Apart from the monumental reading by Seamus Heaney which I wrote about last time,the most interesting thing was a lecture by Grevel Lindop entitled Myth Magic and the Future of Poetry.. Grevel has since posted the full text, on his web-site
so I won’t even try to summarise it, but it was excellent, well-written, well delivered, and a subject of passionate concern to most of his audience, which I liked, considering how much of a myth geek I am.
I am not sure, however, that we should, as he recommends, be using myths as a way of reconnecting with the earth. Tolkien also says that ‘recovery’ is one of the most basic functions of fantasy – if life has become dull and stodgy ‘dipping it into story’ is one way of making you appreciate the common things. And it is certainly true of The Lord of the Rings
. All those elves and monsters and magical rings, and what you really remember is the sound of a house door shutting in the early morning when the hobbits leave, or the taste of mushrooms at Farmer Maggot’s, and the runner beans in Bombadil’s wet and misty garden.
However, I am not sure that the process isn’t better the other way round. We learn by moving from the known to the unknown. If we use myth to sacralise nature (and what a bloody awful word that is) will it not lead to a romantic and sentimental – and beyond that, a self-serving view of nature? If we don’t value a salmon as a fish in a river, but as a repository for hidden wisdom, what will we understand about either fish or wisdom? Whereas if we learn about the salmon, observe it, and care for its habitat, we might learn something interesting and valuable about the world we live in, but we will be more fitted to understand the nature of all that wisdom it represents. And maybe a bit less uppity about the poet’s role as shaman and go-between. Ain’t nothing more spiritual about poetry than dishwashing if you ask me. Or less, for that matter.