On Saturday the 14th of November I went to the Bibliomancer’s Ball at Oddfellows Hall in Ipswich. The event was hosted by Robin Herne. Its aim was to celebrate 20 years of the Ipswich Pagan Council and showcase Pagan authors from the region, Moon Books, and other publishing houses. I went along to meet Robin, Trevor Greenfield (the publisher of Moon Books) and authors I know on the web but have never met in person and it was great to put faces to names.
The first author to showcase her work was Beverley Price, a poet from Ipswich. Speaking on the topic of ‘Poetry of Darkness,’ she read from her collection The Flowering of the Black Petal. Beverley considers herself a Romantic poet. The aims of her readings were to show how poetry has formed a means of expression through a dark period in her life, and how although she doesn’t class herself as a Pagan poet, her Pagan beliefs have fed into her work. She read her poems eloquently and a number of evocative phrases stood out, such as ‘graveyard Cinderella.’
Outside in the garden Joanna van der Hoeven hosted a talk on Nemetona, a Gaulish goddess of the nemeton; a sacred grove or space. She gave an account of inscriptions found to Nemetona before going on to say there are no known myths about this goddess. Therefore many of her insights are from personal experience. Joanna relates to Nemetona as a goddess of sanctuary, whether this is a grove, home, an inner space or a moment of privacy in the work loos.
She made a poignant point ‘without her I would go mad.’ This is certainly my experience of personal relationship with a deity, (although contrariwise Gwyn takes me to the edges of madness to stay sane) and I wonder how many other polytheists feel a similar way.
Joanna’s talk was followed by a guided meditation where we went to visit our ‘inner hut,’ a sacred space presided over by Nemetona. Everybody who partook in the meditation spoke afterward of their feelings of peace and relaxation and it was enjoyable hearing about people’s different experiences. I ended up in a run down hut / cave built into a waterfall with a scraggy goblin, so not sure what that means about my conception of inner sanctuary!
Robin’s first talk was ‘Word Weaving and Tale Spinning.’ This centred on storytelling and covered a variety of topics and thought provoking questions. These included contrasts between revealed religion and oral tales, retelling a story as sacred duty, and the reasons some stories grow to become myths and some do not. His main point, which I thought formed the pivotal point of the whole day, was PLACES, GODS AND ANCESTORS WANT STORIES.
After dinner we had entertainment from the Devilwood Drummers. Trevor hosted an informal discussion about getting published for aspiring authors and poets. He talked about the criteria of getting published with Moon Books, and how the publication process works after a book is accepted.
One of the topics raised was that poetry will always be a hard sell. For me this brought up the issue that aside from poets there are very few people who read poetry. I wonder today, is it because poetry is inaccessible? Is it because there are more popular alternatives such as films and soap operas? In terms of the Pagan market, why do people prefer reading depictions of the Pagan paths in prose rather than poetry?
I spoke on ‘Voicing Place.’ After thanking Robin and the spirits of Oddfellows Hall for having me, I talked about ways of connecting with and voicing place before sharing examples of how I have done this through poetry. These included
• How my relationships with the city of Preston, the river Ribble and its goddess Belisama led me to writing ‘Proud of Preston,’ which won the Preston Guild Poetry competition in 2012.
• The legend of Penwortham Fairy Funeral and my search for a poetic form to suit the voices of the fairies.
• My ‘shamanic’ journeys with Gwyn ap Nudd to quest visions of Lancashire’s lost lake, Martin Mere and its forgotten holmes, and their expressions in poetry.
• Penwortham Mill as genius loci and locus of ancestral memory, my research into the effects of industrialisation on the people of the local area and the poem it inspired.
My personal highlight was Robin Herne’s storytelling. He began with ‘Gwynn app Nudd and St Collen.’ Collen was provided with a depth of background. Dormath, Gwyn’s dog literally played a much larger role. Afterward Robin recounted Gwyn’s perspective on what happened in regard to his ‘banishing’ and the exact nature of the holy water spilt (you have to hear this in person!) with alacrity and wit, capturing the Fairy King’s awesome presence and sharp sense of humour perfectly.
Robin also told ‘The Birth of Sekhmet.’ This story was less familiar to me, but combined a similar mix of the mythic and humorous; a rampaging lion goddess brought to peace by lapping up a huge pool of red beer. His final story was ‘The Romance of Fionn and Sabh.’ I’ve read this a couple of times. What stood out was Robin’s vivid depiction of how all the characters changed form on crossing to and from the Otherworld, which raised interesting questions about boundaries and transformation.
I also met Sheena Cundy, whose talk on her ‘Nature’s Oracle’ cards I unfortunately missed due to a clash in the timetable. Whilst there wasn’t a massive crowd it was well worth going to see the speakers and meet everybody, including, last but not least, Robin’s lovely dogs, Gwynn and Cafall.