Book Review: A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke

13 10 2017

Book Review:  A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke    (Stroud: Awen, 2016.)


It is somewhat difficult to know where to begin with this slim volume of poetry: just as a bead of quicksilver will scatter in a thousand different directions, glittering and enticing you to follow their paths, so too will the ideas and images in this deceptively simple collection call you to follow the myriad directions of their dance. Indeed, the patterns of disturbed mercury brings forth  an image of thoughts, ideas and communications flashing through the mesh of neural pathways in the brain, synapses sparking as each new thought is transmitted and grasped. In turn, that image leads to pictures of the electronic interconnection of the world-wide web and a reminder of the Hermetic premise all is one.

Clarke’s collection of forty-nine poems transmits meanings on at least three levels. They begin as a biography of Hermes in three emanations: the older God of crossroads and fertility, proudly erect and worshipped by the Minoans and Mycenaeans as a god who ‘made things good;’ by the Greeks as a son of Zeus; and as Hermes Trismegistus, the God of sacred writings revered by alchemists. This is the Hermes of both scholarship and of the neophyte.

Clarke is an adept.

He makes it clear that Hermes is also a God of Now; time is irrelevant to one so steeped in trickery, magic and language. Clarke brings Hermes into our world and context, showing his manifestation in characters such as lawyers, PR gurus, advertising folk and computer hackers. Clarke pulls no punches as he explores the dual nature of the God – past and present. The trickster aspect of Hermes is not glossed over or disguised, nor is the event leading to the birth of his son, Autolycus, presented as anything other than the rape it is. Such an event is somewhat shocking to modern sensibilities, but it is also a sharp reminder that the ways of the Gods in ancient times are no different from some male behaviour now. It is an old story told across both pantheons and newspapers.

Once the essential first nature of the God is grasped, the poems explore esoteric matters. In ‘He Giveth Tongue’ – a somewhat amusing pun, given Hermes’ sexual conquests – Clarke explores the gift of language, as bestowed by the God on humanity: ‘all babel was let loose.’ This gift was a double-edged sword, language both clarifies and confuses and Hermes will: ‘still be laughing when all’s said and done.’ The obfuscation of meaning through language is merely a God- joke, one we’ve all been on the receiving end of at one time or another and the joke extends the confusions to those caused by electronic miscommunications.

Hermes’ trickiness with words is wonderfully explored in: ‘He Monitors Its Use’ where the God-persona expresses exasperation at the wordiness of literary criticism: ‘Hermeneutics – just the kind of oblong word for which the god (…) invented dictionaries.’ This caused me much amusement and was taken as a warning to lay off my natural inclination to analyse Clarke’s poetry in terms of poetical techniques. The poem explores some paradoxes of language and ends with the warning that those who use language to: ‘sanitise atrocities’ won’t be overlooked as: ‘they counterfeit divine proclivities.’ That is a warning not to be ignored – play god with words and actions at your peril.

The third level of exploration leads the reader to Hermes Trismegistus, the Emerald Tablets of ancient wisdom, the mysteries of the Kabbala and alchemy.

His Opus explores the four stages of alchemical change and transformation, whose outcome: ‘has made his mind responsive to his soul.’ Arguably, the desired outcome of alchemical experimentation is esoteric and its aim is the achievement of Yehidah – the true gold of the philosophers’ stone – the highest state of enlightenment, of oneness with the divine, a human soul could reach in some Kabbalistic paths; a state achievable by very few humans, if any. However, this is a state Hermes achieves and: ‘His opus ends; the dance goes on.’

The final poem, Envoi, is a masterpiece by one who seems to be a skilful priest of Hermes and equally adroit at manipulating language for his own means. In this poem, Clarke states: ‘the only remedy for life is love’ and questions how difficult love is. It is a beautiful prayer of faith and in it he acknowledges the ineffable divine that is Hermes through the pattern of syllables he uses. The Sephirot of the Kabbalists states there are ten attributes of God, through which the infinite is revealed. The Tree of Life has ten stages of transformation and the seeker of moves through each as he travels his path. Clarke alludes to this through the use of ten syllables in each line – but changes to eleven where he acknowledges the mysteries of the infinite are not necessarily of this world: ‘These half-rhymes are the best reply I have / and though full rhymes may lie beyond the grave.’

This is truly a stunning collection of poems that will satisfy both a casual reader and a reader willing to follow the many quicksilver trails laid before them. Yeats posed the question: ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’  Clarke’s poetry goes a long way to answering that.


Fiona Tinker

A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke, (Stroud: Awen, 2016.)



Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Eco-Spiritual Poetry, Ed. Jay Ramsay

27 07 2016

This beautiful collection of poetry centres on our earth as a living entity and on whose survival our own lives depend. Ramsay states in his introduction: ‘We are being asked, individually and collectively, to make an absolute basic spiritual choice for life.’  The spiritual choices in this collection are positive, life-affirming declarations of love for this planet from a variety of perspectives.

Each of the twenty-one contributors to this book of poetry has something vital to contribute to the concept of eco-spirituality; and the myriad of explorations on this theme will resonate with readers quietly contemplating this important question explored in the collection. It is difficult to single out individual poets / poems as the entire volume is soul food.  Apologies to those poets not mentioned in this review – rest assured your poems too were appreciated.

So – what are these spiritual choices?  Karen Eberhardt –Shelton’s Misplaced Calibrators explores the disconnection between modern life and the things that really matter. The natural world in her observational poem is removed from the personas within it by the personas’ obliviousness to patterns and meanings of life:

Mum walks the springer spaniels while talking

On her mobile phone;

Ladybirds crawl away, bees watch in amazement.

The ladybirds flee; the bees are stunned. The loss of all the old wisdom of bee-keeping, part of the ancient knowledge that allowed us to survive as a species is wonderfully captured in this personification and their astonishment as they observe this human so indifferent to their presence.  No telling the bees here.

The whole poem reverberates with old knowledge and the personifications used are more than a literary device. The question asked at the end: ‘What would they do if there was no moon or sun or seasons ever again?’ is the heart of this poem and the gentle meditative wisdom at its centre.

Jehanne Mehta’s Hymn to the Earth is a stunning panegyric reminiscent of classical works in praise of Gods and Goddesses. The earth is portrayed as a beautiful young woman who has many moods:

She is lovely in the springtime in her dress of gold and purple;

She is lovely in the summer in her robe of living green…

The poem invites its reader to walk the seasons and to appreciate our world as a living, breathing entity. It encourages the reader to think about the earth and what it means. But it does more than this. It involves the reader at a visceral level and makes them contemplate a relationship with the earth as they might contemplate a relationship with a lover. The power in this poem is palpable and it is perfect for immersion in spiritual practice, regardless of path.

Lynne Wycherley’s Substitute Sky picks up the same theme as Karen Eberhardt –Shelton’s poem: the disconnect between the appearance of living and of life itself:

…we stare at screens,

A sly fluorescence, a not-quite sky…


Less talk,

Less laughter, less sun on our skins;

Our lives on hold, our children wired in.

The imagery of children entrapped by wires is a powerful punch to the gut and reminds the reader that a literal tying down of children to control them would – rightly – be viewed as child abuse, but our acceptance of a metaphorical tying of children by the unseen wires and cables of technology is an abuse we seem to accept without question. Such sad children are all too often the norm and it can sometimes seem they neither know nor care that they are in the thrall of machines.

The eco-spiritual question asked of the reader throughout the book is how we interact with our modern world and the technology within it – and how we teach our children that a machine is a good servant but a bad master. This is an important, pertinent and relevant question and the result of not addressing it is encapsulated in the final couplet of Wycherley’s poem:

Core addiction: captive eyes.

Outside the real world breathes, and dies.

These three poems are but a small taste of the treasures contained within this volume. Each of the poets brings their own interpretation to the question of eco-spirituality and each offers something of themselves and of importance to the reader.

Fiona Tinker


Soul of the Earth: The Awen Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Ed. Jay Ramsay, (England: Stroud, Awen Publishers, 2010.)  £12.

Places of Truth: Journeys into Sacred Wilderness – Jay Ramsay

25 04 2016

Places of Truth: Journeys into Sacred Wilderness – Jay Ramsay


This book is a collection of Ramsay’s poetry written from 1986 to the present and previously published elsewhere as discrete texts. By bringing these works together in one collection, Ramsay invites us to share his thirty-year journey across a variety of sacred landscapes, thus allowing the reader an insight to his experiential interactions with the genius loci of places ranging from Scotland to Sinai. Ramsay’s journeying is both physical and metaphysical and through his poetry, he combines these strands to arrive at his inner core, to realise the truth to be found in the silence of the wildernesses.

Not all poems will talk to all readers and this is a truth of itself. However, readers of Ramsay’s poetry are likely to be an audience who recognise the reality of places in the world that are mirrors which reflect the soul, leading to a sense of oneness. It is for these readers Ramsay’s poetry will sing in the way the poet intended.

Yet Ramsay’s poetry is deceptively simple. There are no great conceits of metaphorical complexity to work through, nor any great Augustan classical references to wrestle with in order to fully understand the poet. Ramsay speaks from the heart to the heart; ideas and feeling flowing to and fro, from the human to the sacred, from the seeker to the found. It is in this deceptive simplicity that the complexity of Ramsay’s Awen is discovered.

There are too many areas of this book that merit discussion and space allows for mention of just a few examples. It is hoped those chosen will whet the appetite to explore the entire text.

Trwyn Meditations call on the vast landscape at the edge of Snowdonia in Wales as a place of truth. His initial poem explores the sensations of the land, sea, sky as he experiences them:

… a slight breeze


between my ears

a curlew’s cry

the water’s liquid note

down arms

and legs

to the earth’s pull…


The structure of his sentences reflects another truth – that of the general separation of mind, body and spirit can become disjointed in the mundane world we have to live in. In a place of truth and a mirror of what is really real, this psychic separation is not welcome. As Trwyn works its magic, Ramsay becomes one with the spirit of the place and his journey into that oneness is reflected in the structure of the poem:

… heart’s


By the end of this first section, Ramsay is connected to the liminal space and his awareness / oneness with Awen is in view for those who see.  Those of us who also journey in places of truth will recognise much of the experiential experience in this poem. Indeed, the heart-song:

No need to speak;

Most things

Have a habit of sounding pompous

Or trivial

In this place of truth


is instantly recognisable, and not only for the paradox it contains. To share the oneness is to feel. Not think. Yet it is think that provides the means to communicate an experience that can only be felt by the individual undertaking the journey to the centre.

By the Shores of Loch Awe held particular interest as this part of Scotland holds the both the bones of ancestors and the memories of the future in the shape of a white quartz heart in the hills a little way to the east. This has been a sacred gathering place for Scotland’s Travelling People for many centuries. When Ramsay poses the question: ‘can you think like water?’ he taps lightly into the power of the land and the power of memory. His understanding of the genii loci is inherent in the phrase: ‘how to speak heart’ links not only physically to this monument, but also to understanding the flow of memory in the land.

The differences in the places of truth written about and what they mirror seem to be echoed in a sense of belonging. The absolute understanding of the land of your own feet, as shown in the poems set in the West Country and in Wales; and those where visiting may only give the wanderer time to acknowledge ananchara in passing is more than worthy of reflection.

These differences are very clear in the Sinai poems. Ramsay is out of his comfort zone and his very, very amusing advice in How to Ride a Camel (’don’t do it!’) is one of many moments in the volume that make the reader feel an affinity with the poet – we too can feel the heat, the sand in our mouths, the discomfort of sickness and the cussedness of a camel – but we also share the experience of the land and the truth it tells him:

… that what you see

is as important as what you say.

These poems are beautiful and their deceptive simplicity will reward a patient reader – one who is prepared to allow the words, their images and their deeper meanings to sing in the soul.


Fiona Tinker


Places of Truth: Journeys into Sacred Wilderness – Jay Ramsay, (Stroud: Awen Publications, 2009, 2012, 2016), £12.