A Feast of Words: Gwledd Conwy

29 10 2017

Just as the final workshop of the weekend grew the longest of shadows, a family crept inside the Conwy Youth Centre, at the corner of Bodlondeb Park and the Agriculture Site of this year’s Feast territory, and asked whether it was too late to write a poem.

While their parents wrapped themselves in the steam of their tall coffees, a brother and sister from Chester began searching the event programme for lines of text that could reside in a sensory poem, and rephrasing them so they were ten syllables each.

We discussed rhyme schemes and rearranged an order, argued over a title and an ending and settled on a completed poem.  The process of finding and writing and discussing and publishing took fifteen minutes.   The family helped me wash the cups I’d used over the previous days, to take down the washing line of free verse poems about pumpkins, crab fishing, small houses and sprawling castles, to return the furniture to its familiar grooves in the carpet and to switch of the lights.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Feast of Words site was hosted by the storyteller and host of Venue Cymru’s Young Storyteller of Wales 2017, Bethan Mascheranas, and by Bangor University, whose affable, academic lecturers spoke on themes of ‘identity’ and the ‘home’, and of the unique teacher, Mr Kite, who inspired a set of ubiquitous lyrics from The Beatles.

I found a window for a break and walked amongst wide crowds down the Main Street, a tide of visitors at the harbour and back through the stalls and stands in the park.

Unlike Saturday, when I kneeled on the floor like an anchorite assembling webs of poems all afternoon and stood only to swoon and clamour about the visits of the linguist David Crystal and poet Patience Agbabi.  A fine day.

Tomorrow, while all the detritus is being cleared from the quay, the marquees are being eased into hibernation and the offices of the Feast begin planning the 2018 event on a page of exciting, nervous blank paper, I may cross the bridge to Conwy and write up a poem I began while sitting at the dock with my wife on Saturday evening.  I hope very much to, it was a kind moment in a charmed weekend.

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Recent Publications: Noble Gas Quarterly / The Lampeter Review / The Gull

4 03 2017
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Nobel Gas Quarterly is a journal that seasonally publishes art, poetry and prose online. The Spring issue, which was released last week, contains rich new work by an international menu of aspirational writers, not least Beth Gilstrap, Benjamin Winkler and Craig Burnett.

The journal can be read online, for free, at: http://noblegas.org/

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The Gull, only in its second issue, is already an acclaimed collective of Swansea genius assembled by its editor Chris Cornwell.  It is brazen in its ambition and irresistible in its apposition of artwork, poetry, playscript, interview and cartoon. The pair of photographs, by Ian Kalinowski are typical of this entirely atypical, but free, magazine.

247 other pages of original art and writing can be enjoyed at: https://thegullmagazine.wordpress.com/the-gull-issue-no-1/

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TLR, The Lampeter Review, is the prestigious journal from Lampter’s Creative Writing Centre.

The recent issue, which arrived to my house in a beautiful binding, is also available online here: http://lampeter-review.com/

On page 48 is a poem by Simon Cockle that could embody this entire magazine: it is academic, thoughtful and will insist you return to it frequently.  The editorial, by the writer and poet Kathy Miles, is worthy alone of anyone’s morning commute reading.

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Next month, poems will feature in Zelda Chappel’s pertinent collection ‘A Furious Hope’, The Cardiff Review and a review of Tony Curtis’ collected poems, The Fortunate Isles, will be published on the Wales Arts Review.





The final days: residency at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse

25 10 2016

The Boathouse crowds eddied in the bright light all week.  As the weather calmed and the sun visited more generously, tourists to Laugharne sat by the wide bay for longer and longer.  On one welcoming day, a pair of dog-walkers and their muddy corgi,  arrived when the River Taf was heavy in the estuary and left when it was barely visible; we’d spent much of the afternoon in the Thomas’ yard together.

Commonly, visitors would arrive like the garden’s resident robin, flying down in fleeting sortees and disappearing just as anonymously.  Some came in passing flocks, such as the affable murmuration from University of Wales Trinity St Davids, staying to pick at Welsh teas, to share scones, to warm their wings.  They spoke in a vibrant rabble of Mandarin, French, Canadian and the yard seemed hushed and dusky when they’d flown away.  And others were regular migrants, visiting the Writing Shed and the Boathouse on an annual, or more frequent pilgrimage.  

The writer and poet John Bilsborough came to collect some books from his residency the week before.  He showed me the stunning collection of writers’ names and messages he’d gathered in his career journal: R.S. Thomas; Victoria Wood; John Betjemen.  Another artist to visit was the seascape painter Gareth Hugh Davies, who brought his family of illustrators for lunch.  All indulged the drawing challenge with their unique styles, Gareth’s daughter indulged me with her sketchbook which was flawlessly assembled and carefully beautiful.  

While other guests were noteworthy for their energy and vigour, such as a rare pair of articulate children from Penrith who produced the most-savage of sea imagery.

And memorable for their charisma, as a poetess and her husband who drew and drew and drew and shared their literature passions as though we were long friends. 

 

After work one day, I visited Newport and read at The Lonely Crowd launch evening.  Heavy roadworks choked the journey there, and the M4 on the drive home felt as long as a continent.  Though the few hours spent in the Murenger were more stimulating and satisfying that I could have gleefully anticipated.  Hosted by John Lavin, readings from Tony Curtis, Carla Manfredino, Alix Nathan, John Freeman, Craig Austin, Rebecca Lawn formed a collage illustrating just how intriguing the literature scene is in South Wales currently.  Chris Cornwell read his ‘Last Night Down Whetstone Road’ in a voice glossy with Dylan’s aesthetic verve for phonetics, Gary Raymond read a story about immigration and fear and stereotype, and veiled pertinent satire around wonderful, characters such as the tale’s ubiquitous Ellis.       

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Ordinarily, on a Friday afternoon, I’d be stood in Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn’s assembly hall, watching certificates be awarded to inspired learners.  On this occasion, they were watching the boathouse and writing shed through my eyes.  Or, more precisely, through a FaceTime connection.  The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Raynor, was in attendance at the school, together with a local MP, and they observed the whole school attempt a modern twist on a Dylan Thomas poem:  ‘Have you Ever Seen Half Term

On the weekend, my wife arrived with my son and we took the work from the week along Dylan’s route about Sir John’s Hill.  While retreading ‘The Birthday Walk’, she helped me film a video compilation of illustrations, my son made atmospheric leaf rustling effects and lingered precariously on steep images.

On one afternoon, when Dylan’s door was leaned shut, two ladies from the boathouse improvised a reading from my poem ‘Caitlin’, in response to Dylan’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ and I filmed it to store for when my debut collection, ‘Conversations’, is published next year.  Or for when Judith or Elen achieve fame in their respective fields of ceramics and translation.  Back at ‘The Pelican’, housing and feeding me until I began to bloat and sprout tight curls of hair, I was given lessons on sculpture and whisky by the artist David Gunther.

And yesterday, I drove my family home.  Home.  Up the serpentine Aberystywth Road.  My son was poorly as we passed Dolgellau, poorly as we approached Machynlleth, as though he was already enduring withdrawal symptoms from his brief time in Laugharne.  Reflecting back today, I too feel a stab homesick for a place that had become so welcoming to me.  

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Montgomery Christmas Lights

29 11 2014

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When the heads stopped surfacing at the window –
like skimmed stones – there jarred three blue-tit taps at the door.
A man, mittened by orchard shadow,
pointed and hurried –
his torch dimmed, his urgency thinned –

as he passed me in the passage.
I followed him to the garden’s velvet dark
and discerned there ten muffled men,
all bowed to the pit,
quarrying prayers from the coal lawn.

The sunken outhouse roof
became a brokenbacked hillside
and a figure nearby shone as a distant beacon –
a cigarette in the sea –
until another pyre ignited and burning bulbs

lit up the garden like a skipping rope.
Once they gathered their fireflies,
Waved, thanked me, locked the shed,
Urged me to indoor warmth,
I sat at the glass and saw as dullness settled again

a dew grew gold and recollective. When I slept
I dreamt the scene but flourished the loop of light
with the familiar – the church clock, flicked ferns,
a wheelbarrow reservoiring. And, as I woke to winter’s slim sun,
I discovered my garden still decorated in memory.

This poem was written following a request at the ‘Poetry Takeaway’ event at the Gregynog Festival. A ten minute poem based on the anecdote of a resident who recalled her recent discovery of the town centre’s decoration in her shed.





Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery (15/16th November)

12 11 2014

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Hedgehog

31 10 2014

Autumn is O shaped,
the narrow O of an echoing birdhouse,
the O below a naked flowerpot,
the O and broken O and O of rusty screw heads
in sodden patio chairs,
the O exploding from roman candles,
spinning spokes in Catherine wheels,
showy signatures by gloved sparklers,
it is the charred O left by the slow black bonfire.

Autumn is orbited
by the waxy O of the harvest moon,
the lost O when time forgets its face,
the yawning O of a tired nature retreating
past puddling paw prints
into brittle windy piles of leaves,
and furling up like the O of a hedgehog’s sunken sleep,
the whorled up O of a mercury bulb-heart beating,
the annular O, autumn cheating winter.





Poet in Residence – Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed – Chester Literature Festival

13 10 2014

The one way system to the city’s traffic had tide changed. There was a new estate in the street I had expected to park my car in.  Chester had been building in the six years since I’d left it and my walk to Dylan’s writing shed was diverted by streets newly formed and structures newly thriving.

In the centre, however, the city remained similar: same pubs, The Red Lion (where I will forever remember watching Liverpool’s fortnightly Champions League melodrama simmer as surprisingly as any Dickens’ potboiler), same squares of grass (the Cathedral cricket strip that I watched fallen catches break like birds’ eggs, then clutched a fizzing ball on the boundary in the gloom), the slightly squalid Town Hall square (that my girlfriend of a decade, in the middle of Christmas Markets, let me leave our lonely love behind).

It was exhilarating to step in the Writing shed again, to sit in the sagging wicker chair and look up at the portraits of Brooke, Lawrence and Dylan himself.  It was a relief to be away from my nostalgia and enter somebody else’s.

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The first gentleman who asked for a poem declared, ‘I’m not a great lover of poetry, music is the new verse’ and, thus, verbatim, I wrote down the opening lines of a piece which tracked the calm cadence of his voice and compared him, albeit kindly, to sheepdog and candle smoke.  He took his poem like a medicine, wincing, then swallowing the concept whole.

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The next couple, watch checking restlessly, requested a poem for their forty-fourth anniversary.  They told me that, four years before, they had celebrated their Ruby Anniversary but this one was one for a dinner, calm, the afternoon, a walk on the walls.  I don’t think they came back to claim it.

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And the afternoon strode on and I was quickly left clutching a pad of bespoke poems that had nothing but titles.  I wrote one about a local charity, one about the journey on the A55, one about poetry, one about a woman’s wonderful neologism, one about pens, one about pain, one about, one about, one about.

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When it began raining the crowds huddled away and I held on to a stack of orders.  But instead of filling them out, I contrasted the swollen, pencil point-eyed poet from the Collected Stories I was using to lean on, with the one in the Augustus John painting above the shed window.  I wrote for a minute and cursed him his infinite flaws.

The final poem I hung to the washing line was for the festival organiser, who asked for something to remind her of a Bucket List success in Moorish Spain and the watercolours it had stirred in her.  The poems I have still to produce are for a creative writing student from the local university, for a kind fellow of the festival who gave me the compelling catalyst ‘hedgehogs’ and for the two people who have rolled the Writing Shed both around their imaginations and the country for the past year.

So, when I left and followed my footsteps back to the car, I tried to think of how I write something that would do more than acknowledge the efforts of the last pair, something instead that could crown their commitments.  Something that will aptly say thank you to them for taking Dylan Thomas to schools and imaginations, something that will thank them for bringing him back to me.

Somewhere damp, burrowed under the crimsoned leaves of Aumtum, I’ll find the right words searching for worms and tease them out into the weak winter sun.

In a fortnight, when we will fill the space again at the Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery event in Mid-Wales, I will begin by pinning up these poems.