Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Bardic Diary: September 1st - October 3rd, 2015

I've been conscious for some time that September was going to be a busy month as Bard of Glastonbury. On the night in May when I was given the Chair, I remember Stuart the sound technician coming up to me and making a point of mentioning that there was to be a Bardic Stage at Night at the Abbey, and that it was up to me to make sure things went on there. After that, other offers started coming in - we decided to launch my Library of Avalon residency in the same month, and later on to have my first resident session there, too. I was also glad to receive an invitation to appear as the guest at Street Library's Poetry Lunch Club.

Night at the Abbey

Only as the 'Night at the Abbey' date (11th September) approached did I realise how many aspects of the Bardic Stage were actually up to me to sort out, and it was only with about a week to go that it dawned on me that it was indeed up to me to sort out lighting! I am very grateful to my family at Splotts Moor for providing lanterns and solar lights which meant that my later performers weren't holding forth in pitch darkness.

On an evening with an eclectic mix of acts (I think we had as many performance slots as all the other stages at the Abbey put together), including several of our Elder Bards, I was especially proud to be able to read my poem 'Hawthorn' for Tim to him from the stage, and to introduce Dearbhaile Bradley who described herself as 'stepping into' her role as Bard again after a period of time away. I felt she gave us a storming finish.

A photo posted by Wes White (@whysweetlie) on
In all it seems as if the feeling is that a bit of attention paid to scheduling, particularly avoiding clashing with the main stage, helped both our performers and their audience this year. I'll be aiming to give next year's Bard a few tips for what is an important night for us with such a public stage. If anyone has any feedback they'd like to offer with this in mind, it will be gratefully received at chairedbard@gmail.com - another thing I'm keen on is getting us back in the Abbey's program for the night!

Library of Avalon Residency

I've blogged about the Library of Avalon launch in detail here - my first official session as resident followed on September 23rd and I will also write that up in more detail in due course. I want to mix up what I'm doing a bit with the next session (which falls on November 4th) - steer the residency back to my original intention of exploring the library as a writer. But more on that when I come to write the first session up.

Street Library's Poetry Lunch Club

Between the two, I visited the aforementioned Poetry Lunch Club at Street Library. This was a pleasant little event with about a dozen people attending, where I performed several poems and answered lots of questions about being Bard of Glastonbury and writing in general. This was exactly the kind of thing I hoped to do as Bard - get out to community groups like this and spread the word a bit. The next such event at Street Library is on October 19th. I think that they sometimes have a guest and sometimes simply meet as a group, but either way all are welcome.

Feeling unwell

While all of this was going on, I was suffering from frequent sensations of faintness and lightheaded-ness and becoming increasingly concerned about my health despite several reassuring check-ups. I undertook two of the above events sitting down to avoid being overcome by the strange feelings which were causing me some anxiety. I found that if I had something to eat, I felt better almost immediately - but not for very long, and as I'd like to lose a bit of weight, I could hardly go around eating the entire time!

Two conversations helped me get over this, what seemed to be largely a self-inflicted illness. The first with my GP, who went through my blood tests and showed me that everything was completely normal, and he just wanted me to understand that. He felt that I had had a normal physiological reaction to going without food at all for too long on a couple of occasions (which makes sense), and was then worrying unduly about that which was causing all of these other symptoms. I think on the occasion that really got me worried I must have had a kind of panic attack because of it. The second conversation came that same evening, when despite the doctor's reassuring words I was getting these feelings all over again while talking to Johanna in our monthly Dream Group. I spoke about this a bit with Johanna as I was looking to make excuses to get away and hopefully rest up again. Johanna listened carefully and pointed out that I had been engaged with my Bardic duties quite intensely of late, and that she had always been taught that if she undertook a spiritual ceremony, she should have something small to eat afterwards to 'ground' herself again. I'm happy to talk with anyone about whether what I do as a writer and as Bard should be considered 'spiritual' or not - I am in two minds about the question constantly - but I think it is fair to see it from that perspective, at least. And this conversation with Johanna about 'going into my body' as a kind of meditational excercise when I needed it was the thing that really helped, on top of the medical practitioner's words in the morning. Since this I've been feeling fine. And I'm interested to have realised the damaging effects we can have on ourselves just by 'thinking ourselves unwell'. A lesson learned.

Dream Group

The monthly Dream Group I go to involves a get together to share sleeping dreams we've had over the previous few weeks. Everyone brings one in the same way that you might bring a piece of writing to a writing group, and we have a chat with a kind of casual group analysis. It's really interesting what comes out of it and I'd encourage anyone with an interest in dreams to have a go at doing it regularly with friends or set up a similar group with the same aims. I know some people think talking about dreams is boring - I'm afraid I've never understood that, so undoubtedly I've bored a few people's socks off talking about them in the past. In September's group, the dream I brought was about two cats fighting in St John's car park. It was actually only myself and Johanna in attendance, and after a little discussion I found myself wondering aloud if the jocular intention I've had to make a shrine to Bastet had a bit more to it, subconsciously. My Catwoman poem was originally written in honour of the Egyptian cat goddess, or at least my own take on her, and was itself inspired by some very vivid and what felt like visionary dreaming. Ever since that poem won me 500 pounds in the Wells Festival of Literature's competition, I've joked that now I ought to do something more in honour of her, perhaps build a shrine(!)

Part of me is in fact sincerely taken by this notion - it would be a kind of artwork, and I haven't done much visual art for a long time - but part of me is also very resistant. I'm in two minds about how serious an undertaking it would be, and having grown up surrounded by Christian symbolism part of me is spooked by the notion of making a graven image like this. So - I actually felt that the two cats which I saw fighting in the dream were the 'two minds' that I am in over the idea.

In the end I pretty much settled that I would look out for things that could be a suitable starting point for this 'shrine', whilst being wary of getting carried away with it. I do not think that I am ready to be a thoroughly committed disciple of an ancient Egyptian goddess, 500 pound prize or no. Since then, I've already had another dream which more explicitly addressed the same notion... and I've found the physical starting point for the artwork. More on this after I've told my Dream Group about it next month!

The Tree of Eternal Life

Having talked about the Dream Group, I realise that I haven't yet said anything in this blog about what might, personally for me, have been the most special moment that I have had as the Bard of Glastonbury. In late June I took a trip to the coast to read through the Book which I have for this year as Bard (along with the Chair, my Robes, and the Silver Branch, which is described being '...but a twiglet of the Eternal Tree of Life). During this time I had a sleep paralysis episode, in which I saw an extremely vivid dream image of a great tree. The tree bore a wide variety of large and colourful leaves and flowers, all of which were coursed through with an inner light. There were also birds and animals which were at once part of and inhabitants of the tree - and they were also brightly coloured, and rippling with this light. I remember particularly an bird with rows of blue lights moving through it. As I looked up at this tree, at once in awe and keen to snap out of my paralysis, I had the sense that I was witnessing the very same 'Eternal Tree of Life' that our Silver Branch is part of. A treasured glimpse.

LeAnn and Eddie's Wedding

A photo posted by Wes White (@whysweetlie) on
Most recently, at the beginning of October I flew over to America to visit my wife Erica Viola (in whose apartment in Omaha I am currently typing this blog). On October 3rd we attended the wedding of our friends Eddie and LeAnn, and I went as the Bard of Glastonbury. I had brought my Robes over for this purpose, and asked the bride and groom each to tell me a bit about their relationship and each other. The poem I wrote and performed for them was based partly on what they told me, and a little on their names (LeAnn as a Gaelic form of Helen, meaning 'light'; the 'ward' part of Edward meaning 'guard'). This is what I wrote and performed for them:

---

'Fireguard'

for Eddie and LeAnn on their wedding day



He can be the flame she lights and tends.
Whipped by the wind
into fire whirls and blowups:
eddies of heat and light
she will watch over - not to control, contain, confine;
not to conquer -
but to console,
confide in,
consecrate.
To conjoin.

She can be the light he guards:
proof against the dark and all that’s in it.
A lantern that will pick out pitfalls, and from which
the scorpions will scurry.

In love they are each other’s wards
against all dark and hateful.
Today they show, and both wards know
how much each flame is grateful.

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I am myself grateful to all those attending the wedding for joining me in linking hands and sounding the Awen before my performance. We also 'declared love' - I have tended to have reservations in the past about the declaration of peace that we undertake in our Gorsedh, and while I've come to terms now with the notion that by declaring that there is peace we are not denying that there might also be conflict in the world, I nevertheless feel that it is best expressed for me in the statement 'there is love' rather than 'there is peace' - so it was that that I asked those gathered to declare. It was wonderful to be able to share a little Bardism with those gathered.