Sending A Voice
Written by Martin Shaw
As I sit by the window looking out at the spluttering rain that seems to constitute a Devon spring, it seems hard to conceive that in just six weeks it will be time for the 39th Great Mother Conference. After an autumn and winter where the conference seemed like some majestic but far off animal, loping at the edge of our imagination, suddenly it is time for booking flights and checking in with fellow teachers. That familiar shot of good natured adrenalin kicks in – and a flood of memories.
Of us all gossiping and catching up in the dining hall, early mornings gripped by poetry at Innisfree, the ghost-call of the loons, the fabulous splashes of color on the art gallery walls, inspired teaching, outrageous and unfounded opinion, the magic of the sweat lodge, hands scribbling subtle ideas into journals, spluttering logs in the fire pit out by the moonlit lake and outrageous midnight stories, someone laughing just out of sight, glad rags miraculously produced at the feast, holy silence arriving at just the right moment, everyone in love with everyone else, the joy of arriving, the bittersweetness of leaving, the plans for the next meeting.
We all have a veritable store-house of these memories don’t we?
Suddenly it all comes rushing back – where on earth else would I plan to be, that first week of June?
And if you are thinking about coming for the first time, then we say jump in! The ship sails at dusk – everyone takes an oar, no loafers.
The months since we last met have been filled with many things i’m sure. For me, not least research and study for this year’s conference story – Psyche and Eros. It appears that rather than one individual, the soul of the conference itself chose this epic tale – it was the story that appeared on many’s lips, the book that just happened to be sitting on the table during skype conversations – it made itself known. That is a good and healthy thing.
So this year we have gathered a group of teachers who are giving some thought to their own relationship to the ground of the story. Whether poet, artist, scientist, mythteller, writer, bodyworker and beyond, we are opening to connections between disciplines – a holistic gathering of different relationships to the story.
And that brings us to you. Yes you, dear friend.
In the story we encounter Psyche – a woman who undergoes a series of tasks to deepen her relationship to Eros, and so arrive at a great flowering of her own being. A question we are asking all participants is:
What four qualities have you tried to develop in your own life and work? What were the tasks required to discover them?
So we bring some mythic attention to the strange walk of our own life, and turn up with some literacy around it, some insight to share, something that takes an ancient story right into the heart of our lives right now. We believe that your insights would make a real contribution to the wider conference theme – either in conversation or wider discussion. On arrival we will all be paired up with someone to share these thoughts with – to meet at some point during the week, or explore in the small groups. It will all be clear on arrival.
What we ask now though, is that you turn the question over a little in your mind. It’s simple enough, but the response may not be.
Three books I have been combing through are; ‘Writing Like a Woman’ by Alicia Ostriker, ‘Psyche’s Sisters’ by Christine Downing, and ‘Alchemy of the Soul’ by Martin Lowenthal. Ostrikers chapter, ‘I Make Psyche From My Need’ is an erudite and imaginative personal response to the story, Downing opens up the whole arena of betrayal and growth with siblings, and our very own Lowenthal provides us with a spacious overview of the whole story – he locates the alchemy at its core. I am thrilled that Alicia and Martin are teaching at the conference this year.
We are also very touched at the return of three great touchstones of past years – Coleman Barks, Jay Leeming and one Fran Quinn. Coleman and Jay both have tremendous new books out, Fran will be bringing his huge facility for both the creating and teaching of poetry. This is very good news. Michael Stoker is back – with his contrary insights from the world of sound and the living world. We also welcome Bruce Hamm and Joanna Mack bringing Indian music, and the dynamic presence of the poet Lisa Starr, also teaching here for the first time.
Gioia Timpanelli, Doug Von Koss, Marcus Wise, Sue Littlefield, Janet Fredericks are all bringing their treasury of multi-disciplinary gifts to the feast. Singing with the dawn, touching in with the body, the creation of art, the genius of tabla, the spellbinding presence of one of Americas great storytellers – and now, also, writers – Gioia. Fellow teachers of course include the artists, filling the gallery walls and floors with any number of imaginative creations – also bringing connections to this year’s wider story.
An Invitation to the Dance
This year, like last years Parzival, – I am sending out an invitation for participants that would like to actually assist in the presenting of the story. As many of you know, this could involve briefly embodying a character, creating a ritual setting, making a mask, revealing the mysteries of dance – in one way or another becoming part of the great caravan of its unfolding.
Every morning we will explore a segment of the story with moments where the telling expands suddenly into something communal, mythic and curious. I’m not going to say much more than that. Anything could happen.
Sign up by writing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and the story choreographers will be in touch with the next steps. There will be a limit to how many names they can accept, so I wouldn’t linger too long on this.
The Soul of the Conference
There seems to be a growing feeling of optimism, curiosity and genuine investment in the future of this conference, coming from the ground up.
It is never easy when a great teacher and leader – in this case Robert Bly – steps back from a conference that has been centered around their work and interests for the best part of forty years. Many grew wings under the great canopy of its inquiry, and have felt their whole body tuned to a deeper note through its relentless pursuit of things that matter. When the main instigator of that study – and let’s face it, Bly made us all work harder – is no longer present, it invokes a very genuine grief – a grief that is right and appropriate. It makes us wonder about continuing.
A question then could be – what of the soul of the conference? What chthonic river has been fed by these four decades of poetry, ritual, myth, dance and its wider community of births, deaths, love affairs and year in year out commitment to showing up, doing the work, and letting the dance continue? That kind of diligence creates a resonance, a depth that is more than the effort of any one individual. And that’s part of Roberts gifting. The areas he chooses to investigate, by their very nature, are generous – are to do with psyche, community, expression, the hermetic, the wild, the discipline of form, being a river to your people.
So whilst we feel the absence of the one that points to the moon, we haven’t lost the moon itself.
There is an enormous amount of work to be done. We have only just tipped our toes in the ocean of mythological thinking, the implications of an embodied poetry that informs how we function in the outer world, how to find community in the hidden blue feather in a magpies tail, or three green shoots between tenement buildings. This is activist work, of a kind.
The conference has the potential to be a place of great danger to the slumbering self.
As the man says, “don’t hear a story and think it your duty not to tell it.” This is our chance to add another chapter to an epic love story – one that has beautifully marked the decades of many of our lives, shaped our decisions, allowed us to be rash at times, disciplined at others, to cook a little in the cauldron of images, to feast on our own imagination, to be of service.
That feels like a task worth undertaking. For a second we may glance up and witness a cosmos, not just a universe.
So come, join us, you are just what we need.
“Between my breasts there are quails, they must think I’m a tree. The swans think I’m a fountain, they all come down and drink when I talk.” -Gloria Fuertes
Photo: Marcus Wise