Tag Archives: Lorna Smithers

Gatherer of Souls – a review

Gatherer of Souls, by Lorna Smithers, is a collection of poetry and short stories about Gwyn ap Nudd that offers a radical re-think of Arthurian mythology. Physically speaking, this is a small book – 114 pages – but what it covers is both vast and important.

Lorna has been studying Arthurian mythology for some time, going into older texts, and reading in more detail than most of us do. What she’s unearthed – and followers of her blog will already know about this – is the questionable nature of Arthur’s activities. We’re been sold Arthur as chivalric hero, protector of Britain, once and future king… but get into his stories and it’s all slaughter and theft. He’s a personification of patriarchy, and a killer of old mysteries and magics.

This is a book that assumes its readers have probably read some of the Arthurian material and aren’t basing all their knowledge on modern, pop-culture representations. I suspect that without at least an awareness of the older material, this would be a challenging read.

The Gatherer of Souls referred to in the title is Gwyn ap Nudd – a character whose story is interlaced with Arthur’s in legends. It seems likely that he is a far older figure. He is the ruler of Annwn – the realm Arthur plunders for treasures. He’s associate with faery, with otherworlds, underworlds and the dead. He is the enigma at the centre of the book, and even though Lorna gives us some pieces in his voice, he remains beyond us, essentially unknowable.

The use of voices in this collection is fascinating – across time, they speak of experiences and encounters that connect with Arthurian versions but recast them from different perspectives. The voices of those who have no voices in the usual versions of the tales. Often these are figures whose deaths are a brief interlude on the way to some victory or another. In telling these other tales, Lorna deconstructs the way Arthur as patriarch abuses wildlife, women, and anything magical or other.

It’s a very intense book, and I found I had to read it slowly and make time for digesting before I tried to move on. I’m confident it’s a book that will reward re-reading because there’s so much going on here that one read doesn’t do it justice. I find these are stories I needed. Arthur has been in my life as long as I can remember. I first became uneasy about him as a figure when failing to plough through Le Morte D’Arthur, struggling with the absence of real enchantment. It came into focus for me while working on a graphic novel of the same book and seeing again how empty and uneasy I find this supposedly chivalric dream.

I’ve been following Lorna’s blogs for some time, and I’ve learned a great deal from her work on Arthurian myths. I find the creative responses she’s shared in this book answer a need in me. A hunger I didn’t know I had for some other, wilder, and not-kingly take on things.

I heartily recommend this book. You can buy it here – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/ 

Enchanting the Shadowlands

I’ve been following Lorna Smithers’ blog for some time now, so when I heard she had put together an anthology of poetry, I went straight over to Lulu and ordered a copy. It’s taken me a while to get a review together, not least because I do not like to read poetry quickly. One or two at a time and then space to ponder is my preferred approach. Consequently I don’t get through poetry at the same pace a prose book of this size would allow. I like that about poetry, I value the slowing down and the encouragement to savour and reflect.

Lorna is a skilful poet, who crafts exquisitely with language. If you like beautiful wordcraft, I expect you are going to like this collection. As a writer and a teller of tales, Lorna has an amazing ability to get inside a story, a person or a worldview and speak from that place. Some of her poems are narrative, and there’s a sprinkling of short stories that help make connections between ideas, tales and histories. I had a real sense this was someone channelling voices other than their own at times, and that’s really powerful to encounter.

Poems are gathered into theme based sections, which I found very helpful. The concentrated effect of looking at place, history and deity and juxtaposing different poems on the same subject really worked for me. There are some interesting issues raised by this not being my landscape and not, for the greater part, connecting with my understanding of the divine. Curiously, Lorna and I live in the two places in the UK that have connections with the Celtic dreaming and healing deity, Nodens. Her experience of him in Northern England is very different from my perspective down here on the Severn. This did not trouble me at all, nor did it interfere with my enjoyment of her work.

It’s clear reading these poems that they exist as part of Lorna’s journey. They come from research into local history, and deep connection with landscape as well as personal spiritual experience. This is writing that reflects a life lived thoughtfully and with attention paid. As such it offers a kind of doorway to anyone interested in working with the land, and with the ancestors of place. In  reading the poems you can get a sense of the kinds of things a poet might do to arrive at these insights and understandings. This is a path any of us might walk, but we each have to work with our own places, histories and relationships with these things. Seeing how someone else does it is an inspiration, and a place from which to start your own journey.

I have some approach and intention in common with Lorna. I recognise in her a fellow traveller who is engaging with their locality and making relationship with place in some really personal ways. For me, that transcended all issues of difference. I think for the good of the land, and for the good of humanity, we need more people out there consciously walking the earth and bringing back stories and insights.

I can very much recommend this book, and I hope others will find it opens doors for them.

What makes a bard?

How is a bard different from any other creative person? For me, it has always been about a spiritual dedication which is intrinsic to the work. A regular creative person may have all kinds of reasons for doing what they do. For a bard, creativity will, to a significant degree, be an act of spiritual dedication and expression. The creative work is not simply about making money, achieving fame or getting to ponce about in public whilst wearing a nice dress, either. Part of the point of the work is to serve the community, and part of the point is to serve the land.

So, how do we serve? By bringing magic into the world. Inspiring and uplifting people. Expressing the numinous. Offering insight into what it means to be human. Expressing our relationship with the land. Sharing history of place and tribe to ground people. Keeping traditional forms of creativity alive, holding threads that connect past to future. Giving voice to that which cannot speak and yet needs to be heard. Making sense of human experiences. Celebrating, remembering, imagining, exploring, honouring, satirising, offering alternatives, creating perspectives….

The most traditional methods revolve around the voiced word – poetry, story telling, and song. I think these three threads are vital, and it is important to acknowledge that traditionally, these were at the heart of what it meant to be a bard.  However, if you are able to do the work in other forms, if you tell stories in images or sound, if you share the voice of hill and forest with you dancing, if you make tunes that evoke the ancestors or pots that embody sensuality…. Or whatever it is that you do with your whole heart and soul, for your land and tribe… you’re a fellow traveller.

Not everyone will apply the term ‘bard’ in exactly the same way (and rightly so!) but for me it’s all about the giving, the sharing and expressing the work made of soul, passion and vision. There are a number of people who particularly inspire me with the work they do, and I think I will be doing other little showcases and shout-outs along the way, because I am a firm believer in sharing the good stuff.

Today I’d like to sing the praises of Lorna Smithers, a bard from the north of England, sharing poetry most days through her blog. The beauty of her word craft, the clarity of her insight, the power of her intent and her capacity to capture glimpses of otherworldly wonder make her a remarkable writer. http://lornasmithers.wordpress.com If you subscribe by email, her words will flow into your inbox, which I can heartily recommend as a thing to add to your day. There’s an explanation of what she does and why, here http://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/about-from-peneverdant/ . Lorna is also Bardic Co-ordinator for the Druid network, and is a resident poet on the Moon Books blog… http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/category/poetry/