Thursday, 29 July 2010

Michael McClure at Ledbury Poetry Festival July 2

Michael McClure.  Along with Lawrence Ferlinghetti,  a survivor of the San Francisco Beat scene, who read at the Six Gallery reading in 1955, when Ginsberg unleashed "Howl" on the world.  As a teenager I read him in "Evergreen Review" where he logged  his peyote experiences, bewildering transmissions from archeopsychic time that hinted at the possibilities of a poetry beyond the compulsive ironic self-deprecation of the Philip Larkin acolytes.  And now he's in the cosy market town of Ledbury, in a small beige-draped hall next to the swimming pool, in front of a full house. The Brit poetry establishment, epitomised by the literary  journalist James Fenton, hate him. Which is a good reason to start liking him before he's even started.

He's 78,  supposedly losing sight in one eye.  But he's still leonine, an old grey lion in a straw hat and blue shirt, and as he mounts the stage he's in total command of the space, the microphone, the expectant and (slightly puzzled?) audience. He's reading solo tonight, no backing from ex-Doors keyboard man Ray Manzarek, and most of the work is from the new book Mysteriosos, which includes a dive into personal memoire ( a trip to India, intimate time with his wife) and the deep time of the human genome  ( "Double Moire for Francis Crick").  The title alludes, of course to Thelonius Monk, and McClure's syntax, its rhythmic shifts  and  broken lines that suddenly aggregate fresh meaning, recall Monk's jabbing chords and abrupt clusters of notes. But Mc Clure voices it  seductively, with the deep breath and tone control  of a master tenor  saxist.

McClure celebrates  the mysteries of time, memory and  biology. He talks us into the existential moment of encountering  one's self as a life-form among other life-forms - lions, elephants, mice, eagles - linked by shared molecules, proteins, subtle architectures of tissue and meat.  Such an awareness drives his rage with the destruction of the natural world and our alienation from it, as well as his disgust with human self-destruction. "SMALL WARS/ARE/THE ART FORM/OF PRESIDENTS".    Inevitably,  the transformations  of time and the enigma of death are recurrent themes.  The new book features several elegies for poets , including my favourite American surrealist  Philip Lamantia; and a recognition of his own mortality, delivered tonight with a wry smile: "Now at last I am here/loving only you with your lynx eyes/ and displaying myself/as a sensual/ and wrinkled/crisis."

Saturday, 24 July 2010

At the Sonic Henge

Take off your shoes. Enter the blue gloom of the yurt, under its intricate spokes.  Lie down, carefully. Bodies sprawl everywhere across the rugs,  silver speaker cones around the periphery. Thirteen cones of power.

It's already beginning, in shamanic drones, slow overlay of pulses and chimes, interweaving sines, steady increment of the theta waves. Sink into the deepening mix, the sliding aeonics.

Listen in/out for  vocodings in the earthmind,  your under-beings bubbling in/out the earth, the spirit-tunnels, ancestral wah-wah rhythm codings.  Revolve as a psi-spiral, drill down and out...

Out there, in the light years,   some  belly dancers release their  spinal chakras, with faint whoops.  I'm as faint as smoke, drifting through the skull cave...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

At the Witch Camp Day 2

Next morning I return to  the camp, wandering past the geodesic dome and the smoking camp fires. Children happily chase each other and everybody smiles.

Today  Runic John is holding a seidr workshop, a working of the Runes in the Nordic Shamanic tradition.   We drift towards the circle, a ring of around fifty people slowly  gathering around four stakes that mark the cardinal points of the compass.  John greets us, jovial, expansive, commanding the space with his staff and resonant Yorkshire tones. Vast and shaven-headed is this shaman in his fur waistcoat and heavy khaki kilt. He will teach us to intone the Runes ,  as we simultaneously shape our gestures and postures to their forms.  

To warm us up  on this bright chilly morning, we begin with exercises, running towards the centre "around the sacred sheep turd".  Then, with John's patient coaching, we attempt the singing.  We sing crouching, we sing with fists extended. Each rune has a specific function, and  the tone/bodyform shapes the ond  ( odic force? vril?) working through us,  aligning us with the  God-beings in Asgard and the Ancestors in Helheim.   Our shaman strides around the circumference as  he relates the  flow of ond and  the energy centres  to the physical body, envisaged as a sphere of white for the head, red for the heart, blue for the genitals, brown for the feet.  The dynamic rainbow  sphere embodies psychic integration, not static but a balance of forces.

I sense  parallels to  the Eastern notion of chakras, or the Qabalistic system  but this isn't a seminar for scholarly digressions , it's a workshop and you have to keep working at it to  control breath and coordinate movement. Eventually we sing  runes more or less as one,  runes of foresight, runes of healing. Nothing  spectacular happens.  Yet there's a curious clarity of mind afterwards, as in the Lesser Banishing Ritual  in the Western tradition.

And now it's as if the whole event has found its centre, and there's growing synergy in the  flow of people around this wide field of stubbly grass.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

At the Witch Camp - Day One

Solstice rites. The tents of many colours. Dragon kite circles high  in the chill breeze. An igloo tent with a pentagram flag. A faint throb of reggae. We're on a high windy plateau   under rolling grey cloud overlooking Trawden.  Warwick at the barbecue by the gate makes me a complimentary bacon sarnie. Ade, the instigator,  pagan promoter, lean and brown in combat trousers, races around the site, meeting and greeting and  glad-handing, raising the vibe.

Others wander more slowly, faery ladies in diadems  and  cloaks patterned with sigils. A little girl in a crown. Is this Crowley's  "crowned and conquering child"?  Men and women bear  staffs and crooks. Several men display complex tattoos, celtic mazes or nordic runes scored deep across tanned flesh.   Some cluster around Runic John's Apothecary Tent. He may have mighty exotic  herbs, shamanic plants like the legendary ayawasca that briefly  opens  a crack in the universe, and I ought to ask him but I'm too timid and sensible, which might, of course, be my ultimate damnation, who knows...

I request , instead, a Tarot reading from Maggy, softly spoken, fifty-something.  She uses the Waite pack. "I don't like the Crowley one.  He had such an ego. All "do what thou wilt". He forgot "but harm none..."  She fans the cards across the rugs of her tent.  The Hierophant is prominent. I like the look of that. Apparently I'm carrying a heavy work load at present - but coping.  My past contains an inverted Sun, an internal tension to be resolved - but it's soluble. There could be synchronicities ticking away here. As if the bright little icons  on the cards illuminated some flickering tableau  glimpsed  for an instant  in her brain-forest.

Druids summon us to form a circle at the centre of the camp, where the four points of the compass are staked out in the rough grass.  They're opening the camp with a salute to the elements and the ancestors. The sky is clearing. Vapour trails from distant rumbling jets  form a wavering geometry. I'm seeking omens - a tangled pentagram?

Some wiccan women have gathered near  the speaker's  tent to hear a ribald gypsy tale from Jos, a local story teller and gatherer of folk-lore.  The light's failing and it's too dark to read under canvas inside, so they sit outside  on a circle of rickety chairs. They're very jolly, like bawdy ladies  on  a night out as depicted by Beryl Cooke.  The fable, of Indian origin, recounts how a  princess is pleasured by  both a subtle lover and a generously endowed husband. It is read with relish, amid knowing laughs and much swigging of wine. The sisterhood clap their hands  at this tale of female fulfilment.

Camp fires are being lit as the night falls.  But  I'm not equipped for camping and retreat, via taxi, to a B &B in Colne for  ensuite shower and full English breakfast....