This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Poem in Which She Wears Her Favourite Wedding Dress’ by Katrina Naomi from her new collection Wild Persistence.
Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.
“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else…joyous.” – Helen Mort
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘This Is The Drawer’ by Rhian Edwards from her new collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter which is published on Monday 1st June.
The Estate Agent’s Daughteris the eagerly awaited follow up to Rhian Edwards’s Wales Book of the Year winning debut collection Clueless Dogs. Acute and wryly observed, the poems step forth with a confident tone, touching on the personal and the public, encapsulating a woman’s tribulations in the twenty-first century.
“…fast-talking, wise-cracking and worldly wise” – Zoë Brigley
We were fortunate enough to hear Martyn read this poem during our Stay-at-Home Series event yesterday evening.
Displaying his characteristic flair, craft and intelligence, Crucefix’s poems often begin with the visible, the tangible, the ordinary, yet through each act of attentiveness and the delicate fluidity of the language they re-discover the extraordinary in the everyday.
‘…highly wrought, ambitious, thoughtful – and very good.’ – The Sunday Times
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Join us for the final event of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series this evening from 7:30pm! David Llewellyn, author of the Polari Prize shortlisted novel A Simple Scale, will be in conversation with Nemonie Craven Roderick. Actor Samuel West is also joining us to read excerpts from the book. Get tickets on our website here.
This extract is from Jaki McCarrick’s short story ‘The Tribe’ which is featured in her Edge Hill-shortlisted collection, The Scattering.
The main character’s rationale is unnerving and extreme – yet may hold some resonance with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.
Jaki will be joining us for a special Q&A as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tomorrow night at 6:30pm where she will be discussing her fiction and plays which include the award-winning Belfast Girls. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.
A stranger from another time trespasses in an ancient landscape, where a primitive tribe live their modest lives. He has a dark yet necessary mission – but will he manage to complete it?
The American Dream has run out of gas.The car has stopped.
It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its
fantasies. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares
now: the Kennedy assassination,Watergate,Vietnam. J.G. BALLARD
The images that came up on the screen were of a cold, forested environment. Beside me the lake was iced over and wide as a sea. There were trees all around frozen ponds and up and down mountainsides. I wondered if there was human life here at all. Nothing stirred outside, except for the unmistakable shape of an owl flying across the almost-full moon. I wrapped up in my boots and Gore-Tex and kept my gun close. Into a compartment of my backpack I placed another, more lethal gun and clasped the bag to my front. I secured my mask and hood then exited the POD (shorthand for the small machine that had brought me here, with its state-of-the-art Personal Odyssey Drive® system).
Outside, it was freezing. I’d never known cold like it. Not even on the coldest days in New York. In fact, it was not like any cold I’d ever experienced on the earth, anywhere (including the Northwest Territories where I had prepared for this trip).Yet it was so clean, so newly clean. I could distinctly smell pine, and the ice had a fragrant quality, close to mint. I knew that the tundra that covered the earth at this time had beneath it a multitude of flowers and plants, and it was as if the air now was full of the possibility of them. The season, of course, was spring.
I had begun to ascend the mountain when I saw what appeared to be a light. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. (I wasn’t hungry but I was tired and had considered returning to the POD, though it would have been dawn before I got there.) I thought perhaps the moon reflected off the snow, but the light was orange. Within a few steps I saw that a fire burned just beyond a redwood copse. (The snow on the trees’ laden branches made the copse seem like some outlandish installation, like those I’d seen years before in galleries in the Village.) My first instinct was to rush towards it. It had to signify human life – no animal as far as we knew had learned how to make fire. But what kind of beings had made this one? And what would they make of me? If they were the beings we sought, that I had hoped to find here, then could they speak? (We had presumed, perhaps conservatively, that I might encounter at best a protolanguage, and not, at this point, actual lexical structure.) I suddenly became afraid of what I might find, though I could feel the gun against my thigh, and it felt warm, as all security is warm, and that I was so quick to think of the weapons I’d brought with me gave me quite a jolt.
I gathered myself and tried to remember my purpose here. I checked that the vial was where I had packed it. It was. Cold and deadly as the modernity that had made it.
I saw them sitting around the fire, their backs against a circle of high stones. Some of their young ran from caves and were followed by females who evidently disapproved of them out in the cold air. I could smell something roasting on the fire and saw within the flames a long slim-headed beast. Suddenly, the group rose to their feet.They began to make sounds out of the back of their throats which reverberated throughout the hills. The sounds seemed to pass from being to being in a perfect choreography of polyrhythms; it was quite like what I’d heard of Flamenco music. They were covered from head to toe in taupe, grey and dark-red furs, which looked to be the pelts of rabbits, some kind of arctic-like fox, and bears. The group sang its song to the fire, to the beast roasting on the spit, and to the moon and icy expanse – and though I could not understand a word (in so far as their song was composed of words), I felt, somehow, that this was a song of praise, perhaps, even, of welcoming the spring.
After a while, one of the older males loosened the beast from the two thin poles it hung from and set it down on a long flat slab. He cut furiously into it with a hand-axe made of what seemed in the moonlight to be quartz or river-flint. He made many piles of meat, and only when he gestured did the group gather around the slab to eat. They were talking. The sound was unmistakable: laughter, grunts, jesting, the aural characteristics of human engagement, all the sounds that one might hear in any modern crowd. These hominids were clearly enjoying their food. It was then I realised that other than the energy biscuits and apples in my backpack, I’d no further supplies until I returned to the POD. The POD itself had enough food for a few more days of my explorations here; the rest held in reserve for the journey home (if I would, indeed, return). I slowly unclasped the pack and squatted down beside it. I was so hungry I devoured two of the three biscuits and washed them down with a small bottle of chemical-tasting water.
Within a few minutes I could hear a commotion. I stood up and saw a fight break out between two males, between them, a young female clinging tightly to a rock.The smaller of the two males was eventually trounced by the other and stole off like a honey badger into the woods. The tall, rangier male brought the female towards two older females who laughed as they walked her back to the caves. Quickly, the peace returned. After the meal, the taller male quenched the fire and moved the stragglers along. There was something civilised and quite authoritative, I thought, about this creature hanging back to tidy up the remains of his tribe’s revels.
As I would need daylight in order to proceed with my task, I decided to remain where I was. Below me nothing stirred except three or four brindled dogs that looked like small wolves gathering in the centre of the valley to finish off the meat.There seemed also to be a constant rumbling sound, which I supposed was a distant ice storm (perhaps signifying some kind of metamorphic activity in the region). It was as I found an over-leaning bank of earth, under which I planned to sleep, that I heard the other sound. It was terrible and gurgling and instantly recognisable. I looked down and saw that the tall authoritative tribe-member stood in the empty valley below, a pole pierced through his chest, pinning him to the white earth. The others began to emerge from their caves and the sides of the valley. The young female and the group she had been with ran to him. They screamed and cried and pulled the pole from the tall male, at which he dropped to the ground. I heard a sound, if not an actual word, repeated again and again by one of the older females. ‘Orvey! Orvey! Orvey!’ she seemed to cry, as she continually tried to wake him. And I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being, that the sound – for how could I call it a word when I was yet to be convinced that this tribe was in possession of what could feasibly be called language? – meant: child.
Today is International Conscientious Objectors Day. Celebrated on the 15th May every year, it is a day to remember those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill, both in the past and today. There have been a number of notable COs within art and literature in Wales and in this guest post Tony Curtis reflects on them.
Concerning Some Conchies: A brief survey of some notable COs in Welsh art and letters
On May 15th this year we commemorate International Conscientious Objectors Day. In my 2007 book Wales at War: Essays on Literature and Art I found myself writing a chapter on pacifism and conscientious objectors in Wales. I was ill-prepared, but had been let down by a fellow academic and the book was past its projected publication deadline. There have been more useful sources published since then and I have more reasons to re-visit the subject having found out about my father’s court-martial in 1943. I try to deal with this in the poem ‘Pro Patria’ (From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, Seren, 2016) but I am still to be convinced that his leaving the army and brief imprisonment can be explained by the CO story some members of my family clung to.
Whatever happened, the whole thing’s been
washed away – personal feelings, the loss of face,
a Field General Court Martial
before they packed you off to Lincoln Prison
and a cell alongside the ne’er do wells,
Quakers and spivs, malingerers, wastes of space.
What is certain is that I had several writer and artist friends who really had been COs and had suffered the consequences. Two of the earliest and most valued supporters and influences on my early writing career were Glyn Jones (1905-95) and Roland Mathias (1915-2007). In 1940 Glyn had registered his objection to the war, despite the fact that, as a teacher, he would have been unlikely to be conscripted immediately anyway. He was sacked from his teaching job in Cardiff, but later found another post. Glyn’s reasons for protesting were rooted in his Christian belief. His position is an interesting contrast to that of his friend Dylan Thomas, who sent letter after letter to Glyn and others in a desperate attempt to avoid conscription. Glyn’s close friend, the artist John Elwyn (1916-97) was also a CO. In the middle of his studies at the Royal College of Art, in 1940 he objected and was directed to farm work in what was then the village of Lisvane, north of Cardiff. His paintings of Ceredigion are luminous and celebratory, as in this fitting cover to Glyn’s Selected Poems.
More determined and honest in his position than Dylan was their contemporary Roland Mathias, the poet, critic and founding editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review, who was jailed twice for his objections. Roland’s father had served as an army chaplain in the First World War and had retired before the Second with the rank of Colonel. However, Roland’s mother was a firm and unyielding pacifist who had no sympathy for army life and profoundly influenced Roland. He was adamant; the wing forward for St Helens RFC, “One scarcely expects to find a pacifist in a rugby pack”, as a glowing match report observed, absolutely refused any wartime activity that might have been seen to condone the fighting.
On the occasion of his second term of imprisonment, with hard labour, his pupils at the Blue Coat School in Reading raised the money to secure his release. For he had suffered:
Seven-square days that bleach and crack
Between the wells and balconies
And concrete exercise…
The significant Welsh language poet Waldo Williams (1904-71) wrote of the horrors of the Swansea Blitz in ‘Y Tangnefeddwyr’. He was from a Baptist upbringing, though later a Quaker, embodied the two main strands of conscientious objection in Wales – religion and politics – as he was also a Labour Party member in the Thirties. Waldo maintained his position throughout his life; he lost his teaching job in the war, and he later refused to pay taxes to support the Korean War. He too was jailed on two occasions as a protest against conscription and National Service: “The sick world’s balm shall be brotherhood alone.” Williams was undoubtedly influenced by the poetry and politics of the older Pembrokeshire poet T.E. Nicholas.
T.E. Nicholas (1879-1971) ‘Niclas y Glais’, was a pacifist through both world wars. He and his son Islwyn were jailed on ludicrous charges of fascism in 1940. A committed Christian and Communist, a non-conformist minster who later trained as a dentist, Nicholas wrote his admired Prison Sonnets after spells in Swansea and Brixton and these were published during the war. He had also preached consistently against the Great War and would surely have been imprisoned then if he had not been an ordained minister.
In the last decade of his life I became friends with the writer and artist Jonah Jones (1919-2004) whose remarkable life has been celebrated in the Seren books An Artist’s Life and Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector (edited by son Peter Jones). Fascinated by John Pett’s illustrations to Dylan Thomas poems in issues of Wales magazine, Jonah followed his fellow Conchie into the army as an unarmed medic in the Parachute Regiment. He described the exhilaration and terror of jumping: “…when I jump, once I’m in the slipstream, I just ride it like a witch riding her broom.” After jumps over occupied Europe in support of the Allied offensive Jonah arrived at the Belsen concentration camp. After witnessing those horrors he said he knew his objection had been wrong.
The artist, collector and critic Arthur Giardelli (1911-2009), as a teacher in Folkestone, was evacuated to the south Wales valleys and there, after his sacking as a CO, was instrumental in setting up the Dowlais Settlement. After the war, Arthur moved to Pendine, then into south Pembrokeshire; he contributed greatly to the practice and teaching of art in Wales for the next sixty years, particularly in his innovative paper and shell constructions and his work for the 56 Group. His re-location to Wales, as that of the refugee Polish Jew Josef Herman, was one of the significantly positive consequences of the dislocation that war can bring.
Emyr Humphreys is one hundred and one years old this year. The pre-eminent novelist of the twentieth century in Wales, his work is predicated on a non-conformist faith which meant that he registered as a CO in the Second World War and, in common with Jonah Jones, worked on the land. He later undertook relief work with displaced persons in Italy and Egypt. For over sixty years his books, broadcasting work and criticism have reflected a commitment to Wales that is unparalleled.
Therefore prepare the stage for a decent action
Present the right alignment for a crime
International crisis is a personal situation
Prison, wall, bandage and the lime.
Conscientious Objection in Wales may be traced from D. Gwenallt Jones (1899-1968) the Welsh Nationalist and Christian poet, who was one of the most notable COs in the Great War. Conscripted in 1917, he objected and was sent to Wormwood Scrubs and then a work unit at Dartmoor. It may be argued that this tradition and those principles informed and guided later protest movements. The arson carried out at Penrhos, at the proposed site of a bombing school by Saunders Lewis, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine at Penrhos in 1936 and later the Tryweryn actions and protests of 1965, are all part of the narrative of resistance in Wales to British policies.
So too the C.N.D. protests in Wales which included the occasion when R.S. Thomas and others sat down in the road in front of the council offices in Carmarthen town where a nuclear bunker was said to have been built. The Greenham Common fence camps of 1981-2000 which began with the march from Cardiff to Berkshire by the Women for Life on Earth group would also be a significant example of those principles of peaceful protest. The artist Ifor Davies (b. 1935) continues to explore this legacy of protest.
There is a tradition of religious and socialist action which in the literatures and art of our country have been an important element in our challenge of self-identification. Today there is an opportunity again to reflect on COs from Wales and their continuing influence.
Tony Curtis is a poet, critic, essayist and expert on Welsh Art. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including his latest: From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems. He has also written volumes of critical work on poets and artists and edited popular anthologies of poetry. He is Emeritus Professor of Poetry at the University of South Wales, where he established and was Director of the MPhil in Writing for many years. He has been elected to the Royal Society of Literature and has toured widely reading his poetry to international audiences.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Two Clouds’ by Ben Wilkinson from his debut collection Way More Than Luck.
Ben will be reading for us as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tonight at 7:30pm. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.
Way More Than Luck is the vivid debut collection of well-known poet and critic Ben Wilkinson. At its heart is a series of poems inspired by a lifelong devotion to Liverpool Football Club. We meet former players, coaches and re-live moments of both stoic despair and wild joy, where vivid themes are adroitly enacted in poetic forms.
“…an absorbing read that we are way more than lucky to have.” – Ian Duhig
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Clear’ by Elizabeth Parker from her debut collection In Her Shambles. We would like to wish Elizabeth and her family congratulations on the birth of their new baby boy Danny.
Spiky, provocative, declamatory, these energetic poems sweep the reader along through their narratives. In Her Shambles introduces us to a poet who uses language with verve and zest. Her subjects range from a poem where family members are embodied by their own rivers, to carefully observed set-pieces inspired by relationships, from burgeoning first loves to break-ups.
“a radiantly-written and vigorous collection by a rising star of British poetry.” – David Morley
Nia Vine is about to fulfil her dream of exploring an unmapped cave system. With her will go two friends brought up in the same seaside town. As they explore, Nia finds herself obsessed by a series of dreams that lead to a shocking revelation.
Newly longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, Nia is the latest novel from award-winning author Robert Minhinnick. Join us to hear him in conversation with Jon Gower discussing the book’s themes, its links to his previous two novels Sea Holly and Limestone Man, and to hear him read extracts from the book.
“a dizzying, yet, brilliant carrousel of delirium.” – Wales Arts Review
Robert Minhinnick is the prize-winning author of four volumes of essays, more than a dozen collections of poetry, and several works of fiction. He has edited a book on the environment in Wales, written for television, and was formerly the editor of Poetry Wales. He is the co-founder of the environmental organisation Sustainable Wales. His debut novel Sea Holly was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize in 2008. Robert’s second novel Limestone Man is a gripping story of a man trying to connect past and present, haunted by dreams of Australia and his youth. Nia was published by Seren in 2019.
Jon Gower has over thirty books to his name, in Welsh and English, including The Story of Wales which accompanied the landmark BBC series, An Island Called Smith which gained the John Morgan Travel Writing Award and Y Storïwr which won the Wales Book of the Year award. He is a former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent and was for many years the presenter of Radio Wales’ arts programme First Hand. He lives in Cardiff with his wife Sarah and daughters Elena and Onwy.
Pigeon Songs by Derry-born poet Eoghan Walls is richly detailed, densely metaphorical, and steeped in themes of love and loss. The totemic pigeon suggests both a down-to-earth physicality and an ability to astonish, to take flight. Formally adept, vividly evocative, Pigeon Songs is a collection that rewards re-reading. Introduced by our poetry editor Amy Wack, Eoghan joins us from his home to read from the collection.
Eoghan Walls was born in Derry in Northern Ireland. He studied in Wales, Dublin and Belfast, where he completed a PhD in the Seamus Heaney Centre. He was the winner of an Eric Gregory Award and an Irish Arts Council Bursary, and his work has been published widely in journals and anthologies throughout the UK and Ireland. His first collection of poems, The Salt Harvest, was published by Seren in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Strong Award for Best First Collection. Eoghan teaches creative writing at Lancaster University, and lives with his wife and daughters in a village near the sea.
Calling all poets! If you’ve got a burning question you would like to put to an award-winning author, this is the event for you. In this special Q&A, Kim Moore, author of The Art of Falling, will be answering your questions and offering advice on all aspects of poetry. Attendees will be able to submit questions for Kim in advance of the event which will be chaired by Seren poetry editor Amy Wack.
Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015) won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. She won a Northern Writers Award in 2014, an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2010. If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition. She is a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University and is working on her second collection.
Join author and photographer Phil Cope on a richly-illustrated journey through the wellsprings of Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland. Found on mountaintops, in deserted valleys, on the coast, in sea caves and even in city centres, wells have long-standing links with religion, healing and folklore, and have always been places of inspiration for our poets. Phil will share some of his favourites of these responses with us. Followed by a short Q&A.
Way More Than Luck is the vivid debut collection of well-known poet and critic Ben Wilkinson. At its heart is a series of poems inspired by a lifelong devotion to Liverpool Football Club. We meet former players, coaches and re-live moments of both stoic despair and wild joy, where vivid themes are adroitly enacted in poetic forms. Ben joins us from his home to read from the collection and discuss the poems he has been sharing on social media to get us through lockdown.
Ben Wilkinson was born in Staffordshire and now lives in Sheffield. In 2014 he won the Poetry Business Competition and a Northern Writers’ Award, and in 2015 he was awarded a writers’ grant from Arts Council England. He is a keen distance runner, lifelong Liverpool FC fan, and he writes criticism for The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement and Poetry Review. He lectures at the University of Bolton.
When Nula’s husband James was struck by Pick’s Disease, an early onset form of dementia, her life began a terrible downward spiral. Feeling alone and consumed by grief and the demands of caring for James with little support, she turned to the care system for help. There she met Bonnie, a resident in the same home as James, and in turn Bonnie’s husband, the broadcaster John Suchet. The similarity of their plight became a bond between them and after the deaths of James and Bonnie, and some guilt-induced false starts, they eventually married. In this event, Nula and John join us from their home for an intimate discussion on the heart-breaking reality of caring for a loved one with dementia and of unexpectedly finding a happy ending.
“A cry from the heart that is a triumph of love over despair.” – Alan Titchmarsh
Nula Suchet was born in Ireland, part of a large family. After a difficult early life she became an interior designer who worked internationally in the UK, Europe and the US. She now lives in London with her husband John Suchet. The Longest Farewellis her harrowing account of dealing with her husband’s dementia and the heart-break that accompanied it.
Peter Finch is a poet, author and critic who lives in Cardiff. His latest book Walking Cardiff (Seren, 2019) is a collection of twenty walks around the Welsh capital, written in conjunction with photographer John Briggs. His first collection of poetry in a decade The Machineries of Joy was published by Seren in February 2020.
Peter is a former publisher, bookseller and Chief Executive of the Welsh Academy (now Literature Wales), and recipient of the Ted Slade Award for Service to Poetry 2011. He compiles the poetry section for Macmillan’s annual Writer’s Handbook and the self-publishing section for A&C Black’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook. His extensive website can be viewed at www.peterfinch.co.uk.
The archetypal Welsh church is not in town or village, enhanced by generations of patronage: it is the isolated, simple, evocative walls-with-roof, in a landscape often spiritually charged. The Welsh churches tell us about medieval times, and the Age of Saints that came before and, amazingly of the pagan Celtic times before that, which they were meant to erase.
Illustrated in colour Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches encompasses a millennium of churches around Wales, from tiny St Govan’s tucked in its cliff-face, through ruined Llanthony to the magnificence of the cathedrals at Llandaff and St David’s. It is an invaluable repository of history, art and architecture, spirituality and people’s lives which will appeal to the historian and the tourist, communicants and those without a god. T J Hughes brings the book alive in this fascinating illustrated talk.
“A really wonderful book.” – Simon Jenkins
T J Hughes was born in Denbighshire in 1959. His lifelong fascination with Welsh culture, and with its old churches and chapels, led him to write Wales’s Best One Hundred Churcheswhich aims to show some of the great treasures of Welsh churches, as well as explaining their very distinctive history and origins in Wales’s unique and ancient story. He also wrote the short biography of R.S. Thomas in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Deputy Executive Director of the International Bar Association, which works around the world to foster the rule of law and to fight against infringements of human rights such as state use of torture, he lives in London with his wife and son.
Calling all writers! Join award-winning writer and playwright Jaki McCarrick for a special Q&A session. Perhaps you would like to know where she finds inspiration for her short stories, or you would like to write for the stage but don’t know where to begin? This is your chance to ask. Attendees will be able to submit questions for Jaki in advance of the event which will be chaired by Mick Felton.
Jaki McCarrick is an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction. Her play Leopardville won the 2010 Papatango Prize for New Writing, and The Naturalists premiered last year at the Soho Repertory Theatre, New York to rave reviews. Belfast Girls was developed at the National Theatre Studio in London, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. In 2016 Jaki was selected for Screen Ireland’s Talent Development Initiative and has recently completed the screen adaptation of Belfast Girls. Jaki’s plays The Mushroom Pickers, Leopardville and Belfast Girls were published by Samuel French in 2015. She has also had plays published by Routledge and Aurora Metro.
Her short story collection, The Scattering, was published by Seren and was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. The collection includes her story ‘The Visit’ which won the Wasafiri Prize for Short Fiction.
Longlisted in 2014 for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate, she is currently editing her first novel, set in the border area of the Cooley Peninsula, close to where she lives. Jaki also regularly writes critical pieces for the Times Literary Supplement, Irish Examiner, Poetry Ireland Review and other publications.
Alexandra Ford’s debut novel What Remains at the Endis wonderfully intelligent and hauntingly beautiful. It focuses on the largely undocumented ethnic cleansing of the former Yugoslavia’s ethnic German population, the Danube Swabians, by Tito and his partisan regime. Alternating between the late 1940s and contemporary Serbia, the story is told from the perspective of Marie Kholer who embarks on a journey to find out the truth about her grandparents’ flight to America. Ford speaks movingly of the personal stories that brought her to the book, and will answer questions from the audience about her research and how one can use the impulse to memoir as a way to weave a fictional tale of persuasive power.
“a deeply personal, startlingly honest, and devastating portrayal of the lasting effects of communal and generational trauma.” – Wales Arts Review
Alexandra Ford was born near Philadelphia. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and her BA from Virginia Tech. Her writing appears in The Rumpus and No Tokens Journal, among others. She lives on a smallholding on the border between England and Wales.
Tamar Yoseloff and Martyn Crucefix join us from London for an exciting evening of poetry. Tamar Yoseloff’s new collection The Black Placeis a dark and gorgeously multi-faceted collection that eschews the sentimental, embraces alternatives and offers antidotes to cheery capitalist hype. Martyn Crucefix’s The Lovely Disciplines is full of elegantly-crafted, intriguing poems. The ‘disciplines’ of the title encompass many of the manifestations of human love: of a child, a partner, of ageing parents, of the world.
Tamar Yoseloff’s fifth collection, A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems, was published by Seren in 2015. She’s also the author of Formerly, a chapbook incorporating photographs by Vici MacDonald (Hercules Editions, 2012) shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award; two collaborative editions with artist Linda Karshan; and a book with artist Charlotte Harker. She’s a freelance tutor in creative writing, and runs poetry courses for galleries including the Hayward, the RA and the National Gallery. She lectures on the Poetry School / Newcastle University MA in Writing Poetry. Her sixth collection, The Black Place, was published in 2019.
Martyn Crucefix has won numerous prizes including a major Eric Gregory award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He has published 7 collections of poetry including Hurt (Enitharmon, 2010): “an exceptional ear…superbly intelligent…urgent, heartfelt, controlled and masterful.” (Kathryn Maris, Poetry London). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Enitharmon, 2006) was shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation and hailed as “unlikely to be bettered for very many years” (Magma). His translation of Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus appeared from Enitharmon in 2012. His translations of Rainer Maria Rilke and the Daodejing, appeared in 2016. His collection The Lovely Disciplineswas published by Seren in 2017.
Date: Friday 22nd May
Location: Online via Zoom
David Llewellyn: A Simple Scale, interviewed by Nemonie Craven Roderick
In A Simple Scale, a piece of music starts a story that will range across Soviet Russia, McCarthyite Hollywood and post-9/11 New York, as the secrets of the lives of two gay composers are uncovered. David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and the political meet as narratives of love, death, deceit, the CIA, atomic bombs and classical music unfold. Hear David Llewellyn in conversation with Nemonie Craven Roderick discussing his Polari Prize shortlisted novel A Simple Scale.
‘Beautifully told and beautifully written’ – Philip Reeve
David Llewellyn was raised in Pontypool and is a graduate of Darlington College of Arts. As well as his four novels for Seren he has written scripts for the BBC and several short stories. David lives and works in Cardiff.
Nemonie Craven Roderick is an agent at Jonathan Clowes Literary Agents. Her clients include Gruff Rhys, Toby Vieira, Simon Critchley and The New York Times (for the popular column The Stone).
This morning, to celebrate National Walking Month, we have a guest post from avid walker and author of Walking Cardiff Peter Finch. He tells us what walking in a lockdown looks like for him when separated from his fellow wanderer John Briggs and how it is affecting work on their next project.
Walking in a Lockdown
Out, up the hill, it’s always the same hill. Weave into the road to avoid the next guy. Smile. Sometimes they smile back. Climb. Runners pass, headphoned, sneaking up behind silently and then zooming on in a rush of huff and sweat. Advice I’ve read tells me that being laterally near a runner isn’t too bad. It’s getting caught in the slipstream you need to avoid. How do I police this? I’m thinking of adopting a Friar Tuck walking pole. Thrash it about. Make myself utterly anti-social but certainly safe.
On the way back down, with the on a clear day splendid views of the city’s high-rise and the sea beyond, I try to imagine myself elsewhere. Walking the Valleys again. The follow on project to Walking Cardiff. Writing such a book during lockdown, getting there by Google but pretending it’s real, is akin to studying Macbeth through Coles Notes and never reading the actual text. Not that we are without some touch of genuine experience. Both John Briggs, my fellow Valleys wanderer, and I have walked Valley landscape and township extensively together in planned excursion. We’ve also done this individually in swift half days to scope a place out -a couple of hours rambling Ponty looking for traces of Dr William Price and Iolo Morgannwg and a few more in Ron Berry’s Blaen Cwm checking out the entrance to the Rhondda tunnel and the end of the world streets Charlie Burton painted so well.
We’ve walked these places historically – mine often recalled through fog – a reading with Mike Jenkins at the Imp in Merthyr, as a child accompanying my father to work in Ystrad Mynach, to one of Harri Webb’s legendary parties at Garth Newydd. John’s have usually been done through actual photographs. He’s sent me a great thirty-year spread of black and white coal pits taken across the whole Valley landscape, a detailed set of Merthyr Tydfil done one Christmas in 2014, and then, his piece de résistance, shots taken on a Literary Tour (which, under the auspices of Academi, I organised but, for unfathomable reasons now, did not go on) in the company of Daniel Williams and Nigel Jenkins to look for traces of Idris Davies in the valley top town of Rhymney.
Rhymney was the place we were right in the middle of exploring when the virus struck and our ability to walk freely was rudely curtailed. I’d walked around the centre on my own – found the Idris Davies plaque on the house where he died, seen the Michael Disley statue of the miner and the steelworker back to back over one of Pete Seeger’s Bells of Rhymney and had a cup of tea and a piece of doorstep toast in the café with no windows on the High Street. Looking later at John’s pics, taken in 2011, that statue looks bright and new. It looked stained and neglected when I passed.
John had one well up on me. He’d also visited the actual Davies grave in Rhymney Cemetery and stood listening to Nigel’s sonorous voice recite extracts from Gwalia Deserta. Idris Davies, the people’s poet, the miner who could rhyme and make memorable our collective fears and aspirations. His Maggie Fach and 1926 I’d help turn into poster poems, famous throughout Welsh bedsits for a whole generation, back in the 70s. It was good to trail in his wake.
South of Rhymney station was a place where neither John nor I had yet ventured. Here was land once occupied by Bute’s great Egyptian-styled Union ironworks but now vacant and worn. On it stood the operation of K J Services Ltd. This presented the world with the greatest assemblage of broken, bust and otherwise abandoned mechanical diggers and JCBs anyone could imagine. Running for miles. Visible from space. There’s a YouTube tour, I discovered, and an overhead walkthrough available on Google Earth. That’s all we have for now as the virus chases our tails. When it’s dead John and I will visit in person. For all this virtual stuff, Zoom meetings, Skype chats, Facetimes, Houseparty romps and desk research until my eyes ache you just cannot do without first person. Don’t let anyone say different.
Today marks the beginning of National Walking Month so today’s Friday Poem is ‘Helvellyn’ by André Mangeot from his new collection Blood Rain.
Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. Beautifully crafted, and partly inspired by his love of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, they address the natural world, its endangerment and other pressing global issues from multiple perspectives, and with great lyrical power.
‘A thought-provoking book for turbulent times.’
– Matthew Caley