Ye goon to Cauntebury – God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye sharpen yow to talen & to pleye;
Eighteen years ago this week, I found myself in a modern cell of a studentesque room, high over the rooftops of Portsmouth, England’s fairest port. In the distance I could make out the masts of HMS Victory, & about me were scattered the first few tomes of my rudimentary poetry library. A few months previously, at the back-end of 1996, I had discovered that I was, in fact, a poet, the circumstances of which propelled me some years later to compose the following sonnet;
Old Town Barnsley, nineteen-ninety six
Pushing back the bound’ries of the corners of my mind
Cultivating the way of the artistic essences
Even kinda dabbled in a little wyrd occult
Read the esoteric life of Aleister Crowley -
Smack-addl’d mystic of Sumerian lore -
& beginning to write – all the energy within me
Focused upon the page… creation… literature
& my breath, O frail spark, was changed forever
An intellectual girlfriend at the time saw my glow
Gave me her edition of the complete WB Yeats
Starry acolyte of the order of the Golden Dawn,
& as eagles rose from my fermenting imagination
Led by the light of a true Gaelic bardsman
I found I was a poet after all
Since those heady, vernal & rather joyous days – I was only 20 at the time – both my capabilities in the poetic spheres & my library have grown somewhat. On a personal level, I am only a couple of years shy of completing what to Julius Ceasar was a course of training in the Bardic Arts. In his Gallic Wars he states; ‘Reports say that in the schools of the druids, they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.’
Little did I know when I set out on my own poetic path that my spirit was that of one the Celtic bards, but over the years I have had many flashes of insight that have all but confirmed that this is my true calling. A great deal of this has been my work with Clio – the muse of history – for to the traditional Celtic poet , & indeed the poets of other more distant lands, such as the Izibongo of Africa, their work consists of both praising their chiefs & chronicling the history of the tribe. One of the last examples of the practice were the bards of the Earls of Thomond, who in the 17th century produced praise-poems & genealogies for their noble sponsors.
Despite a recent resurgance in dressing up as Druids down Wales way, the true British Bardic Colleges are long gone. To redress this, I have had to become both my own pupil & teacher, which has led to the initiation of these lectures. With only two years left until my graduation, so to speak, I thought it would be prudent to re-assess all the poetical studies I have undertaken these past two decades, & at the same time set some kind of universal benchmark as certain poets find themselves compelled to do from time to time (Sydney, Shelley, Arnold, Elliot). As for my blog, for these next two years I shall be exclusively working on these lectures – my life & travels may at times creep into the text, but in essence my posts shall be completely devoted to a personal dissertation in the poetic field. The final result, I believe, & if I pass my own stringent course of examination, will be my accession to some kind of druidical status : not the mistletoe-chopping, virgin-sacrificing type, but a modern-day version who may influence social matters through the word-weavings of his pen. The title obtained will be that of a Pendragon, whom in Ceasar’s words; ‘Of all these druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.’
To assist me in the endeavour, I am slowly gathering in my library down from Scotland – the first installment arriving a couple of weeks back from East Lothian, being a couple of hundred books & my old computer. Among the collated tomes is the very excellent Selected Essays of TS Elliot (1917-1932), which are something of a similar project to my own. Elliot was the last meaningful poet to write extensively on the art, & interestingly enough his essay-writing began exactly a century before my own shall end. Elliot, & his pal Ezra Pound, were the heralds of the modern poet, who muscled the iambic pentameter off the page & opened up the infinite array of possibilities latent within Free Verse, which for myself found its perfect pitch in the American Beat poetry of the 50s & 60s. Since then, Free Verse has rather waddled along like a duck out of water, & I believe that the art of Poetry must in some way be reset, that we have come full circle.
The same sentiments are etched into my copy of Elliot’s Essays – I do not know when I scribbled them down, but it must have been sometime after the 20th November 2003, when I was due to return it to Brixton Library. My guess is 2006, for it was in the winter of that year, approaching the half-way point along the Bardic path, that I completed my first batch of poetical essays, on the Sicilian island of Maretimo. Whenever exactly I made the above scholia, they form a perfectly apt prologue-cum-manifesto to what I hope to achieve these two years coming;
I have perfected poetry on a personal level & now wish to project that mastery onto a wider field by selecting the choicest fruits from the orchard… by founding a school to study all previous poetry as ‘classical’… to form a launch-pad for any future evolution of the Art.
Poetry has drawn full circle & is complete. The twentieth century adventure is over, there is nothing more to be gained from persisting in the all-conquering modes we utilise. We should now concentrate on the poetry of life & propel it into such poetic devices as we have created over the ages.
Seven centuries ago, the heraldic war-shields of the English were slightly altered, with the leopards being changed into lions. In the same fashion, it is time that the poets of the world transform themselves into nobler, more powerful beast, that they shall once more be respected as the equals of kings. For this reason, & one of self-determination, I have commenced this protracted journey through poetry & its accompanying literature. I do not know how many posts I shall write, but I do know when they shall end – mid April 2017. In due course I hope to establish a new agenda for poetical intercourse, which shall draw massively on the past, but also project well into the future. There are poets out there as yet untrained & as yet unborn, & it is for these that I commit my own erudition into indelible words. For them I shall offer these fine words of the 20th century Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz;
On a steep street somewhere a schoolboy comes home from the library, carrying a book. The book has a title: Afloat in the Forest. Stained by the fingers of diligent Indians. A ray of sunlight on Amazon lianas, leaves spreading on the green water in mats so thick a man can walk across them. The dreamer wanders from one bank to the other, the monkeys, brown & hairy as a nut, make hanging bridges in trees above his head. He is the future reader of our poets