News of collaborations - This Friday at the eye wateringly grand Memorial Church at Stanford University in Northern California with Coleman Barks (see flyer above) - two travellers tell of their dreams - poetry, stories, reflections, music, jokes. This event is FREE, so please spread the word and bring friends. Coleman's new poetry (as well as his Rumi translations) is deep, playful and very brilliant, so take to this opportunity to see a master at work. I would hope to see us in Devon later this year, so hold out UK compadres.
I'm deep into leading the Oral Traditions program at Stanford, and also excited about some upcoming work in March on the Depth Psychology M.A. at Sonoma State - they are doing great things there. Apologies if i have not responded to emails, each day brings some new kind of challenge (mostly good), that happily keeps me away from the computer screen! Underneath the Schumacher note is part of the epilogue to SNOWY TOWER, the upcoming new book on Parzival - this is to with place, story, and the arising of value. For such a book lover as myself, please don't confuse this as a diatribe against literature, it is more to do with shaking loose the habit for some storytellers of learning stories line by line from the page. That has its elegance to be sure, but i suspect the land itself is trying to tell us something if we can get our furry, winged ear down to its emanations. Which brings me to:
A Wild Land Dreaming: Living Language and the Erotics of Place
1-7 July 2013
SCHUMACHER COLLEGE, DEVON, U.K.
With David Abram and Martin Shaw
This course is open for bookings.
Reality shapeshifts. Underneath our definitions, prior to all our ready explanations, the world disclosed by our animal senses is a breathing cosmos — tranced, animate and trickster-struck. David Abram
This is the earthy fulcrum where stories of a place emerge – about that cave, that estuary, that Rowan tree. Not in the clipped tempo of a written sentence, but a galloping, roaming, rampant language that tears into the soul like the vivid colors of a jungle bird. Martin Shaw
Join renowned geophilosopher David Abram and master storyteller Martin Shaw for a venture into the heart of the ecological imagination.
Says David: “We’ll awaken our creaturely senses from their screen-dazzled slumber, calling upon the powers of story and word magic to stir the ancient eros between the human animal and the animate earth. And we’ll engage, too, the wordless silence of real encounter – listening close to the elemental energies surging around us and even through us, to the thudding of wings as they paddle the wind, to the gushing waters and the lichen-encrusted rocks”.
Over the course of a week, working both indoors and out in the many-voiced terrain, David and Martin promise to “delve deep into the forgotten intimacy between language and land, between oral poetics and the powers of place. We’ll explore our intense conviction that the psyche is not inside us, but rather that we live within the psyche; indeed that we dwell within a broad intelligence that is not ours, but is rather the earth’s. We’ll explore the conviction that our lives and our actions unfold in the depths of a material imagination that far exceeds all our human designs, and that with sufficient time and attention, an enchanted rapport can arise between one’s body and the breathing terrain — between a person and a place — such that we find ourselves in the grip of what tribal and bardic cultures might call a ‘wild land dreaming’.”
“This is hardly a new practice; for many millennia humans understood that it was necessary, now and then, to seek a fresh exchange with the living cosmos, and to craft from that exchange something so beautiful it feeds the stars and coaxes the hunkered moon up through the tangle of branches to launch itself across the pool of night.”
“In our own time, it’s the biosphere itself that needs the nourishment of both our fierce longing and our tawny panache. Modern humankind’s long estrangement from the land has brought forth monsters, and many still more dangerous are a’borning. The gathering storm staggers our imagination: reason alone will not get us out of this morass. But a keen sense for the shadowed magic that’s afoot – a story-sense tuned to the difficult wonder of the real – is a mighty useful compass for finding our way through, and a powerful tool for metamorphosis.”
Place and the Arising of Value
We could pull ourselves back from the page (or the computer screen) into the immediacy of where we actually live. Re- consecrate a relationship to the living landscape in front of us. You may want to give this boundaries for awhile. Say five miles. Anyone can find wild nature within five miles of their door if they are prepared to go small as well as big – probably five yards.
Maybe decide you are going to be like the archaic Seannachai, that you are going to be a cultural historian for the mythologies of place. Be like young Parzival, or Finn, or Mimmi le Blanc the wild girl, and sit under trees and by ghostly stretches of water and listen and watch. Get up close and personal again – face to face encounters, don’t rely on any book, including this one, to be a substitute.
When you start to absorb these revealing images – these stories of the waterhole, elder tree or visiting jay – don’t write them down. If you need to remember, walk them into your body, chant them in, dance them in. If a pencil hits paper then use it to draw the story, not to write it. Make a map of events. At small gatherings tell them, and remember, those gatherings don’t have to be for humans. Some of the most joyous tellings can be for hedgehog, wind or swamp.
As soon as the ink hits the line you have altered your relationship to the story. When you tell it you could end up groping for the memory of the linear arrangement of ink on paper rather than the bodily impulses of a truly impacted story. Another esoteric detail – use green ink for the map. Lorca claimed that black scares the little spirit-animals that want to burst through onto the page.
If you are another kind of animal then how does that get communicated in the telling of a story? Is that voice of yours a generous gurgle or thin and sharp like a buzzard's beak? Do you lope like a jackal or stay very still like a cat in a sun spot? Follow the energies of your own body in that regard, stay authentic.
As a wide-eyed romantic little kid, I liked nothing more than to follow my dad around on one of his long walks. He’s a big walker. So, much of my education in understanding stories relationship to place come from these walks. In a way we were beating the boundaries, establishing that five mile radius I’m talking about. He would show me an old stone archway, or a particular stretch of lonely beech trees or occasionally, with a long finger, point at far off Dartmoor.
To this day I could walk you the same route down tiny Devonshire lanes, and point out haunted Victorian lamposts, old tribal settlements beneath car parks, hidden trails down to the sea at Babbacombe and the very bench he and my mother sat on when he proposed marriage. There was an assemblage of the mythic and the anecdotal on these walks that were appropriately intermingled. It was a good mix up between wild nature and the intricacies of human culture.
Now as a father, I walk with my little daughter through the ancient stannery town of Ashburton to the river Ashburn. We drop coins under the bridge for the spirit Kutty Dyer who lives in its most shadowed recess. Or, as a family we hike up behind the town to the bottom of the south moor. As we gaze up at a pattern of fields and then open moor, stories race down to meet us. All the tapestry of local folklore encircle – women riding in bone carriages, snowy hoof prints way up on the roof of Widdicombe church, elves scaring away property developers.
We arch out and see the rutted tracks that monks took between the four abbeys, the ewes on the lower hills birthing lambs under sullen yellow clouds, honey suckle on the banks of the summering lanes, the tractor sweating hard and pulling trailers mad with hay, fist-freezing snow across a corrugated iron shelter filled with mud flecked goats. And underneath it all, the great animal Dartmoor dreams, and sends us its muscled stories. We, gazing from behind the farmer's gate, glimpse our inheritance and are silenced.
So something like that waits for all of us - Blake found it in the east end of London. Get into walking. For my first year outdoors, I would often cover ten to twelve miles a day. It was always interesting. Being unable to drive really helped. Beat your boundary lines, offer your libations. Imagine that we are all going to turn up at your door sometime soon. Take us for a walk, show us the inner-story of the place you live in. All myth tellers know that there will come a point in an evening of celebration and story when the hosts will turn to the stranger and ask them to sing a song from their home place. For the English this can provoke an embarrassed rendition of Monty Python's “always look on the bright side of life”. We turn the loss into a joke. But what is soaked in the labour of stewarding your place – the ploughing, thatching, crofting, ferrier songs? The songs of the fishermen, leaving before dawn from Brixham harbor? That could be a rich grounding.
Where is all this leading? Ultimately, slowly, it may set us in a very authentic set of values. Not enforced by government or chapel, but by a revolution of the heart. The heart opens through investment – through tender feeling and hard work brought into relationship with a landscape of story and place entwined.
A little warning. To take all this on can initially create a rather worthy type of character. Wandering around in a jacket made of nettles, shirts dyed in vats of their own urine and muttering songs about Widdicombe fair to passing cars. A little unreal. It doesn’t have to be that way. That gets polished down over time.
So let’s not give up ambition, or that nutty part of us which loves the smile of another human's eyes. A little conflict is sexy. But, as Gary Snyder says, be famous for five miles. Be famous to thin stretches of grass between abandoned buildings, be famous to that nest of starlings just over the hill. That’s a kind of feathery heroism, and is a sweet gesture to our desire to be witnessed in this world.
There is no quick route into any of this, and few clear steps. It’s a job for life however, and in times like these how often do you hear that? As the elders say: “If you haven’t been fed become bread”.
Sometimes this rooting in place has to be less physical and more imaginative. Some places are the last place we should be. Life is often rough. If that’s the case, then look for the “hidden country” – the dream time. This is a place of snowy tundra, Irish fishing villages and turbaned magicians, dark eyed girls living in hollow trees, chanting leopards, and Tibetan astrologers wandering the dragon lines of an ancient Scottish glen. Till you find your physical ground, then abide there when you can. I lived there for years and years.
In the old country they say that next to this earth is the Land of the Sidhe – the fairy. To get there you will have to cross clay. Beyond that is the Many-Colored Land. There you cross water. Next is the Land of Wonder, for this fire. But beyond all of those is the Land of Promise. To get there you travel on the sweet breath of story. I will meet you there.
copyright martin shaw 2013