The Old North from Peneverdant

SnowdropsIn the land where I live, spring awakes. Snowdrops in their prime unfold the voluminous skirts of their lanterns. Lords and ladies push their courtship through the soil alongside first signs and scents of ransoms. Swollen mosses take on a bright green living vibrancy.

As I walk the path centuries of ancestors walked to St Mary’s Well, I hear the loudness of a thrush. Could it be the one who calls me from sleep each morning, speckled chest blanched and white as birch amongst ash and sycamore? The trees hold back for now, but I know the sap will start rising soon.

I pass the site of the healing well and cross the road to the War Memorial. Splashes of pink, purple and yellow primroses are planted in beds before the Celtic cross. Etched on blue-grey slabs are the names of seventy-three men who lost their lives in the First World War and forty-six who died in the second. They are honoured and remembered here. I also think of the dead who have no memorial or whose memories have been erased or forgotten.

I follow the footpath uphill onto Church Avenue. Leading to St Mary’s Church, it once went to a Benedictine Priory, dissolved and more recently demolished. A strange road this; trodden by pilgrims in search of miraculous cures and by funeral processions. By soldiers too, maybe armies, defending this crucial position from what we now see as the castle motte.

Passing the church on the hill’s summit I stand in the graveyard amongst tilted and fallen headstones, beneath sentinel beech trees whose shells and bronzed and curling leaves still litter the greening earth.

There’s no access to the motte’s vantage point, but through leafless trees I can make out the city of Preston with its clock tower, steeples, tower blocks and huge manufacturies along Strand Road. I recall images of its panoply of smoking chimneys, flaming windows, imagine the pounding Dickensian melancholy-mad elephants.

Preston’s sleeker now. Cleaner. Less red and black. Concrete grey. Not so smoky. But sometimes the industrial pall still holds. Somewhere behind its walls lies a medieval town and behind that…

The Pennines form a sweeping backdrop, rising higher than Priest Town’s spires ever could; Parlick, Wolf Fell, Longridge Fell, Billinge Hill, Great Hill, Winter Hill. An easterly green and purple barricade. To the west, the river Ribble, Belisama, strapped into her new course, stretches long arms to her shining estuary. A sea gull cries over the horizon and disappears.

I’ve spent several years researching the history of Penwortham. The Riversway Dockfinds mark the existence of a Bronze Age Lake Village. Ballista balls on Castle Hill and a huge industrial site at Walton-le-dale ascertain a Roman presence. Following the breakdown of Roman rule, history grinds to a halt.

There is a black hole in Penwortham’s past the size of the Dark Ages; during the time of the Old North.

Historians have conjectured about this. David Hunt and Alan Crosby agree that place names (where we find a mixture of Brythonic and Old English, like Penwortham* often conjoined) suggest a gradual settlement of the local area by Anglo-Saxons during the seventh century. They say Penwortham’s remoteness on the edges of Northumbria and Mercia meant it was not a major concern. However, this conflicts with the significance of its location as a defensive position for the early Britons and Romans and later probably for the Saxons of Mercia and the key role it played for the Normans during the harrying of the North.

History starts up again with the Saxon hundreds, invasions from Scandinavia and the Norman Conquest. But what happened in between?

Unfortunately, likewise, there is a black hole in the history of the Old North the size of Penwortham. And it isn’t the only one.

The very concept of ‘Yr Hen Ogledd’ ‘the Old North’ is problematic. It is a term used post datum by scholars to identify an area of land covering the majority of northern England and southern Scotland from the time of the breakdown of Roman rule in the fifth century until the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria came to dominate in the eighth century.

During this period, it was simply known as ‘Y Gogledd’ ‘the North’. Its people spoke a Brythonic language known as Cumbric, which was similar to the Cymric language of the Welsh. Its rulers ‘Gwŷr y Gogledd’ ‘the Men of the North’ claimed common descent from either Coel Hen (Old King Coel) or Dyfnawl Hen. Again, the genealogies are problematic because they were created by kings to certify their reign by tracing their lineage back to legendary ancestral figures.

The main kingdoms of the Old North are usually identified as Alt Clud, in the south-west of Scotland, which centred on Dumbarton and later became Strathclyde; Gododdin, in the south-east of Scotland, which had a base at Edinburgh; Elmet, in western Yorkshire and Rheged in north-west England.

The location of Rheged is a matter of ongoing debate. For Ifor Williams it centres on Carlisle and the Eden Valley and covers Cumbria, the Solway Firth and Dumfries and Galloway. John Morris posits the existence of a northern Rheged in Cumbria and a southern Rheged that extended into Lancashire and Cheshire. On the basis of landscape and resources, Mike McCarthy suggests a smaller kingdom or set of sub-kingdoms existed either north or south of the Solway. If McCarthy is correct, we do not have a name for present day Lancashire at all but a black hole the size of a county or larger!

Another problem is that textual sources about the Old North are extremely limited. We have some historical records such as the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum and Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Much of the history of this period is derived from the heroic poetry of the Dark Age bards Taliesin and Aneirin. Later saga poetry construes dramatic dialogues between characters associated with earlier events.

Research leads to where history and myth converge but can take us no further. It becomes necessary to step beyond study across the threshold to otherworlds where the past, our ancestors and deities still live.

So I speak my intentions to the spirits of place; the Lady in the Ivy with her glance of green, wood pigeons gathered in the trees, the people buried here in marked and unmarked graves.

I speak with my god, Gwyn ap Nudd, who abides beyond this land but sometimes seems closer than the land itself. The god who initiated and guides this quest.

His suggestion: what is a black hole but a portal?

Our agreement stirs a ghost wind from behind the graves, rustling bronze beech leaves and tree whispers from above.

The hill seems greener. A single white sea gull barks. Then long-tailed tits come chittering and twirling to the brambles.

Beech trees and castle motte*Penwortham first appears in the Domesday Book in 1086 as ‘Peneverdant.’ Writing in 1857 Rev. W. Thornber claims this name is of British origin and ‘formed of three words- pen, werd or werid and want, as Caer werid, the green city (Lancaster) and Derwent, the water, that is the green hill on the water’. This describes exactly how I imagine Castle Hill would have looked during the eleventh century near the Ribble on the marsh. However, ‘verdant’ has always sounded more like French for ‘green’ to me.

Alan Crosby says ‘Peneverdant’ results from a Norman scribe trying to write an unfamiliar word (which was likely to have been in use for up to 500 years) phonetically. He tells us the ‘Pen’ element in Penwortham is British and means ‘prominent headland’ whilst ‘wortham’ is Old English and means ‘settlement on the bend in the river’.

If Penwortham had an older British name prior to Saxon settlement, it is unknown. I can’t help wondering if it would have been something like ‘y pen gwyrdd ar y dŵr,’ which is modern Welsh for ‘the green hill on the water’. It’s not that far from Peneverdant.

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Review: Your Face is a Forest by Rhyd Wildermuth

Your Face is a ForestRhyd Wildermuth is a writer and social worker based in Seattle. He writes for ‘The Wild Hunt,’ ‘Patheos Pagan’ and ‘Polytheist.com’ and blogs at ‘Paganarch.com.’ He describes himself as ‘a dream-drenched, tea-swilling leftist pagan punk bard.’ He is also a student of Druidry with OBOD. What drew me to his work was his boldness, passion, vision and the fact he proudly and outspokenly ‘worships gods.’

Your Face is a Forest is a collection of essays and prose. Rhyd describes his style as ‘weaving a forest from meaning’. This book’s a tapestry of poetic prose and prose poetry woven from themes that make sense as a whole only in the non-rational way trees make a forest. It’s rough, edgy and raw, and also a little rough around the edges, which adds to its anarchic charm.

Rhyd invites the reader to step into his life and accompany him through the places where he lives into forests behind to meet the faces of ‘the Other’ in ‘tasselled willows’, pines and alders, satyr dances and Dionysian revels. To find the tooth of an elk long dead and buried where cars now drive. A world full of life and another world behind it.

What I love about this book is that Rhyd speaks deeply and richly of both worlds. On pilgrimages to France and Germany he tells of the wonder of waking in a field of rabbits, playing flute with locals on unknown streets, sitting within the pink fur womb of a Berlin bar. He speaks of his despair at social inequality and the continuing repression of homosexuality in Christian colleges. He is a poet of the sacredness of this-worldly life on all levels.

He also shares some of his innermost visions of the gods and otherworlds. These have guided his life and thus form the reader’s guiding threads. Outstanding was a vision of Bran, which deserves quoting in full; ‘When I saw Bran, his great black cloak rippled in an unseen wind, his powerful form straddling a Breton valley between the River of Alder and the sea. But the cloak fled from his body, a myriad of ravens having stripped from his flesh sinew and skin, leaving only great white pillars of bone, the foundation of a temple and a tower. I do not yet know where his head lies.’ On his pilgrimages we find a mysterious tower on a mountain, a stone head in a fountain and a magical cloak. But Rhyd doesn’t give all his secrets away.

Other deities include Arianrhod, Ceridwen, Brighid, Dionysos and the unnamed gods and spirits of the city streets, buried forests and culverted rivers. What I liked most about these sections is that rather than kowtowing to being acceptable, Rhyd speaks his experiences directly and authentically. This was encouraging and inspiring for me and I think will be for other polytheists whose encounters with the gods go beyond known mythology and conventional Pagan text books. There are few modern authors who speak of the mystical aspects of deity and Rhyd does it exceptionally well.

I’d recommend Your Face is a Forest to all Pagans who are looking for real, undoctored insights into nature and the gods. Because it’s not only about Paganism and is written by somebody fully immersed in the beauty and pain of life and the search for love I’d recommend it to non-Pagans too, particularly those interested in spiritual journeys and visionary prose and poetry. Quoting Rhyd’s dedication, to ‘Everyone who’s ever looked into the Abyss / And brought back light for the rest of us.’

Your Face is a Forest is available through Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/rhyd-wildermuth/your-face-is-a-forest/paperback/product-21887986.html

The Path of the Awenydd by Heron

I have been walking the path of the Awenydd for just over a year. In contrast to other ‘Pagan’ and Druidic paths (some Awenyddion identify as Druids as they share roots in the Awen) there is less information about it and it is less well explored. I have found much guidance and inspiration in articles and stories written by Heron on the websites ‘Gorsedd Arberth’ and ‘The Fern Law of Faery.’ Recently he has brought them together on a new site called ‘The Path of the Awenydd’. This site aims to further its exploration and continue the dissemination of Bardic, Brythonic and Faerie Lore. Heron’s working definition is below.

The Path of the Awenydd by Heron

awenThe use of the word ‘awen’ by druids is well known. While its literal meaning in Welsh is ‘inspiration’, usually indicating the gift of the muse to a poet, its related meaning of ‘divine inspiration’ , that which is given to the seeker, and the source of druidic wisdom, is the use adopted by druids. So an ‘awenydd’ is one who is inspired, or seeks inspiration, through the bardic arts. The term was applied in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis to those who went into a trance and returned to utter prophecy in verse. It has continued to be used to describe those who pursue the deeper mysteries of the bardic arts.

So the path of the awenydd is the path of the seeker who follows the lure of the hidden paths that lead to the Otherworld. These ways are elusive as is the source of inspiration. Why is it that the bardic role is particularly prominent? If the awen is the source, it is in the inspiration (that which is ‘breathed into’ the bard) that opens the vistas of the seer. Those who make a place in their hearts, in their thoughts and in the way they live open themselves to inspiration. Of the nine songs that are sung to shape words skilfully in the craft, to speak of the wonder of life or to profess wisdom, these are but preparation for the tenth song sung where the silent harp is strung. So there is skill that must be cultivated; so there is a gift which may be bestowed; so there is learning that may be gained. These are needed though even together are not quite enough. But to remain ever prepared, never forcing the song that will not come, always treading the path lightly in anticipation, but always ready and practised in the necessary arts to take the chance that may come, the path that may be opened. When deep waters well up into the shallow world of sense, then the awenydd is prepared to go with the flow. It is a vocation shared with legendary bards of the past like Taliesin, Myrddin and True Thomas. The works attributed to these poets, prophets and path walkers may or may not have all been written by the original bearers of those names, for they became the personae for those who would follow in their footsteps, who would take on their mantle and inhabit their world. Though it is a lonely path, it is one for which there are waymarks for those who can see them, left by those who have gone before.

What is this ‘inspiration’? Consider the account of Henry Vaughan in the 17th century of one who had inspiration breathed into him:

As to the later Bards, you shall have a most curious Account of them.This vein of poetrie they called Awen, which in their language signifies rapture, or a poetic furore & (in truth) as many of them as I have conversed with are (as I may say) gifted or inspired with it. I was told by a very sober, knowing person (now dead) that in his time, there was a young lad fatherless & motherless, soe very poor that he was forced to beg; butt att last was taken up by a rich man, that kept a great stock of sheep upon the mountains not far from the place where I now dwell who cloathed him & sent him into the mountains to keep his sheep. There in Summer time following the sheep & looking to their lambs, he fell into a deep sleep in which he dreamt, that he saw a beautifull young man with a garland of green leafs upon his head, & an hawk uon his fist: with a quiver full of Arrows att his back, coming towards him (whistling several measures or tunes all the way) att last lett the hawk fly att him, which (he dreamt) gott into his mouth & inward parts, & suddenly awaked in a great fear & consternation: butt possessed with such a vein, or gift of poetrie, that he left the sheep & went about the Countrey, making songs upon all occasions, and came to be the most famous Bard in all the Countrey in his time.

(contained in a letter to the antiquary John Aubrey)

The awenydd collects, assimilates and re-imagines such stories as keys to hidden doors that open onto the paths of Faery and finds them in folklore, faërie lore, tales that once were remembered and told and have since been written down and still provide clues, hints, glimpses through the shifting mists of the liminal domains. The awenydd also studies the bardic arts of wielding words that are given and discovering significances in the way the words may be shaped into speech.

Because it is a Brythonic path there is much to be sought in the lore contained in the early Welsh tales and the work of the early bards. But not exclusively, for much of the Goidelic and the Norse lore overlaps, reinforces and illuminates what is to be found there. And of the tales that have come down to us in English many have grown out of the landscape of England as experienced from Angle and Saxon perspectives and those of later inhabitants. The relationship between the land and the people who live on it has always changed and different layers of lore reflect this. Though it is a path of the study of lore, the ways to Faery are twisted into the weave of the landscape and are revealed through close relationship with particular places and the natural world. It is here that lore becomes more than words on the page and the gods of the land are immanent. So the path of the awenydd is a path through the trees and along the streams and over the fields and the hills of this land. A path which leads to the Nemeton, or sacred grove, where portals to the Otherworld may open and inspiration fill the seeker with knowledge for which it is difficult to find words, though seeking for the words that form patterns of significance is also a path of discovery for the awenydd.

***

‘The Path of the Awenydd’ website can be found here: https://barddos.wordpress.com/

This version of the article was first published on The Druid Network http://druidnetwork.org/what-is-druidry/bardic-expression/bardic-articles/

Review: Bard Song by Robin Herne

Bard SongThis review is long overdue. Coincidentally I was re-reading Bard Song with the intention of reviewing it at the time Robin published his recording of Gwynn’s Guest, dedicating it to me, which has spurred me along.

I’m not sure if I can give this book an objective review as I’ve owned it so long and like it so much. The pages are scored with under-linings. Against many of the poems are pencilled a’s, b’s and c’s from my attempts to decipher complex metres. The spine bends open on my favourite poems, which I return to frequently, have shared with my local Poetry Society and used as examples in Bardic workshops. But I’ll give it a go.

Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid based in Ipswich. Bard Song provides an introduction to reading and writing honorific and seasonal poetry (in English) in mainly Welsh and Irish metres. This fulfils an important role in Brythonic and Gaelic polytheism, giving people like myself who have not yet mastered the language of their gods the tools and inspiration to compose poems based on Celtic metres. It also opens new and exciting vistas for future developments within poetry as a whole.

In his introduction Robin speaks of the Awen, the source of Bardic inspiration as ‘a wild spirit, a passionate and consuming Muse that imparts not just pretty turns of phrase, but a new vision of the world.’ Poetry is a magical art which can be used to commune with and honour gods and ancestors, attain and express a spiritual vision, record history, praise (or deride) a person and for fun. Its ultimate purpose is re-enchantment.

The first four parts of the book are divided in accordance with the Gaelic festivals; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh. In each section Robin introduces the festival with associated myths, traditions, deities and suitable metres before sharing a selection of his poems, many of which have been used by his clan in ritual.

For Samhain, Robin introduces the forsundud, an Irish genealogical poem for the ancestors. We meet the Cailleach holding ‘cold vigil’ in ‘The House of Winter’ and rutting stags. ‘Gwynn’s Guest,’ one of my favourite poems of all time (written in tawddgyrch cadwnog metre) records St Collen’s encounter with the Welsh Fairy King on Glastonbury Tor. The first stanza captures Gwynn’s wild nature so perfectly I can’t resist quoting it;

‘Wind tears the Tor, unravels hair
Bound in plaits fair, wild blood yearning
For thunder’s roar, this hill my Chair,
Blessed wolf’s lair, white fire burning.

Tribes rise and fall…’ And the ending is wickedly humorous.

At Imbolc’s core stands the hearth of Brigit. ‘Sisters of the Hearth’ introduces her triple role as smith, healer and poet. ‘Brigit’s Song’ takes place in her Hall. Robin’s words in ‘Three Flames’ resonate most strongly with my personal experience of her as Brigantia, goddess of northern England and the fires of inspiration which consume and heal;

‘Light of compassion white burning
Thaw the ice that scalds my mind
Stir the flesh from torpor afresh,
Night-blind, scars mesh; pray be kind.’

The section on Beltaine speaks of magical and military poetry. ‘Cu Chulainn at the Ford’ provides a heart-wrenching representation of Cu Chulainn and Ferdiad’s tragic battle in Ae Freisilighe metre. On a more cheerful note we find ‘The Honey-Tongued,’ dedicated to Ogma ‘carpenter of song,’ who is the patron god of Robin’s Clan. Since its publication this poem has fittingly given its name to a new brand of mead.

Lughnasadh introduces the stories of Lugh and Tailtiu, recording Lugh’s arrival ‘At Tara’s Gates’ and Tailtiu’s death and ‘funereal commemoration.’ It covers the story of Gobanos, a god of smithing and brewing and there is also discussion of famed cauldrons in Celtic mythology and the important role of select brews in the arts of inspiration.

I have mentioned only a small selection of poems and themes. In later chapters Robin shares poems devoted to Heathen, Greek and Roman gods and those written for fun. In the appendices he provides guidelines for writing in Irish and Welsh metres. These are clearly introduced with rhythmic and syllabic patterns with examples. For Englyn Penfyr;

‘######a##b
###b##a
######a’

‘The old hunter sought the beast in the night,
Though without might, hope never ceased,
Yet frail, his skill found the feast.’

I have learnt vast amounts from this book about Celtic metres, composed some poems of my own in the Welsh ones and found it to be an excellent resource for use in Bardic workshops. Robin’s dedication to the Old Gods shines throughout his work and this alone has inspired me on my path as an Awenydd and polytheist.

Bard Song is a must read for Bards, Fili and people of Celtic and other polytheistic religions. I’d also recommend it highly to all Pagans and to poets looking for new and exciting metres with origins in the British Isles.

***

Bard Song can be purchased through Moon Books: http://www.moon-books.net/books/bard-song

Robin’s most recent poems, which continue his exploration of world mythology in carefully chosen metres can be found in Moon Poets: http://www.moon-books.net/books/moon-poets

His blog ‘Round the Herne’ is here: http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/

Gwynn’s Guest by Robin Herne

This morning I was delighted to find that Robin Herne, a polytheist Druid and crafter of rare and wonderful Bardic verses in complex metres has not only published his reading of one of my favourite poems of all time, ‘Gwynn’s Guest,’ on his personal blog through youtube but dedicated it to me!

On his blog, Robin describes the poem thus: ‘A Welsh poem in tawddgyrch cadwynog metre written originally for a ritual dedicated to Gwynn app Nudd, the Welsh king of the fairies and leader of the Wild Hunt. The poem is inspired the story of St Collen who encounters Gwynn atop Glastonbury Tor (though this version is told from the King’s viewpoint and not the saint’s).’ And says ‘the recording is a small thank-you to Lorna Smithers for her help in publicising this blog and (as a result) my books.’

The opening two stanzas capture Gwyn’s wild nature perfectly and there is a wickedly humorous surprise to listen out for at the end. Enjoy 🙂

‘Round the Herne,’ where Robin records a variety of poems and stories based on mythology and folklore (and you can find out more about his publications) can be found here: http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/

Enchanting the Shadowlands

The Harris Museum, PrestonIn September 2012 I received an imperative from a Brythonic god called Gwyn ap Nudd; ‘enchanting the shadowlands’ (1). This took place in a visionary dimension of the Harris Museum in Preston where the bones of this land’s ancient ancestors lie amongst spoils of the civil wars, Jacobite rebellions and industrial revolution. Gwyn’s calling was not only to journey to Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) but deep into the dream of my local landscape for the purpose of gathering its memories and sharing them in my communities.

This task led me back to the Ice Age when the rule of winter thawed and following aurochs, red deer and wild horses the first people arrived at Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ and built their lake village. I saw the first springs bursting forth made into holy wells then watched their tragic retreat as the aquifer beneath the hill was shattered and its dragon spirit perished.

Standing before the half-demolished walls and shattered windows of Penwortham Mill transported me back to the clash of power looms and roll of spinning mules. Stories of cottage spinners and weavers forced from their homes and orphans torn from London apprenticed as piecers and sweepers to John Watson demanded to be told.

I wandered the towns behind Preston searching for the city’s soul in friaries of grey cloaked monks, silently screaming leper hospitals and pubs where tobacco smoke mixed with laughter (all demolished to make way for the by-pass and university buildings) constantly aware of the headless black dog on my trail. On the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War I stared into the hole in the sky above the cenotaph.

Throughout this time the shining waters of the river Ribble and its goddess, Belisama were a continuous source of inspiration. I learnt the shapeshifting ways of herons and auspices of gulls and wild swans. A local meadow took me to a land of grasshoppers, I flew away with bees who never returned and followed an old beetle back to the soil where he was born. The meadow was mowed, stripped and turned into a parking lot for vehicles expanding the by-pass and I raged about it.

I took some of these poems and stories through the mist and across the starry seas and cloud topped mountains of Annwn to Gwyn’s great hall to share with him at his feast amongst the hosts of the battle-dead. Others I recited to the spirits of the land or to human audiences at poetry performances in local cafes, libraries, the Harris Museum and Preston flag market.

It has taken me over two years to complete this collection. It may have taken less time if I had listened harder and had more trust in my gods and myself. My perennial fear of other people’s opinions led to me stalling and nearly giving up on it completely at the end of summer. The feeling of emptiness that ensued and Gwyn’s distance told me I had done the wrong thing.

Enchanting the Shadowlands is approaching completion. I have taken down the poems and stories from my blog for final revisions and hope to publish it next year.

Over this period I have learnt many things; stories of the land and its ancestral people, ways between the worlds and the binding nature of imperatives from the old gods. Unknown tales have been en-chanted. This land’s enchantments have been voiced from its shadows.

But my quest does not end here. A new calling awaits which will take me deeper into the mysteries of this land, Gwyn’s mythology and the Bardic Tradition. A growing commitment to my path as an Awenydd, to learning the Welsh language and travelling the lands where it has its roots.

I will be continuing to share my poems and other notes from my journey here, along with more about the next step on my path once I have found the words.

For now, bright blessings for the New Year.

Fairy Lane, Church Wood

(1) Recorded in my poem ‘The Bull of Conflict’

Review: Creatures by Greg Hill

Creatures by Greg HillGreg Hill lives in Wales. He was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and contributes regularly to Welsh literary magazines. I’ve followed his blog for a while and was delighted when I heard about the release of his first full length collection of poetry in print; Creatures.

The title alone creates intrigue. What kind of creatures? The epigraph replies; ‘All creaturely things… Plants growing, / Roads running, / Rivers flowing, / Places that sing.’ It is clear from the outset this collection is about an animate landscape where every being is a creature, alive and sentient.

The first ekphrastic poem is based on the picture on the cover; Fidelma Massey’s sculpture, ‘Water Mother,’ who dreams thoughts of water into being. Here, the ‘cosmic ebb and flow’ of thought and water is contained in the poem. Analogies between living water and perception recur throughout the book. In ‘Cwm Eleri’ the poem’s tight structure fails to contain the river, which slips from grasp like time. In ‘Myddleton’s River’ water-ways link London, Wales and the underworld, forming a conduit for complicated alchemical processes of mental and physical transformation.

The contrast between our immediate perception of creatures and those aspects of their being impossible to grasp is central. A jackdaw sitting happily in the hearth becomes ‘an image… a token of wildness… like a jigsaw piece from another puzzle;’ a homely and familiar event made strange. Greg writes that as a heron dips out of sight ‘a part of me fell out of the sky with it,’ lost ‘except that something / settles in the flow of these words.’ We can never completely grasp our perceptions. Only through words can they find permanent representation.

Several poems present roads, paths and boundaries as living entities and how our understanding of them shifts once they are crossed and they slip into memory. If we try to return, the roads are ‘dull,’ ‘dusty,’ ‘empty.’ Our former selves are shadows, unfamiliar reflections. ‘Strange border guards’ usher us ‘from what / we neither know nor recognise.’ These haunting and complex poems demonstrate how choices shape our relationship with the landscape and hence our memories.

The mysteries of the Bardic Tradition and its creatures are explored in novel ways. ‘Awen’ depicts a shepherd lad inspired to speak poetry by a spirit ‘like a forest god’ who is elusive as the words he inspires. Four episodes from the Mabinogion are covered. I was fascinated by ‘A Scaffold for a Mouse,’ which depicts ‘Manawydan living in a dream / landscape with the life / conjured out of it like a flat plane.’ Through his ‘firm grip’ on the mouse, ‘a small thing / for a great purpose,’ he breaks the ‘powerful magic’ of Llwyd, awakening ‘form to its true nature’ thus freeing Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa.

This collection depicts a relationship with the creaturely world that is on the surface simple and direct yet beneath mysterious and disconcerting. Each time I return to these poems I discover new meanings and thematic relationships within the whole. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes poetry with lots of depth and has a love for nature, myth and creatures.

Creatures can be purchased through Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/greghillpoetry

Greg Hill’s poetry site is here: http://greghill.weebly.com/
Greg’s blog, Hill’s Chroicle can be found here: http://hills-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk/