looking for stories
I be coming
from wistmans wood sir
and I fell into dreaming
under the scrubby trees
till the trees dreamt me sir
Hey there, hello, it’s good to see you.
Scatterlings is coming later this year; and here’s a small excerpt:
This is weft and the weave of story for me. The endless lyrical emerging of the earths tremendous thinking, and the humbling required to simply bear witness to it. And the extraordinary day, where for an hour or so, you realise that you too are being witnessed. You are part of the big sound. You have pushed the coats aside and walked through the back of the wardrobe.
When my mouth had chewed on enough silence, and my body had located its fragility in the face of winter, when darkness and sorrow had bruised up against solitude, I began to taste, fully, the price of my labour, and slowly I began to speak. And what came what praise.
Inventive speech appears to be a kind of catnip to the living world.Especially prized was the capacity to name, abundantly and gracefully, dozens or even hundreds of secret names for beings you had spent your whole life strutting past, and muttering; “willow” “holly” “bat” “dog-rose”. They are not their names. Not really.
So the first big move was not one of taking anything at all – I’d done that quite successfully my whole life – but actually re-organising the detritus of my speech to formulate clear and subtle praise for the denizen I beheld in front of me. Not “The Goddess of the River”, but “River Goddess”. The moment I squeezed “of the” into the mix, thereby hovered an abstraction, and the fox woman fled the hunters hut.
Udder of the Silver Waters
The Hundred Glittering Teeth
Small Sister, Dawning Foam
On the Old Lime Bank.
This wasn’t even particularly imaginative. It wasn’t flattery. And most of all, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t comparing myself. It was simply describing, acutely, what I witnessed in front of me. Some things I realised I was never going to behold clearly. I wouldn’t have language for butterfly, birch, ivy and clay. There it is, they remained indistinct. Admired, but indistinct. But, grindingly slowly, some beings made themselves known to me, became a lintel overhead, a den in which I could claim a degree of kinship. Not what I would choose, but what chose me.
So the first part of my apprenticeship to story began in a tiny stretch of woodland glade – a corral of about twenty foot – tenderising my own nature until the beings that wished stepped forward, and gave me the slow and halting opportunity to name just a few of the hundred secret ways they have of being themselves. Maybe four thousand years ago they weren’t so secret.
It was apprenticeship to the swaying unfolding of the earth’s imagination, an endless permutation of Psyche touching the fire-tips of Eros’s fingers and creating life. The interior was everywhere! Concerned friends would worry that I had travelled too deeply into the tangles of myself, that I wouldn’t find a way out. I would laugh and gesture out towards the valley. That was where I was. I was already out.
I went looking for stories in dark places. In caves, hundreds of feet into the base of Welsh hills, the immensity of tree root and stone suspended above my fragile head. I learnt slow words down there. Words flushed deep with water and boulder-vast. I took myself to dreaming places, forgotten places, places deserving of shrines. I built small shelters in ancient, solitary haunts and sealed myself into the dark for days and nights. It was in those places I learnt many holy names for time. Time as malleable as a concertina, as robust as Irish cattle, as slippery as the trout escaping the hook. Each of the secret words was true wealth for my parched tongue. They required payment in full and I was not sad to give it.
It was in the ebony world that luminosity came. Great stretches of images from a future I was yet to have. Of people, and estuary maps, and animals, of beings we rarely have the names for anymore. It was in that place that I was shown a discarded set of antlers, that I was soon to find in clock-time at a local rubbish dump. Those bone wands were big story for me, and formed the centre of many negotiations and ceremonies with the soulful world. And yet, one day I would have to give them away.
I went looking for stories in the palace of the birds. The pastoral murmur of the wood pigeon, the thrilling blue call of the tawny owl in their midnight kingdoms. I learnt feathered words up there. Sounds that whittled a new and fragrant shape to my jaw. For a little while, I was a boy of the moonlight, cloaked and rooted by the base of great trees. It is no great brag to say that a part of me is still there.
If I’d believed the propaganda of our times, I would have seen England as too farmed, too crushed-tight with humans and their history, soil too poisoned, forest too hurt and impoverished for such an education – better to turn to the vastness of Siberia or some other pristine wilderness. Thank god I didn’t. The eye of the needle is everywhere, abiding patiently for you to quilt your life to the Otherworld, which is really our deeply natural function anyway. Small pockets of absolute aliveness, greeness, riven-deep mystery are all over our strange and bullishly magnificent isle.
So my first move towards story was to give one up. The slow move from a society of take to a culture of giving. The living world was not there for my temporary edification, or a transitory back drop for my ‘healing’, it was home. A home that scared me, rattled me, soothed me, shaped me. Without the investment of time and focus, the words I longed to speak would simply be phony on my tongue. The worst aspect of storytelling is when you hear the words spoke but you know the teller never took the journey to get them. They just squatted by the well and stole them when one that did crawled out of the Underworld. Well, I sure wasn’t much of a teller at that point, but I knew I had river-mud on my boots and green vines in the wine of my blood.
Praise for Scatterlings
“The heart has a true-north, says Martin Shaw. He uses it. His work combines a magnificence of soul with a deft acuity of intellect, portraying a quintessential comprehension of the human spirit in its mythic path. He writes in a rare register of an earthy seer and I am in awe.”
Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey and Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape.
“Martin Shaw is, without exaggeration, the most powerful writer of prose that I have read. In Scatterlings Martin casts off the domesticated language with which we have been inundated since our birth and something wild, ancient, intelligent, and incredibly strong enters his words. And as those meaning-filled words penetrate us, deeply sleeping parts of the self begin to awaken. We see again with luminous eyes, hear again the shimmer of Earth in language; a portal opens and the power of out there begins moving through the in here. A wild light begins to gleam in our eyes, our hair grows long, our language begins to shift, and in some inexplicable way, as humans long ago understood we could, we begin to become old growth ourselves.”
Stephen Harrod Buhner, award winning author of Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.
“I can still remember the first time I heard Martin Shaw tell a story. The tale that emerged was like a living thing, bounding around, throwing itself at all of us there listening. I had never heard anything like it before. Shaw is a one-off, his work is urgent and necessary, and Scatterlings is his testament. Scatterlings is told in a way that makes it unlike any other book I have read.”
Paul Kingsnorth, author of The Wake
“I will say this about Mr. Martin Shaw: I wish him protection from the saints and something like a pardon from the Lucid Gods. He is now as much and as good a teller as there probably is among those of us adorned and afflicted by the English tongue, and he has lingered a while in the old caves, as he says. He knows that things can happen when the word is nailed to a tree, to be read. Things do happen.
And yet he’s done it, and done it so very well, and so much in thrall to the chant that you can hear him. It may be wisdom he’s done here. It may be something wiser.
I know that if I had to choose kinship, Mr. Shaw the dowser and scribe on my left or the Old Gods of Song who have granted me my tongue and my days on my right, I’d be pressed. Hard pressed. Probably I am.
So hail this Scatterlings, this treasure. Barley and love for its burdened, heathen son, the one who’s come down from the hills with this Relic From the World Tree and from it has carved his plume and a way home. Would that this this plea for a better day and its maker be granted not the cliff face but the long road, and peace for his earned, learned days. Now, homeward”
Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise.
“One of our most gifted oral tellers is paying necessary homage, offering his attention and capacious intelligence to the Devonshire land of his begetting…quietly tracking earth’s own imagination, the dreaming of the high moor and the meandering river, the edge where the cliffs meet the strand and both are washed clean by the tides”
David Abram, author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.
“A great work of imagination: Scatterlings will nourish the soul of those who read it. Shaw’s wonderful book weaves together the history, mystery and mythology of Dartmoor. The magic of the moor and spell-binding stories told from the heart is a delightful combination.”
Satish Kumar, Editor-in-chief, Resurgence, and author of Earth Pilgrim.
“Shaw has a poet’s sensibility and a poet’s voice.”
Ann Skea, author of Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest
“Scatterlings connects us with the land under our feet, and stories to take us to the home we have forgotten about. It is time to remember where we have come from, where we belong, and these words speak the spirit of place. Listen to them, hear the call to remember, to come home, back to the soil, back to soul. Allow the magic of Martin’s words to reach deep into you, into your gut and your heart.”
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher and author: Spiritual Ecology, The Cry of the Earth.
“This book will tear away the veil that has separated us from our past and our future. It will rekindle hope and an infinite trust in our being and becoming.”
Anne Bearing, author of The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for Soul
“With great skill, agility and elegance Martin Shaw takes us deeply to the mythic life-blood of his beloved Dartmoor – Scatterlings word-magic will embed you ever more powerfully in the soul of your own land, wherever on Earth you happen to be.”
Dr. Stephan Harding, author of Animate Earth.
copyright Martin Shaw 2016
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