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December 2009

November 2009

Thursday's Song

My pick this week, for Thanksgiving Day, is "Prophesy Song" by singer and composer Joanne Shenandoah. Shenandoah is a Wolf Clan member of the Oneida Nation in upstate New York ("The People of the Upright Stone"), one of the founding tribes of the great Iroquois Confederacy. She has recorded fourteen beautiful albums to date, and is an advisor to the First Nations Composer Initiative -- an organization dedicated to promoting new music by Native American composers.

In 2007, Shenandoah discussed her music and her creative process with Linda Ronsenkrantz for an article published by The New York Folklore Society ("Oral Culture and History Today: Joanne Shenandoah and Jack W. Gladstone"). Rosenkrantz writes:

"According to Shenandoah, writing/creating 'is a sacred process,' as well as being as necessary to her 'as eating or breathing. It operates on a time frame in which everything is potentially past, present, and future.' She writes 'to influence in a positive way, to change lives, to effect in profound ways, to heal. Writing also communicates; it is an expression of who we are, who’s influenced us, done or said something. We also write to tell stories. Stories are the backbone of who we are. Telling is part of the mission to preserve the earth, to make a peaceful and safe place for our children and their children.' I asked whom she writes for, thinking of the obvious 'Native and non-Native' answer. Her response touched me deeply: It is 'a responsibility for everyone to use the gifts the Creator has given.' It is a choice much like 'the choice a physician has in an airplane when a passenger goes into cardiac arrest: does one use one’s gift, or deny it?' "

Many of Shenandoah's composition are written in the artist's traditional language. "I believe a language must be used," she says, "in order to survive." The lyrics to "Prophesy Song," she explains, "remind us to be aware of our place upon the earth and to fulfill our obligations to ourselves, our families, nations, the natural world, and to the Creator. The words say we are to awaken, stand up and be counted, for you are being recognized in the spirit world.”

These are all fine things to be thinking about on a chilly Thanksgiving morning in Devon, as I celebrate this most American of holidays from an ocean away. I'm reminded of the following little poem by the American writer and mathematician Lee Rudolph:

Little Prayer in November


    That I am alive, I thank
      no one in particular;
and yet am thankful, mostly,
although I frame no prayer

      but this one: "Creator
      Spirit, as you have come,
come again", even in November,
on these short days, fogbound.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Ddtmoon Here's a book no lover of mythic arts should miss: Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess, with a forward by Susanna Clarke.

Charles, the illustrator of many magical books and comics for both children and adults, is the modern heir to such Golden Age artists as Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac. He also writes, curates museum exhibitions, creates public sculpture and art installations, and has spent a lifetime immersed in the study of myth, folklore, and traditional folk ballads.

Drawing Down the Moon, published in December by Dark Horse Comics, is a sumptuous volume brimming with treasures -- as you can see for yourself by previewing the pages of the book on the Dark Horse website.

For more about Charles, visit his website and blog. You'll find biography information here and here. And I highly recommend his recent children's book, Blueberry Girl, created with Neil Gaiman.


Poem for the Day

Spirit of Air and Fire
 "...I'm the rough-barked tamarack, the long-leafed willow...I'm the one living under the bridge of your fairy tale," writes Anita Endrezze in her poem Song for Our Times. It's a gorgeous piece -- and wonderfully reminiscent of the ancient Celtic poem Song of Amergin.

Endrezze, a writer and artist of mixed Yaqui and European heritage, is the author of Throwing Fire at the Sun, Water at the Moon and other books, as well as poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in many journals and anthologies. More information can be found on the NativeWiki and Modern American Poetry websites.

The picture above is "Spirit of Air and Fire" from my Desert Spirits series.

Hearth and Home

The gate to Bumblehill

This week my family and I celebrated our one year anniversary at Bumblehill (our little house on a hillside at the edge of the village) . . . although technically we haven't been living there a full year, for we had three hard months of building work to get through last winter before we could actually move in.

Tilly warming herself by the hearthHere's Tilly in her favorite spot: the warm slab of stone on the kitchen hearth, kept cozy by the old wood-and-coal fired Rayburn stove behind it. Our pup is four months old now, and it's hard to believe that she's the same little lass pictured below, back in September.

Bumblehill was built in 1919, which seems positively modern after living in a 16th century cottage for so many years. Until we moved in, that Rayburn provided all of the house's heat and hot water. Though we put in central heating, we're finding that it's barely needed as long as we keep the old stove stoked up, which is part of Howard and Tilly's morning routine. (Tilly "helps" by dancing underfoot and stealing kindling out of Howard's hands. As far as she's concerned, this is a vital part of the fire-tending process.) It really makes you realize how important the family hearth used to be in centuries past, and why it was once a sacred place. If you're interested in the folklore of hearth and home, you'll find an article I wrote on the subject here.

Howard and the pup

I'm still asked if I miss my old house, Weaver's Cottage. The answer is: Of course I do . . . but I'm also glad to be where I am. Weaver's was a magical place, to be sure, but Bumblehill is cozy and full of potential. We're making magic here too.

Happy Anniversary, Bumblehill! This song is for you...

November 19: Thursday's Song

This week's song is "Rivers Run and Rivers Flow" by the Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart -- whose three albums (Scribbled in Chalk, The Fairest Floo'er, and Earthly Spell) are well worth tracking down if you don't know them already. Although I'm partial to her renditions of traditional ballads, her own tunes are rather lovely too -- like the one above, performed live at the Dent Folk Festival. This one goes out today to Howard.

Karine Polwart was one of the participants in the Darwin Song Project -- in which eight folk musicians from the US and UK were invited to a week-long residency in Shropshire earlier this year, and given the task of creating songs in honor of the Father of Evolution. The gorgeous song below is "The Earl of Darwin's Farewell/Save a Place," written by Stu Hanna, Jez Lowe, and Emily Smith (performed along with Rachel McShane and sung by Emily Smith). You can learn more about this very cool venture here, and see other Darwin Song Project videos here.

Chagford Fairy Tale Films

Chagford Fairy Tale Films

"Cherry of Zennor," a film by the Chagford Filmmaking Group (and starring William Todd-Jones' daughter Lillian as Cherry) is now available for purchase on DVD on the CFG's website. Hooray! The video is available only in a PAL format, so American viewers will need a universal video player, or to run it on their computers.

"Peerifool" and "The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh" are current in post-production.

Two signs


The sign above is posted in a shop window in our village. Though less hilarious than the last one I posted, it too provides a charming glimpse into rural English life.

The sign below comes from Cornwall and was sent to me by Amal El-Mohtar. She says: "My friend James Williams went to the Port Elliott Literary Festival and took this picture for me. Apparently there were many such quotes dangling from trees!"

Thank you, James and Amal. And may you find your way home, little Rosie.


Life in Devon


Fairy Tale film

I love my village. When you move from The Big City to a tiny country town, you'd think life might become just a little dull -- but here in the magical hills of Dartmoor I find myself surrounded by more artists and writers than ever, and there's always something interesting afoot....


Dragon I've written before about the Chagford Filmmaking Group, created by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry as a vehicle for creating fairy tale films and for getting local kids involved in the filmmaking process, both in front of and behind the camera. (Their last film was The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh, in which my stepdaughter played the title role.)

Peerifolk-with-ladle Now they've started work on their biggest project yet: a cinematic retelling of "Sir Lanval," a 12th century tale from the writings of Marie de France. It's all part of the "Shared Legend Project," bringing creative artists from Devon and Brittany together for a cross-borders collaboration...with a few of us Yanks thrown in for good measure. I'm particularly excited by this project because so many of my friends from all three countries are involved, including the American mythologist Ari Berk (who has collaborated on the filmscript with Elizabeth-Jane) and the French folklorist Claudine Glot (head of the Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien, organizers of the Breton side of the project).

The little video below is a behind-the-scenes look at the very first shoot for the Sir Lanval film, which took place here in Devon over Hallowe'en weekend. If you'd like to know more about the Chagford Filmmaking group, or to see clips from their other fairy tale films, please visit their website -- where you can donate to the group and help them meet their fundraising goals for this and other projects.

Alongside the film's premier, by the way, there will be a Alan Lee maiden sketchtravelling exhibition of Sir-Lanval-inspired art from twenty artists residing in Devon and France. I don't have the complete artist list to hand, but I'm one of them on the Devon side, as are Brian & Wendy Froud, Alan Lee, and Rima Staines. That's scheduled to happen in the autumn of 2010, and I'll post more info (dates, places, etc.) as it becomes available.


Thursday's Song: A Sad Story to Tell . . .

This week it's "Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk" by Rachael Unthank and the Winterset, performed live at the Abbey Road Studios. I chose the song because I adore the unusual way these ladies approach folk music (and not as a comment on the state of my marriage, I assure you!); and (as I've posted before), I love the way that a song, like a poem, can evoke an entire life's story within a few short lines. Rachael Unthank and her sister, Becky, have two of the finest voices on the UK folk scene today. Their way of singing is traditionally Northumbrian, while their song arrangements are anything but.

The band produced two albums, Cruel Sister and The Bairns, both of which are often on my CD player. Now Rachael and Becky have re-grouped as The Unthanks and have just released a fine new album, Here's the Tender Coming. I still prefer the earlier two releases -- but that may be because I haven't listened to the new one enough yet.