Yesterday marked the beginning of the week-long Hay Festival, where writers from around the world gather in the staggering beauty of the Welsh borders to debate, read, share stories and inspire – among them, Tom Bullough with his new novel, Addlands (Granta).
As a nod to Hay, our Friday poem is ‘Borderland’ from Air Histories by Christopher Meredith. ‘Borderland’ and Air Histories had a significant influence on Tom Bullough’s new Radnorshire-set novel, Addlands.
Christopher Meredith’s Air Histories starts in the Stone Age and ends in the future. It’s marked by formal diversity and a wide range of subjects, with the personal alongside the impersonal and the experimental alongside well-known forms, as well as including some translations from the Welsh. Throughout it engages the rich meanings of its title, touching on the elemental and on historical time, as well as music and story, meditating on human creativity and its fallibilities from knapping an arrowhead to playing the fiddle or making a guitar. Nature is a touchstone, particularly the Black Mountains, near the author’s home, but also often seen ‘aslant’ as in ‘Seeing the Birds’ where sparrows seem suddenly fierce as eagles.
Ffin is the Welsh for border. It occurs inside diffiniad which means definition, and in Capel y Ffin, a place in the Black Mountains.
You’ll find a ffin inside each definition.
We see what is when we see what it’s not:
edges are where meanings happen.
On the black whaleback of this mountain
earth curves away so sky can start
to show a ffin’s a kind of definition
where skylarks climb across earth’s turn
to air and pulsing muscle turns to an art-
ful song the edge that lets a meaning happen.
Live rock can yield to mortared stone,
a city to a castle, then a shepherd’s hut,
where ffin’s contained inside a definition,
where the lithic turns into the human.
Here’s where things fall together, not apart
at edges that let meanings happen.
And self here blurs into annihilation.
Larkfall, earthfall, skyfall, manfall each create
the ffin that is the place of definition
the edges where we see our meanings happen.