Category Archives: Bardic

Poetry with Mr Death

For several years, the Piranha Poetry nights in Stroud were a key community space for me. I wrote a lot more poetry because there were people to read it to. It was a space that felt safe and welcoming, and that was reliably inclusive. I tend to show up in community spaces and fail to figure out how to be other than awkward and peripheral. But Piranha Poetry always felt like home. I’ve really missed it.

Organiser Gary Death had one of those large birthdays this year, so back before lockdown I wrote him a poem, because I thought it would be funny to jam on the ee cummings line about Mr Death. And then I lost the poem.  By happy accident, I found the hand written first draft at the weekend.

 

Happy birthday Mr Death (belatedly)

 

And what I want to know is, how do you like your blue eyed boy, Mr Death?

ee cummings man, his very how pants of the outside of his

Many bells trousers leaps to the microphone.

In the audience, three former students of English literature

Faint at the very sight of him.

No one who has ever tried to answer that question has survived

Unscathed.

But Mr Death is ready, like he’s been waiting his whole life

For ee cummings man, poetic anti-super-hero in a war against

Capital letters, to storm his stage and enquire about blue eyed boys.

Mr Death is ready.

Turns.

Lowers his trousers.

Moons.

This is his superpower and in the glowing radiance of his posterior,

Literature’s caped crusader has nothing more to say.

One elderly member of the audience has a nosebleed.

Seven will later require counselling.

Three will be haunted by erotic dreams.

Mr Death pulls up his trousers

And invites another floor spot poet

To take their chances.

He likes his blue eyed boys like he likes his piranhas

Allegedly.


Conscious Mosaic Eclectic Arts

Today I’m delighted to share information about a new project from Ing Venning. I think this is a project with appeal for anyone following the bard path – as you can see from the list of content already available, there’s a strong mix of the creative and the political here. This is clearly a good space for examining the interplay between creativity, wider culture, politics, activism and the state of the world.
Conscious Mosaic: Eclectic Arts Exegesis is a YouTube channel that invites interpretation of the arts… literature, music, visual arts, film and other video, games, and anything else that falls into the category of arts.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLhyk5b7y3oPDvHur4s47eg/videos

I have, thus far, uploaded the following videos:
– Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as a Critique of Two-Party Political Systems
– Evolution of LGBT+ Characters in Contemporary Arts
– DuckTales and Disney’s Corrupt Worldview
– Quality of Work (and Fans) in a Time of Easy Publishing
– “No One Is Alone” [from Into the Woods] as a Commentary on Ethics
– Ani DiFranco’s “Marrow” as Mirror
– “Harlem” (“A Dream Deferred”), Black Lives Matter, and Systemic Racism in America
– Doomed Utilitarianism in the Candy Cadet Stories of Five Nights at Freddy’s 6

… and I can’t wait to share more, as well as collaborate with guest bloggers!  I’m planning future posts which cover videos such as Primer, Frailty, and Twin Peaks; music by Porcupine Tree and Lacuna Coil; artwork by Prinsep and Arcimboldo; literature by Starhawk, J.K. Rowling, and Joanna Russ ; and games from the Castlevania and Zork franchises… as well as a video on eclecticism’s importance as a modality for the arts in the present age. I am also looking forward to presenting interviews with the amazing Patrick Brown and Alex McVey! So far this is a small channel, with only a handful of videos, but I’m hoping to grow it with both my own analyses and those of guests.
As you may have guessed from the titles above, I am an outsider – and I love to share work drawn from the unique perspectives of other outsiders (for more of this, check out this short essay and video: https://ingvenning.com/who-i-write-for/). If you are an outsider who would like to share their views on the arts, please feel free to contact me at ing@ingvenning.com. I’d love to hear from you! I want Conscious Mosaic to become a hub for supporting and analyzing amazing content and the awesome creatives who make and experience it!
< Ing Venning is the pagan, polyamorous, socialist, vegetarian, feminist, anti-racist, gifted, mentally ill, night owl author of the Wheel of the Year series, Sources (a book of mostly retellings), Lexical Numerals (early poems), “Family History” (a short chamber opera with music by Patrick Brown), and several other works. In addition to founding and working on Conscious Mosaic, Ing is working on a trilogy of fantasy novels for socialists and other political malcontents, another book of poetry, another book of stories, two volumes of faux-memoirs, and a volume of essays and rituals for pagans. >

Love and inspiration

I’ve always been quietly out as a polyamorous person. What this has mostly meant in practice is that I occasionally become smitten with people. There’s often a creative aspect to it – love and inspiration are words I could use interchangeably. But, my best outcome around this is usually a slightly awkward conversation about inspiration and muses.  There have also been some deeply distressing  reactions from people who were horrified by me.  The exceptions are rare and are my most important relationships.

However, when it’s allowed to flow freely, when there is connection and love between people, things work very differently.  I know Tom’s story around this runs parallel to mine with similar issues of inspiration and transformation. I think Dr Abbey’s story has a different shape, but creative relationship, love and respect run through everything that’s been happening for the three of us.

 

Re-enchanted

 

I fell in love first

With your captivating use

Of language.

I do not start these things

In any kind of conventional way.

I fell in love with

Snow on your skin

And cherry blossom

Found you unexpectedly

In my dreams, kissed you

Confessed all on waking.

I fell in love with your willingness

To love me in return

Fell for your clowning playfulness

And only then did I

Become besotted with your face.

You showed me other faces

Other selves. Complicated

Hard to keep up with

But my heart found the way

At every turn.

Falling in love with your tears

Your courage, your fragility

Your wild imagination,

Your ability to show me things

About myself I had lost

Or not known

Or not dared.

Loving your enchanted knack

For opening hearts

Watching people I love

Learn to love you in turn.

Watching the impossible

Become possible

As your magic seeps gently

And washes dramatically

Through my life.

Until falling in love becomes

Who I am and what I do

A day by day process

Re-opening to the world

To hope and soulfulness

Learning to love

Who I might be

As I grow into this

Strange new charmed relationship

With life.

I fall in love with you.

 


Being a Muse

Much of my creative energy comes from interacting with other people. I do my best work collaboratively – at the moment that’s Hopeless Maine with Tom and the wider team, and Wherefore with Bob Fry and various others chipping in. My poetry, my blogging and other fiction work tends to happen because of specific people. I’m usually writing for someone or because of them and I like to flag that up to the people in question.

This leads to occasional conversations about whether a person might be ok with being my muse. This is often an awkward conversation. Where I’m dealing with another creative person it tends to be fine – as with Lou Pulford, Merry Debonnaire and Robin Treefellow where inspiration is passed back and forth and reacting to each other’s ideas is an ongoing process. But with other people, it can be a bit weird and I tend to end up reassuring them that they don’t have to do anything specific, I just need them to be ok with it.

I’ve not previously dealt with anyone suggesting I might be their muse. It’s been surprising, and has brought up a number of things for me. My immediate reaction being not to want that as a passive role. The idea of the muse who stands round at a distance providing inspiration by just carrying on being themselves, is not one that appeals to me even though it’s often what I ask of other people. I want to be active about bringing inspiration, I want to engage with what’s happening. My guess is that what I’m moving towards here is a collaborative creative relationship, because this is someone who inspires me in turn.

I find it interesting that I don’t want the role I’ve offered other people. But then, given the choice, I don’t want other people in passive muse roles either. I ask for that because it’s low maintenance, easier to say yes to, and for a little while at least it will help sustain me creatively. The passive muses at a distance get me through creative slumps, sometimes. But the people who really nourish and inspire me as a creator are the ones who make the deeper connections with me, who share in the process, exchange ideas and are willing to get their hands dirty. So I don’t want to be the distant, unobtainable muse. I want to be a co-conspirator. I want to offer as much as I can.

Thinking about it has made me appreciate how much I need my co-conspirators. Distant muses tend to leave me feeling a bit sad.

So no, I don’t really want to be Beatrice to your Dante – I looked that one up and they only ever met twice! I want a different story. A happier story. A story about mutual inspiration and co-creativity. And the only story I can see of that shape is the one in which I play no role, am only myself but am entirely myself and present and involved.  That way I might also provide signposts for other people who do not want distant and unobtainable muses.

I would rather be Nimue to your being Dr Abbey.

 


A very hobbit birthday

Dear readers, it is my birthday today and I thought I would take a hobbit approach to that – namely by offering gifts to everyone else!

I have a new poetry collection called How to Unpeel A Monster.

The cover is based on a photo of me and a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Tom Brown drew me a version of it, and I coloured it using oil pastels. For the photo, I had a small skull duct-taped to my nipple – don’t try this at home! But it pretty well sums up the project – a bit dark, a bit twisted, a bit painful, somewhat preposterous and also quite funny in places.

If you would like a copy, leave a comment – wordpress shows me your email address when you comment, so I can easily email you a pdf. I’ll start sending them out on the 15th of June.

 


A monstrous fairy tale

If there was a time when I did not know I was monstrous, I do not remember it. I like to imagine I was once young and tender enough to be innocent of these things, but that may be pure self indulgence. My monstrousness was apparent from early on, and I learned that without constant vigilance and careful restraint, that monstrousness would get out and do something terrible.

For years I tried to understand what it was that lurked inside me, that had to be controlled. Mostly so that I could better control it. I did not want the monster to escape and cause harm. An unwilling Miss Jekyll who is trying desperately to keep Hyde on the inside.

The only blood I have ever shed is my own. The only person I have ever wanted to kill, is me. Well, not me exactly, the Hyde on the inside. The unspeakable monstrous thing that would undoubtedly do something awful if ever I dropped my guard.

When you are a monster, it is entirely reasonable to find that people need to fight you, knock you down, punish you. When you are a monster you accept that the things done are necessary, inevitable. It’s what any decent, reasonable person would do, faced with the horror of you. And when you are knocked down again, and crying, it is not for the pain of it, but for the horror of being the sort of monster that makes this inevitable.

When you are a monster, and you make a mistake and cause harm, the fear of what must follow is huge. This is why we cower in our caves, retreat to our swamps. We know we aren’t safe to be around. We know what we deserve.

Like every monster, I want to find I am really a princess, cursed by a wicked stepmother. I want to find that there is a spell to break, and that magic exists that could turn me back into a person. How do you tell if you are terrible by nature, or in need of rescue? How do you tell if the knight errant is there to kill you, or kiss you, or both? How do you tell if the hunger that makes you monstrous in your own eyes is truly an abomination, or if you have simply been starving for years?

I do not know.

There is something unspeakable that lives inside me.


Underworld journeys

I choose the dark road to the underworld, and I set out singing. In my head are songs of the land, songs of the seasons and it is good to share them with the road as I travel. I am not afraid of this road, I have walked here before. I know the broken hearted songs of grief and loss and I will sing these too because grief is love and this is what it takes to head down into the darkness.

Let me be clear – I am not singing to make a bargain with any underworld deity. I am not here for them and whether their hearts are touched or not by my songs is of no consequence to me. I do not come to the realm of the dead for the sake of the dead. Of course I am glad to comfort who I can but I am not here to argue with death or to plead for an exception.

I am here for the living. It happens sometimes that grief is so dark and deep a river that the current of it pulls a person down into the realms of the dead. When love of the dead is stronger than anything remaining in the living world, a person can forget themselves and become a shade.

I bring my songs. I sing of life, landscape, love, foolishness, fondness. I sing the trials and challenges, the hopes and fear. I wrap my living breath around melodies, shape words softly in my mouth. I sing the songs I sang as a child, and new ones learned specifically for this journey. I sing the songs that are part of my life and I pour my aliveness into them. It is the best magic I have. I walk, and I sing.

I have made no promises to look ahead and never look back. Not that it matters. This is a dark place and I would not see much anyway. I sing of trust and of the future. I sing of reasons to feel and hope and I keep walking. I will not get lost here, my song is a thread of life to hold me connected with the living world and I can follow these notes and words back to myself at need. There will be a path because I insist on it.

I trust that you hear me. I trust that the breath of life and magic sung into the darkness will sustain you, guide you, enable you to follow me. I trust that I can walk us both back up from the depths and into the living world again, and that we will emerge together, alive to each other and singing the same songs.


A Selkie Poem

Storing a Skin

 

Not everyone who hides a selkie skin

Has stolen the soft seal fur

To trap a lover on the land.

 

Sometimes the skin is given.

 

Protect this skin for me

This secret self I cannot be

For now, this memory of

Water loving salt and playful

Swimming diving self.

 

Keep my skin safe, hold it

So that when I can bear

To wear it again

When my heart can encompass

The sea again

 

I may put on my seal self

And return to the ocean.

 


How to create well

One of the unexpected blessings of lockdown has been an opportunity to rethink how I live and work. Not having the lad in school has changed the shape of the day because I don’t have to get up early. I’ve also changed how and when I sleep – something I’ll blog about another day. The result is much greater flexibility, which I’m enjoying.

It’s clear there’s all kinds of upheaval coming for me – which I’m looking forward to. With much of the future uncertain it struck me as a good idea to look at my priorities and preferences. I can’t plan much, but I can be ready to make the best of what comes along.

One of the things that has become obvious is that if I want to work creatively, I have to rethink how I deploy my time. If all of my available energy and concentration in a day goes on paying work, it’s not sustainable. There comes a point where I can’t do any creative work because I’ve run out of resources. This should be blindingly obvious, but the pressure to be productive and economically effective is high, and the things I really need to be doing don’t look productive.

I need time to read for pleasure and also to study. I need time to experiment, mess about, practice and explore without having to worry about creating a viable finished product. I need to spend time doing things that cheer and uplift me and engaging with the people who delight and inspire me. I also need time when I’m not doing anything much with my brain – to daydream and wool gather, to ask what if and why, and wherefore?

I don’t have my best ideas by pushing for them. I have my best ideas by making space for them.

I can be structured and professional about the writing, but it only works for the long haul if I also get enough playtime.

I don’t think this is just a writing issue. I don’t think it’s just a creative industries issue. I think it’s going to be about the same for everyone. No matter what you do, too much focus on productivity will be unproductive in many ways. The space to live and grow is essential. I think it’s ironic that if you want to be the most effective working human being, the odds are that slowing down and not trying to work so much are the keys to success. It takes time to live a life that is inspired. Not having the pressure to succeed and produce is actually really helpful when it comes to success and output.  And even if that wasn’t the case, this is still the better way to live.

I’m now aiming for four or five hours of productive work every day and four or five hours or investment time, plus time spent living.


Ingredients for a spell – a poem

One face. Apparently good enough.

 

One body – sore, awkward

Also dancing, creative

Recently re-imagined.

 

One heart, much scarring

Bloody, raw

Easily broken.

 

Hands, two, open.

 

Words. All the words

To write a new life.

 

Love. (This is not a love spell)

Love is a key ingredient.

 

Time, trust, courage.

A spell to change everything.

 

I cannot tell

If I am making this spell

Or if it has been

Cast upon me.