What’s Your Story, Chorley?


Reblog of Nicolas Guy Williams’ write-up of yesterday’s performance of ‘The Silencing of the Flowers’ by Guests of the Earth at What’s Your Story, Chorley? It was particularly exciting for me because as well as retelling some better known Greek seasonal myths centring on Persephone and Orpheus, we got the chance to tell some (ironically) less known British ones including the story of Creiddylad and Gwyn and Gwythyr’s battle for her each May Day and the local folkloric legend of the Gabriel Ratchets. Another important element, which Nick mentions is ‘raising an awareness of how the plant kingdom speaks to all living things.’ (Oh yes, and then there was the howling… and the lights that flashed when we howled in Market Walk! A perfect touch and ooooh that serpent…).

Originally posted on Guests of the Earth:

Today at Unit 25 Market Walk in Chorley as part of the “What’s your Story, Chorley?” word  event Guests of the Earth, Lorna; Peter and Myself performed our first set of 2015 “The Silencing of the Flowers”. We had a full and responsive audience who were a pleasure to perform for … we were told afterwards that some children at the back were sat rapt in attention for the full 45 minutes and everyone loved the howling interjected at various points as part of the performance (I told you it was all about the howling), oh and that sneaky serpent as well, you can’t take some snakes anywhere ;)

The set “Silencing of the Flowers” opens with seasonal myths from ancient Greece and Britain, the relationship between Hades and Persephone, and then leading into the British/Welsh Underworld where local Lancashire myths of the church Grim and Gabriel ratchets flows into…

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She who was jealous of flowers

How jealous I am fragile flowers
of how you only arrive
once a year
how you are always beautiful
vibrant coloured
how you do not have to labour
on and on pink-fleshed at the modern wheel.

How ignorant you are of everything beneath you
of the effortfulness of soil
worms with their moon rakes
bent double like miners in midnight toil
the dung beetle rolling his ball
to the edge of the world.
Look down and see beauty costs the earth.
It is made of broken snail shells.

But you pretty flowers are not labourers.

Have you ever tried to sprout from a cold hard bulb?
Endured the underworld’s permafrost?
Seen miniscules of worms die?
Do you know the origin of minerals or miracles?

We are told they come from God.

They come from years and the bones of dinosaurs.
Do you know how many continents
it takes to make a flower?
How many extinctions?
How the rumbling of plague carts
served us before you were here?
How like you we come from many deaths?

I did not know you could talk or how
we have grown together.
I am amazed.
My widening eyes
are brimming with forbidden knowledge.

Then be beautiful in your petals for us
tread lightly on the dead
for these are short hours
of spring sun
before we cast our bodies
on the ground and are together again.

The Crossroads of You: Lorna Smithers’ “Enchanting the Shadowlands” (review)


This is a reblog of Rhyd Wildermuth’s review of Enchanting the Shadowlands. Rhyd lives in Seattle and writes and blogs compassionately and compellingly about the beauty of his land and the horrors capitalism has wrecked upon it and his people. As a bard of the Welsh gods his words are fuelled by the pure untrammelled force of the Awen. This review is breathtaking and a piece of poetry in its own right and I’m very honoured by it.

Rhyd divines insights I didn’t know myself and have left me pondering. He describes the book as ‘a trap’ and says it takes you into ‘the memory not just of a poet, but of a land itself, ages intersecting at the crossroads of you.’ ‘I’ve never been to Lancashire, though some part of it now lives within my memory, the River Ribble’s waters soaking into the rain falling upon me in Seattle.’

I don’t understand this yet. At present I think it says alot about how time and space can meet in moments of enchantment (and disconcertment) to which ages past and opposite sides of the world form no true obstacle. It also says alot about the power of words to bring about change.

On that note as editor of a new website called Gods & Radicals Rhyd is encouraging pagans from across the world to unite in ‘beautiful resistance’ against capitalism. There are already a number of excellent articles and its ideas and influence are swiftly growing. I have contributions planned for May and June.

If you like Rhyd’s writing do check out his book Your Face is a Forest for his pilgrimages and deep reflections on land, deities and ancestors.

Originally posted on Paganarch:

enchanting-the-shadowlands-book-cover Enchanting The Shadowlands, by Lorna Smithers

I don’t know how to compel a person, a stranger, regardless of their disposition towards my words, to read a book.  But it’s not for that this review of Lorna Smither’s collection, Enchanting the Shadowlands, is so overdue, nor from any of the usual excuses of pre-occupation or inundation.  That is, the world hasn’t gotten in the way, nor have I been too afeared I wouldn’t have quite the right words.

Rather–the book’s a trap.

Don’t carry the slim volume with you, thinking you might find time to read a few poems on the bus to work, or occupy with her words some unguarded moments at a coffeeshop or bar, waiting for a friend, perhaps, or sitting merely idle.  You cannot merely fill space of distraction with her poetry any more than you might hope a quick stroll through a park will ‘clear…

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Penwortham By-Pass Protected

A few days ago I received a letter from Lancashire County Council announcing that the route for the new stretch of by-pass in Penwortham running from the Booths roundabout to the A59 at Howick has been protected.

Plans for Penwortham By-passLast year I attended public consultations and found out the plan to build this piece of by-pass is founded on a longer term plan to build further sections linking to a new bridge over the river Ribble then to the M55 at Swill Brook.

Penwortham Link RoadThe reason there has never been a Junction 2 on the M55 (which opened in 1975) was to leave room for this new piece of by-pass. This plan has been dormant for many years and re-risen as a result of the City Deal Programme:

‘The Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal is an ambitious programme of work that builds on the strong economic performance of the area over the last ten years and will help ensure the area continues to grow by addressing major transport issues to deliver new jobs and housing. Over a ten-year period the deal will generate more than 20,000 jobs, over 17,000 homes and more importantly grow the local economy. With the funding certainty it brings, we are able to deliver these transport improvements sooner we would otherwise be able to. This means new homes and jobs can come sooner and we can reduce congestion on existing roads and improve areas for communities and road users.’

I attended a Penwortham Town Council Meeting on Monday the 7th of October where I raised concerns about the impact of the new section of by-pass on the local environment in Penwortham and the longer term plan for the Ribble bridge. This would destroy part of the Ribble’s natural coast line and Lea Marsh, a Biological Heritage Site which is home to two rare salt marsh grasses; long-stalked orache and meadow barley.

At this meeting the Town Council voted against the new route in favour of the ‘rescinded route’ which would run through Longton and would not link to a new bridge. In light of their vote I was shocked (but not surprised) when I received the letter from LCC saying the new route had been protected. LCC are preparing to submit a planning application in spring 2016 and have promised further public consultations. Should permission be granted the by-pass could be completed and opened by 2018.

The results of the questionnaire to local residents about the by-pass are revealingly vague:

‘the questionnaire you received back in September 2014 was sent to 13,000 residents… Over 1,250 residents and others interested in the road replied and only a small number were against completing Penwortham bypass by whichever choice of route. This suggests a strong degree of consensus among the local community that the bypass should be completed. As part of our consultation, the County Council presented its preferred route…’

By careful rewording relating to the completion of by-pass in general  LCC have covered up the fact that there was a large amount of opposition to the new route and they have over-ridden the vote of Penwortham Town Council and the opinions of local residents.

The letter describes the benefits of the new route including the long term plans to link to the new Ribble bridge and aims to address ‘legitimate concerns’. It also speaks of plans to improve Liverpool Road ‘the local centre of Penwortham’. This seems like a decoy and tantamount to sweeping the dust under the carpet. The destructive impact of the new by-pass can be redeemed by promoting the use of buses, walking and cycling in the town centre (???). This looks like extremely skewed logic to me.

It’s clear the destruction of local fields, the natural coastline of the Ribble and Lea Marsh need to be prevented. Is there a way to oppose the building of the new stretch of by-pass that would persuade LCC to change their minds before planning permission is granted in spring 2016? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on what can be done.

Natural Coastline of the river Ribble with Lea Marsh in the background

Natural Coastline of the river Ribble with Lea Marsh in the background

Enchanting the Shadowlands Book Launch

Enchanting the Shadowlands Book CoverOn Wednesday 22nd April I held an evening of poetry, song and story to celebrate the launch of Enchanting the Shadowlands at Korova Arts Cafe in Preston. The night was very special for me because it marked the publication of my first book, the completion of a spiritual journey and brought together friends who have supported me since I took to writing poetry seriously in 2012.

Storyteller Peter Dillon was MC for the night. We opened with a joint performance of ‘The Bull of Conflict’ a glosa recording the moment when my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, gave me the imperative of ‘enchanting the shadowlands’.

Vincent Smith’s ‘Woodland Eulogy’ and reflections on early memories of a close friend made a poignant start to the first half. Mike Cracknell brought the house down with his hilarious poem about lovers with nothing in common except filthy habits. Martin Domleo performed poems tying in with my nature themed work including ‘Thor’s Cave’ and the experience of deceleration linking to his passion for motorbikes. Nina GeorgeSinger Nina George was the first headline act. She started with a haunting piece written by a friend. Her second song, she told us, demanded to be sung at the launch! She got everybody joining in with the chorus:

‘She said this is my church here where I stand
With my hands in the earth and my feet on the ground
She said this is my church here where I stand
With my heart in my mouth and my soul in the land.’

Nina finished with a song by Jodi Mitchell. At the end of the first half I performed poems exploring local history written in voices of the ancestors and spirits of the land. These included a reluctant resident of Penwortham Lake Village, a spinner in her cellar, the spirit of the aquifer beneath Castle Hill and Belisama, goddess of the Ribble. During the break we looked out at a pink-purple sunset against fairy-lit trees and the silhouette of St Walburge’s spire. Preston Sunset from KorovaI opened the second half with  ‘Slugless’ which was written when I had a spate of people confessing to me about their slug problems. All but one…. As we often bump into each other walking beside the Ribble, Terry Quinn performed poems about the river, one set at a crucial time when a campaign run successfully by Jane Brunning saved the area that is now Central Park from a huge development scheme. Dorothy mentioned she also had a slug scene in her novel ‘Shouting Back’. Her poems included the memorable ‘City Rats’.

Nina returned to perform a song about reclaiming Druidry and a controversial tongue-in-cheek ditty called ‘The Day the Nazi Died’ by Chumbawamba. Novelist Katharine Ann Angel read excerpts from ‘Being Forgotten’ and ‘The Froggitt Chain’ and spoke of her inspiration from people, particularly working with difficult teenagers.

Nicolas Guy WilliamsThe second headliner was poet Nicolas Guy Williams. He opened with ‘Ancient by thy Winters’ saying he thought it would be suit my launch as it contains howling: ‘Hear them HOWL! HEAR THEM HOWL! Once no forest was defenceless.’ He also performed ‘Woman of the Sap’ and ‘Oh ratchet walk and seek that scent’ one of my personal favourites based on the local legend of the Gabriel Ratchets.

I ended the second half with a piece dedicated to Gwyn on Nos Galan Gaeaf called ‘When You Hunt for Souls in the Winter Rain’ and poems Lorna Enchanting the Shadowlandsrecording a journey to Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) with horse and hound to an audience in his hall. As a finale I performed ‘No Rules’ which summarises my philosophy of life:

‘Break every boundary.
There are no rules.
Only truth and promises
Bind us in the boundless infinite.’

Afterward there was an open-mic where it was great to have Flora Martyr, who is missed as a host of Korova Poetry, back to perform. Following Nina’s protest songs John Dreaming the Hound Winstanley, who is involved with the Wigan Digger’s Festival, sung an old diggers song. I also opened some presents from the generous members of my grove. Nina gave me a bottle of wine (knows me too well!). Phil and Lynda Ryder gave me a book about Boudica, a warrior queen and ruler of the Iceni (horse) tribe, called ‘Dreaming the Hound’ with a wonderful bronze image of a howling hound on the cover.

When we left Korova the crescent moon was high in the sky with a bright and beautiful Venus above the fairy-lit trees. I felt the shadowlands had been enchanted. There is power in a promise… and in the support of friends without whom I wouldn’t have been able to see it through. I’d like end on a note of thanks to Peter as MC, everybody who performed and came to watch and to Sam for providing the venue. Moon, Venus and Fairy Trees

Sacred Preston Walk

On Sunday 19th April I led a walk for UCLan Pagan Society exploring the sacred history of Preston. This began at the hill fort site on Frenchwood Knoll and led to the Minster, dedicated to St Wilfrid in the 7th century. We followed the town’s oldest roads to the sites of the Franciscan Friary and St Mary’s leper hospital and chapel before returning to explore Preston’s industrial history. A recurrent theme was culverted water courses and vanished wells. I also told the stories of the Black Dog of Preston and Bannister Doll.

My write-up can be found on Pagan Soc’s blog.

The Minster