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 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