Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tatterdemalion, Almost Born

From the beginning, Tatterdemalion has been its own creature, a being of instinct, of old mystery, of the magic lands that lie just beyond our dreams. All throughout its creation, I've been following a thread that I can hardly call my own. I followed it to England last autumn, where I met Rima in person at last, and found Unbound. This autumn I followed it again to Dartmoor, to the 2016 Dark Mountain gathering at Embercombe. There, we gathered by the Hedgespoken hearth to share fires and tea and words with friends now very dear.

Of a Friday evening that long September weekend, Rima and I, with the help of her Tom and my Simon, wove together a theatrical presentation of our Tatterdemalion, its first ever performance, on the Hedgespoken stage as the stars pressed out and the crowd gathered near on blankets. 

It was an evening that seemed to have walked right out of the book. The Hedgespoken stage a place of warmth and comfort and also deep transformation and vision. Kind faces clustered across a canvas, holding ciders and pieces of cake and cups of beer. A fire in a dish the only light besides the lanterns and the stars. The music of Crow Puppets before, and after our Tatterdemalion, a strange and wonderful Welsh gypsy tale told by Tom until the hours were close to turning small again. 

We dressed in clothing that felt ceremonial, with dark colored scarves covering our hair. I read by the light of a red lantern, and Rima played the accordion, and brought to life her puppet, threading those two hand-magics in and out of my words. Simon and Tom joined their voices to open the scene, and the music of a flute, coming from within a bell tent, lilted on in places of sorrow. When the reading was over, we removed our scarves, stepping out of that place of making, that landscape we both have walked in our different crafts, and talked with that kind and lovely audience a bit more about the making of the book.

The whole weekend, held by the lovingly-tended, generous land of Embercombe, with its rambling orchards and wet beech woods, and the brilliant Charlotte du Cann & Dougie Strang of Dark Mountain, was a kind of hearth fire. Base Camp, they called the gathering, and so it felt, especially in quiet, simple moments around nightfires with new friends, talking of the Northern Lights and listening to accordion and fiddle and flute, or during the rain with tea in the snug warmth of Hedgespoken, laughing over the sinister madness of American politics, and feeling the sheer medicine of good company and the simplicity of warm shelter that nevertheless lets the rain and wind quiver through. 

Amidst all of this, Tatterdemalion felt at home, even a sense of homecoming, as if it had always intended its first recitation to be here, amidst the ripe apples and hungry fires and longing hearts of many for something other, something older, something wiser and wilder and free. 

Something important transpired there, in the air, in the stars, by the dancing fire, by the warmth of big-hearted people, on that stage crafted of dreams, of dedication, of hard work and patience. Tatterdemalion was no longer a thing inside my own heart or pen, nor inside Rima's brush and canvas and dreaming. That performance was a ritual of sorts, the opening of a new door. The book went out into the world, spiritually. Into the hawthorn-daubed lane. Into the earth. A seed sown at the cusp of autumn. Finding a path for itself, ahead of its physical birth. 

But, hurrah! I'm rejoicing where I sit because at last it is time to tell you all that Tatterdemalion is almost ready to go to print! Layout, text, and cover design are all but complete! Tomorrow, Monday the 24th of October is your last day to get your name in the back of the book! These editions will reach subscribers around Christmas time. Otherwise, you will have to wait until June of 2017 to get your hands on a trade edition copy, which will be a beautiful book, but the subscriber edition is made to be something special. It will feature Rima's gorgeous endpapers, and a beautiful,  haunting dust-jacket of her cover painting, which you will be able to pin on your wall as a print if you so desire. 

And, speaking of which.... At last, at last! The Grand Cover Reveal is upon us! Rima has written all about the process of painting the Tatterdemalion cover right here. Below is but a glimpse... 

Follow here for the whole Making, and to get a book if you haven't already!

Rima and I await its official birth with much joy and inheld breath; this book has long been a thing of Dreams. Now it is close to real, and who knows where it will go or how it will fly? One thing we do know for certain is that sharing of it together on the Hedgespoken stage is a thing of great and heartening magic. Women's magic, its own and precious terrain. Our Dark Mountain performance was, I sense, the first of many. We are weaving plans for future Tatterdemalion shows—next year, at the end of spring, when the book is on the shelves of the world. 

For now, it is still in its blossoming-- the long, slow way of birthing books! So, come help it along, get your name in the back and wish it well as it wings off to the printer, and then to your wintry doorstep! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Peace of Ruins

Looking north from a tower in the Byzantine citadel of Agios Giorgos, gone wild with capers and mullein and mint
"A spell of peace lives in the ruins of ancient Greek temples. As the traveller leans back among the fallen capitals and allows the hours to pass, it empties the mind of trembling thoughts and anxieties and slowly refills it, like a vessel that has been drained and scoured, with a quiet ecstasy. Nearly all that has happened fades to a limbo of shadows and insignificance that is painlessly replaced by an intimation of radiance, simplicity and calm which unties all knots and solves all riddles and seems to murmur a benevolent and unimperious suggestion that the whole of life, if it were allowed to unfold without hindrance or compulsion or search for alien solutions, might be endlessly happy."  (From Patrick Leigh Fermor's brilliant Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, page 120.)

The old wall of the citadel of Agios Giorgos, looking east toward Mt. Ainos of ancient pine-clad fame
I have been filled and refilled over and again by our time here on Kefalonia, reminded of the simplicity of contentment. There is much to write, so many threads of kermes red and cyclamen-pink, of all the shades of sea and olive leaf and thunder, family and food and slow starred nights. 

The sea toward Zakynthos
Many words are gathering in skeins of story and essay and poem in my notebook, like the baskets of wool beside The Odyssey'queens, violet and yellow and mauve. But they aren't ready to share yet, and much of what I have learned and am learning here has to do with respecting the natural pace of things— of days, of meals, of creativity, of storms.  

However, I have finished three poems over on my Green Language poetry journal, which you can sign up for and read hereSalve, Lepeda Now & Then, and Artemis, they are called, full of olives and pomegranates, the horned moon, the way the land still seems to speak the names of the old gods.

An ancient olive press in the ruins of a monastery, where the air was full of sheepbells
My heart is full of many strands of everyday tales—the old couple who sell baskets on the roadside; the sound of dozens of sheep bells clear as wind; the sweet sea so salty you can float without effort; the violet shape of lightning in the middle of the night; the moment the crickets begin their cry at dusk; a river pool of perfect clarity adrift with sycamore leaves; the age of a name like Artemis, and how it still finds foothold in the many faces of the living land; the smell of brush burning at dawn as an old woman makes ash for her autumn garden; running on old dirt lanes with the little ones singing and yelling and skirting puddles; the amber eyes of a young black sheepdog, tied to an olive tree by an old white lighthouse, wriggling with joy to be patted—which are threading and rethreading their way through my storymaking.

I've been reading as much as I've been soaking in, from Robert Graves' The Greek Myths and The White Goddess, all of the above-quoted Mani, Martin Shaw's new and brilliant Scatterlings, and a very beautiful book called Orpheus: The Song of Life by Ann Wroe, found at random at a used bookshop days before we left. These volumes too have shaped the narrative of my days here, passages falling into my consciousness just at the right moment, scraps of silver for the magpie mind. Here are some.

A Venetian lighthouse at the northern tip of Kefalonia, looking out toward Ithaki
"Two tatterdemalion and barefoot women, a mother and a daughter in antique straw hats as wide as umbrellas, their faces burnt black by the sun and eyebrows and tangled hair caked white with dried brine, were gathering rock-salt in broad wicker baskets. They worked here all summer, they said, and sometimes in the winter too, sleeping in the huge cave by the chapel of Hodygytzia (Our Lady of Guidance) where there was a little spring of brackish water for them to drink and dip their paximadia" (page 79, Mani).

The antechambers of the ancient Necromanteion, Oracle of the Dead, where the rivers Acheron, Styx and Pyriphlegethon converge on a plain looking out toward the Ionian sea
"Delphi, the home of Apollo, was once an oracular tomb of this same sort, with a spiralled pytho and a prophetic priestess of the earth goddess, and the 'omphalos' or 'navel shrine,' where the python was originally housed, was built underground in the same beehive style [...] The provenance of the beehive tomb with a passage entrance and lateral niches is no mystery. It came to Ireland from the Eastern Mediterranean by way of Spain and Portugal at the close of the 3rd millenna B.C." (page 103, The White Goddess). 

A Souliote watchtower along the river Acheron, where mountain shepherds armed to the teeth laid in wait of Turkish attack

"Mythologists watched him enter as a seed falling, the ash key turning in the wind, the kernel trodden underfoot, the grain flung out from the sower's hand. He sank into the earth until he released life. His husk rotted from him there, and white hairs of new roots crept out into the dark. A pale filament uncurled, like a question; the shoot grew. Orpheus as a primitive god of vegetation endured the cycle of the seasons from death to life, to death, to life again" (page 129). 

Heather and a smoketree and the mountain cliffs above the river Acheron

"There is a deity that rowed her boat to our very shore whilst we slept, adrift in trance from a sleeping pin. After a time she leaves and will not come back. In our era, when we believe we can be anything and have anything we want, all the time, it is disarming to hear that we cannot snap our fingers to the gods and expect them to work slavishly in our favor; that in fact it is we who need to cross nine lands and oceans, to craftily get round Baba Yaga and her sisters, to emerge at just the right moment and display enough 'awakeness' that love floods back into the equation" (page 130, Scatterlings). 

"It was a Thracian offering, the sort he would have made as a boy in the forest: finding the face of the goddess in a branch or a stone and polishing it, carefully, with his blue cloak before dedicating it at some holy spot among the trees" (page 88, Orpheus).

Walking the old Souliote path to a mountain redoubt on a hot day far above the Acheron
In a land like this, there are still words resting in the language that can hold what cannot be spoken except in praise of deity, of mystery. Artemis is the rising crescent moon, the grottos wet and thick with cyclamen, the shaded mountain paths; Zeus is the sudden thunder and the wild lightning and torrential rain; Persephone is the bloody pomegranates, ripening just at the cusp of autumn, and the river Acheron whose icecold springs emerge right out from beneath the limestone cliffs. They are still here. Their temples may be long ruined, but the stones and the trees and the hawks and the moon and the rain are as alive as ever, waiting to be sung again. 

I've been trying, in the wrong language, and clumsily, to do as Orpheus the young Thracian musician did; leaving a gift for the face in a trunk, a tide, a star. It is small, but something, at least. 

There is so much to learn,  so much to bow our heads before, so much to thank.  And so the weaving goes.