Here we have a fascinating insight into the quotidian psyche of a busy and successful writer, a diary kept, significantly enough, to celebrate twelve months of sacred time in the fortieth year of his life during which he immerses himself in Britains cultural and creative heritage.
Kevan Manwaring, also a teacher, storyteller and poet, is the author of more than a dozen books including the Windsmith Elegy (in four volumes with a fifth to come), The Bardic Handbook, Lost Islands and The Way of Awen: Journey of a Bard, and is a former Bard of the city of Bath, UK.
In his new book, Turning the Wheel: In Search of Seasonal Britain on Two Wheels, a chapter for each month takes us through a host of festive occasions, from mummers at Marshfield, Gloucestershire, and May Day at Padstow, Cornwall, to the cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn and the Lammas games at Avebury – havens of the great British eccentric maybe, but a celebration nonetheless of the myth and magic which feeds our life springs.Only Writer Following the True Bardic Tradition
If the highest purpose of art is to inspire, then Manwaring certainly has done that in writing a book that will encourage you to visit such events and recognise the wheel of the year yourself - from solstice to equinox, from midwinter to midsummer, from megalith to maypole - in a similar spirit of creativity and mafficking. Its much more than a simple folkloric travelogue around the Celtic ritual calendar; its a critique of contemporary life refracted through the eyes of a man on both spiritual odyssey and love quest.
About contemporary Druidry itself, of which the Bardic Chair movement is part, Manwaring is disarmingly down-to-earth. He casts a jaundiced eye on some of the Druidic events he attends, and is not afraid to question their motives and validity – but he does this from a position of strength because he is perhaps the only writer today following the true bardic tradition.
Everything these days is about speeding up, he complains rightly, as though faster somehow equals better. He demonstrates admirably how slowing down has distinct advantages, not least in the ability to stand and stare, in the words of William Henry Davies, the poet of the tramps, whose acute and intense response to the natural world finds a counterpart in Manwarings own perceptive observations. By coincidence, Davies last home was at Nailsworth in the same part of Gloucestershire that Manwaring lives in.
Meaningful Changes of Scene, Atmosphere and Relationships
Manwaring cuts a romantic but often a seemingly solitary figure, despite the social whirl and biker ethos, on this, his latest journey of a bard. His poets sensitivity, and even possibly his vulnerability, to meaningful changes of scene, atmosphere and relationships is gently revealed, without qualm, as the pages of the book go by. This vulnerability which one intuits – a sense of loss, which he explains, is central to the book – does not problematise but actually deepens the reading experience for it opens the artists receptivity and thus his expressiveness, too.
Particularly poignant and affecting is the section towards the end of the book when the feeling of solitariness ebbs as Jenni, a woman Manwaring had met fleetingly on a previous occasion, re-enters his life unexpectedly at a poetry workshop in Worcestershire. He finds she is his soulmate, and the book is dedicated to her.
Manwarings openness to experience brings its rewards, and he feels enriched by the events of his year. Part of their specialness, however, was their very transience, and coming home was often just as important as going away. While we have bodies we should enjoy them, enjoy the realm of the senses, he tells us. To do otherwise, to deny life, is an insult to creation. We should savour, then move on.
So the wheel must turn. More than anything, Manwaring reminds us to cherish our own sacred time.
- Manwaring, Kevan, Turning the Wheel: In Search of Seasonal Britain on Two Wheels. O-Books, 2011. UK £15.99 / US $26.95. ISBN 978-1-84694-766-7.