Monday, 27 April 2009

The Creaky Autumn House of Smoky Myth and Lamplit Poetics

NEWSFLASH: this may seem a tad premature but book out the evening of Friday the 6th November right now. The Westcountry School of Myth and Story will be hosting the acclaimed New York State Poet Jay Leeming and myself for a night of Poetry and Ancient Story, here at the Myth school H. Q., Tregonning House in Ashburton, Devon.

Jay is a curious gnome at the edge of the devils garden, a Gazelle of thought eating burgers on the midnight train to Harlem, a doctor in the secret heart of all long lashed Iranian Girls. He's a last chance, an old friend, a violent quarrel,a liminal streak of hooligan spirit. He's a midnight reprieve from the Governer, 10 bucks found in the washpile, a nimble Cheetah dancing on the teeth of the Mabinogion.

We've been on the road a bunch together, and that rainy night in November our Poetry Coach will be pulling into Leafy Ashburton-Pulled by the wild-eyed Colts of Robert Graves and Hafez. free accomodation for any travelling over 200 miles. Maybe a full English breakfast.Maybe a spontaneous workshop on Taliesin and the Chakras via the poetry of Emily Dickinson-it could happen if the vibe is good.

I will repeat all this sometime down the road. Check out today!

Ghazal with Butterfly and Hurricane

From the roof I watched the storm passing north of us, white
ladders crackling to earth, its thunder too far away to hear.

"Know thyself!" advised Socrates, gesturing down the dark path
of tigers, trapdoors and poisonous snakes.

To live is to know death. I tried to separate them
but the waters joined, grew, swept me away.

Who sewed your shirt in a warehouse with no windows?
Who assembled your computer on a rainy day in Bangladesh?

Harnessed to the table I cried out as the lightning filled me.
Then I opened my eyes, broke the straps and began to walk.

When the Normans invaded England they brought us words
like flower, bureau, overture. Grammar of knives and blood.

If only there were still time to set Lorca free, to call back
the soldiers about to shoot him in a field outside the city.

Fill your lungs with reality and then dive out of the boat down
to the red coral and yellow shells that watch you from the dream.

I threw some clothes into a grocery bag and left her for good.
Bagels and peanut butter in my car and no looking back.

If every blues guitarist is a potato in a field, then what is needed
to make them grow best? How much light, nitrogen, rainfall?

The body temperature of the hibernating squirrel is below
freezing, the library locked, the guitars shut in their cases.

In Memphis I stood by the river in which the songwriter
drowned, remembering how his voice once pulled me under.

The lethal sting of the jellyfish. The prick of the rose-bush.
Those muscles in the ballerina's calves are strong as iron.

What really drove us nuts were her hands, caressing our wooden
horse as she called our names. Even our knives began to sweat.

After removing a few bolts from the Bill of Rights the President
gave it a good kick and the whole thing fell to the ground.

Remember the cattle moaning inside the railroad car.
Remember the carrots shouting as they are pulled from the earth.

In silence the Bach fugue is planted and it grows, buds opening
to blossom into flower and then close again in the dusty church.

Always another explanation, another theory, another dream
beyond this one in which you rattle your cup against the bars.

Sailing a model boat with my father, months before his death.
How it circled the pond, then struck out towards emptiness.

Even the flap of a butterfly's wings can change the future.
The old woman says her prayers as the hurricane nears land.

Jay Leeming.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Libation at the Knotted Temples of the Wild, Old Gods that Live in the Brightening Darkness of Our Curious Chests

Bly has been asking for thoughts about authentic leadership in anticipation of this september's telling of IRON JOHN with Daniel Deardorff, Robert and myself. Luckily tucked away in 'Lightning Tree' is a lengthy chapter on just that issue-so i enclose a small section of the chapter here.

In the myth world Apollo is a example of a young leader society could still just about swallow. Seen in Greece as the God of the Sun, he strides about, instructing us; "Nothing in excess." His name has associations of brightness, purity, the whiteness of swan’s wings, advancement of medicines and the laying down of laws. He also rides the approval of his father Zeus, he is the favourite son. A player of the Lyre, his music was perceived to calm the most ferocious beast, to transform wildness into a passive and benign state. Every botched business decision, ecological crisis, messy break up he experiences is viewed from a cryptic distance, his feathers never get caught in the tricky glue of emotion. He is corporate man, par excellence; lacking the terrifying swings of Zeus’s temperament he remains in control, early to bed, early to rise. His love of logic and clarity are presented to us as soon as we enter nursery or primary education as a defining way of being in the world. Universities, media and industry are fuelled by a hundred million little versions of this energy field. When you imagine his face, what can you see? I see a kind of glowing and cheekbones.
When we think about Jung’s words; "Man doesn't become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious" we become grateful there are other gods in the Greek pantheon. That our psyche is more free ranging and obtuse than just this one model. The problem is though, has anyone told society at large? The characteristics of a person under the thrall of Hermes will almost always be perceived as muddy, unclear and morally to the impersonal rays of Apollo. Like a kind of mythic robocop they are enforcers of a senatorial consciousness received from their fathers. Firmly in the Descartian camp (as much as a god can be!) they can make decisions of ecological havoc. Some gods originate from beneath the soil, but not this one.
Culturally we like to see our artists (from a distance) as disciples of a very different god, Dionysus. What do we know of this character, and why is he associated with the creative spirit? Dionysus is another son of Zeus, but is cantering through rain washed valleys whilst Apollo flies overhead. At first glance, he seems almost diametrically opposed to Apollo. He is associated with the inebriation of wine, the rupture of mystical experience, the timelessness of lovemaking and spasmodic, crazed, passionate outbursts. We know at the point of his mother Selebe's death, Zeus tore Dionysus from her womb and sewed him into his own thigh, where he grew till birth. This strange, auspicious incubation points to a kind of unexpected nurture on the part of Zeus, as if such a bizarre thunderbolt could not be born in a natural way. A fascinating thought is that the name Dionysus may mean 'Zeus Limp'-his wounded aspect manifested in this particular son.
Unlike Apollo he is non-competitive, and in his world travels leads a trail associated with both murder and ecstasy. He feels dangerous, conflicted, sexy and loose. Whilst uninterested in the clear path of responsibility, his personality allows him to access deeply odd emotional pathways, to have a psychic life, to create music, ritual, art, and even to break new ground in these mediums. This relationship to the muse can offer fame as a side dish.
The titillation of such a personality for mainstream society is for them to act out all the barely accessed desirous inclinations of our hidden selves. We are thrilled/horrified by their behavior, the lack of boundaries, the outlandish music, the two fingered salute to convention. If talent is recognized and success arrives, the individual can incinerate quickly. We walk past an apartment party and see Joplin, Cobain and Dean sharing Brandy Schnapps as the block burns.
So, two extremes. From a negative perspective Apollo seems rigid, one dimensional, uneasy with anything fluid or subtle. On the other hand, Dionysus can appear like a lunatic dervish, chaotic and lacking form.
Hidden in the folds of Apollo’s wings we find a key. For three months a year, at his temple in Thebes, Apollo would turn it over to the worship of Dionysus. Astoundingly, these two seemingly opposite, right brain/left brain forces were honored in the same vicinity.

We know we aren’t gods but could we be a temple?

James Hillman enjoys the phrase "Divine influxes" , to describe the winged forces that sweep through us but are not purely contained by us. We need to identify the gods and goddesses visiting and build an appropriate container for their appearences. It is a very contemporary arrogance that you can pick and choose them. In the case of these two there seems to be a mutual recognition of the benefit of the other. In fact in this discussion about age and leadership we see that to aspire to both longevity and creativity then both have to be present. Without Apollo’s focus and long term direction then the purely Dionysian individual risks addiction and early death. Without Dionysus, one can feel distant from the pulsing heart of life, successful but dry.

We note that artists famed for their wild bursts of inspiration often served steady apprenticeships as draftsman or illustrators for years- Willem De Kooning and Franze Kline amongst them. To break from form they first had to explicitly understand it. It feels appropriate to also be looking at characters that have allowed Apollo’s discipline to sustain their vocation for decades, honing and amplifying it. A very different model from the late twenties burn out.
Antoni Tapies and Cy Twombly, to name but two, are turning out the most vibrant work of their career in their seventies and eighties. Their temples appear to have been built slowly, with both granite foundations and delicate little chambers ready to accommodate any peculiar bird song they may awake to. To brand them purely as Dionysus’s children is too sweeping. The kind of wildness they present, that an elder presents, is not the crazy sweeps of a double-headed axe but the lyrical steps of the capowera dancer.
It is the repetitive handling of strong energies and abiding in the thrumming, dichotomous tensions the two headed temple creates that is the very backbone that guides you through the decades. Age is partially defined by limits, by accountability, but we should not bend the back so far that we can't see the stars.

Friday, 10 April 2009

"please, sit down and tell me about your dreams"


The below is a little bit of an essay i'm working on. Although i take issue slightly with Sean Kane here, make no mistake-i have huge admiration for his book 'Wisdom of the Mythtellers'.

much revivalist mythology is really psychology, cutting across cultural differences with the mistaken assumption that there is a universal world of myth that is true to all peoples past and present because it is true to eternal powers in the human psyche. This mix of anthropology, literature and psychology-in combination with the huge information gap about actual mythtelling-raises a greater question than it can answer. (9) Sean Kane 14-15

I part company with Kane here too-he would be hard pushed to find a tribal group without an anthropology or psychology (even though the terminology and aspiration would be different), and there is something eden-esqe in the statement. As for it raising great questions, that seems to keep us well clear of dogma. The redeeming thread is this implicate warning against human centeredness and his aversion to new age simplistic hi –jacking of paradoxical story.
What dismays is this sense of trying to catch that original mystical ember in denial of the steady flowing ebullience of mythic thought-it is not frozen and it certainly is not pure.
Kane quite rightly fears the attempted domesticating of mythic symbols through the lazy appropriation of the New Age movement or the arid deconstruction of an inept therapy.

Friedrich Holderlin warns us about this back in 1798;

I’m sick of you hypocrites babbling about gods!
Rationality is what you have, you don’t believe
In Helios, nor the sea being, nor the thunder being;
And the earth is a corpse so why thank her?
As for you gods, be calm! You are decorations in their poems…..

(10) Friedrich Holderlin, News of The Universe, edit. Bly, Sierra Club books 1980, p39

We could imagine depth psychology as a meadow place between the village and the forest-it is a ground of mediation between the numinous and the personal. It allows villagers to admit to a little foliage living in their chest hair without completely submitting to the lunacy of the pathless path. At its best it works as a container for certain inexhaustible (archetypal) energies to abide in but not devour a human being:you hold the tail of the Wolf Mother but are not naïve to believe you are her entirely. Jung saw the psycho pomp in the analysts role; a little of the priest (village) and of the prophet (forest).

As a writer I am keen not to dismiss this, and as a teacher of rites-of-passage I have witnessed psychology ground and stabilise the huge openings that initiation can offer. Archetypal forces are not particularly friendly-depth psychology can ritually temper the inwardness of the Hermit, the fiery ambition of the Queen, the terror squawk of Raven. It offers relationship rather than possession.

We interpret for the same reason as that for which fairy tales and myths were told; because it has a vivifying effect and gives a satisfactory reaction and brings one into peace with one’s unconscious instinctive substratum,just as the telling of fairy tales always did…..the best we can do is to circumscribe it on the basis of our own psychological experience and from comparative studies, bringing up into light, as it were, the whole net of associations in which the archetypal figures are enmeshed.

(11) Marie-Louise Von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Shambala Books, 1970, p’s 1-4

In the ever decomposing and re-assembling myth world, the relationship to psychology is neither an aberration or a completion, merely a stage. It is hugely useful and widely open to miss-use. It has transformed millions of peoples relationship to story. A danger is the complete personalising of the myth, of interiorising it so completely you have it in a stranglehold. They are betwixt and between, dusk echoes-they don’t belong entirely to day or to night.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Be patient my Bride: A week in the hollow tree of waiting.

What a strange week. The first copies of LIGHTNING TREE got impounded at Stansted Airport would you believe, and my front tooth popped out in frustration and protest at this unseemly event. Luckily our friend Malcolm, who is, among many things, a dentist, got me into the chair poste-haste and the crown was refitted in a moment.
After an agonising wait the books finally found home late this Monday-before promptly being stuck in Jiffy bags and being distributed to all four corners of the globe.This first batch will be sold out by the end of next week-so strike now if you want a copy.(available at

It is a thing of beauty even if i say so myself-i've even been generous enough to leave a couple of type o's in to keep the anally retentive amongst us happy and fed.

In the midst of this i got an urgent call to go to Monte Carlo and teach Siberian mythology as Leadership (a recomendation from Harvard apparently)-in the midst of all the book hoo-hah it came to nowt i'm afraid.(I was meant to be there today). Why i would want to soak in the Cote d'Azur when i can have the grumpy clouds of Dartmoor is an anathema to me. (ahem)

Still working on Parzival daily. My study is full of Red Armour, Kundries Tusks, Damsels silk tents and snow with drops of blood from the Wild Geese fill my window pane.I trust every single person who reads this is coming to the weekend gathering May 8-10th? Yes? wonderful! Taking final booking at
01364 653723.

Feeling quotey this week-here's one:

"Become aware of what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it" Meister Echart.