Cardinal Cox, occult poet and all-round expert on the occult and arcane, has produced a special poetry pamphlet to mark as special event. The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival takes place on 13th and 14th of January. The poet writes:
"Years ago I worked with the man (Brian Kell) who restarted the Straw Bear Festival. It was banned by the police in the early part of the twentieth century due to the general drunkenness and the cadging of beggars. Since Brian restarted the festival in 1980 it has been an important event in the calendar of folk dance and folk music."
With that impeccable pedigree, it's entirely understandable that the pamphlet commemorating this innocent folk festival is all about The Wicker Man. Entitled 'The Folk Show 3: Fan Mail For A Film', the small collection looks at the real and the fantastical aspects of traditional festivals, many of which do not involve human sacrifice.
The first poem, a sonnet entitled 'Horse Fair', sets the tone with its slightly Larkinesque description of a gathering where farriers, dealers, farmers, police, travellers and tourists mingle. Peterborough Horse Fair sounds like fun, but there's the inevitable shadow cast by 'handbills about a missing kid', contrasted with the 'girl in a paper crown' on Queen Katern's Day. The Cardinal always provides intriguing footnotes. I'd never heard of Queen Katern, but I'll remember her from now on. The same goes for 'Sap-Engro', with its cunning-man 'catching adders in summer'. The footnote concerns George Borrow, one of those Victorian writers who have fallen from favour but is surely ripe for rediscovery. 'Toadman', a prose-poem, concerns a local variant of the cunning-man in the Ely and Peterborough area. The toadman in this story is part of an interesting plot that, again, involves travelling people.
Then there's John Clare, a great poet still unjustly neglected for my money. 'Plough Witches' refers to a tradition he recorded. It seems to be a classic example of Englishmen getting drunk while in drag in the name of tradition. Clare also wrote down parts of a mummers play according to the footnote to 'Some Mummery'. The poem captures the mixture of the strange and commonplace that distinguishes most authentic folk customs. Cox puts a spin on this idea by mixing a knight called George, an oil sheik, and a buffoon in his troupe, along with Doctor Quack. The latter seems especially pertinent as the NHS collapses:
'A corpse lies here upon the floor
Should I cure him if he is poor?'
The final item in this pamphlet is not a poem but a short essay on David Pinner, whose novel Ritual formed the basis for The Wicker Man. We had a narrow escape, it seems - he could have sold the rights to Michael Winner. There is a sequel to Ritual entitled The Wicker Woman. I for one would like to see that filmed.
So, another intriguing collection of facts, fantasy, and a great deal in between. If you want to be inspired and educated, send an SAE to:58 Pennington
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