Grand Bard at Lakefest, August 12th

This Saturday represents a landmark in my life: I will perform a Spoken Word show for the very first time. I’ll be introduced as The Grand Bard of Exeter – a role in which I am currently serving my third year of seven. The occasion calls for me to create a Bardic Book to read from, and here I proudly present it. I was quite surprised to feel the weight of it in my hand, and to know that the word writing that I have done so far as a Bard spans over fifty spreads.

Those of you who know me will understand what I huge shift it is for me to be performing predominantly as a writer rather than a musician (although never fear, I shall be playing and singing songs as part of my show as well). When I first became Bard of Exeter in Spring 2018 I was the ninth incumbent, but the FIRST who was a songwriter and not a poet. Very quickly that HAD to change because I was immediately asked to write and perform a poem for Exeter Arts week. I began learning to tell stories at Exeter Story Club. I wrote a poem in a workshop during Exeter Poetry Festival that Autumn and performed it the same evening at the poetry slam, which as Bard, it was part of my role to judge. I felt very out of my depth and confused by why it was that everyone seemed to think I was a poet no matter what I did.

In Spring 2019 I became Grand Bard of Exeter, nominated by outgoing Grand Bard Jackie Juno to whom I am eternally grateful. I wrote a series of short stories about Climate Change and performed them. Everyone said how much they enjoyed my poems – it seemed like whatever I did, people thought it was poetry. In one case someone commented on how much they had enjoyed a poem of mine when I was actually I’d just been talking off the top of my head! I later found out that being able to ‘channel’ a poem in free speaking is said to be the mark of a true Bard.

I felt things were getting out of hand when in Autumn 2019 the BBC emailed me saying that of all the poets in Devon they had decided to select me to represent the County by writing a poem to represent Devon for National Poetry Day, along with 12 other poets nationwide as part of a project called “BBC Home Truths”. The email went on to say that there had been some difficulty in locating my poetry portfolio online (!!!!), but that I came highly recommended and that if I could simply direct them to my portfolio of poems we could seal the deal. I was dumbfounded – who on earth could have recommended me as a “poet” and of course no one could find my portfolio because I didn’t have one. I sent them all the poems I’d written since I started in Spring 2018… all five of them… and lo and behold I was accepted. I decided that it didn’t matter if I understood poetry or if my choice of line breaks and form showed that I had no idea what I was doing as long as the soul of the writing was true and honest, represented the land and the people and the words made sense to the heart when I spoke them aloud. The BBC were very happy with it, remarking on the poem’s quality and I performed it on BBC Spotlight, Radio Devon and Radio 4.

From that moment on I felt a real shift in who I was. I became a Bard – someone who puts inspiration at the centre of everything I do, and who serves the land and the people. Something fell away around the focus on technical excellence that had always been a part of my life as a musician.

When the Pandemic began I felt called to write about it, to represent people’s experiences. I contacted the BBC and asked if they were interested and Sarah Gosling picked it up. I’ve now been writing and performing poems, stories and songs for her show for over a year. It’s here I feel I cut my teeth and learned not to be scared or hesitant, but just to keep turning up, putting the work first and to keep on expressing and trusting in the Awen (spirit of inspiration). In the last three months the pieces have all been co-created with local poets, writers and ordinary non-writer people of Devon. To me, this feels like this is what creativity is meant for.

In the shift to becoming a true Bard, and moving the Bardship to the core of who I am, I have gained a great deal but also lost some things. I have spent lockdown focused on creative areas that have nothing to do with my guitar, and because I had always specialised in a technically demanding form of guitar playing (percussive acoustic), like a circus performer off season, I simply can’t play that stuff at the moment. Here is what I think of as one of my best performances, following a year of deep practice after a single, transformational lesson with Jon Gomm https://youtu.be/b07rbdJ-UpA That form of expression, when I reach for it, isn’t there now. But it IS ok to move forward in life, into the future. There are things I never achieved as a percussive acoustic guitarist. I never reached the point where I felt like my performances were really reliable and comfortable. So, ok, it turns out I’m not going to keep going until I reach that level after all. Instead I’m turning in a new direction and moving on.

Life is different now. Inspiration I will seek, inspiration I will give – that is the simplest form of the Bardic oath which I first took in Spring 2018 and which has come to define everything about who I am, even small things that I might not have expected. My oath is with me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. I feel a sense of clarity, and I have lost the sense that I need to be “good” at anything I do, simply that it must come from the spirit of inspiration. May the Awen be with you all. See you at Lakefest this coming Saturday, where I’ll be at the Pen and Parchment Stage. Thank you to Ros Wehner and John Wehner for recommending me and to Laurence Aldridge for inviting me.

-Kimwei, Grand Bard of Exeter

Grand Bard of Exeter features on BBC Spotlight

My poem “Pandemic Reflections” was featured on BBC Spotlight to celebrate a year of my “artist in residence” creative work for Sarah Gosling’s Arts and Culture show on BBC Radio Devon as the Grand Bard of Exeter. “Kimwei McCarthy, who is the Grand Bard of Exeter, created a series of Pandemic Pieces for BBC Radio Devon’s Arts and Culture Show [presented by Sarah Gosling]. Well, 12 months into that process he’s compiled a spoken word reflection on a year unlike any other.” Thanks to Sarah for your ongoing support, and to John Danks for doing an amazing job of shooting and editing this item.  

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Join Kimwei’s Band of Bards!

For a chance to be part of a fabulous creative community AND get your writing broadcast on BBC Radio Devon, come along to my Band of Bards creative writing workshops, every other Tuesday evening from May 25th! The first workshop will be online and will be co-hosted by none other than previous Grand Bard of Exeter, Jackie Juno!

Go to the Workshops page to find out more and book now, as places are limited!

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Tim King to Remain Bard of Exeter until we can have a proper competition for the new Bard

I’m proud to announce that we are celebrating a whole year of enjoying Tim King as our Bard of Exeter, and that he’s been doing such a great job of being a pandemic Bard and keeping Taking The Mic/Forsaking The Mic going online during these interesting times, that we’re going to keep him on as Bard for now, until such time as we can have a Bard of Exeter Competition properly. Three cheers for Tim King!

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Grand Bard of Exeter on BBC Radio Devon

I have so enjoyed visiting Sarah Gosling’s BBC Introducing show on BBC Radio Devon in the past, as well as featuring with her on Radio 4’s Frontrow last Autumn, so I’m thrilled now to be providing a pandemic poem for each of her fortnightly arts shows during this lockdown. You can listen in every other Thursday (from May 14th) or watch out for my uploads to this playlist:

I’ll also be joining Gordon Sparks on the Breakfast Show at 6.20am every morning next week (beginning June 1st) performing Pandemic themed Pause For Thought pieces.

Warmes of wishes to you in these interesting times

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard

Spoken Word Events go Online!

In these times of Covid-19 and Lockdown our spoken word events and communities are thriving with the help of ye olde internet. Yes, the Bardic scene has gone online, with Bard Tim King seamlessly springing up Taking The Mic open mic sessions on Zoom. Likewise Widsith and Deor’s Exeter Story Club is alive and kicking, as is Chris White’s Spork and Robert Garnham’s Big Poetry. Link yourself up and attend the latest through our What’s On page. Stay safe and keep creative.

-Kimwei

BBC Home Truths Poem for Devon

Each year BBC Local Radio teams up with specially chosen poets to create sparkling new poems for broadcast on National Poetry Day. This year, as Grand Bard of Exeter, I was chosen to represent Devon, to write a poem that challenges stereotypes and celebrates the delights of the County

-Kimwei

Because You Invited Me (full version)

by Kimwei McCarthy

Home Truths poem for Devon

Invite me over to your favourite cafe

somewhere on the river Dart

where it trickles between our past and our future,

or invite me to your house

where it rests like a barnacle on a hilltop

near a stone circle

where we shall take tea together.

In ancient times you moved the earth

turning woodland to moorland,

clearing pastures for grazing

just so you could live together,

allowing the wildness of gorse and heather

to care for itself

whilst caring for you.

Then, you stopped being so careful

and began building cities,

cutting through this county,

cutting through each other with big ideas

until you were burning and hanging women,

Now you are sorry

and honour those killed

and welcome magic back

and remember who you were before that all started

with every moment that you invite me in.

Bring out your finest china

and tell me the story of an outcast wife

who won back her family

by returning from exile

with the secret of clotted cream –

tell me to remind me that this place is my home,

as you take up the butter-knife,

spread a cloud on a scone,

place it in my hand.

I hold it up to the window,

so it seems to twin a cloud in the sky

and I think how similar two things can be and how different

and yet how right they can look next to each other.

How startling it is when we can belong together

because you invited me.

Kimwei to represent Devon on National Poetry Day 2019

I’m thrilled to have been selected as BBC Devon’s Home Truths Poet for National Poetry day this year – Read more on the National Poetry Day Website. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Day (October 3rd 2019) I will be writing and performing a poem that represents Devon. There are 13 poets in total and the project aims to give a voice to the true nature of each region. – Kimwei

New Bard Melanie Crump! New Grand Bard Kimwei McCarthy!

The annual competition for citizens of Exeter to elect their next Bard took place on Sunday 28th April at Exeter Phoenix.

Wordsmiths of all kinds competed by delivering a performance of their own work and presenting their vision for the Bardship. Tim King, Peter Roe, Adam Skerrett, Richard Green, James Turner all presented enthralling offerings and the evening concluded with inspirational poet Melanie Crump being appointed as the new Bard.

In her Manifesto, Melanie pointed to the underrepresentation of women in spoken word and over the next year she aims to support female artists, as well as putting energy into the existing poetry scene and running educational workshops.

Exeter is one of only a small group of cities with the right to appoint a bard, in a tradition that dates back 200 years. The role is kept for one year and a day and the Bard is said to represent the land and the people of the territory. 

To conclude the evening, outgoing Bard Kimwei McCarthy was also awarded the role of Grand Bard by outgoing Grand Bard Jackie Juno. This role is 7 years and Jackie has notably organised the record breaking Grand Witches Tea Party at Rougemont each year under the role. The coming year will tell what Kimwei will do as Grand Bard.