Friday, 29 May 2015

Call to the College

The Bardic Chair is now on display in Glastonbury Library, along with the Tim Sebastian Memorial Trophy currently held by my colleague Steve Leighton. They've already been generating a bit of interest - if you're in the area please come and see them too. 
In the coming days and weeks I'll be adding information about the Chair to the display boards around it. I am asking all members of Gorsedh Ynys Witrin to bring a piece of writing for display along with the chair. This can be information about Bardism, or even better your own creative work.

If the boards get full up I intend to keep refreshing them with newer work, so if pieces need to come off to make room, I will put a folder there that those can be archived in.

Everyone who has been initiated into our Bardic College (you'll know if you have - the annual ceremony at the foot of the Tor) is welcome to bring or send me work at the Library to be pinned around the chair; including all past recipients of the Tim Sebastian Trophy and our honorary bards. My own winning piece 'Twilight of the Gods' is there at present, as well as Lisa Goodwin's spin on Taliesin's Tale and a translation by Nathan Lewis Williams.

For the avoidance of confusion, this is the Public Library on Archers' Way, where I work - not the wonderful Library of Avalon (I believe that the Chair has also been housed at the Library of Avalon in the past).

I ask everyone to use common sense when considering what is appropriate to display in a public library...

With thanks in advance,

Wes White
10th Chaired Bard of Ynys Witrin

Monday, 25 May 2015

Bardic Diary: 19th - 24th May

So. Last Tuesday I finally managed that thing I've been trying for six years, and became the 'Bard of Glastonbury'. Or, to use my formal title, the 10th Chaired Bard of Ynys Witrin. I am greatly honoured and also excited to have attained this title in the town where I have lived since I was born (and where my ancestors have lived for at least hundreds of years); let alone in a place with such a rich and important place in history.

I mean to publish an ongoing diary of my time as the Bard, here on my writing blog. If you'd like to follow updates, please subscribe to the blog (I think that 'Google Friend Connect' button, top right, will do it).

Tuesday May 19th
The night I won - here's the piece I won with. My fourth attempt. I'm glad I didn't get it on the first go. I've learned more, and there are more people around to help me. Lisa Ceneri aka 'Raw Poet' took the crown - I hadn't met Lisa before the trials but I've already been impressed by her prolific energy. Richard Field claimed the Fool's prize again with typical flare; and to my great pleasure, my colleague and friend Steve Leighton was awarded the Tim Sebastian Memorial Trophy - "for elevation of the word". It was an extraordinary night for our gathering as Denise Michell, one of the instigators of the Bardic Chair and indeed the maker of the robes I have for the next year and a day, was inaugurated as Mayor of Glastonbury at the same time as our contest was taking place. I am quite sure, when other details of the night have faded from memory, that I will recall the brand new Mayor standing in front of me in her shining chains, holding the lapels of the garment new on me, and saying, "I made these robes!"

Wednesday May 20th
"Venus, as she nearly always was, was the first to appear..." - that was the first line of my winning piece. Now my first day as Bard and a beautiful synchronicity that only occurred to me after the event. My friends Hannah and James - of the band Venus Bogardus - are back in the UK for a couple of weeks, in Bath, and I've arranged to meet them for lunch. So my first appointment after being appointed is a trip to that other Bardic seat to see Venus!

Venus Bogardus aren't just any band, either. Their music is packed full of references to literature and other artists - they used to run an independent bookshop in Bath - James has written what I consider to be one of the finest works of visionary fiction I've ever read, ('I, Judas') - they're even named after a character in a cult novel. All in all a fine pair to break bread with. I urge everyone to get to know them:

In the evening, back in Glastonbury, I meet with my monthly 'Dreaming Group'. We get together once a month and talk about dream experiences. The one I share this time is from before the Bardic trials: I'm with my wife, Erica; we're looking for a new project, we step outside and there are great stone buildings in the sky behind the Tor! Later in the dream, a stone girl emerges carrying a stone scroll with both hands. She is walking determinedly and is clearly on a mission. She takes my hand and I hear her voice in my head - "Your Highness?" - I wake up, protesting in my mind that I am nobody's Highness. As always, things about the dream become obvious in the discussion that had not occurred to me before. A gravestone with the name 'JARWOOD' on it has to be a failed application I made to the Jerwood Foundation over 10 years ago.

One of our number has had a dream that, in discussion, suggests to her it could be time to get out and perform her own work more. I encourage her to consider the Bardic contest next year - but also not to wait that long!

Thursday May 21st
Working in the Library, and out on my lunchbreak, I get a few 'Hail the Bard's for the first time. It will probably take me all year to get used to responding to it. I've decided the correct response is simply 'Hail'...

Friday May 22nd
I've spoken to my Library manager, Iain, and got agreement that I can bring the Chair in to be put on prominent display there - brilliant! Steve is going to bring the Tim Sebastian Memorial Trophy too. I'm going to put out a call for initiates in the Bardic College to bring in work to go up on display around the Chair - more on this soon.

Saturday May 23rd
I wake early in the morning and text Erica. I've been having a read of the 'Brown Book' - a beautiful, leatherbound book that only the Chaired Bard may write in (and, I think maybe, that only the Chaired Bard may read? Or am I allowed to share its contents with others if I choose?). A highly covetable artefact to be sure. EV texts me back to write something in it. I spend a few minutes meditating on what would be right to put in there, and settle on my version of 'Pip's Poem for the Fiend' - I put it quite near the front, on one of the many blank left-hand pages. What an extraordinary boon this book is and what consideration it shows was put into the institution of the Chair. I surprise myself with how comfortable I feel writing in it. Not a pretender. I wonder if I'd truly have felt that way if I'd won through in 2009 when I first tried.

Sunday May 24th
Another first - the first chance to put on my robes since winning them!

This is to read at my sister's wedding anniversary. I read them (Hollie and Pete) a poem written specially for the occasion. The context? They were together for 12 years before they got married, and both have Geology degrees:

for Pete and Hollie

Before we came here and drank and laughed
and danced and ate,
and wore hats and shared your joy,

your love already had a timescale
some might call geological.
Between your meeting and your marriage,
islands appeared in Tonga, and Russia,
and Yemen and Japan
and Pakistan.

While you were courting,
an oak tree grew from an acorn...
until it was taller than both of you...
put together.

While you were courting
the sea level rose
by over an inch.
Millions died.
Millions were born.
While you were courting.

The Solar System was redefined
while you were courting.
All three parts of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy
were scripted, cast, filmed, screened in theatres
released on DVD
then sold again in second hand shops
while you were courting.

Your love already lasted aeons.
May aeons more follow, in love. - I also set up a new Facebook page for the Chair. Along with the Twitter feed (and the Chair, and the Robes, and the Branch, and the Book...), it's to be passed down from me to the next Bard, and so on, down the years (or at least until Facebook and Twitter go the way of all things). Follow them, anyway, for updates! /|\

Friday, 22 May 2015

Twilight of the Gods

written to contest the Bardic Chair of Glastonbury in the Ynys Witrin Open Gorsedd 2015. With this piece I became the 10th Bard of Glastonbury... (I should add it was written to be performed, and performed in two halves at that, but people have flattered me by asking to see it, so here goes):
Way out to the West, in his jewel-splendoured evening boat, Ra had turned from a falcon to a ram, and become Atum. And the top of his ram horns had just gone below the horizon, as the reddened sun-disc he carried on them began the final part of its nightly descent into the Underworld.

Venus, as she nearly always was, was the first to appear -
at first as a bright spot on the horizon, then nearer,
and brighter, and brighter, and nearer, and brighter,
and nearer, and nearer, until she alighted
on the deck, running, barefoot, her full-muscled legs
going past each other and slowing fast, as if she’d just come off a swing.
She re-ordered the setting of the tables, just slightly.
Laying a glass on its side, or ruffling up a cloth, so it wasn’t right,
but it was beautiful. Then she sat in the arrangement and waited.
It didn’t take long. A few breaths in and out, and then a great
whoosh, and a thump on the deck of the boat: a harpoon
had shot out of the sea and stuck in it. As soon
as it landed, its rope stretched as taut as a bowstring
and Venus looked down at the starboard sea,
and grasping the rope there was Repun Kamui.
A flick of his great Orca tail brought him clear
of the water; then, as he hauled himself nearer,
it flicked into feet he could plant on the strake,
and his feet, rope and hands worked together to take
him up over the gunwale.
He planted his feet on the decking, and beamed,
then bowed to the beauty of Venus, who seemed
not entirely sure who he was. “Hello”, she tried, “um...”
“Repun!” he helped her.
“Ah, thank you. Repun. Have I had the pleasure?”
“Yes... yes... miss Venus” - he tried not to look crestfallen. “Repun Kamui? Sea god of the Ainu people? Indigenous people of North Japan and islands off mainland Russia... Two Summers ago. We did indeed have the pleasure. Well, I know *I* had the pleasure. I thought you had the pleasure too?”
“Mm-hm, yes. I’m sure”, said Venus, not sure at all, but after all she was an exceptionally popular god - “well, it’s lovely to see you again.”
There was an awkward silence for a moment, then:
“Do you know any other gods who are coming?”
“I’m not sure...”
“I think there’s going to be quite a few of us.”
“Right”, said the sea-god.
“There don’t seem to be any nibbles...”
At this, something in Repun started. Food was very important to him.
“A gathering of gods demands,
a feast!” he cried, and clapped his hands,
and into each and every dish
there rained divinely tasty fish.
Venus, rendering herself ever-so-slightly less beautiful for a moment, pulled a
“What’s wrong?” asked the whale-boy, as more splatted down.
“Raw fish!” exclaimed Venus. “They’re slimy. They’re smooshy”.
“Where I’m from”, he countered, “we call raw fish sushi”.
“Well it won’t do at all. I don’t like how it looks”,
said the looker, and went on, “God feasts need god cooks”.
With that their cheeks were warmed by a wall of heat
as if a great oven door had swung open at the stern.
It came with an aroma as welcome and as sweet
As the scent of baking bread. They both turned
to greet them - not one kitchen god but two -
from China, Zao Jun of the stove, and who, else
alongside him, with her golden ladle
but India’s Annapoorna? They made for the tables
and started to fry up the feast.
And as soon as the sizzle began, from the East
drifted laughter and song,
and before very long,
a raft made of barrels was knocking against the ship’s port.
So just in case any amongst you had thought
There was something missing from this party, they’d come!
The gods of beer, and wine, and rum!
Bacchus, Sucellus, Dionysus,
Nin-kasi, and Yi-ti, who made wine from rices.
The Aztec Tezcatzontecatl was there,
and, of course, the Green Man, from whose copious hair
sprang grapevines that climbed up the side of the ship
and the gang of gods climbed them, up over the lip.
One wine-god more arrived then, bearing cheeses
- the god who bled wine. You may know him as Jesus.
Then - since the drink had arrived - god after goddess arrived on the deck.
A panoply of pantheons, set to get wrecked.

But in the hold below there was a pirate gang. And their names were Prometheus, Bochica, En-men-dur-ana, Gwydion, Imhotep, Merlin and Sir Isaac Newton.
And in the hold with them were all the gods’ treasures:
magical marvels beyond any measure.
A cornucopia of cornucopias!
There were bowls that could never be emptied of grain,
There were cups full of wine that could never be drained,
Swords that would always best any fighter,
And best of all, there was... a lighter.
It was a glorious hoard of so much hoarded glory
That, never mind crazy - the gods must be Tory!
Now, with all the sea gods unwitting on the deck above, the gang made a hole in the side of the boat, and brought as much of the treasure and knowledge as they could manage up with them, to the raft made of barrels that the gods of beer and wine had arrived on, and stole away unseen.
And you can probably guess what happened next:    
The boat started sinking.
The glasses stopped clinking.
Bacchus stopped drinking.
Athena stopped thinking.
Shiva stopped dancing.
Macuilxochitl stopped chancing.
Mars stopped raging.
Geras stopped aging.
Odin stopped blowing.
The Green Man stopped growing.
Saturn stopped farming.
Aphrodite stopped charming.
Baldr stopped shining.
The Fates stopped twining.
Flora stopped gardening.
Priapus stopped hardening.
Loki stopped flashing.
Thor stopped crashing.
Thoth stopped learning.
Brigid stopped burning.
The Devil stopped lying.
The Angels stopped flying.
Jesus stopped bleeding.
The Muses stopped reading.
In short, and all together, the sea-gods stopped roaring,
The war gods stopped warring,
The gorgons stopped hissing,
And the love gods stopped kissing.

And Prometheus’ pirate gang, on their barrel-raft, brought the treasures and the knowledge of the gods back to the mortal shore. And in the East, a bright disc rose, and it wasn’t Ra, or Helios, or Belinos any more - it was simply the Sun. Our Sun. The Sun in all its radiating, Helium glory. It wasn’t carried on a golden chariot or a bejewelled boat. It didn’t come out of a great charred hole in the ground. It was over a million times larger than the earth, and it was real. And for that, it was even more magnificent. And we still marvelled at it. And marvelled at all the things around us. Because with the gods gone, the time had come for the women and men of the Earth - to write our own stories.