with a pint and the book. I read by lamplight and enjoy greatly what I am reading. After about half and hour, something makes me glance at the inside sleeve of the book, I like to see the scrawl of old owners, and yes, there’s something there. Emblazoned on the page is the old owners name. Hugh Lupton.

Anyway, i digress. So, big, big blessings on all of us in this next passing of the Ravens wing. May your glass be full, belly replete and bed warm.

Here's something from Lightning Tree - some of which i've posted before, but what the hell. New Years resolutions and something on myth tellers and relationship to the land.

See you in 2012!


Become an apprentice to the way Caravaggio handled color and don’t worry about having an original thought for at least five years. Allow yourself to feel strange and slightly magical. Compose poetry that is irritable and fiery, that runs to hundreds of lines, then learn by heart and recite to nearby jackdaws. Write letters again, and find the oldest mail box you can to post them from. Decide that your hips are an altar to old Romanian Goddesses and take up belly dancing. Give out library cards as birthday presents. Run a three- week course from your porch on the relationship between the Aztec temples and Gypsy gambling games from medieval Wales. Don’t go easy on yourself.

A close relative to the Bard and the Poet is the almost extinct figure of the Seanchai, the wandering Storyteller whose very body is a rattling bag of mystery. This is what you might call a Storycarrier rather than teller. Characters like these have walked between settlements in Ireland and Celtic Britain for thousands of years. In Africa they may be called a Griot, in Guatamala a Great Rememberer. The Seanchai had a mystical dimension, and were even seen to have pulled some of the energy from the Filli (High Bards) of ancient Ireland with them. Conveying specifically stories from oral culture—from the campfire to the farmhouse to the Inn to the Great Hall to the campfire—they could move between huge hero cycles, to geographically specific folk tales, to meandering multi-dimensional personal anecdotes, somehow spinning the whole evening into a shimmering cloud that rained ecstatic intimacy on the listeners.

These individuals could conjure: ancestors would roll up behind every listener and lean in to hear stories of their lives once more, willow trees would move through a hundred feet of wet grass to get to the window, a hole would appear in the mythological world and luminous little beings would pour down through the container of the story and fly out into the room, collecting teardrops. This wasn’t so much a performance as an invocation: a ritualized righting of time from the imagined straight line into the circle where the animals, the old ones, weather patterns, and great sagas could suck strong milk from each others’ breasts, and much healing was done in this world. This was almost always carried on at night, when some wyrd energy steals through the camp, cutting our threads to the mortgaged world.

Some contemporary storytelling can appear to be a kind of ice walking; it becomes a layer through which you peer down and de scribe the lives of images moving cold underneath your feet, but you never jump into the story river itself. Burn the script and get wet. That way the story is always being told for the first time, over and over again.

The joy of an oral culture is the old bones of story reconnecting to the inflamed tissue of spontaneous language. It is a specific kind of animation, an incantational convergence of narrative tracks worn smooth by the ancestors and giddy new vistas of linguistic image that are only glimpsed in that telling in that moment. Myth telling understands that the voice spoken in this attunement reaches to- wards the harsh thinking of the wind moving over a fissured moor, the excitement of the bat as it senses dusk. So does nature think?

As I write earlier in the chapter, I believe we plant our rickety societies on huge dreaming animals. The whole point of something like a Vision Quest was to create an axis of experience that somehow accommodated the thought-ripples of nature.

The patterning of crows over a winter field is an oracular thought of the mud, sky, and bird; the elegant procession of the reindeer across a spring meadow is part of some epic train of imagination that has been running for tens of thousands of years. The swift dive of the killer whale is a new vision from an ancient sea. Thought is not just contained in language, not even for us humans. But it is all story. The animals are myth-tellers in the way that they are. The hundred ways the otter gleefully crosses a stream is the same way the tellers splash their routes through a story: the same destination but differing currents, details, and varying intensities of stroke. These images are more than just metaphors for our own condition but, entered respectfully, offer a glimpse of the great, muscled thoughts of the living world. It is always thinking.

Copyright White Cloud Press 2011

No comments: