For the Dead, for the Mad, for the Poets

for the torn apart all the parts of our bodies will ride tonight,
crawl up from the bogs onto our swampy horses,

not the bog bodies who were found,
but those who were not found.

*

You summon back our voices like the mast on Winter Hill.

You make us appear again like television. Your hunt
would make a good film but most times myth
is better told in softly spoken words
and half-seen visions.

Radio broken. 
Someone smashed the television.

*

You are always off screen.
You are the one who is not named.
You are the one whose face is the face of a god.

The howls of the wind are the chorus of your hounds,

your words are furies and each has a hand, 
clutching, pulling, ripping, tearing.

*

You are the god of illusion
and the rending apart of all illusions.

The one who tears our false truths to shreds.

The jostling elbows, stuck-out toes, the heels dug in.

*

This is the time of fire, flood, rain, and catastrophe,
yet the beech leaves are yellow, gold, and green

in the kingdom beyond the kingdom beyond the kings 

and we call you a king without knowing the true meaning

of sovereignty, that your throne means more than gold.

*

Are you silence or the breaker of silence? 

So long ago I wrote: 

“The universe began 
with a howl and from the howl came death.”

The death-hounds within me giving tongue to a mythos
that came to me before my world had begun.

*

AWEN is not always a smooth chant
in the mouths of druids, but the broken vowels
of an awenydd when language cannot help and poetry fails.

Still, the body, its dislocated limbs, remember how to ride tonight.

*

And where is she in all of this? Riding ahead treading air un-abducted? 
Did you take her from the underworld or did she take you there?

Time, the clock does not obey, pivots like she on her wild white mare

like a dislocated limb. I have found that myth dislocates too,
frees itself from time and space, free and true.

This poem marks the first time I have felt inspired to share something here for a long time, something I felt compelled to share for my god after a walk near Winter Hill on Nos Galan Gaeaf. Maybe there will be more, maybe not, no promises, no deadlines…

Uffern ar y Ddaear

Uffern ar y Ddaear – Hell on Earth

I’m surrounded by the smell of dead grass
dreaming of a machine that creates water from nothing.
Someone’s got the radio on too loud and always a baby is wailing.

I lift my nose and smell the smoke on the wind and my throat
is already whining for my master dead on the moors
like cottongrass, heather, butterfly, grasshopper,

where the battle that began on the first of May is still going on
between a fire ignited by one who belongs to the inferno
and the fire fighters with hoses, beaters, leaf blowers.

If only they could bring the rains and autumn winds,
summon them into a summer already too hot and too long,
where reservoirs empty and carbon reservoirs bake, burn, reignite.

I hear they’re trying to save the mast, 1000 feet high, which I saw
lit red like a warning sign beneath the full moon transmitting not only
radio, television for the BBC, ITV, C4, signals for mobile phones,

but some kind of howl we’ve somehow got used to between silences.
What if it goes down like the plane that crashed on the 27th of February
in 1958 when the snow was so cold no-one could rescue the 35 dead

who still roam the hill cursing the faulty radio signals and the drones
flying overhead in the way of the helicopter pouring its cauldron
of water from the reservoirs over the baking baking peat?

When the endless chatter ceases will everyone hear the howl
pouring the dead down Winter Hill like radio waves
from the spring where the Douglas starts

and the mourning song for Winter’s King
dead like a bog body amongst the burial mounds
beneath the burning feet of his rival who is ever victorious?

When we try to shut Hell’s gate with torches on each side
and inside red as a death hound’s oesophagus will we realise
the throat will never close and the howl wrenched from it is us?

800px-Campfire_flames

*This poem is based on the Winter Hill fire and the mythic battle between Gwyn ap Nudd (Winter) and Gwythyr ap Greidol (Summer).

Scorched

The UK is in the throes of a heat wave. Here in Lancashire temperatures have reached a scorching 30 degrees for four consecutive days. It’s been uncharacteristically warm and dry for two months. Preston, dubbed the ‘wettest city in England’, has barely seen an inch of rain since the beginning of May. Our lawn is scorched, our raspberries are shrivelled, the rivers and streams are running low.

In northern British mythology the first of May is the day that Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ beats Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ in a ritual battle to win the hand of Creiddylad, a fertility goddess whose name may stem from creir/crair ‘treasure… object of admiration or love.’

Scorched Fire Sign

Gwythyr ap Greidol’s name suggests he is a god of victory in combat, the scorching fire of war and the heat of passion. His is the spark that gives life to the land but also initiates the wildfire. Over the last week wildfires have raged across Saddleworth Moor, Rivington Moor, and Winter Hill. The latter seems symbolic of Gwythyr, Summer’s King, beating Gwyn, Winter’s King, on his home ground. Of course I haven’t been up to Winter Hill whilst it is ablaze (last night it reignited in multiple locations), but I noticed the portent of the full moon over the mast, lit up red like a warning sign.

Scorched Winter Hill Warning

People have been evacuated from their houses and schools closed. Less has been said about the numerous birds, small mammals and insects who have lost their lives or been driven from their homes.

Just as concerning is the Ribble running the lowest I have ever seen, banks of silt and sandstone bedrock exposed, tributaries becoming drier and drier, pond water getting lower and lower. Water shortages have already hit in the South East and Staffordshire. In the North West United Utilities are recommending that we cut down on water use. On next week’s forecast there is not a drop of rain in sight.

Scorched Ribble

May 2018 was the hottest on record in the UK and June looks set to be a record breaker too. What is causing this uncharacteristic heat, empowering Gwythyr, the Victor, to increasingly destructive victories?

***

Research suggests this long period of hot weather results from the effects of man-driven global warming on the North Atlantic Polar Front Jet Stream. The Jet Stream is a ‘ribbon’ of winds blowing east to west at up to 200 miles an hour 9 to 16 kilometres above the earth’s surface over the mid-latitudes. It arises due to the contrast between warm tropical air and cold polar air. The differences in the pressure of warm and cold air produce a ‘pressure gradient force’. These winds would blow from high to low pressure, from south to north, if it wasn’t for the Coriolis effect.

jet_streams_wpclipart

The higher the contrast in temperature the stronger the Jet Stream. It is strongest in winter due to the cooling of the poles and weakest in summer due to their warming. Low pressure systems causing wet windy weather occur to the north of the Jet Stream and high pressure systems causing warm settled weather to the south. During the winter, when it’s strong, the Jet Stream lies south of the UK and gives us rain and wind. If it remains to the south we tend to have wet summers too. If the Jet Stream weakens in the summer and shifts north of the UK we are more likely to have hot still weather.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus the warming of the Arctic is lessening the temperature gradient between the equator and the North Pole and causing the jet to slow and become ‘wavier’. James Mason explains that when ‘the eastwards progression of these upper waves becomes sluggish or stalls’ this ‘leads to prolonged weather-conditions of one type or another’ like this heat wave, which is dangerous not so much due to its temperature but the length of time without rain leading to wildfires and water shortages and potentially to drought and crop failure.

***

The root of global warming is humanity’s reckless drive for economic growth at the cost of the environment. Our government are aware of the increasing dangers of drought in the summer and flooding in the winter and are taking steps to deal with the effects but not the cause. Instead they are pushing ahead with plans to create more houses, more roads, more jobs; pumping out more greenhouses gases, removing more green space, causing more warming. Here in South Ribble alone 9000 houses are being built along with new and expanded roads and business parks. Preston, South Ribble, and Chorley are being merged into one urban conglomerate with parks as our only green spots.

Lostock Hall Gasworks Development

Dissenting voices are not listened to by the victors. From their positions of wealth and comfort they refuse to see, acknowledge, care about the effects their victory is having on the land and its creatures.

In British mythology Gwythyr and his father sided with Arthur against Gwyn and his spirits, the ancient animals, the monsters, the giants, the witches, and were victorious. In modern Britain the Arthurian court of war-mongering treasure-hoarding politicians and business leaders reign supreme.

800px-Holy-grail-round-table-bnf-ms-120-f524v-14th-detail

What to do in a world where history is determined and written by the victors, when, as Gwyn knows before going into battle every May Day, as Walter Benjamin says, ‘this enemy has not ceased to be victorious’?

Perhaps we must look beyond battle, beyond victory, which can only makes us the next victors, for other ways to our bit for the scorched land, the drying rivers, the dying creatures, the cast-out gods.

SOURCES

Ed Walker, ‘Winter Hill fire reignites and is in multiple locations’, Blog Preston,
John Mason, ‘A Rough Guide to the Jet Stream’, Skeptical Science,
Francis Perraudin, Helen Pidd and Kevin Rawlinson, ‘A hundred soldiers sent in to tackle fire on Saddleworth Moor’, The Guardian
Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’, Marxists.Org
BBC Weather, Penwortham, BBC website
Climate change the jet stream’, Climate Central
Preston’s named wettest place in England’, Lancashire Evening Post,
UK weather: Water shortage warnings and hosepipe bans as heatwave intensifies’, The Indepedent
What is the jet stream?’, Met Office

Winter Ride

Preston

 

 

 

 

 

Fay bells chime. You ride a pale horse tonight.
My white mare pines for infinite horizons.

From this false security’s plastic peace
I breathe a prayer for ecstatic release.

Wrenched like tendons, reality is severed.
You open a snow storm, marvel and terror,

suburb stripped bare, hung trees and glittering ice,
a spectral host bathed in sweeping starlight.

Some people don’t see them. The rest run scared.
With my reckless steed I join the nightmare.

Our heart beats quicken to Annwn’s dread trance.
Street lamps flicker. Roofs slip into the distance.

Fairy lights and festive chants spread the county
from Blackpool Tower to Winter Hill, bright fountains

dissolve to torch parades. The present falters
revealing a past of village and bonfire,

chill chapped hands, hungry gatherings at cauldrons,
a labyrinth of padways mazed across Pilling

buried by snow fall, entombed beneath glaciers.
A cold unbearable sets in to kill.

And I fear I’m trapped in the Age of Ice
on the day of doom at the end of time

I cannot move my frozen mind. I scream
“Why? Winter King, bear me to these extremes?”

Your look commands; survey this fragile land,
ice crafting the mythos you toil to grasp,

reshaping the hills, renaming the towns,
creating the isle you know as Britain.

Wild laughter rings from the hollow landscape.
The fate of worlds tilts on a teetering brink.

I see your task, unruly guardian
of streaming vast ancestral tradition.

History rushes back and my course is clear,
My return to Penwortham swiftly steered,

shaking off snow, flexing my cold fingers,
I whisper thanks for your winter visions.

On Frenchwood Knoll

City drenched.
We bend against the rain.
Sandstone soaked,
Corporate faces are too pinched to sob.
The rain drops laugh tearfully,
Drip down red.
The bricks outlive the factories.
Vacant shops are hollowed out.
The ectoplasm of capitalism recedes
Like the spectre of Marxism.

On Frenchwood knoll
I met a tribesman who pointed
To the hills across the river,
Turbulent sky and spiralling stars,
I touched the earth and felt her rhythm,
Dark pulse caught
Between the supermarket and spire.
Sold off, covered over, offered up,
Remembered only by the weather.