Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dream-Poetry and Books That Choose Their Owners

Holed up at the parents in Lincolnshire. A fog has descended on the small town of Stamford, but i doubt that will stop me and my father striding out into the sharp air and onto the Toby Norris pub for Lagavulin and pork scratchings by an open fire, discussions strictly and only concerning St. John of the Cross and New Orleans funk drumming. I have finally picked up a copy of "Medieval Dream-Poetry" by A.C. Spearing at a wonderfully old, old school bookshop in the town of Uppingham. A tower of rooms, curly steep stairs laden with esoteric texts from big hitters like Boethius and Alanus - stick in an expresso machine and hog-roast and i'd never leave. Super helpful too. A book certainly for the school of myth reading list, but fairly specialist, so tread carefully.
Magical moment of the yule time was buying a copy of 'Moortown' by my old favourite Ted Hughes in an Charity shop - when settling down with a beer to read it i found that its previous owner was none other than storyteller HUGH LUPTON -one of the UK's premier leaders in the field. We had actually discussed Hughes with much enthusiasm
at last August's Westcountry Storytelling Festival. The chances of picking up the book in a rainy backstreet 300 miles from home must be slight, to say the least. Something shall come from it.
I am very pleased to drop in some new work from the brilliant Daniel Deardorff this week - i will return the compliment soon on the 'Associative Mythology' blogspot - please sign up to it!

Archegestic Resonance, Rites of Passage, and the Dancing Ground of Radical Uncertainty
Posted on December 29, 2010 by Daniel Deardorff

The biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen investigated instinctual responses to particular “stimuli”; response behaviors arising neurologically from, what he termed an “innate releasing mechanism.” As a simple example, we know that human infants are biologically prepared to learn language. The stimuli provided in the vocalizations of the mother; with sufficient stimulus the infant is flooded with a desire to respond in kind (Dissanayake). The stimuli, or “sign” triggers the “innate releasing mechanism” (Tinbergen).

Joseph Campbell was very interested in Tinbergen’s ideas. Campbell saw the “mythic image” as a sort of super stimuli.

The performing bees, birds, fish, or quadrupeds are moved spontaneously from centers of memory antecedent to their own lives. Through each, the species speaks. And since in human traditional rites spontaneous collective responses to formalized displays occur, the earliest creators of the myths and rites of primitive mankind may not have been individuals at all, but the genes of the species. And since in human traditional rites also a certain psychological readiness to respond to specific sign stimuli is to be remarked–particularly among primitives–the earliest individual creators of myths and rites must not have been merely freely inventive fantasists, but inward-gazing, inward-listening seers (shamans), responding to some inner voice or movement of the species.
—Joseph Campbell

The “inner movement of the species” urges the “actions” and “enactments” of response to the mythic image. Before this discussion can move forward, it is necessary to emphasize the centrality of the term “image”; which must not be confused or conflated with symbols, signs, or concepts. These re-present something which is not present, whereas the image presents itself as itself. The mythic image is multivocal; that is, it speaks, sings, and resonates with multiple and contrary associations. Victor Turner recognized the potency of the deep-image calling them “dominant symbols”:

I discovered that what I called dominant or pivotal symbols …were not only possessors of multiple meanings but also had the property of polarization…. It is interesting to me that a dominant [bipolar] symbol—every ritual system has several of them—should replicate in its structural and semantic make-up what are coming to be seen as key neurological features of the brain and central nervous system.
—Victor Turner

Every ritual system has them! What is being suggested here is that the mythic, or deep image, by virtue of its multivocal resonance triggers a biomythic response in the individual. The motivational power of such an image lies in it’s correspondence with something usually termed “archetypal.”

The term archetype is insufficient, for just as designation impedes discernment, the “type” impedes connection to the arche. The arche in archetype refers to the archai, these are defined variously as “universal principles,” or “original forms,” or “fundamental essences,” and finally as “primordial forces that animate creation.” Universal? Yes, but principles? No. Original? Of course, but forms? Certainly not. Fundamental essences? Please. Primordial forces that animate? Very good.
The notion of archegestic energies or resonance arose during the writing of The Other Within. It seemed to me that the types had become more and more fixed, and that the action or dance of the arche was obscured by the literalized form. Hence, I needed a verb to describe the turning—the epistrophés and peripéteias—between us and the formlessness of the archai. As James Hillman has it:

By attempting the congruities between the imagination of the individual human soul with the imaginal patterns that myths call Gods, an archetypal therapy attempts … an epistrophé of the entire civilization to its root sources, its archai. This reversion begins where the Gods are fallen, where depth psychology has always worked with its eye attentive to the ugly.
—James Hillman

The peripéteia or epistrophé is the crucial moment in the initiatory process, when the initiand turns from the old life and encounters the primordial forces of the archai, as the ancient Taoist sages said of this moment, here one sees their face before they had a face.

To recreate rites of passage without the use of the deep mythic image is a betrayal of the soul’s request to receive an authentic and authoritative ritual of transformation.

From the perspective of associative mythology both the narratives of myth and the enactments of ritual are productions of the mythopoeic intelligence. In this view the efficacy of myth and ritual depend on a certain intimate disclosure of something archegestic. In such a biomythic moment the individual experiences a softening of boundaries: “the root of the ceremonial rites of all human societies, from the most primitive to the most exalted, are an elaboration of the neurobiological need of all living things to escape the limiting boundaries of the self” (Andrew Newberg).
Archegestic action in myth and ritual—including all the arts—is restorative in the sense of Eliade’s idea of “the recapitulation of the archetypal gesture.” That is by our participation in the time of first things we tap that energy and through our actions we are renewed and so renew the world—the ever unfolding enfolding dance of creation. In this understanding myth and ritual sing, by a creative participation in originary events, essential to the ongoing life of all things.
The archegestic action of deep images in the story told, in the myth as sung, bring the participants—the teller and the hearer—into the living presence of the originary time. We do not go back in time, but awaken to the presence of the past. In the Birth of Taliesin, when the initiand Gwion Bach takes the three drops of wisdom he becomes instantly aware of past, present, and future; this is the archegestic moment. Mythic time is a spiral, in every direction events intersect. Like the resonating strings of a great harp, the strings present the interval between oppositions. We enter the temple, the tempo of mythic time by passing between the demonic guardians of the threshold. The threshold is uncertain, radically so, there is no other way in. After all, if one is not on the dancing ground of radical uncertainty, one is not really on the ground.


Ellen Dissanayake, “Antecedents of the Temporal Arts in Early Mother-Infant Interaction,” The Origins of Music eds. Nils L. Wallin, Bjiorn Merker, and Steven Brown, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000)

Nikolaas Tinbergen, The Study of Instinct (New York: Oxford UP, 1969)

Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology (New York: Penguin Arkana, 1968) p. 672

Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1987) pp. 174-75.

James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart & the Soul of the World (Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc. 1981, 1982) pp. 58-59.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief (New York: Ballantine, 2001) p. 85.

© 2010, Daniel Deardorff. All rights reserved.← The Mythopoeic Intelligence
Archegestic Resonance, Rites of Passage, and the Dancing Ground of Radical Uncertainty

Saturday, 18 December 2010



Argh. Beefheart died. Found out late last night. Love him, his paintings, his music. So, Don Van Vliet, we at the School wish you safe passage to a land of good natured pythons, crows colored white, cadmium red sunsets and tequila filled hot springs. You the man.'s an old interview with one of all my all time favourites. Lots of love myth -teller, rattle shaking raven blues magician.

don van vliet is a truly rare phenomenon in these specialized times: an artist who excels in two different fields. as captain beefheart, van vliet wrote, sang, and played (on the saxophone, harmonica, piano, and guitar) some of the gutsiest music and lyrics heard from the mid 1960s through the early 1980s. together with his magic band he gave the world a series of groundbreaking, idiosyncratic free-form rock albums, like 'safe as milk' (1967), 'trout mask replica' (1969), 'lick my decals off, baby' (1970), 'clear spot' (1973), 'doc at the radar station' (1980), and 'ice cream for crow' (1982), that have since become classics.

along with his musical career - and especially after it, since by the early '80s van vliet had begun to retire from music - he has been making art, painting and sculpting with the same energy that was typical of his performances. this month, the michael werner gallery, new york, presents a show of van vliet's recent paintings and drawings.

inspired by mississippi delta blues, post-bebop jazz, and even, it seems, dadaist principles of nonsense, van vliet's free-wheeling beefheart lyrics and atonal compositions were deeply influential to many musicians of his generation. but van vliet is modest: when asked why his albums were so provocative when they first appeared, he says that everyone 'took me too seriously back then. they couldn't understand that i was just teasing'.

as a visual artist, van vliet is just as unassumingly visionary. on canvas he delineates an expressive array of scratchy marks, squiggles, pictographic images and abstract glyphs until a vivid domain emerges in thick patches of paint - a constantly changing world, populated by such real and imaginary creatures as crows, angels, turtles, human beings, and buzzards, where people are just another form of life. in paint he now reveals the sentient creatures who inhabit that cacophonous landscape inside himself that used to be revealed through music.

today, at fifty, van vliet lives with his wife jan in trinidad, california, a small coastal town of about 150 [inhabitants] near the oregon border. when i spoke to him, he was in his studio, preparing for the werner show in new york. still an iconoclast, whose throaty voice sounds like a cross between a goblin and a grizzly bear, van vliet gives forth in conversation verbal rifts and free associations that are as memorable as his songs.


i hear you spend most of your time painting and watching movies. what do you do - go get tapes at your local video store?

no, i'm afraid to. i'm afraid i'll see a dead head (fan of the pop group 'grateful dead' - t.t.). there's lots of them up here. damn garcia, what's he doing? he looks like gabby hayes (who? - teejo).

don't people come to see you? someone told me that the german artist a. r. penck came out to your house.

yeah, he's wonderful. you know, he can blow some pretty good drums. he first heard my music while he was living in east berlin (in the former communistic part of germany - t.t.). he was in a jazz band then and had to pay an exorbitant amount for my records. that's one of the reasons we got together: music and painting. he knew my music and wanted to see my paintings - i had an image of one of them on an album cover ('green tom' on 'shiny beast (bat chain puller)' - t.t).

he came out here and danced all night. i told him that all he needed to do to please me was wear a panama hat, like brian donlevy wore in 'dangerous assignment'. you've ever seen that? the scene where the knife makes this noise going into the wall? donlevy ducks under it, and he's wearing this hat and these incredible epaulets. that was some pretty good dressing.

what other movies have you been watching?

buñuel's 'exterminating angel'. i've watched that one 150 times, and it gets better and better and better. i think buñuel was the most profound director who ever lived. the first part, with the steps going up, is incredible. when the chick is cutting her toenails, sitting on the stool, she's hideous. you can see her crack open as she is cutting them, one by one. that's buñuel's way of disrobing people. isn't imagination wonderful?

yeah, it is.

yeah, it's all we have now. do you believe that war that went on, that 'desert swirl' (the war against saddam hussein, actual code name 'desert storm' - t.t.)?

yeah, i believe it because it happened. this photographer friend of mine, a vietnam veteran, went up to washington when there was a big parade for desert storm. he said he went to the vietnam memorial wall and stayed there for twenty-four hours, taking photographs. i asked him if anything happened, and he said: 'yeah, these guys put up a banner welcoming home soldiers from kuwait and me and my buddies tore it down. i told some colonel who got mad at us that they got their parade but the wall is ours.'

good for him. that's the problem: too many old boys. oh, wait a minute. i just got a title for my painting: 'too many chrome old boys'.

picture by dan winters

that's great. so you get the title first and then the painting?

usually, yeah. but this time was a strange time. it's hip to talk to somebody that tips.


yeah. you're tipping in (laughs). so what do you want to write about this old fool for?

old fool?

i'm fifty years out.

you know, penck said: 'it gets better after fifty'.

do you know what he told me? 'whiskey hurts my finger.' that's really hip, i said: 'your finger or your fingers?' he said: 'my finger'.

you've been painting a lot?

i've been painting four days straight. i finished two paintings in the last couple of days. i won, i actually did something i liked. and that's unusual.

four days straight? haven't you got any sleep?

no, i don't need any. i've been feeding on fumes - or dying from them. but it's fun while it lasts.

do you often paint like that, for a few days in a row?

oh, yeah.

so it's sort of like music - you know, like jamming? you just keep going?

it's different. but, you know, a lot of people can't hear my paintings.

they don't hear your paintings?

no, and they should be able to. god knows, they're noisy enough.

you've got to be noisy in this world at this point.

isn't that the truth?

you once said you felt like an alien on this planet.


and now you live in this house overlooking the ocean, far from the madding crowd.

yeah. i look out my window and the blue devil looks right back at me. the house is 135 feet (40 meters) from the ocean, so it could do a number. you know, i don't have to eat any salt. i just absorb it by osmosis. buying this land is the only right thing i've ever done.

do you ever feel like you have cut yourself off from the world?

no, i got more into it.

painting seems to be your way of learning more about how you see and hear and feel the world you're in. how long have you been investigating the world like that?

i started drawing and painting when i was young. first time i played a harmonica, i was three. boom, boom, boom. then i learned how to bend notes at four. my grandfather played harmonica, by the way. he was good - amos vertenor warfield. he was second cousin to the gold digger who got that english guy to give up the throne. i started painting and drawing and making sculpture at around the same time. i couldn't help myself. i was possessed.

cats got his tail - 1985 - oil on wood - 97 x 122 cm
so what's painting to you?

wait a second. let me read you something: 'fulfilling the absence of space between the opposite meanings'. i think that's essentially what i think. that came the other night. it came blasting into my head. i quickly wrote it down. yes, that's what painting is.

i heard you used to draw while you were performing onstage.

why not? fuck them. what did they want to see me do? i wasn't going to let the audience interrupt me. one of the band members would be doing a long solo, and what was i going to do? stand there? i would get my stuff and begin drawing. i couldn't waste time.

what about the people who collect your work? do you know any of them? are they an interruption?

i am friends with my dealer, michael werner, but i don't want to look at the others. when i was in los angeles, an artist, ed ruscha, bought some stuff - he was nice. i finish doing a painting, and that's it until the next grasp of the brush.

so you're not coming to new york for your show.

no, i can't stand that place. what they think is dust is actually human skin. oh, god, you got to take fifty baths a day. how can you stand it? i don't like flying either, not since reagan got rid of all the air-traffic controllers. besides, i can't paint in airplanes, i can't paint in hotels.

what would you do if you did come to new york?

go to the museum of modern art and see mondrian's 'broadway boogie-woogie'. it's so good you can hear the horns honk. and look at the stuff they have by franz kline and van gogh. hey, i hear you're a poet.

that's true. well, you're a poet too, aren't you?

yeah, i'm a capricorn. i have too much corn in my cap.

and your favorite poet is philip larkin?

oh, yeah, absolutely. you know, larkin worked as a librarian in hull, england, and he loved jazz.

have you ever read his music reviews? he loved duke ellington and count basie, but he hated charlie parker. he thought bebop was gibberish.

yeah, well, the best he could do was dig music that cantered around the room. but did you ever hear someone talk about musicians like philip larkin? use such grisly language? i've been reading a lot of larkin. it's funny, the things you find when you retire. i never got to do anything when i was playing. i didn't get to read, i didn't see movies. remember that album roland kirk did, 'volunteered slavery'? i was a slave. so i retired. i had to. i got too good on the horn and i got to the point where i thought i would blow my head right off. so i started a second life.

Monday, 6 December 2010


Well, winter has finally arrived in Devon. I have braved the school run over to Dulcie's seat of knowledge - taken them (three red faced little charmers) the safe, less icy route, then slid down the black sheets on the embedded back lanes on the solo route home. We have a full house for this weekend's 'Trickster Myth' gathering of the year course, up in the snowy wastes of Dartmoor.
I am still working on those essay deadlines, but come next Tuesday all should be done. Had time to make some new paintings- see above. They are about 4ftx4ft, (bar the green one which is bigger) and still wet with oil. At the same time i have heavily revised "A Branch From The Lightning Tree" for its spring release on White Cloud Press. All has been tightened up, with about a new third added - specifically on the nature of myth - telling.
I am also delighted to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ted Hughes, Galway Kinnell, Silvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and many others in a new poetry anthology about the mighty pig, " LOW DOWN AND COMING ON" ed. James P. Lenfestey on Red Dragonfly Press - just out. I will try and post the cover up. let's move from my humble scribbles to a real poet, Galway himself.

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Monday, 22 November 2010

DANIEL DEARDORFF: The Mythopoeic Intelligence

A treat this week. new work from the mythologist Daniel Deardorff. Danny and i will be posting new material around this theme at his blogspot:

cut and paste that into the engine and it should get you straight there.

The Mythopoeic Intelligence
by Daniel Deardorff

“Anthropologists, who spend their lives immersed in cultures different from their own, have called attention to the parochialism of the Western view of intelligence. Some cultures do not even have a concept called intelligence, and others define intelligence in terms and traits Westerners might consider odd.”
—Howard Gardner

“The ability to tell myths is necessary in order to learn how to ‘think’ …the mythmaker himself is one who ‘thinks well.’”
—Ufaina (Native Colombian People)

“Storytellers make an assumption that historians rarely do, namely that human beings are not rational, that they cannot be understood in terms of “objective” analysis, and that their deepest and most significant experiences are lived on a level that is largely invisible, a shadowy region where the mind and the body move in and out of each other in an infinite number of elusive combinations, and that can only be evoked through allusion, feeling tone… and “resonance.”
—Morris Berman

Mythopoeic means, quite simply: of or pertaining to the making of myths; causing, producing, or giving rise to myths. It might seem simpler to say “the myth-making intelligence,” but we would lose the connection to ‘poesis,’ and the vantage of James Hillman’s “poetic basis of mind.” Here, Hillman’s idea is amended to say that the basis of mind, more than merely poetic, is mythopoeic. The mythopoeic intelligence is a meta intelligence that works synaesthetically; it is not constrained by literal, or linear thinking—it is associative, “coordinating widely disparate, boundary-spanning
information and competing perspectives.” (see Sara Nora Ross). Beyond information as knowledge, the meta-intelligence brings “wisdom”—as Howard Gardner remarks in his seminal work on the multiple intelligences Frames of Mind: “Wisdom or synthesis offers by its very nature the widest view… considerable common sense and originality… coupled with a seasoned metaphorizing or analogizing capacity.”

More than a cognitive process this associative capacity draws on the whole person—the brain, the entire nervous system, all the senses, the emotions, as well as the body’s visceral senses of stereognosis and proprioception—the broadest notion of “mind” all woven together by the imagination:

“Imagination is Reality. Far from being just one of our cognitive powers, valid in the field of art, scientific discovery and the like, it is our whole power, the total functioning interplay of our capacities… Life itself, insofar as it is informed by imagination, is now poiesis—a work of art.”
—Robert Avens

Most importantly a life of mythopoeic art involves the untamed associativity of bricolage:

1. a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.
2. (in literature) a piece created from diverse resources.
3. (in art) a piece of makeshift handiwork.
4. the use of multiple, diverse research methods.

The mythopoeic basis of mind resembles a magpie’s nest: the nest is a large domed structure usually found in a tree or bush with thorns. The nest is made of sticks, twigs, roots and straw plastered with mud. They are well-known for their habit of stealing and hoarding bright shiny objects and using them in their nests. The image is a nest filled with mismatched and unexpected things woven together in a new and lunatic creation. This bricolage is precisely how the mythopoeic intelligence apprehends the world. In Berman’s words: “an infinite number of elusive combinations, and that can only be evoked through allusion, feeling tone… and ‘resonance.’”

To cultivate the image laden syntax of the mythopoeic intelligence we have to shed the constraints—blinders and harness—of the consensus “reality/sanity” world view. Of course this is much easier said than done. Human beings are a kind of animal that require bonds to place and community. When such bonds are severed we inevitably experience feelings of alienation and exile. But they do fail because we’ve made the great error of mooring our lifelines to affiliations, affectations, ambitions, and achievements—these cannot anchor us to the rhythms of the living world because they are abstract concepts, and concepts unlike images are not alive. We have lost our relatedness to the world around us because we no longer trust it. To renew the old bonds we need the sense of imagination—an imagination bolstered by a well developed associative alacrity. To “think well,” as the Ufaina say, our hearts must be filled with mythopoeic images from many stories; the more stories we store up the better our thinking and the more efficacious our thoughts and actions will be.

© 2010, Daniel Deardorff. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Beset by deadlines - writing ones mostly, but i see good times ahead. Sweet relief has been driving up and down a rain lashing A38 to Plymouth library with Seamus Heaney reading his translations of BEOWULF in his beautiful, tough Northern Irish brogue.
My other companion has been Ted Hughes - collected works read by the granite jawed beast himself. Heaney wasn't physically in the car i hasten to add, but the CD's are tre-men-dous. Treat yourself this christmas.

Lots of interesting murmurs for 2011 - a mooted collaboration with Mr.Bly, Mr. Barks and myself - 'THREE TRAVELERS TELL OF THEIR DREAMS' in celebration of the life of Rabindrath Tagore, celebrated by Dartington Hall, here in Devon next may. Lots of folks coming: Deepak Chopra, Andrew Motion, my mum. the list is endless. Anyway, the three villains involved are all up for it, its just a question of the distance for Mr. Bly.

I am also creating a kind of wild Bardic summer school - a four day intensive: 'ENTERING THE BARDIC SECRET' down here in Devon, second to last weekend in August. 10 lines of verse memorized daily, a solo night retreat on Dartmoor, morning dips in the river, intensive study of Taliesin and the old notion of something called DARK SPEECH. Numbers limited, due to the intensity of the programme. Robin Williamson and Chris Salisbury will be offering sage advice too.

Here is some new words...part of a much longer essay on orality and literature ( as you are probably very familiar by now, i drop in bits every few months). The words are not very lively, but the subject is.


In short, trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge…and Trickster is always there. Trickster is the
mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox
(Hyde 1998 :7)

Jacques Derrida has been a some kind of Trickster figure in his work around speech and literature. Certainly enraged a few academics. The philosopher maintained that for over 3,000 years of Western philosophy, philosophers have claimed phonocentrism – that the voice is the centre, from Plato to Aristotle, to Rosseau, Hegel and Husseri. Rousseau says: “Languages are made to be spoken. Writing serves only as a supplement to speech.” (Collins Mayblin 1996 :40). From this perspective, presence is implicit in the communication of speech, but for writing, absence is the defining characteristic. So with speech, the listener and speaker are both present in time, and present to the succession of words from the mouth (later in this chapter we will examine the imaginative implications of that in the telling of an oral narrative). However, Derrida states: “To write is to produce a mark…which my future disappearance will not in principle, hinder in its functioning…for a writing to be a writing it must continue to ‘act’ and to be readable even when what is called the author of the writing no longer answers for what he has written.” (Reynolds Roffe 2004 :10). The image of letters on a page, wrapped in an envelope, and sent to a distant figure, also illustrates the concept of absence clearly.

Derrida makes a trail through oppositional thinking by locating what he calls “undecidables”. So, inside/outside, north/south, lose their organisational rigour and are replaced by the nebulous realm of indeterminacy. Indeterminacy indicates no precision, clarity, or easy definition. Initiatory process indicates that it is only in the surrender to this difficult awareness that any real vision can ultimately arise (hence the severing from certainty that takes place). We have noticed a variant of this in the notion of the ‘crossroads’ in relationship to Village and Forest. Like the crossroads motif, encountering this mired and unpredictable ground can feel distinctly uncomfortable. It is far from a ‘sure thing’. However, this is a crucial terrain for our discussion, especially when we place Trickster in the frame. We can see clearly qualities of orality and literature without having to choose. Like Trickster, Derrida is not interested in an eradication of what came before, but helping to engender some new constellation: “What interests me is not strictly called either philosophy or literature. I dream of a writing that would be neither, while still keeping – I’ve no desire to abandon this – the memory of literature.” (Collins Mayblin :100) He also draws from the past – writing about literary texts – whilst using such a contrary linguistic style it appears that the sentences are breaking down and reconfiguring in front of your very eyes. In this function, Derrida stands in the position of initiator, recalling Eliade’s idea in chapter one: “We may note the redeeming function of ‘difficulty’, especially as found in the works of modern art…it is because such works represent closed worlds, hermetic universes that cannot be entered except by overcoming immense difficulties, like the initiatory ordeals of the archaic and traditional societies.” (Eliade 1963 :188) Derrida certainly brings “difficulty” to the table, not as the end in itself, but to create new ways of seeing.

By working with host texts, Derrida actually requires the oppositions of past literature to find the instabilities that open the ground of uncertainty. Think again of Trickster: “The god of the roads (Trickster) needs the more settled territories before his traveling means very much. If everyone travels, the result is not the apotheosis of Trickster but another form of his demise.” (Hyde 1998 :13). This is an ancient ritual arrangement; the trammelling of boundaries to ensure that vitality tickles the status quo and life continues to grow. Trickster is nothing without something to rub up against.

As Derrida shakes the foundations of both structuralism and phenomenology, there is a loyalty to some wild spirit of investigation that is both troubling and refreshing. As an old oak collapses at the same moment a green shoot leaps from the earth. His notion of ‘the trace’, an ‘undecidable’ that is neither quite present or absent, is a hint towards the arguments between orality and literature, and another image of rupture and reconfiguring. If ‘trace’ exists, then it also effects the phonocentrism of earlier philosophy - the traditional top-heavy primacy of speech is dragged into greater relationship with literature. The tendrils of trace are obscure and hard to define, even (or maybe deliberately so) by Derrida, but they do away with purity. Speech and writing always hold the energies of history, influence and repetition between them. Derrida is in the business of hints and diffusion, traditional attributes of the Underworld journey, rather than brightly lit sound bites.

By questioning Plato’s handling of oppositions (See ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ 1969), but not refuting him entirely, Derrida infuriates but does not entirely overturn. What he does is reduce the assurance of the ancient texts, and in doing so, assists in their re-animation. It is a tense arena, especially (as previously mentioned) because of his handling of prose. The baffling cut and thrusts of his syntax play with something that we have huge investment in - everyday language. Still, when the young initiates are led from the village, they are blindfolded, spun round, turned up side down – they are now in submission to a fiercer dynamic, this is all in the nature of rupture. Derrida is being true to his work.

He was, of course, a man, not a mythic figure, but, as we have investigated, collision points seem possible. It is not to claim that Derrida was at all times tricky, but to see what stands behind him.? What drives the relationship still further is the aspiration of his work: the Trickster is not concerned with mundane thieving, or getting rich from lies (that’s just a crook), but carries fire to culture, opening the road to the fertile imagination.

Ok, here's some relief from all of that. Ted Hughes poem:


I saw my world again through your eyes
As I would see it again through your children's eyes.
Through your eyes it was foreign.
Plain hedge hawthorns were peculiar aliens,
A mystery of peculiar lore and doings.
Anything wild, on legs, in your eyes
Emerged at a point of exclamation
As if it had appeared to dinner guests
In the middle of the table. Common mallards
Were artefacts of some unearthliness,
Their wooings were a hypnagogic film
Unreeled by the river. Impossible
To comprehend the comfort of their feet
In the freezing water. You were a camera
Recording reflections you could not fathom.
I made my world perform its utmost for you.
You took it all in with an incredulous joy
Like a mother handed her new baby
By the midwife. Your frenzy made me giddy.
It woke up my dumb, ecstatic boyhood
Of fifteen years before. My masterpiece
Came that black night on the Grantchester road.
I sucked the throaty thin woe of a rabbit
Out of my wetted knuckle, by a copse
Where a tawny owl was enquiring.
Suddenly it swooped up, splaying its pinions
Into my face, taking me for a post.

More soon!
M x

Friday, 22 October 2010

Slumming it Again: The Mythology of Leadership

Birthday weekend coming up. 39 years young on Sunday. Aye Ole! The car is packed for a trip up North to the parents and extended family in the fine old town of Stamford in Lincolnshire. I'm cooking Sunday lunch - Elgar and Charles Mingus on volume 10, Wine in Goblet, Chocolate puddings..and you are all invited! (better ring ma)

The above snap is to show the squalid conditions i am expected to teach in. A day on 'the Mythology of Leadership' at the Ashridge Stately pile outside London. its tough but i am recovering. Co -lead with my good buddy Matthew Burton, Director of the hit west end play 'the Dumb Waiter' and just given the job by Faber and Faber of assembling and editing Harold Pinter's letters. Good luck with that sir!

Meet tuesdays, 8pm, Twice monthly. Bring work you are doing or are excited about. No passengers. Don't invite anyone along unexpectedly. Don't be shy on buying a round. If you absolutely cannot stand Tweed you can touch the hem of a Harris Tweed someone in the group has, and that will do - otherwise get yerself one. Force yourself to have another go at Robert Graves's 'The White Goddess' washed down by some poems by Sharon Old's to recover. Be free to be grumpy.Write with a Quill. Pay for your veg with lumps of gold. Resist pornography and embrace the erotic (specially for the boys). Allow more privacy in your life. Buy wild antiques for next to nothing. Patch old levis. Love hounds and nutty cats. Practice scowling at young people. Take up fencing.Never bring a child along.

Unless its Dulcie.

Hah! breaking the rules already!

I will prepare a more resilient manifesto soon. Visiting Cinderbiter Coleman will be sending a poem each fortnight - why not contact a poet and ask them to do the same where you are. If you do form a group, please drop us a line at the e-mail to the right of this blog. Certain themes would be good to explore internationally.

More soon on this wonderful, low key emergence as we move into the autumn......

So this is a first draft of something after feeling the autumnal pull up to the rivers of Dartmoor, and the thought that the rocks are impacted ancestors. Behind our house is a big lurching hill that leads to the crested Tors, so there is always a desire for heading upwards, and a weird kind of privacy. They are not great work but its good to let fly near a birthday without much worry of its shape!


there are slow black stones underneath the water
great brains of wetness
and green old currents like raggedy blades
blades that are curly uncles
that are drunk children
that are magical opinions
that terrify my mild hands

i leave the tired house of opportunity
and haunch the fields
two at a time
to sup the briny sleet
in the rough cup of god

This glowing world
is truest in the orphans mud
in the shattering bite
of the hard eyed ram
that refuses to be cut from
the barbed wire fence

I boiled under the Hunters belt
mad fistfuls of language galloped past
The Devon town underneath
my seeing
grew indistinct
almost gone
than flared up again, fought back
with teeth not made of bone

This autumnal privacy desire continues with something scrawled a few days later. I'm sure we know this feeling, whilst cherishing the beloveds we do have....


We need a hooded life
i reclaim boisterous peace
and the good Lion in the word No.
Baba’s hut always stays east
no matter how the chicken legs turn

My fierce entry into conversation
after a lifetime inside
is causing trouble with the old growth forest
Brugels postcard of the hunters
floats off my study wall

I don’t need dramatics
or the eye wrenching hurt of the mountain fast
only to know that certain slow notes inside
carry my fingerprints only
that some golden cup has been stolen back
for the adders delight
that my chair is empty at the town meeting

we have made too many friends

Avaunt beloveds - see you in my next year x

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Ok i admit it. Six harris tweeds maybe a little excessive. But the leaves have gone orange and are falling from the trees at a wild rate, surely now is the time to wear them. Still, i suspect Cara has a point. But i'm talking the kind of jacket that has a baby fox in one pocket and some Spanish erotic poetry in the other. Moonbeams, Cutlass and hordes of Peruvian Gold in the secret pocket.Missing a button, dastardly and suspect, a Bandit Queens perfume on the sleeve. C'mon at least have a quick look in your charity shop/thrift store. Nothing sexier. Well, at least for soon to be thirty nine year old Devonians anyway.
Jet lag was a four day trip to dreamland this time ( do you get liminal dreams?) - and then a super wooly weather weekend on Dartmoor with my little nephews Paddy and Finn - the old gods threw shedloads of weather straight into their shining little faces, but they took it all with good grace (eventually, at home, with a hot towel and steaming mug of warm chocolate). A little too young for the rites - of -passage thing i must admit, but we all saw glimpses of each others inner - wild Celt, which was rather delicious.
I barely had time to hit the books before i was off to Kent to teach myth to a hundred clinical psychologists. A rowdy bunch of brainy hooligans too - it was fun - ENORMOUS feckin fire in the woods (so large i started to wonder if they were going to produce Klu Klux Klan masks), and all sorts of good things happening. This weekend is the beginning of the UK year course up on Dartmoor - we have a good group forming -last places at 01364 653723.

THE CINDERBITERS: the olde pub, the battered text, the wild word, the red beer, the glowing fire, the rain on the window.

Work has begun in earnest on a new book. This is giving me great, great pleasure. The pain will be in about a year, when the editing and scalping of the antlered words begins. I may drop in chapters and ideas as i go. I'm being smart and asking for a bit more support this time round - in the shape of a group of lovers of language and fine old pubs and yes, Harris Tweeds. A rainy Tuesday evening group to gather by the Inn's fire and share whatever we happen to be working on at the time, or thinking about, or some mad sprawl of poetry we love. This group will be called THE CINDERBITERS. And by invite only. Boys and girls. When i have a little more mustard in the roll i will post up the manifesto. The good news is that you could form your own group - in Idaho, or Birmingham or Japan. all you need is ...yes, i'm afraid so,,,,,tweeds (has to be Harris and you must send photographic evidence), three invited visiting dead teachers from the last 10,000 yrs and a love of the hostelry.
In case you think this is all hyperbole, i must inform that my small groups long distance member is none other than Coleman Barks - over in Athens, Georgia - but is swearing to commute to the meetings. I kid you not - he bought a tweed in Point Reyes especially - i have the photo to prove. Please read up on C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkiens INKLINGS group at Oxford to get more information about the general idea. Throw Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin and Georgia O'Keefe in the picture too and it all gets much fresher.
Ok. I have written far more on that than i planned this evening - more soon.

new poems from Thomas R. Smith 'The Foot of the Rainbow' - his rockin new book. he lived with punk squatters in London once, and saw Jonny Rotton at the dukebox- (at the George Robey in Finsbury Park i think). Soon returned happily to the midwest.

some of that.... (on scotch and illness, thousands of miles from home)

in the tube,
feverish, my throat
sandpaper, i cuddled
the bottle as if it were an infant, hugged it
home to the abandoned
tobacconist's where i
nested on the third floor
alone. Early evening
snow glittered the lit
vegetable stands with
their earthen wares...

find the rest of this great poem! good night!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

UK dates 2010/11



i am holed up in the lovely apartment of the noble Doug Von Koss, as i reflect back on a crap-kickingly wonderful first weekend of the West Coast School of Myth (US). Just under 30 souls gathered up in Point Reyes for a true soul jump into some very deep waters this weekend. Young and old (er), women and men, some esctatic and some grief filled came many miles to explore wild language, landscape and image. Like otters in love with sacred gurgles we have had a fabulous swim in the story river and now stand on the bank, wide eyed with dripping fur. Sleep and rest my friends! Joyful study awaits to ground these leaps of the psyche. A look forward to our next meeting and further exporation of this emerging Culture of Wildness. A very special gathering and a great candle of light as we move into smokey autumn.GET TO THE NEXT GATHERING IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN - great things are afoot with this bunch of arcane earth lovers.

So, the Iron Bird carries me back to the girls in a few hours (not a moment to soon), but i am full to the brim of old friends and new friends, much kindess and racous cries to the old gods.

hey, i saw that Basquiat movie- The RADIENT CHILD: nothing about it i did not love. Super hip, playful and brilliant. Too cool for school that flying boy. R.I.P. Jean Michel.

Friday, 24 September 2010



Suited and booted i await a lift from the bay area up to Point Reyes. Thanks you to everyone involved in last nights wonderful evening in Oakland, great to see such a large turn out for these wild old stories. 'Tasting the Milk of Eagles' is having a mad burst of last minute sign ups, so contact lisa at point reyes books today, if you want to squeeze into our wyld gang of poets and gamblers.

SLIGHTLY OFFICIAL NOTE: for all UK friends, for all those intending to attend the year course or the upcoming WHEEL OF STORY please go to and contact Tina today. It is a huge organizational drag to have people show at the last second for these longer events -hire of venues etc etc. So, i'd take it as a personal favor if you kept us in your mythical loop.

Had dinner last night with BARRY SPECTOR, witty author of 'MADNESS AT THE GATES OF THE CITY: The Myth of American Innocence'-this is a great,intelligent read with some pretty disturbing ideas in it. Recommended -it is someone really trying to communicate some wild thoughts. 8 years in the making he said, over Guinness and a wonderful curry. Lots on shaggy Dionysus.

Yip, yip and away, my ride has arrived...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010



Early morning in Minneapolis. Sun peering through the trees, pot of coffee on the go, just some laundry to be done before flying over to California tomorrow. Last night was 'Dancing on the Tips of Spears' - a night of wild Celtic stories, organized by our friend TIm Young. Talking of friends, many of the folks that attended are dear pals - it was so touching to see their mad faces as we traversed the misty forests, witchy moons and feasting halls of those great tales.
The mens conference was the best ever. Took me a little by surprise - the fellowship, kindness and wayward humor will stay with me for a very long time. There were moments that were truly mythic -between fathers and sons, reconciled enemies, beautifully wrinkled elders and the strong blessings laid on the shoulders of the youth - it was a glimpse, just a glimpse, of a whole different way of being in this world.
Robert was full of piss and vinegar you will be pleased to hear - carrying a lot of the cantankerous Trickster with him. His ability to pull a room into deep feeling is still second to none. He is stepping back from that central role he has taken these 26 years and is now living fully in his extraordinary new poems. What also came through the conference was a tremendous wave of new energy for this kind of work - every teacher, every participant invested more, dug deeper, sang sweeter, was more generous. Something is afoot my friends. Contact Craig Ungerman TODAY about getting a place at next year's at
One of the best thing about this woodland gatherings is the return to all the ones we love, hopefully with more to give. I am now officially homesick for my two beloveds, Cara and Dulcie, but have some miles to traverse till i arrive home at the door of Tregonning House. Still, i guess a bit of present buying would not go amiss, rather than just the scent of woodsmoke and airmiles.
There are still a few places this weekends event in Point Reyes, (e-mail contact in entry below) although they are approaching capacity so get in touch with them today. Can't wait.
So, love to all, i must get on with this laundry. Rumor has it that there is a new movie on the painter BASQUIAT playing in Uptown today, which i must try and get to. Love his early work. Fierce, playful paintings - crashing through language and image like Lorca holding a paintbrush loaded down with Cadmium Red oil paint whilst listening to Elvin Jones coax magic out of his drums.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

SIGN UP! TERM IS BEGINNING OCT 15th! (J Bloor in snap)


Sorry to keep throwing dates at you, but i thought if i could round them all up into one place it may stop lots of individual e-mails. So, drum roll please Ringo....

Starting Fires in September and Oct 2010: U.S. and U.K.

14 - 19th September. 'Bringing Back The Fire' Minnesota Men's Conference.
Robert Bly, Malidoma Some, Daniel Deardorff, Martin Shaw and many others.
Tickets at

21st September. Dancing on the Tips of Spears:A Night of Wild Irish Tales. Minneapolis. Tickets at

Please be aware this event is almost sold out.

24 - 26th September 'Tasting the Milk of Eagles: Myth, Wilderness and the Courted Soul' Point Reyes, San at

Sat 2nd October NEW! 10- 5. Ashburton,UK. £55

THE WHEEL OF STORY SERIES: sign up with Tina at
A day caught in the deep tangles of the Russian epic "Ivan and the Grey Wolf". What does it mean to ride the fierce energy of a wolf after a lifetime on the back of a steady horse? How do we both dance with the Firebird and also swim in the dark waters of the soul? This story offers many images of such a process, both pragmatic and visionary.

It is natural in autumn (and in a story of length like this) to also explore issues of age and character. We will look at the characteristics of several Gods and Goddesses that joyfully accompany us as we age - some of them randy and disgraceful in nature. And alot of fun.

Martin will also bring many new poems from his recent trips abroad and a whole host of rash statements to enjoy and argue with.

Fri Oct 15th - 17th. LEAVING THE VILLAGE FINDING THE FOREST, Dartmoor UK £170
First weekend of the year programme. Sign up today by contacting Tina at PLACES LIMITED AND GOING FAST. DON'T MISS OUT.

If you are thinking about the UK year programme than please get in touch with Tina without delay, we hate to disappoint. It's been a busy week. The car rather dramatically died on the A38 to Plymouth so we have been scouring the highways and byways of higher and lower Devon in pursuit of a suitably mythic motor. With the help of right hand compadre Jonny Bloor we found it. It's black with a cd player. That's all i can say.

The artwork for the Spring 2011 release of the much revised 'A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE' has arrived from Oregon, and rather dramatic it is too. They (the new publishers) have certainly taken some cues from the title! I like the old book fine but this carries alot of new material in it, especially around myth telling. Various essays for various publications i had completely forgotten to agree to writing have all arrived at once. So packing is rather rapid, whilst about to wrestle a leg of Lamb from the local butchers for a bit of nosh with neighbours this evening. I'm rambling. I can tell.

So think of me and amigo Jonny Bloor (he's often involved in these adventures - only as drop off in this one alas), driving through the inky black night to a secret location in the next 30 hrs for me to start this next trip. As you turn your pillow to the cool side, think of our coffee fueled, bug eyed personas driving the Black Pearl (new motor), seeking the new encounter (as Ponge once said). See you in the airport bar. Mine's a Guinness with Lagavulin chaser. Must stop writing about booze.Gives entirely the wrong impression.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Back in the band:Westcountry storytelling festival


Just back from 'Myth, Literature and the Unconscious' conference at the University of Essex. A mixed bag as most are, but some nutty moments that i enjoyed - most coming from the rottweiler of aggressive questioning Robert Segal. Segal has a huge egghead brain on myth theory (note theories around myth, not as much the stories themselves)and delighted in spluttering, rolling eyed monologues at anyone who was unfortunate to give a lecture in his presence. Blood on the floor in at least one case. I was very much hoping he would come to mine so we could have an awful sprawling encounter, a blur of fists and teeth, but no. His essays are actually worth study, and his view on Campbell challenging but informed. In some nightmarish way i grew to like him. Lets just say he cares, ok?

Generally there was some good stuff on Blake, too much on Jung, too much on literature, more stories needing to actually being told and living in the air. Good nosh through, and met some interesting folks - check out Joseph Sobel's journal 'Storytelling, Self, Society' out on Routledge - he has a great balance.

Found a pair of cowboy boots in a skip. Got ill and had to drive around Colchester in the middle of the night in a hire car looking for lemsip (helps with colds). Cara and i spent hours thinking of the worst possible way to deliver a lecture - constant bursts of coughing, fumbled papers, joyless, inaudible language delivered as if at a wake. Maybe we should all have a competition for very worst presentation of all time. Please apply in the usual way to the usual place.

So i'm off to the U.S. in a few days. One of the last chances to see Robert Bly in action at the Minnesota Mens Conference i think. So if you want to thank him for his wild genius or never seen him before, this is last chance saloon my friends. No, he's not about to drop dead, but is withdrawing to the poetry hut, so google the conference today and buy a ticket.


Here again is news of the 'Tasting the Milk of Eagles' weekend taking place in Point Reyes (just north of San Francisco)later this month. Filling up fast so please contact Lisa Doron at for a place.

September 24 at 8:00pm - September 26 at 5:00pm
Location Point Reyes, California.

The establishing of the U.S. Westcountry School of Myth.The beginning of a four weekend year program led by U.K. storyteller, mythologist and rites-of-passage teacher Martin Shaw. It offers an intense leap into the old stories,poetic imagination and the nature of soul. This ground breaking program is now coming to the U.S. for the first time.
To get a sense of the weekends please check out the U.K. program at, and visit to get sign up details.
Please forward this to any interested networks! Thank you.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Robin and Martin interview: in my day all poets were this tall! Shaw try's to hide doubts.

Martin and Jan Blake riding the vibe.

'In my day ALL storytellers were this high!' Robin Williamson lays it out.

The beautiful school tent! (plus at least 3 of our beloved pirates)

hey amigos. Just got time to adjust my hats between the just gone Westcountry Storytelling Festival and the 'Myth, Literature and the Unconscious'conference at the University of Essex on Thursday. Highlights for me were Hugh Lupton's stunning piece on John Claire, Jan Blake's inspired raps about a ravenous cat, and just a general feeling of good vibes and peace to all man and women. Apart from between the hours of 2-3 on the Saturday morning, but that really is another story. Much kudos to Chris Salisbury and Sue Charman for basically pulling the whole thing off, a noble and truly heroic effort. So here's some snaps. More writing in a few days, after Essex.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Minneapolis event! non - beardies welcome! (i.e. women and men that don't make the Minnesota Men's Conference)

Hello folks, especially Mid-west friends. News of an intimate event in Minneapolis post Men's conference.It will be lovely to see some non - bearded Minnesota friends (i.e. women as well as the wonderful growlers that come to the conference)Over to Tim Young and Dalyce Elliott......


Timothy Young and Dalyce Elliott present a Special Holtby House Concert

Storyteller and Mythologist
Martin Shaw
Tuesday September 21 at 7:30 pm
129 Melbourne Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Recommended free will donation $10-$15
Seating is limited so reserve your seat at
or call AFTER September 4th 612-331-4519

Martin Shaw, an award winning Rites-of-Passage teacher, mythologist and storyteller, is internationally recognized as one of the most exciting new teachers of the mythic imagination. For a decade Martin has facilitated wilderness initiatory process for at-risk youth through to company directors. He spent four years living under
canvas studying tribal lore, folk-tale and ceremony.
Author and Director of the Westcountry School of Myth and Story, he is also visiting lecturer on the Desmond Tutu Leadership progam at Oxford University. Widely traveled, Shaw teaches in the United States and Europe as well as the UK. His awards include the Summerfield award from the British School in Rome, and the Price, Bretherton, Elgood award for outstanding achievement in the Arts.

He is the author of A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth
and the Grace in Wildness. Robert Bly says, "A true master. One of the greatest storytellers i have ever heard. Shaw offers a hundred visits to the moon"


Talking of the Minnesota champion, here is a snippet of an interview with Robert, conducted by our very own Fran Quinn i believe.

Interviewer: What was the mood of poetry in the late Fifties?
Robert Bly: I started a poem the other day that goes this way:
There was a moment in '58
In which we thought–
And we were right–that poetry
Our poetry–would bless everyone

It's hard to explain. Something fresh could be felt all over the country. Don't believe what you read that the Fifties was a dull time; it wasn't, certainly not in literature. Robert Creeley was publishing the poems later collected in For Love, amazing things! Roethke was laying out his high-spirited poems, and Gary Snyder was publishing the poems later collected in Rip Rap. Robert Payne had brought out his great anthology, The White Pony. Li Po said:
If you ask me why I dwell among green mountains,
I should laugh silently; my soul is serene.
The peach blossom follows the moving water.
There is another heaven and earth beyond the world of men.
Hong's book of Tu Fu poems was out–that beautiful green book I still have with me. Some kind of longing was in the air. James Wright felt it:
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body, I would break
Into blossom.
The Chinese poems and James Wright's lines are linguistic expressions of the longing that there is "another heaven and earth beyond the world of men." All over the country young poets went expectantly to the mailbox, to find some wild thing like Kayak, or some little essay by a Buddhist meditator. There wasn't a flood of mail–just one or two delicious pieces, or nothing.

I don't know why that mood of longing appeared in the late Fifties. Perhaps it came because we had won the war. Thousands and thousands of men my age had died. There was a lot of gratitude for that enormous sacrifice. Awe and gratitude was in the air. Maybe we felt–as Creeley suggested–that despite the disintegration, it would be possible for us to put culture back together again. During the war, for example, Poetry had about six subscribers. Everything was starting over again.

Or perhaps that wasn't it at all. Maybe the simple delight people felt in air, wind and poems when there was no war was normal. Perhaps everyone felt that way before television held people indoors and fed them bad psychic food. For a few years, we felt, like Yeats in his poem, that
For twenty minutes, more or less,
It seemed so great my happiness
That I was blessed and could bless.
In 1956, I had received a Fulbright Fellowship to do the job of translating some old and new Norwegian poetry into English. Writers my age were aware of good poetry in English, but not the powerful poetry of Chile, Peru, Sweden, Germany, Italy. In the Oslo library I found Pablo Neruda. The moment is still clear to me. The lines were,
Young girls with their hands on their hearts,
Dreaming of pirates.

It has an exaggeration there that's so beautiful. It's alive in the heart and flamboyant–so different from T. S. Eliot. I had spent three years at Harvard without ever hearing the name Neruda. One problem with the New Critics–whom I otherwise admire greatly–is that they were blind to material outside the English language.
A new kind of image had appeared, which was the engine, or the angel, or the body of a wholly fresh poetry. Cesar Vallejo said,
I will die in Paris, on a rainy day . . .
It will be a Thursday, because, Thursday, setting down
These lines, I have put my upper armbones on
Wrong . . .
He didn't say, "I have put my suit on wrong." No, I have put my upper armbones on wrong!
And never so much as today have I found myself
With all the road ahead of me, alone.
And there was Neruda's great poem on death:
There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound . . .
And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones
like a barking where there are no dogs. . . .
Astounding! "A barking where there are no dogs."

I had a relatively good literary education, and I felt astonished by these poems, so I thought that other poets my age would be moved also. In 1958, when I got back, Bill Duffy and I started a magazine called The Fifties. On the inside front cover, we announced that "Most of the poetry published in America today is too old fashioned." We developed various ways to infuriate people who had submitted old-fashioned poems.

One was a card that read:This entitles you to buy the new book of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as soon as it is published. In each issue we awarded the Order of the Blue Toad to an obnoxious literary personage of the day; and we made up a "Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum." In it were lines of John Crowe Ransom, or Allen Ginsberg, and Longfellow, and so on. The whole thing was a little adolescent, but it had some spirit...(end of interview segment)

Right, i need to pack for this weekends Storytelling festival, just up the road near Exeter. Camel bags,coffee,one bottle of Lagavulin, complete works of William Blake, three roasted chickens glazed in honey, four bars of green and blacks 'Maya Gold' chocolate, my grandfathers sword, one bearskin, six Persian rugs, gospel of Thomas and the first Ramones album. Sorted. See you there!

Monday, 23 August 2010


Hi Folks -this fresh from the Independent on Sunday over here in the UK. Come early -and help us put our enormous, resplendent School of Myth Tibetan tent up!One free doughnut and a used copy of 'Trickster Makes This World' for every hour spent hauling gear. See you there!

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday
Home > Arts & Entertainment > Theatre & Dance > Features
Tall tales: Meet the storytellers spinning edgy new yarns for the digital age
Spinning a good yarn is the most ancient of entertainments – but thanks to the iPod generation, it's getting a new lease of life

By Lena Corner
Sunday, 22 August 2010S

Should you be at a loose end in the country next Saturday night, in a field in Higher Ashton, not far from Exeter, you'll find a storyteller named Martin Shaw. He will be giving a rendition of the 13th-century European masterpiece Parzival – a tale of knights, loyalty, romance and the search for that pesky, elusive Grail. He plans to start his yarn before midnight and finish some time around daybreak. Bring coffee and a warm blanket, advises Shaw; it's an all-nighter, but not as you know it.

Shaw's marathon tale is one of the highlights of next weekend's Westcountry Storytelling Festival, a three-day extravaganza of myth, saga, epic and plain-old fairy story told by the top tale-spinners on the circuit. While it's not quite Glastonbury, it has slowly been gathering followers. "We started out nine years ago with a group of about 100 people gathered in a meadow in Devon," says artistic director Chris Salisbury. "Since then it has grown exponentially." It's a similar tale in South Wales at the Beyond the Border festival, which takes place against the dramatic medieval backdrop of St Donat's castle, perched on a cliff-edge. When it started in 1993, a humble three storytellers featured on the bill. Now there is a cast of 90 telling tales to an audience of a few thousand. It is the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

"Storytelling is an art form with deep integrity," says Salisbury. "It is so simple and stripped-down. A good tale well told doesn't need set design or costume. It's as if our lives have all become a bit complicated and this is what we seek."

The revival of interest in the art form can be traced to the mid-1980s when Hugh Lupton, Ben Haggarty and Sally Pomme Clayton formed a collective called the Company of Storytellers. The group spent the next decade tirelessly promoting its craft, teaching new blood how to spin a yarn and, crucially, persuading people that storytelling was a valid adult art form. "There was a misconception that stories were to be told only to people under the age of six," says Salisbury. "People began to realise this wasn't necessarily so."

Prior to this revival, the oral tradition had undoubtedly been on its last legs. One of the last remaining troubadours was Duncan Williamson, a Scottish traveller who had a repertoire of 3,000 riddles, tales and ballads he'd learnt at his grandmother's knee. He took to the road at the age of 14 to share his extraordinary knowledge, but died three years ago at the age of 79. "It really was a forgotten art form," says David Ambrose, festival director of Beyond the Border. "Our forebears knew all about it but we forgot how vital it was. I think it was a social thing, to do with the fragmentation of the family unit. I'm sure TV played a part, and the rise of literacy – we live in a world where things can be written down so we no longer have need to remember them."

Although storytelling occupies a territory somewhere between comedy, poetry and theatre, its reputation also suffered due to an association with crusty old men telling tales of goblins and dragons. "When it gets done badly, and it does, it is truly awful," says Salisbury. "It's a folk tradition which comes from the heart so you do get a right old mixture. At least at festivals there is a quality-control filter in place."

Ambrose believes storytelling's revival is tied up with a resurgence of interest in live performance, particularly music. "For a while we all became a bit infatuated with TV, film and digital art forms, but people have become hungry for live experiences again," he says. "You only have to look at what's gone on in the music industry. Live performance of any art does something that recorded performance can't." '

Most storytellers describe their craft as the art of painting visual images in listeners' heads. Some believe that to tell stories is their birthright and calling, while others study at one of the many storytelling schools in the UK. It is never, ever about reading aloud: Salisbury compares good storytelling to improvised jazz; as the musician riffs on a familiar tune, so the storyteller breathes new life into familiar tales.

And so the scene continues to grow. You only have to look at the audiobook market, currently one of the few areas of growth in the publishing industry, to see how much our appetite to have stories told to us has been whetted. The scene is particularly vibrant in Scotland, with much new work coming out of the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, and in Shropshire, where the annual Festival at the Edge attracts thousands. Meanwhile, in London, the Crick Crack Club at the Barbican, also started by Ben Haggarty, has raised the bar for storytelling and often sells out weeks in advance.

A final indication that something is afoot is that finally storytelling has spilled out from within its specialist confines. Literary festivals such as Bath, Cheltenham and Hay have brushed aside any snobbish preconceptions and welcomed the tellers in and now even mainstream festivals such as Latitude, Cropredy, Big Chill and Port Eliot all feature serious storytelling programmes.

Ambrose believes his job now is simply to continue spreading the word. "The business of telling and the business of listening is deeply, deeply inside us," he says. "The Greek myths, Persian epics, Arabian Nights, Brothers Grimm, they form the backbone of what we know of the world and give us the ability to say something about what it is to be human. It's our job to make it speak to now."

Tuesday, 17 August 2010



Hey U.S. friends, here is news of a possible School of Myth up in Point Reyes, California. Please e-mail Lisa TODAY if you are interested. Please forward on to any networks you have. I also have a new e-mail:

due to some burger guzzling nutcase hacking into my old one and sending out e-mails about marital aids to everyone i have ever met or respected.So, over to Lisa Doron:

West Country comes to West Country

As a result of our recent successful storytelling event, Out of the Village and Into the Forest, the bookstore and Martin Shaw of the West Country School of Myth and Story in England are sponsoring a year long course on the power of myth and story. Participants will meet on a quarterly basis, Friday evening through Sunday late afternoon. We are poised to begin this first year course the weekend of September 24,25,26, but we need a core group of at least 20 to sign up, commit to, all four weekends otherwise we cannot fly. The cost for each weekend would be approximately $200.00, give or take a few. So please strap on the wings, the snowshoes or saddle up those ponies to let us know you are on board. For more information contact bookstore staff person Lisa Doron at

Saturday, 14 August 2010


So we arrived back last night.A rain swept Bristol airport. Here's some lines from the diary I scrawled whilst over there. We're off to a night of Salsa and peaty Whisky at the Pigs Nose pub in East Prawl - see you on the dance floor amigo...

So where is Duende? one place to meet Duende is in heat; a shield – wall of fire that descends brutally on our skinny tent daily. The heat is meeting a salty Lion on a road of glass. For libation I place a bushel of hair under a rock – hours later I find the tail of a fox as a reciprocal gift. Holed up in the hills around Alora in a small oak grove we see half built houses scatter the hillside, huge views, bleached scrub land, the flash of a binocular across the valley from a neighbour to hot to talk, but always ready to pry.

The bins have containers of suffocated puppies in them, water has gone missing – ten thousand litres – from our precious source at camp. Bandits have only been gone for a generation from the area; we look for tyre tracks or hidden pipes. Water seems lighter here, it never seems to get to the belly but clings for seconds at the back of the gullet before becoming a misty dream.

The Spanish I meet seem robustly unconcerned with their history. A friend tells the tale of finding Roman earthenware whilst picking olives and being sworn to secrecy so it didn’t affect the pace of the picking, to hell with the historical discovery. They seem clear with who they are, but the heat seems to wipe out much sentimentality. The Moorish Castle, perched uneasily atop the town remains resolutely shut, despite any wandering tourists. A trip to some nearby Dolmens involves a complicated web of un - sign posted roads, dust choked alleys and industrial estates. Andalucia seems to be an area with the volume turned up. It has nuance but you have to look past the ferocity of the heat to see it.

And what of its poets? Heat seemed to make poetry rise from their body like ambitious curls of mist; words that are not benign, but, like the place,sharp, lurching, hallucinatory. Words that combat the lionlike heat, not retreat into tense little bundles of sound hiding under another parched rock. Heat swishes its many bladed tail across the table of safe language.Three days into the trip a wasp crawls into my mouth and stings its base, keeping the storyteller mute and listening.

The gypsies live in dark corridors of estates at the edge of the town. During the day many wander to an old square underneath the castle. Some of us had noticed a young gypsy driving a freshly painted, very swish Mercedez Bendz: two days later our host’s four by four collides into it. In the gypsies square. In full of view of the gypsy community. He is a favourite son, half a dozen men race to inform the owner. Much animation, conjecture, possible trouble. We get down from the mountain as swiftly as we can after getting a panicked message – an old friend was once kidnapped for three days in a similar encounter – we could be entering quite a scene. Duende indeed. Despite tensions, all is resolved, and, in an oddly British moment, insurance details are swapped.

That night, up at our small camp, a strange wind sifts through the low olive trees. The lanterns flicker, for a second even the Secadas stop their rattle. In the cooler time and near dark, the hillsides look like a parched Wales. For a while the drinking, smoking and music stops, and we all feel the SPOOK – the delicate, eerie moment where old ghosts with Crows on their shoulders glide by.

In nearby Alora the fair, the ferrier, rages on. Earlier Dulcie had ridden on ‘The Ride of the Brujo’. Thousands crushed into tennis courts dancing to techno and making out. Bacchus gets briefly excited but can’t get involved; he can’t hear the old songs that get him waltzing. Baubo wants to lift her skirt but realises the incantations of the throng are not aimed in her direction.

The next day I have a dream, the gist is:

From my throat to my belly
There are four low strings
That need to resonate
To pluck and vibrate
Several times a day

Saturday, 31 July 2010

THE BEAR HAS SECRETS TO TELL: An evening with Timothy Young

The Westcountry School of Myth and Story Presents:

An evening with U.S. poet Timothy Young

accompanied by the great Dalyce Elliott on violin.
SAT 21st AUGUST. 7.30 pm. £5 donation.
Tregonning House, 27 Eastern rd, Ashburton.

An evening celebrating the happy arrival of Timothy Young's new book of verse, 'Herds of Bears Surround Us'. Acclaimed poet Timothy Young will be reading from his new book and musicians will accompany. It will be a wonderfully intimate opportunity to witness this 'wild irish rose..fierce with fragrance'(tom mitchell, playwright) throw shoes at the moon and growl lovingly from a tangle of words. DO NOT MISS.
Seating limited so call 01364 653723 to reserve a place or e-mail

So this event will be at the very heart of the school of myth, its HQ itself, Tregonning House. These slightly mad house concerts are great events. Some will remember seeing The Frantzich Brothers belt out dark gospel into our high ceilinged lounge, or Robert Bly reading brand new work while the wine was passed, or Coleman Barks quoting Robert Frost, Gioia Timpanelli telling Italian folktales, Judith Kate Friedman's dazzling music or the night Jay Leeming read and we had folks stretching to the very back of the kitchen. High times my friends, high times; get there and be able to tell the tale 'I t'was there!!'. Various other luminaries from the School of Myth may sing a song or tell a story too.....a great warm up for the storytelling
festival the next weekend!

(27 eastern rd - we are right next to the fire station - turn left onto balland lane, park up and retrace your steps to the turning (we are on that turning) - we will put up a sign)

So here's something from Lorca. We leave for Spain on Tuesday night, heading up into the Andalusian hills for 10 days under canvas, wandering its scorched earth and looking for Lions and Honey. Ole!


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Whoever travels the bull’s hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion’s mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: ‘This has much duende’. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: ‘You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no duende.’

All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail’s-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duende and recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’: the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’

So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.

So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods.

No. The duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.

For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work. The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel.

The angel dazzles, but flies over a man’s head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso’s footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination.

The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she’s distant and so tired (I’ve seen her twice) that you’d think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don’t know where they’re from, but they’re from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him.

The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry’s enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head – things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.

Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood.

Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps.
The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.

Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.

The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.
Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was singing in a little tavern in Cadiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice, she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent.

In the room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman tortoise, who was once asked: ‘Why don’t you work?’ and who replied with a smile worthy of Argantonius: ‘How should I work, if I’m from Cadiz?’

In the room was Elvira, fiery aristocrat, whore from Seville, descended in line from Soledad Vargos, who in ’30 didn’t wish to marry with a Rothschild, because he wasn’t her equal in blood. In the room were the Floridas, whom people think are butchers, but who in reality are millennial priests who still sacrifice bulls to Geryon, and in the corner was that formidable breeder of bulls, Don Pablo Murube, with the look of a Cretan mask. Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man, one of those dancing midgets who leap up suddenly from behind brandy bottles, sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something other.’
Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but…with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand, that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite, huddled before the statue of Santa Bárbara.

In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Olé!’ of the bullfight, and who knows whether they are not the same? And in all the songs of Southern Spain, the appearance of the duende is followed by sincere cries of: ‘Viva Dios!’ deep, human, tender cries of communication with God through the five senses, thanks to the duende that shakes the voice and body of the dancer, a real, poetic escape from this world, as pure as that achieved by that rarest poet of the seventeenth century Pedro Soto de Rojas with his seven gardens, or John Climacus with his trembling ladder of tears.