Described as an “annual journal of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations and visual art […] spanning landscape, ecology, folklore, esoteric philosophy and animism”, the announcement for the first volume of Reliquiæ immediately had my attention.
Edited by Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton, and published on their Corbel Press Imprint, the first volume of Reliquiæ brings together work by authors old and new: Christina Rossetti and W.B.Yeats rub shoulders with Richard Harms and Mark Valentine – and there is also the presentation of older, oral material within the pages of the journal in the form of Inuit and Native American creation myths and Manx folktales.
The cover of the journal reproduces an Inuit song, translated by Autumn from the Danish of Knud Rasmussen, which seems to sum up the aesthetic of the journal with deceptively simple language:
A Little Song (En Lille Sang)
I sing a little song,
someone else’s worn,
but I sing it as my own:
my own dear, little song.
And so I play
this worn out,
and I renew it.
The older literary material reproduced in Reliquiæ generally comes from the mid-to-late 19th century or early 20th century, all prior to World War I. It is interesting to me that a century later, following two world wars and a digital revolution, the power of this material still resonates. To some, they may be ‘worn out little songs’ – dusty relics of the late 19th/early 20th century Celtic Twilight – but they still possess the vitality of the ancient, often half-remembered traditions that originally inspired them: these songs are worth singing again, making one’s own and renewing.
Older literature is called into the service of some of the new pieces of writing in Reliquiæ to provide new perspectives on past and present. For example, we have Richard Skelton’s own piece on the vanished ‘greyhound fox’. The fox is now a common sight to ruralists and urbanites alike and seems to have become a widely adapted motif among contemporary ‘makers’ and craftspeople. The presence of foxes and other urban ecologies seem to touch something deep within us – perhaps a gently ominous reminder that nature will always be pervasive: despite man’s best efforts the fox will always escape and find his hole, seeds will germinate in unlikely places and strong roots will upset the tarmac.
My favourite piece in the journal is Mark Valentine‘s For She Will Have Her Harvest, a short vignette about a poetry editor following the footsteps of late 18th century ‘graveyard poet’ Henry Kirke White, who swiftly ascended from humble butcher’s boy to Cambridge alumnus before dying aged 21. Valentine’s short tale is a fascinating piece of literate psychogeography, ultimately connecting the poet’s untimely death with the disturbance of a pagan shrine. Appropriately – considering the title of the journal – playing on the nature of White’s poetic Remains and the relics of the archaeological record. After reading this piece, I was compelled to revisit Charles Peake’s 1967 collection Poetry of the Landscape and the Night: Two Eighteenth Century Traditions. Henry Kirke White is notably absent, although Peake does reproduce Thomas Parnell’s A Night Piece on Death and Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, both cited in Valentine’s tale. Once ranked as a masterpiece in literature, the latter fell from favour due to its turgid, turbulent Gothic style, full of allusions to the fallen divinity of man, Christian theology and Classical motif, but may well prove worth revisiting. I was also unaware that an edition of it was illustrated by William Blake until I read Valentine’s story!
Following its appropriation by the far-right, the term “Traditionalism” has become somewhat tarnished. Yet with its mix of literature, ecology, art, poetry and a transcendental ruralism that hints of more esoteric, perennial philosophy, Reliquiæ feels like a revivification and vindication of a particular ruralist/Traditionalist perspective that vanished from popular consciousness under the strain of the Cold War struggles for technological and economic dominance and threats of nuclear apocalypse.
I am reminded of an engraving in E.L. Grant Watson’s Walking with Fancy, a book published in the midst of World War II, and perhaps during the period in which such perspectives waned. As a biologist whose work and interests included anthropology and metaphysics, Watson was able to combine scientific writing with poetic insight in his popular works. Despite at first appearing like a book of the ‘Country Diary’-type, Walking with Fancy brims with metaphysical insights that evidently run deeper than mere ‘fancies’: a hypnagogic vision of an elemental and Gilgamesh mingle with speculations on the metaphysics of slug reproduction and the nature of water. Watson’s book is illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe, fondly remembered by many for his work on Tarka the Otter. One of Tunnicliffe’s engravings accompanies a piece called The Testimony of the Insect, in which Watson looks at human history evolution in terms of the life cycle of the butterfly. He hopes that after the “Nazi onslaught” we will develop our consciousness of the divine in order to manifest and “take the imprint of something strange and new.
“Strange and new to the world as we have known it, yet already foreshadowed in the religious consciousness of men, and to this form, the older portions of the organism which are destined to survive will perforce orientate themselves.”
This digression brings me nicely round to the brief essay on The Other World by John Hutchinson, which outlines the Sufi concept of the ‘imaginal world’ which, through the work of Henry Corbin and James Hillman has become something of a cornerstone in my own thinking. There is a resonance with Grant Watson’s hope for post-war society in Hutchinson’s description of the imaginal:
“According to some Sufi thought, the ‘other’ world already exists in this one – our task is to externalise it, to allow it to unfold. From that perspective, the glimpses of great beauty that come to us are signs of that inner reality…”
The golden relics of the imaginal world shine in the work of the artists, poets and storytellers presented in Reliquiæ – be they W.B.Yeats, Inuit elders or new voices. Together they comprise an inspired and sensitively curated collection of texts and image. Despite being a fairly slim tome (around 90 pages) there is here plenty to research, revisit and meditate upon until the second volume is published.
You can order copies of Reliquiæ from the Corbel Stone Press website (£8.99 + P&P).