As we continue to celebrate our 40th anniversary, our founder Cary Archard looks back at some of the long-lasting friendships which helped Seren grow into the press it is today.
Looking back, I’m struck by how important friendships have been to Seren’s progress the last forty years. ‘They came into our lives unasked for’ is the first line of ‘The Uninvited’, the first and earliest poem in Dannie Abse’s Collected Poems. I first met Dannie at a reading soon after he and his wife Joan bought Green Hollows, their home in Ogmore-by-Sea, in the early Seventies. It was the start of a forty year friendship. From the beginning of Seren, Dannie was an enthusiastic supporter, always particularly keen we should encourage and develop our poets. When within a year of start-up, running things from home became physically impossible, my living room already overflowing with parcels of books and a bigger space needed, Dannie offered the use of the annexe to his Ogmore house.
Ogmore-by-Sea was a wonderful place to be based. From the upstairs office window you could look across the grey sea to Devon or muse on the terrors of ‘the eternal, murderous fanged Tusker Rock’ (‘A letter from Ogmore-by-Sea’). Across the road was the Craig-yr-Eos Hotel (since turned into flats) where at lunchtimes you could discuss work over a pie and seek inspiration at the bar. Subsequent office locations have never been so romantic or so characterful. Seren’s super modern, hi-fied, all modcons, present office in the middle of Bridgend just doesn’t have the same charm. Looking back it’s tempting to think that life generally was better then, the pace slower, the publishing world kinder. A time when friendship influenced the decisions. Pressure now seems greater. Success however modest has its price perhaps. Dannie has been much missed since his death in 2014.
(A footnote: Dannie’s wonderful autobiographical novel, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve set in Cardiff in the thirties and Forties, published in 1954, never appeared on my Cardiff grammar school syllabus; instead for O level we were offered Harrow and the British army in Churchill’s My Early Life.)
From one chance friendship to another. Also in the early Seventies, I found myself teaching English in the Cynon Valley where I had grown up. I’d applied for the post of a history teacher in Swansea but missed the deadline for applications. Some kind officer in the Glamorgan office had noticed I had appropriate qualifications and sent me the details of the English job. I was lucky. Fortunate also to have arrived there just before Mrs Lewis, highly respected and loved Senior Mistress and German teacher, retired. So it was, ‘totally unasked for’, that I became a colleague of Gweno, wife of Alun Lewis (1915-1944), one of Wales’s finest twentieth century writers. At the time, I knew next to nothing about Lewis’s poetry and stories, even though I had grown up in the same valley. And as far as I can remember, his name had never been mentioned in my grammar school education.
Gweno and I became friends. It was a friendship which led to Seren’s most important publishing achievement, namely the publication of Alun Lewis’s Collected Poems, Collected Stories, and his Letters to my Wife. (Lewis is a wonderful letter writer; comparing him to Keats no exaggeration.) When Gweno returned to her family home in Aberystwyth, I often made that steep climb to ‘The Chateau’, a striking red house, high on the hill overlooking the bay. We talked about Alun, the young Cynon Valley boy (he was under thirty when he died in Burma), his family (I got to know Mair his sister later on), her involvement in his second book of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among The Trumpets, her guardianship of his reputation, and the progress of John Pikoulis’s biography. To be entrusted to publish the author’s work by his wife was a remarkable privilege. It was an unforgettable day when on one visit she brought me a packet inside which was a faded manuscript tied in a red ribbon. It was Alun’s copy of his unpublished early novel, Morlais, which Seren published in 2015, Lewis’s centenary. Just in time. Gweno sadly died the year after.
Dannie Abse: A Source Book is available on the Seren website: £14.99
Morlais by Alun Lewis is available on the Seren website: £12.99
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Find out more about how Seren was founded in our previous Seren at 40 post: In the beginning
One thought on “Seren at 40: Looking Back – Seren Friendships”
Cary, as usual is very modest. Welsh poetry and poets owe him so much. I loved reading these memories. Cary’s vision of a Welsh press has gone on from strength to strength. We should be having an article about him, not by him. I first met him in the 1980s when I came back to Wales after years in England. We were at an A level English meeting discussing coursework. I was excited that there was an element of creative writing in it and I told him I was so happy that this was happening in Wales. I think he thought I was being patronising, raised those expressive eyebrows and said, ‘Oh yes, we are quite up-to-date’. I was rightly admonished but I was truly excited. Since then, I have made a point of teaching and recommending Seren books and Welsh writers in English. My students were lucky enough to meet the likes of Dannie Abse, Robert Minhinnick, Gillian Clarke and Zoe Brigley. Thank you Cary for Seren and for everything you have done for Welsh writing.