Festival Readings: Summer 2018

24 07 2018

Remember the snows before Easter? The storms personified with cousins’ names? In a spring that seems an age ago now, I accepted a series of invitations to read at literary festivals.  They seemed so far into the future, that despite advising everyone on Twitter and Facebook to ‘tattoo the dates’ on their forearms, I didn’t plot the events on the kitchen calendar myself.  So it was that July became the month my wife now refers to as ‘three readings and a house move’ and that kitchen calendar is somewhere in a box-fort in the shed.

The RS Thomas festival in Aberdaron, I discovered too late, had clashed with the Terry Hetherington Awards Prize at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and the launch of Cheval 11, which I had co-edited with Rose Widlake.  Fortunately, getting to Swansea on a Friday night from North Wales, is as notoriously difficult as getting a fixed moving-in date from a buyer’s solicitors, so I was excused the odyssey to South Wales by the founder Aida Birch, and encouraged to drive West Walesward to deliver a talk on the many guises of ‘Iago Prytherch’.  Or, more to the point, the many interpretations of Iago Prytherch according to the many guises of RS Thomas.

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Susan Forgerty had organised a weekend of activities celebrating the life and work of Thomas and his wife, the artist, Mildred Eldridge.  My own reading, for which the gallery space in the National Trust Centre at Porth-y-Swnt was uncomfortably warm and uncomfortably full, was a rewarding and fulfilling hour.  As well as sharing my own poems and revealing how they were inspired by the RS Thomas I’d been force-fed at school, spoon-fed at university and has been cluster-feeding on thereafter.  I was fortunate to hear work read by poets in the audience and, most special of all, had the opportunity to listen to Jack Rendell read his poems from Cheval 11.  Having had anecdotes about hedgehogs and moles exchanged on the night, it was a perplexing Saturday morning to encounter both animals on our journey home.  The hedgehog, curled in my son’s unbelieving hands like a dragon’s egg; the mole with his paddling paws and sleepshut eyes.

At Lit Caerleon, seven days later, our solicitor was on holiday and the house move was still to be finalised.  So, my wife and I travelled to Newport, abandoning the empty boxes in the hallway, where we were greeted into the event marquee by the most welcoming of hugs from Rajvi Glasbrook, who, along with her husband Jon and a committee of benevolent literature-aholics organise Wales’ most intimate of festivals.  After my own reading, I spent a few wonderful hours in the company of writers and poets and readers and met a cast of names that Twitter had made me feel were as friends: Tony Curtis, Mab Jones, Murray Lachlan Young, Natalie Holborrow, Joao Morais, Dan Tyte.  I met another talented poet from the Terry Hetherington Award, Niall Ivin, and revelled in the conversation between Gary Raymond, Craig Austin and Patrick Mcguinness.  Their pertinent debate about being unable to witness history as it happens about you, yet being compelled to reflect on in art reminded me of two A-Level years of dismayed notetaking about the Corn Laws, and to question whether Brexit will be more astonishing for students in two hundred years than it is presently.  Everybody was having too much fun to tell me that the roads would be closed until midday the next day for a cycle race I’d never heard of.

And then we moved house.

Subsequently, I travelled alone last weekend to Holyhead to read at the Gwyl Cybi Festival in the Ucheldre Centre while my wife waved a wallpaper steamer in goodbye at me as I challenged the summerholidaycaravantailbacks of the A55.  Having judged the poetry competition for the events, together with Manon Ros, I was eager to translate the anonymous entries into real faces and accents.  Vanessa Owen and Karen Ankers had assembled a line-up of local singers and poets and had encouraged applicants from across Wales and Northern England to attend to read their verse.   Martin Daws read an memorable, impassioned ode to Bethesda, James Lloyd read two poems from Cheval 11, and a breathless Matthew Smith arrived from his Swansea-origin in time to announce: his first time in North Wales; first time camping; first time entering a poetry a poetry competition, and, as I was about to discover, hearing the poem I’d selected as the winner being read aloud in a hopeful but unknowing voice; first time winning a competition.

When I got home, my wife had pulled the wallpaper from the living room and exposed the names of the former incumbents on the walls.  The following day, a tourist stopped outside and, brittle as old paper, wound his way up the short, steep drive.  He revealed how he’d lived here when the house was first built and how the signature on one of the walls was his.

Having enjoyed a month of hearing others’ poetry, I felt a new poem had just announced itself at my new front door.

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Take Me Home a Thousand Times

8 04 2018

Poetry Day Ireland is March 21st 2018 and the micro-literature project Label-Lit has offered fifty poets around the globe the chance to share twenty verses.

Together with poets across Ireland, there will be contributors spreading from England and Scotland all the way to South Africa and Australia.  There will one thousand pieces of poetry stimulated this year by Belfast-based Maria Mcmanus.

Today, I made the twenty labels from Wales and began hanging them in Llanberis.  All the labels featured a quotation from a poem that will feature in my poetry collection to be published by The Lonely Press later this year.

For more details about Label-Lit and Maria Mcmanus, follow this link: Label-Lit  (https://labellit.wordpress.com/2018/03/04/take-me-home-a-thousand-times/).





Gertrude- a response to Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’

1 01 2017

 

Volume 68 of The University of Leicester’s ‘The Use of English’ contained academic essays on the former Welsh Poet Laureate, Gillian Clarke.  On of the articles was written by Gillian, explaining the imagery and contextual significance of her poem ‘Cold Knap Lake’.

My response to the poem, ‘Gertrude’, considers how the accuracy of Clarke’s memories over the drowning girl are similar to Hamlet’s mother’s sensitively recounts Ophelia’s demise.

It can be read in full here:

Gertrude
(in response to Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’)

So close to have known
the wild flowers round her brow
buttercups, orchids, the coiled-nettle crown,
you trail her gown,

nearer to her mad tongue
and broken melody you stalk,
then, shy steps short of the brook,
you hear the chant haunting the wood unsing
in watery stillness.
There, you gather the news

over your shoulder
like a body, struggle with the strain,
the black stain it leaves ‘till the guilt fits, soon,
as you deliver the death to her brother.

What is truth?
A report so young that words drip with dew,
Then puddle and grow so quickly green and stagnant
They could cloud memory and coronate
A kinder loss: Ophelia buoyed, jewelled,
Rests on the river’s surface, barely deceased.
Truth can drown a suicide, can float a lie,
Can leave behind a mermaid on that tide.

 

Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’ currently remains on the GCSE English syllabus.  The teaching and learning resources prepared by BBC Bitesize, together with the poem, can be found by following this link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/poetclarke/coldknaplakerev1.shtml

 

 





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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Audio-recordings of two new poems

9 10 2016

An introduction to two poems and recordings of both.  There is also some context to each poem and their origins.

These poems, together with one other, were published in the Lonely Crowd last week.





Moortown

22 05 2016





JackdawQuarterly writers’ group: Summer meeting

30 04 2016

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Feel welcome to read a poem or an extract of prose, or to simply listen along to others on the theme ‘panic’.