Seren Gift Guide: Give the Perfect Gift this Christmas

We all have them. That one person in the family who is impossible to buy presents for. They’re very particular so food or alcohol is out of the question and you bought them novelty socks last year so what are you going to do? Buy them a book of course!

Here at Seren we’ve got books to suit everyone: fiction addicts, nature lovers, poetry fanatics, art & photography connoisseurs, history buffs, current affairs enthusiasts, fans of biography & memoir – the list goes on. Here are a selection of our top suggestions for those difficult to buy for family members to help you give the perfect gift this Christmas.

 

Books for Fiction Addicts

Significance by Jo Mazelis £9.99 

significanceLucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but only gets as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance. Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: £8.99 

Sugar Hall Tiffany MurrayEaster 1955 and Britain waits for a hanging. Dieter Sugar finds a strange boy in the red gardens at crumbling Sugar Hall – a boy unlike any he’s ever seen. As Dieter’s mother, Lilia, scrapes the mould and moths from the walls of the great house, she knows there are pasts that cannot be so easily removed. Sugar Hall has a history, buried, but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.

Brief Lives by Christopher Meredith £9.99 

Brief Lives Christopher MeredithFrom the nightmarish first story set in the South China Sea in 1946 to the final piece, set nowhere at the end of time, Brief Lives demonstrates in a short compass a huge range in technique and milieu and a unity of theme and sensibility. It opens naturalistically but is distinctly non-realist by the close. We meet an ex-collier in 1950 anguishing over whether to return to the pit, a young mother in the early 1960s quietly shepherding those around her through a bleak Christmas day, an industrial chemist in this century plunged into vortices of memories that cause him to question his grasp of the world, and more.

New Stories From The Mabinogion – The Complete Box Set (Unsigned): £80 

In New Stories from the Mabinogion ten great authors take the Celtic myth cycle as a starting point to give us masterly re-workings with a modern twist in a series both various and wonderful. In these retellings of medieval stories from Celtic mythology and Arthurian Britain, we reach the orbit of Mars, the Tower of London and the edges of India, travel in time to WW2 and forward to the near future, see Iraq in drug-addled dreams, and view Wales aslant, from its countryside to its council estates. Each author makes the story entirely their own, creating fresh, contemporary novellas while keeping the old tales at the heart of the new.

 

Books for Home Birds

The Seren Real Series: £9.99

First started by Peter Finch with Real Cardiff and now containing over 20 volumes, the Seren Real Series is a collection of psychogeographic guides that take a closer look at beloved towns and cities from all over the UK. Always insightful and full of interesting observations, made personal by each author’s connection to the place, these books discover the essence of what makes our towns and cities tick.

 

The Living Wells of Wales by Phil Cope: £20.00 

Author and photographer Phil Cope takes us on a journey through the sacred wells of Wales, from the Anglesey to the Gwent. On his way he discovers wells in city centres and, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere – on mountainsides, in deserted valleys, on the coast, in sea caves. They include healing wells, cursing wells, and wells named for saints, Satan, witches, angels, fairies, friars, nuns, hermits, murderers and hangmen. Packed with colour photographs, including some of long-forgotten wells now rediscovered, The Living Wells of Wales is the new definitive volume on a subject gaining a new popularity.

Walking Cardiff by Peter Finch and John Briggs: £14.99 

Join Peter Finch and John Briggs on twenty walks around Cardiff, the bustling capital of Wales. Together they visit the new and the ancient, the difficult, the undiscovered, the lesser-known, the artistic, the entertaining, the quirky and the unexpected. They criss-cross the city, informing, discovering, exploring, and enduring, reviving old routes as they go.Their journeys encompass the city’s history, and record daily life on its streets, in its parks and its famous and not so famous, buildings.

 

Books for History Buffs

Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life by Alessandra Kozlowska: £12.99 

Discovered by the author’s grandson, and written originally in Italian, Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life is the memoir of Baroness Alessandra Koslowska (1892-1975) and is a vivid depiction of her life from childhood to the end of the Second World War. In essence it is the story of her struggle to keep her family together through the huge and sometimes deadly social and political changes of early twentieth century Europe including the survival of two revolutions in Russia and the subsequent civil war, her travels in central Europe during World War One, her life in Italy during the inter-war years, and her internment there, which was almost terminated by German forces.

Forbidden Lives by Norena Shopland: £12.99 

Norena Shopland Forbidden LivesForbidden Lives is a fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. In it Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century where he reports on ‘bearded women’ and other hermaphrodites. Other subjects include Edward II and Hugh DeSpenser, seventeenth century poet Katherine Philips, the Ladies of Llangollen, Henry Paget, artists Gwen John and Cedric Morris, and actor Cliff Gordon.

Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden by John Harris: £19.99 

Caradoc Evans Devil in Eden John HarrisIn Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden John Harris has written the definitive biography of Welsh author Caradoc Evans. He investigates what lay behind his writing, and its impact on Wales and beyond. Evans is revealed as a polemicist on issues like the rights of workers, the conduct of the Great War, and the status of women. A leading London journalist, Evans had a popular weekly column in which he responded to readers’ views in trenchant fashion. As Harris argues, challenging convention was his life’s work. Extensively researched and brilliantly written, it is a revelatory and necessary insight into the man, his country and his times.

 

Books for Nature Lovers

Wild Places UK: UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites by Iolo Williams: £19.99 

In 2016 television naturalist Iolo Williams brought us the definitive guide to the top nature sites in Wales. Now he returns with a guide to his top 40 sites in the UK. From Hermaness on Shetland to the London Wetland Centre, from Dungeness in Kent to Loch Neagh, Williams criss-crosses the country. Lavishly illustrated, author and book aim to introduce a new audience to the delights of the UK, be they armchair naturalists or, more importantly, visitors to the forty sites Williams has selected.

Waterfalls of Stars by Rosanne Alexander: £12.99 

Waterfalls of Stars Rosanne AlexanderWhen Rosanne Alexander’s boyfriend Mike was offered the job of warden of Skomer Island, they had just ten days to leave college, marry (a condition of employment) and gather their belongings and provisions for the trip to the island. With great sensitivity, and humour, Rosanne Alexander relates their experiences, including her observations of the island’s wildlife and landscape. With her lyrical evocation of the natural world and its enthusiastic and resourceful approach to the problems of island life, Waterfalls of Stars will inspire and entertain anyone who has felt the need for escape.

Once by Andrew McNeillie: £9.99 

Once is the journey from boyhood to the threshold of manhood of poet Andrew McNeillie. From an aeroplane crossing north Wales the middle-aged writer looks down on the countryside of his childhood and recalls an almost fabulous world now lost to him. Ordinary daily life and education in Llandudno shortly after the war are set against an extraordinary life lived close to nature in some of the wilder parts of Snowdonia. Continually crossing the border between town and country, a fly-fisherman by the age of ten, McNeillie relives his life in nature during a period of increasing urbanisation.

 

Books for Poetry Fanatics

Erato by Deryn Rees-Jones: £9.99 

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself.  Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.
Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Gen by Jonathan Edwards: £9.99 

Jonathan Edwards GenGen is a book of lions and rock stars, street parties and servants, postmen and voices. In the opening sequence’s exploration of youth and young manhood, the author sets his own Valleys upbringing against the ’50s youth of his parents and the experience of a range of pop culture icons, including Kurt Cobain and Harry Houdini. Other poems place a Valleys village and the characters who live in it alongside explorations of Welsh history and prehistory, and the collection concludes with a selection of sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt love poems.

Regional Poetry Pamphlets: £5.00

Our new series of poetry pamphlets celebrates the beauty, history and lively everyday goings-on in four areas of Wales: Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia, the Borders, and the capital city of Cardiff. Each pamphlet comes with an envelope and a postcard – the perfect stocking filler for your loved ones this Christmas.

 

 

Twelve Poems for Christmas: £5 

This sparkling selection of Christmas poems is the perfect stocking filler for any poetry addict. These are poems full of feeling that resist cliché, that touch on classic ‘Christmas’ themes, but bring them to life from fresh perspectives. The pamphlet opens with Pippa Little’s lyrical and tender poem, ‘St. Leonore and the Robin’, and features poems both humorous and contemplative. Small enough to send with (or instead of) a card, this is the perfect festive treat for your loved ones.

 

Books for Cooks

The Occasional Vegan by Sarah Philpott: £12.99 

The Occasional Vegan Sarah PhilpottThe Occasional Vegan is a collection of 70 simple, affordable and delicious recipes, suitable for newcomers and long-time vegans alike, that will keep you well-fed and healthy. Author Sarah Philpott’s recipes are accompanied by the story of her own journey to becoming a vegan, exploring the ethical and lifestyle arguments for a plant-based diet.  Food lover Philpott shows that embracing veganism certainly doesn’t need to break the bank. Her recipes are homely and easily cooked, suitable for old and young, gourmet cooks and the kitchen novice.

 

Books for Music Lovers

Just Help Yourself by Vernon Hopkins: £9.99 

Just Help Yourself Vernon Hopkins1960. Britain stood at the cusp of new times. In Pontypridd, sixteen-year-old Vernon Hopkins had just found a new singer for his band: a local boy who would come to be known as Tom Jones. Just Help Yourself tells the full story of The Senators – soon to become The Squires – and their lead singer Tom Jones. Vernon Hopkins’ authentic narrative is a revealing look at the highs and lows of the music business, and of London in the allegedly Swinging Sixties. Full of gritty detail about life in Pontypridd, and with great insight into the music business, it is a cautionary tale of ambition and success. Illustrated with previously unseen photographs from the author’s archive.

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back by Peter Finch: £9.99 

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and BackPeter Finch follows the trail of twentieth century popular music from a 1950s valve radio playing in a suburban Cardiff terrace to the reality of the music among the bars of Ireland, the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of Tennessee, the flatlands of Mississippi and the mountains of North Carolina. The Roots of Rock mixes musical autobiography with an exploration of the physical places from which this music comes. It is a demonstration of the power of music to create a world for the listener that is simultaneously of and beyond the place in which it is heard. It also considers how music has changed during this time, from the culture-shaping (revolutionising) 50s and 60s to the present day.

 

Books for Horizon Gazers

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters by Anne-Marie Fyfe: £9.99 

No Far Shore is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. Anne-Marie Fyfe combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, that explores the unsettledness of living on the boundary between two elements. She explores countless coastlines, her own family history and the works of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential along the way.

 

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye: £12.99 

In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, a kibbutznik, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Through the author’s personal situation it explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.

The Road to Zagora by Richard Collins: £9.99 

When Richard Collins was diagnosed with a progressive incurable disease in 2006 he decided to see as much of the world as he could while his condition allowed. The result is The Road to Zagora, a singular travel book which takes in India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Equador and Wales. With ‘Mr Parkinson’, as Collins refers to his condition, by their side, he and his partner Flic decide to continue to travel ‘close to the land’ post diagnosis, leaving the tourist trails and visiting places of extremes: the Himalayas, rainforests, deserts. The story of their travels is collected here in a memorable journey around the world, and the self.

 

Books for Fans of Biography and Memoir

The Longest Farewell by Nula Suchet: £12.99 

When Nula’s husband James, an Irish documentary filmmaker, becomes forgetful they put it down to the stress of his work. But his behaviour becomes more erratic, and he is eventually diagnosed as suffering from Pick’s Disease, an early onset and aggressive form of dementia. The Longest Farewell is the true story of Nula’s fight with her husband’s disease, and how this terrible time held a happy ending.

 

Tide-Race by Brenda Chamberlain: £9.99 

Tide-Race is a remarkable account of life on Bardsey (known as Ynys Enlli to Welsh speakers), a remote and mysterious island off the coast of North Wales. Brenda Chamberlain lived on the island from 1947 to 1961, during the last days of its hardy community. The combination of Bardsey, ancient site of Christian pilgrimage, wild and dangerous landscape, and Brenda Chamberlain, Royal Academy trained artist, results in a classic book, vividly illustrated by the author’s line drawings.

Jim Neat: The Case of a Remarkable Man Down on his Luck by Mary J. Oliver: £9.99 

Jim Neat is a remarkable evocation of the seemingly fractured life of Mary J. Oliver’s father. Tinged with the tragedy of his partner’s death and an orphaned daughter, it ranges across the history of 20th century England and Canada. Using the few documents of Jim’s life and a combination of poetry and prose, Oliver adopts a legal structure, making ‘the case’ for the worth of his life. The result is a fascinating and engaging book unlike any other memoir.

 

Books for Art Connoisseurs

Welsh Quilts by Jen Jones: £12.99 

Welsh Quilts Jen JonesWelsh Quilts is an authoritative guide to the history and art of the quilt in Wales. It is the result of expert author Jen Jones’ researches into the subject and her desire to revive what had been a gloriously high-quality craft. Illustrated with beautiful images of the bold designs and intricate stitching of the quilts in her own collection, Welsh Quilts is the essential book on the subject, whether you are a quilter yourself, or simply interested in quilting heritage.

Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life by Peter Jones: £14.99 

Sculptor, painter, letter cutter, stained glass artist, novelist, academic and administrator; Jonah Jones (1919-2004) was a twentieth century renaissance man. His son Peter looks back on his life, from growing up in a mining family in Newcastle, through his experiences in a non-combatant role in the Medical Corps during the Second World War, to the people and places that fired his passion to become an artist. Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life is a considered look at the life of one of Wales’ most successful artists.

Try the Wilderness First : Eric Gill and David Jones at Capel-y-Ffin by Jonathan Miles: £12.99 

Try the Wilderness First is the only study devoted to controversial artist Eric Gill’s artistic and religious community in the Black Mountains of Wales during the 1920s, told through the character and work of Gill himself and David Jones, two of Britain’s most significant twentieth century artists. In it, Jonathan Miles explores the influences of place, culture and religion on artistic practice and investigates the effect of the Black Mountains and of Gill’s community on the work of these two important British artists, both at the time and in the future.

Books for Photographers

Living in Wales by David Hurn: £25.00 

Living in Wales is an album of one hundred and one duotone portraits of people who, in the words of David Hurn ‘have enriched my life and that of Wales.’ It is a roster of the famous and distinguished in the fields of science, business, the arts, sport, the law, health, media, politics and religion. Beautifully composed, and shot with David’s characteristic flair for detail, the photographs linger on the physicality of the person, a telling prop pushing the image towards the possibility of narrative. Here is a photographer on inspirational form.

Taken in Time by John Briggs: £14.95 

Photographer John Briggs continues his project to document change in the Cardiff docklands, revisiting the sites and people memorably recorded in Before the Deluge. In the last thirty years landmark buildings have been demolished, docks filled in, the barrage built, maritime businesses closed, and streets disappeared. In their place, a huge redevelopment scheme, gentrification, and tourism. With characteristic honesty and an eye for compelling detail, John Briggs brings these changes to a wider audience in this not to be missed book.

 

Still not found what you’re looking for? Browse our website for more inspiration.

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Seren Christmas Pop-up Shop Returns to Chapter!

From the 16 – 20 December our Christmas pop-up shop will be back at Chapter in Cardiff to satisfy all your last minute present buying needs.

You’re guaranteed to find something for everyone amongst the books on sale so come along and have a browse. From stocking fillers like our fantastic regional poetry pamphlets, to gripping new fiction like Alexandra Ford’s What Remains at the End and fascinating non-fiction titles like the new Wild Places UK by Iolo Williams. Or for something extra special, why not trust us to do the choosing for you with one of our mystery fiction or poetry bundles?

Already got all your presents? Then come along and top up your 2020 to be read pile or find some fantastic books to fill the blissful amount of reading time you’ll have over the holidays.

We’ll see you there.

Friday Poem – ‘Driving Home’ by Christine Evans

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Driving Home’ by Christine Evans, from our regional pamphlet Poems from Snowdonia.

Poems from Snowdonia is part of Seren’s pamphlet series celebrating the spirit of place. The dramatic mountain ranges of the Snowdonia National Park take centre stage here, with their craggy peaks and waterfalls, along with the abundant wildlife, particularly birds like the Red Kite, Greenfinch and Chough. There are also poems set in coastal areas, the beaches around the Dyfi estuary, in Gwydyr Forest, on a hill farm near Blaenau Ffestiniog and in a Bethesda quarry painted by Peter Prendergast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poems from Snowdonia is available from the Seren website: £5.00

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Give the perfect gift: Each of our regional pamphlets come with with an envelope and a postcard making them the perfect stocking filler for your loved ones this Christmas. Other titles in the series include Poems from The Borders, Poems from Cardiff and Poems from Pembrokeshire

Friday Poem – ‘Bus Station’ by Sheenagh Pugh

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Bus Station’ by Sheenagh Pugh, from her latest collection Afternoons Go Nowhere.

A fascination for history, both as a source of human drama and a field for artful speculation, characterises this collection of poems by Sheenagh Pugh. In Afternoons Go Nowhere the past seems more relevant to the present than ever, human nature never entirely predictable and often non-sensical, the natural world seeming full of a paradoxical beauty. Complex but with clear themes and lucid, musical language, Sheenagh Pugh’s tenth collection will delight discriminating readers.

Afternoons Go Nowhere is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Body Language’ by Tamar Yoseloff

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Body Language’ by Tamar Yoseloff from her new collection The Black Place. You can watch video interviews of Tamar reading from and talking about the collection on our Youtube channel.

The Black Place is a dark and gorgeously multi-faceted collection that eschews the sentimental, embraces alternatives and offers antidotes to cheery capitalist hype. But there is a sort of dark grandeur to Tamar Yoseloff’s view of mortality, one that matches the sublime desert painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, the subject of the title poem. The book’s subjects include Georgia O’Keeffe, the poet’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

 

The Black Place is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Join us to celebrate the launch of The Black Place this coming Monday (25th November) from 7pm – Downstairs at The Department Store, Brixton, London. Tamar will be joined by special guests Tim Dooley, Sue Rose, Claire Crowther and Anne Berkley. All welcome. Find the full details on our website.

Friday Poem – ‘Our Mothers’ Bodies’ by Alexandra Ford

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Our Mothers’ Bodies’ by Alexandra Ford. Alexandra’s debut novel What Remains at the End was published last month.

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, the Danube Swabians, were expelled by Tito’s Partisan regime. A further sixty-thousand were killed. Seventy years later Marie Kholer travels to Europe to learn the truth about her grandparents’ flight to America. A story of war and suffering, of loss and the search for connection and identity, it is an intriguing debut novel from Alexandra Ford.

 

What Remains at the End is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss the launch of What Remains at the End, taking place on Saturday 23rd November at the The Hurst, The John Osbourne Arvon Centre. There will be books, wine and cake! See the full details here

Katrina Naomi shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Katrina Naomi author of The Way the Crocodile Taught Me. Katrina is a poet, tutor, critic, mentor and translator who lives in Cornwall. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and is currently included in London’s Poems on the Underground. Her next collection is forthcoming in 2020.

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me Katrina NaomiThe Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a vibrant, heartfelt and tragi-comic collection of poetry. With warmth, flair and a certain ferocious wit, Naomi tears into her subject matter: a childhood fraught with family dislocation, upsets and even occasional violence, and finds, through her art, moments of grace, humour and redemption. It will delight people who know Naomi’s work and undoubtedly win new fans for her courageous and unabashedly entertaining poems.

What first drew you to poetry?

I came to poetry by mistake. I was trying to write about something I really cared about and found that I’d written a poem.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

Art, walking, film and other poets.

What poets or writers inspire you?

There’s so many! One poet who always inspires me is Peter Redgrove.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I do write full time, I found that when I was working in my former human rights job, that I was spending longer and longer lunch breaks writing poems. Something had to give. I thought I’d take voluntary redundancy and see if I could get anywhere with my poetry. That year I won a poetry competition and was published soon afterwards. So I’ve kept going.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I usually read another poetry collection for about 20 minutes, or I copy out a poem that I really admire. This gets me to slow down and really look and think.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

I talk to my partner or close friends when I’ve had a disappointment. Also, I often write about the disappointment and see if I can turn it into some other beast. That helps!

 

Katrina’s collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘What’s the Welsh for ‘Fire-Cracker’?’ by Marc Evans

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘What’s the Welsh for ‘Fire-Cracker’?’ by Marc Evans. Marc is a regular attendee of our First Thursday evenings which happen once a month at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. He read this poem in the open mic session a few months ago and we thought it was perfect to share with you this week just after bonfire night.

 

 

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‘Footnotes to Water’: An Interview with Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding is a poet, critic and translator who has lived in north Wales since 1991. She is the author of a number of poetry collections including The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and Remains of a Future City (Seren), which was long-listed for Wales Book of the Year. In 2018 she was a recipient of the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors for her contribution to poetry.

Her new collection Footnotes to Water follows two forgotten rivers and tracks the literary hoofprints of sheep through Welsh mountains. In these journeys she reveals urban and rural locales as sites of lively interconnection, exploring the ways in which place shapes and is shaped by language. In this interview she gives us a deeper insight into these connections and tells us about some of the processes behind her poetry.

Water can quite literally reflect us, and the symbol of the river features heavily throughout the collection. Why do you think water is so expressive of identity?

I’m more interested in water that is hidden, or that has disappeared, than in reflective surfaces. I don’t think water necessarily expresses identity at all, though it does tend to be a central concern of Welsh writing – there’s Tryweryn, of course, with the idea of loss of language and identity. I was drawn to the Adda in Bangor because it seemed to be the shape of a void I noticed in the city, but it’s not just about language – it’s also about an economic logic that destroys a community’s relationship with itself and its non-human surroundings. On the other hand, water is what connects us to each other and to the rest of the physical world, so it’s a way of thinking about new kinds of belonging.

You use the Welsh language throughout certain poems, although you write primarily in English. Why is that?

I can’t write in Welsh, but in writing about Bangor I wanted to reflect my experience of hearing the city, which is that Welsh is a constant, if fragmentary presence, and one I value. The occasional Welsh phrases are all quotation because my relationship to Welsh is that it lives in my ears, but not in my mouth. One day that may be different, but for now this is the best way I can respond to where I am.

Is this a collection to be read aloud? How could speaking the poems affect our understanding of them?

For me, reading and writing poetry is very much about the sound and weight of words, whether they are sounded aloud or voiced in the head, so sound and meaning are always intricately connected.

The collection brims with varying experimental forms. Can breaking form challenge our conceptions of the world around us?

I like having a constraint to work against, so the book begins and ends with sonnet sequences, although they might not be immediately recognisable as such. In both cases, I was thinking about the form of a river, and the shape that gives it pressure and movement. In the first poem there’s a seven-syllable line, which is more common in Welsh poetry than in English, and it has the effect of wrong-footing the expected rhythm. In many of the forms I used I was trying to find ways of tripping up my expectations of a very familiar city.

In the collection, you seem inspired by the landscape, letters, news reports, and the literature and voices of others. What inspired you the most? Is there somewhere you often look to for inspiration when beginning to write?

I walk and I read, and in some ways these can be quite similar kinds of exploration. ‘Heft’ is about both of those things at once, a journey though text and landscape.

In the poem, ‘Walking the Adda: A Collaboration’ you incorporate ‘comments made on and after public walks’. How did you approach incorporating the voices of others into your work? Would you say the role of voice is particularly important to this collection?

This was a joint project with the artist Ben Stammers in which we walked the route of the underground river with anyone who wanted to join us. At the end, people added their comments anonymously to a giant map he’d drawn, and these are what I have quoted – so although there are a few spoken comments there as well, most were written down. I arranged them as a prose poem, continuous but with multiple voices. The sense of listening to a place composed of many voices is central to my understanding of cities.

How would you describe the poems’ function as footnotes alongside Ben Stammers’ visual art?

I don’t think they really work in this way as I was not interpreting his photographs. Most of the time we made parallel, separate explorations of the route of the river and what we could discover about it. We did have some very useful conversations though, and Ben’s expert knowledge of birds certainly informs ‘Gull Song’.

You play with the idea of bodies, whether the ceaseless flow of the body of water reflected in the form, the female body in ‘Teint’, or the physical body threatened by flood, disease or pollution. Would you say the collection aims to subvert the boundaries between the human body and the elemental world?

Given the current ecological crisis it’s important to challenge the belief that humans are somehow separate or aloof from the material world. What if we could imagine human existence as a footnote to water, a co-incidental life form existing alongside many others? At the same time, of course I can’t completely sustain this view because my perspective is human, and I’m also concerned that human bodies are not all treated equally, as is revealed by the story of any city. When I write I try to make new paths of connection in language so that different relationships might be possible.

 

Footnotes to Water is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss the launch of Footnotes to Water taking place at 8pm on Thursday 14th November at the Aulkland Arms in Menai Bridge. Zoë will be joined by guest readers Fiona Cameron, Peter Hughes, Rhys Trimble and Lee Duggan plus there will be music from The Groceries (Alan Holmes). Find the full details on our website.

Friday Poem – ‘A Second Whisper’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘A Second Whisper’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard from her new collection A Second Whisper. You can see videos of Lynne reading more poems from the collection on our Youtube channel.

A Second Whisper is Lynne Hjelmgaard’s moving new collection in which she looks back upon her life in New York, Demark, The Caribbean, and London. There are elegies to her late husband as well as to her mentor and partner, the renowned Welsh poet Dannie Abse, who died in 2014. Her lyrics are precise, warm in tone, and suffused with optimism for the future.

 

 

A Second Whisper is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss Lynne reading alongside Mary J. Oliver at their joint launch tomorrow, 7pm at Broc Mor shop in Aberystwyth. Find the full details here