Jay Ramsay, poet (1958-2018).
By Kevan Manwaring, 31st Dec 2018
Jay Ramsay was a psychotherapist and poet who lived for 25 years of his life in Stroud, Gloucestershire. His chief influence and lasting legacy is within the modern iteration of the Romantic tradition of which he, as a prolific poet, was a significant contributor. He was a singular and influential presence on the alternative poetry scene for nearly forty years. With the rich timbre of his voice and his impassioned opinions he was a heartfelt ambassador for transformative spiritual, political and psychological awareness. Described by Andrew Harvey as ‘one of most authentic visionary poets’, he believed that poetry had a unique, catalytic role in our culture, taking Shelley’s famous notion that poets are ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ and running with it. He corresponded with Robert Bly, Kathleen Raine and Ted Hughes, who were very encouraging of his work. Raine described him as ‘an unlocker of imprisoned souls, and true healer...’
Born John Ramsay Brown in London, in 1958. ‘Jay’ as he redefined himself, experienced a relatively conventional middle-class childhood and education that led to him studying English Literature at Oxford, but became alienated from its privileged, positivist world and the secular humanism that dominated. Rejecting the increasingly prevalent mainstream materialism he forged a counter-cultural path. In the early 1980s he founded the poetry gatherings known as ‘Angels of Fire’ in London, with an influential ‘happening’ at the Purcell Rooms, Southbank Centre. Through its cross art-form festivals, it found immediate success in establishing poetry as an inclusive and community-based activity. Jay contributed to many other festivals and literary events in Britain and abroad. An experienced reader and performer, he had a powerful and lyrical presence, inspiring, uplifting, challenging and entertaining. He often worked with musicians and dancers.
As well as many individual collections including Kingdom of the Edge (New & Selected Poems 1980-1998; Element Books, 1999), some classic Chinese translations Tao Te Ching, I Ching, Kuan Yin; Element, 1993/HarperCollins, 1995), and two acclaimed prose books about alchemy (1997 and 2005), he has also edited five anthologies of New British Poetry: Angels of Fire: an anthology of radical poetry, commissioned by Andrew Motion (Chatto & Windus, 1986), Transformation: the poetry of spiritual consciousness (RGP, 1988), Earth Ascending: an anthology of living poetry, 55 Contemporary British Poets (Stride, 1997), Into the Further Reaches: an anthology of Contemporary British Poetry celebrating the spiritual journey (64 poets: PS Avalon, 2007) and Soul of the Earth: the Awen anthology of eco-spiritual poetry (Awen, 2011). His later collections include Out of Time‚ Poems 1998-2008 (PS Avalon), The Poet in You (O Books) and Places of Truth: journeys into sacred wilderness, Monuments, and Pilgrimage (all from Awen).
Jay edited poetry for Kindred Spirit, Caduceus, and More to Life. In 2005-6 he was poet-in-residence at St James’ Church, Piccadilly in London (where William Blake, one of his guiding spirits, was christened). His sequence Anamnesis: the remembering of soul was displayed in the church, and bill-posted on A3 sheets on the main street outside. In 2010 he completed a residency in the Sinai desert for the Makhad Trust with a sequence of poems and photographs, and collaborated with Martin Palmer’s Alliance of Religions and Conservation. He also performed at Findhorn’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and was a guest tutor for Skyros and Cortijo Romero.
In addition to reviewing widely, Jay created ‘Chrysalis: the poet in you’, a 2-part correspondence course. The course combined poetry with personal development in a unique and transformative way. He also edited a number of individual collections for other poets. At the same time, he ran his own workshops in poetry and performance in the UK, in Ireland, Portugal, Malta, Greece, and the USA. He was a regular tutor at Hawkwood College, the Adult Education College in the Cotswolds, offering workshops in poetry and personal development. He also became a UKCP accredited psychosynthesis therapist and healer, in private practice in Stroud and London.
As a performer, Jay had a distinctive presence on stage, and gave numerous readings both solo and in collaboration, as Phoenix (a poetry group featuring, Jay, Gabriel Bradford Millar, Ella Whiting-Bloomfield‚ and others). With Gloucestershire artist and musician Herewood Gabriel, he got people dancing with his djembe drumming. And with priest, author and television present, Peter Owen-Jones, he found a kindred spirit with whom he often shared the stage at various events. Jay also became good friends with Mike Scott, lead singer of the Waterboys, after interviewing him for Caduceus magazine. Beyond his more famous alliances Jay had a wide network of creative, spiritual friends. He touched and inspired many lives.
In the last five years he began his move to Devon, near Totnes, with his partner Angela. Before he left Stroud he launched what was to be his swansong, The Dangerous Book, a bold poetic reworking of The Bible, with Martin Palmer (published by Fitzrovia Press), with a well-attended reading at St Laurence’s Church, Stroud, supported by fellow poets. He passed away peacefully in Devon on 30 December 2018. 3 months before he died Jay became engaged to Angela and is survived by her and her daughter, Ruby.