Past Events Archive: 2021

COVID-19: Zoom Year 2

All these events took place online.

Tuesday 21 September 2021 — Zoom Discussion of JCP’s Up and Out: A Mystery Tale by the Reading Powyses Facebook Group

At 19:00 BST
All those wishing to participate in the ZOOM discussion please e-mail Dawn Collins at thepowyssocietyfb@btinternet.com.
ZOOM connection details will be emailed to individuals well before the meeting

 

As previously, all are welcome either as contributors or as spectators.

Up and Out, John Cowper Powys: Front CoverAvailable in a new edition from Zephyr Books (2020):
See Kate Kavanagh’s review in NL103 (July 2021)

In this novella, first published in 1957, a young couple, Gor Goginog and Rhitha, experience the great dual atomic explosion which ends the world, and smashes the planet to smithereens.

Cast into space on the last tiny green scrap of the Earth’s surface, they encounter the only other remaining beings from the dead planet, a couple blown up to their scrap by the force of the blast. Org is a composite creature, created by vivisectionists - part walrus, part fish, part bird - in fact made of a huge number of different animals’ body parts. With him is his partner, Asm, who is human like Gor and Rhitha.

As Gor, Rhitha, Org and Asm spin on through space, they philosophize about the catastrophe which has taken place, and encounter a Time-monster in the shape of a huge forked-tongued slug, through whose body they are pulled to the ultimate Void beyond. There they discover the utter abjectness of Eternity, and watch it swallow itself.

In the empty grey space beyond Time, they are visited by Mathonwy, the star Aldebaran, Kwangtse, Buddha, and some Greek gods arguing in a cloud, everyone discussing all the while, building revelation upon revelation, as the realisation dawns that the whole universe wants to kill itself! Finally, in a tumultuous capstone section, God and the Devil are their culminating visitors, in a conversation with the four which sometimes seems augustly impressive, sometimes a delightfully funny and petty argumentative chat. They all six come to a momentous decision together, which will change everything.

By the 1950s, John Cowper Powys had lived a very long life packed full of philosophical speculation. His thoughts had ranged far and wide, examining many of the world’s systems of thought and religious understandings. His extraordinary primary powers had engendered a way of marshalling them all, in profound relation to each other, and in relation to himself. Now, in his old age, he was inspired to begin on a short fantastical eschatological work which encompassed these ideas. The result, Up and Out, is one of the most eccentrically original pieces of fiction ever written.

 

Saturday 14 August 2021 — Discussion of JCP’s novel The Brazen Head:
Chapter XXII, The Oracle

The Brazen Head was written between May 1954 and September 1955 and published by Macdonald in 1956. The novel had specific personal significance for JCP — the events take place in 1272 in his home territory of Wessex (Bacon was born in Ilchester just a few miles from Montacute). In 1955 in a letter to his friend Nicholas Ross JCP said: “My romance centres round far the most important figure of the Middle Ages, namely ROGER BACON who succeeded in doing what no other human being has ever done before or since. That is to say Friar Roger Bacon, who was infinitely greater than Francis Bacon, [and who] imitated God and created a living soul!

The Brazen Head CoverThis late novel, composed when JCP was in his eighties, demonstrates how well Powys, in old age, could still evoke a powerful sense of the historical past. JCP researched the period of the thirteenth century in depth studying books on medieval history and theology. Readers, however, may notice some technical weaknesses such as various plot inconsistencies and other strange anomalies. The novel features the priest scientist Roger Bacon (1220-1292) and his invention of a metallic head with the potential to deliver oracles but much of the narrative is also concerned with the conflict between the two barons Sir Mort Abyssum and Sir Maldung. Friar Bacon is opposed by the fanatical Franciscan priest, Bonaventura (1221-1274) and by Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt (fl.1269), an advocate of “scientific magnetism” who seeks to defeat Bacon’s Trinitarian philosophy and destroy the metal image.

In the last chapter of The Brazen Head, entitled The Oracle, JCP brings together at a purely thematic level many of the key concepts already introduced in earlier parts of the book. Here the reader will find a confession of JCP’s own belief that “all living creatures have a consciousness of being themselves”, a cast of colourful characters, as well as historical figures such as Albertus Magnus (1200-1280) and Bonaventura, references to the conflict between Greyfriars and Blackfriars, rebellious serfs, the rivalry between landowning Barons and their ancestral castles (JCP’s original title for the book was The Two Barons), elements of medieval theology, the co-existence of science and magic, zodiacal signs, experiments in magnetism, and an apocalyptic confrontation between beneficent powers and sinister forces: Friar Bacon declares the brazen head is the magical protector of Britain; the “insane voice” of Petrus Peregrinus exclaims “I am Anti-Christ”. At the end of the chapter the “image of brass” and Petrus Peregrinus are destroyed in a fiery conflagration which, according to G Wilson Knight, marks the defeat of the Christian-theological theme of the book by the “sexual Antichrist of Welsh affinities and occult powers.”

Chris Thomas, Hon. Secretary

Sunday 15 August 2021 — Powys Society AGM

The Annual General Meeting was convened as a Zoom video meeting.

AGENDA

Saturday 19 June — Discussion of Powys to Sea Eagle: The Letters of John Cowper Powys to Philippa Powys

This event will be HELD ONLINE by ZOOM at 15:00 BST (Max 1.5 HOURS to 16:30).

If any member wishes to join the Zoom discussion, please e-mail Kevin Taylor at ksjer.taylor@btinternet.com. Kevin will be hosting the meeting and will send you joining details in due course.

Powys to Sea Eagle book coverThese letters (there are over 200) from JCP to his younger sister Philippa or Katie (1886-1963) cover a period of 50 years from 1911 to 1961 and provide a good introduction to the personal style of JCP’s voluminous correspondence. The letters range over a wide variety of subjects from family and friends, to favourite books and writers (especially Whitman), as well as JCP’s early experiences in America, his life in Wales, his daily walks, his progress with his own writing. They also give a vivid sense of JCP's deep sympathy with his sister’s personal difficulties. The editor of the letters, Anthony Head notes:

In Philippa, Powys had an ideal correspondent, someone open to all avenues of thought, whose responses to the life of the senses and the spirit were, like her brother’s, not subject to the restrictions of a certain religious dogma or metaphysical creed. Of all the Powys brothers and sisters, in many ways, as John Cowper liked to claim to her, they two were most alike.

Tuesday 18 May — Zoom Discussion of The Brazen Head by the Reading Powyses Facebook Group

Time: 19:00 BST
All those wishing to participate in the ZOOM discussion please e-mail Dawn Collins at thepowyssocietyfb@btinternet.com.
ZOOM connection details will be emailed to individuals well before the meeting

Robert Greene, Friar Bacon Friar Bungay (1630), title page
Robert Greene, Friar Bacon Friar Bungay (1630), title page

Prof. Wilson Knight tells us

‘Never has Mr Powys used his own infectious delight in narrative to better effect. The range historical, theological and magical interest is vast, but the treatment lucid and carried off with the engaging simplicity of a fairy story. A book of wisdom and wonders’.

The Reading Powyses Facebook Group is open to all who wish to join. We are proceeding through the novels of John Cowper Powys in sequence, enjoying the company of fellow enthusiasts. Since the introduction of Zoom all society members are warmly invited to take part.

Saturday 24 April 2021 — Discussion of T.F. Powys’ Fables, The Seaweed and the Cuckoo Clock and John Pardy and the Waves.

Led by Paul Cheshire, following a theme provided by John Williams

Frontispiece to Fables by Gilbert Spencer
Frontispiece illustration to Fables
by Gilbert Spencer

This event will be HELD ONLINE by ZOOM at 15:00 BST (GMT+1) (Max 1.5 HOURS to 16:30).
  • If any member wishes to join the Zoom discussion, please e-mail Kevin Taylor at ksjer.taylor@btinternet.com. Kevin will be hosting the meeting and will send you joining details in due course.

Although he will not be free on the day, we approached our former chair John Williams as our go-to T.F. Powys aficionado, on whom he has given several well-received talks to the Society in the past. John has provided a discussion document which gives us a starting point for the discussion. He invites (without prescribing!) background reading of poems by Blake, Gray, and Wordsworth as parallel texts that open up interpretation of TFP’s enigmatic fables. His document provides all the necessary passages from these poems.

Further reading:

 

Tuesday 23 February 2021 — Zoom Discussion of Atlantis by the Reading Powyses Facebook Group

At 19:00 GMT
All those wishing to participate in the ZOOM discussion please e-mail Dawn Collins at thepowyssocietyfb@btinternet.com.
ZOOM connection details will be emailed to individuals well before the meeting

As previously, all are welcome either as contributors or as spectators to our talk about Atlantis, JCP’s 1954 novel that develops the character of Odysseus.

There is something of Rabelais and Dostoievsky in the hilarity and nervousness of this weird book.” — Stevie Smith, Observer

Will we agree ? Available in Faber Finds and through Abe and other used book suppliers.