Seren at The Hay Festival

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Today marks the beginning of The Hay Festival 2015, and this year there are plenty of events involving some of our very own authors.

my_family_and_other_superheroes_covercosta_quicksand coverPaul Henry and Jonathan Edwards will be reading from their latest collections, Boy Running and the Costa Poetry Prize-winning My Family and Other Superheroes respectively. If you’re a fan of poetry, T.S. Eliot Prize-winning poet Philip Gross and visual artist Valerie Coffin Price will also be discussing their collaborative collection, A Fold in the River, and Damian Walford Davies will be discussing and reading from his latest collection, Judas.

We’re alAlun Lewis 72so going to be celebrating the centenary of Alun Lewis at Hay this year, with two events dedicated to the WW2 writer. Juliet Aykroyd, Owen Sheers and John Pikoulis will be discussing Lewis’s time in India, in particular how he met and fell in love with Juliet’s mother, Freda Aykroyd, while Owen Sheers reads some of his poems.

Another event will see Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, do a close reading and discussion of Lewis’s poems.

Losing_Israelcmyk300Our prose is also getting some attention at Hay this year. Jasmine Donahaye will be talking to Francesca Rhydderch, author of the 2014 Wales Book of the Year The Rice Paper Diaries and co-editor of New Welsh Short Stories, about her upcoming memoir, Losing Israel, a moving and honest account of nature writing, travel writing and family history exploring the displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

For those of you who are fiction lovers, Tiffany Murray will be doing a late-night reading from her acclaimed ghost story, Sugar Hall, where she will be joined by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and the upcoming Slade House.

With so much to see this year at Hay, you’d be a fool to miss out! Buy your tickets online at www.hayfestival.com, or check out our Events Page for more information.

Friday Poem – Corpus

An Easter themed poem  for this week’s installment. ‘Corpus’ comes from Damian Walford Davies’ latest collection, Judas.

A shattered Judas Iscariot – that byword for betrayal – tells his own story in Damian Walford Davies’ compelling and finely wrought new collection from Seren.

We follow Judas over the course of five days as he moves through first-century Jerusalem trying to make sense of the bewildering events surrounding the life and execution of Jesus. But this is a man for whom the future is as real as his anguished and traumatized present, and for whom the Arab-Israeli conflict is as urgent as the tension between the Romans and Jews. Emphasising our compulsion to create, and challenge, gospel truths, Judas gives voice to man caught up in the promise and violence of history.

In short-lined, intensely suggestive dramatic monologues, Damian Walford Davies vividly summons moments of fear and swagger, doubt and passion, despair and nonchalance as an outlaw Judas finds himself haunted by his chequered and extraordinary past. Familiar stories are rendered strange and uncanny as the reader is caught in multiple ironies. As striking as the unnerving images on the news loops of our TV and computer screens, these poems locate us on the hazardous streets of a divided city with a companion-guide who shares with us his own troubling and troubled version of history.

Drawing on conflicting representations of Judas spanning twenty centuries, this chain of poems sets out to challenge orthodoxies and easy pieties. Judas offers an imaginative map of ancient enmities – and dares to hint at resolutions – in the form of a dramatic autobiography of the man whose most famous act (they say) was a kiss in the dark.

Corpus

What can I say? I wasn’t there:
neither ready to relieve him
of the transom’s heft

at Via Dolorosa, Station number five;
nor standing with his mother
on the quarry’s scree

to watch his wrists
spiked expertly
between electric nerve

and bone, and hear him
gurgle, drowning in the liquor
of his lungs. I could have tracked

the trail of blood
from here to where the last gob
hit the ground. The morning

had an air of perfect
commonplace. I howled,
so silently I know he heard.

Order Judas from our website.

Recommended Reads this Easter!

There’s no denying that Christmas is a fantastically fun time of year, but a lot of stress, tears and an inordinate amount of planning goes into it – just 1 day out of 365 – meaning we barely get a chance to acknowledge it until the day’s over and done with, and we have to spend January living off what seems like an endless supply of turkey sandwiches.

Easter is a much more mellow holiday; a chance to enjoy a long weekend with a pile of chocolate and celebrate that spring has arrived at last! What better way to spend a weekend like that than with a good book?

judas cover rgbDamian Walford Davies’ latest collection, Judas, is a perfect read for this time of year. No matter your opinion of Judas, we guarantee this collection will both fascinate and horrify you, and by the end of it you may find your perception of the most famous traitor has changed. Check out our interview with Damian here!

If you’d prefer to take a step back from the religious elements of the holiday, perhaps Philip Gross aA Fold in the River_Layout 1nd Valerie Coffin Price’s A Fold in the River would be more to your taste. The arrival of spring brings out the green fingers in everyone, and with their marriage of poetry and paintings dedicated to the landscape around the River Taff this collection is an evocative tribute to our natural world.

Perhaps youseren_-_the_advantages_of_an_older_man‘d prefer to read prose, and if you’re in the mood for something fun and quick to enjoy over the weekend then why not read Gwyneth Lewis’s Advantages of the Older Man? In this light-hearted novella a young Swansea woman finds herself possessed by the restless spirit of Dylan Thomas, who is in the middle of a mid-afterlife crisis himself.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray. £8.99Sugar Hall is the ideal read for you if you’re in the mood for something a little spookier this Easter. Set during the Easter of 1955 on the edge of the English/Welsh border as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Tiffany Murray’s chilling ghost story is inspired by the tales of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in Gloucestershire.

You can find all of these books, and many more, on our website. From all of us at Seren, we hope you have a wonderful Easter!

An Interview with Damian Walford Davies

Today we’re chatting to poet Damian Walford Davies about his latest collection, Judas, which you can pre-order from our website here.

Damian is a poet, writer and librettist. He is the author of three Seren collections – Suit of Lights (2009), Witch (2012) and Judas (2015), together with the pamphlet Alabaster Girls (Rack Press, 2015) and the co-written volume, Whiteout (Parthian, 2006). He is Head of the School of English, Communication & Philosophy at Cardiff University, where he specialises in Romanticism, the two literatures of Wales, and Creative Writing.

Had you always wanted to write about Judas, whether it was Judas the man or Judas the metaphor, or did the poems in this collection quietly creep up on you?

Judas creeps up on you, certainly. I’ve always found him (or ‘it’ – Judas is a phenomenon, a problem, a crux (‘cross’), a paradox, a sore point) compelling. (The same with Lazarus, by the way, but that’s another, if related, story . . .) He is contradictorily represented in the canonical gospels, and that’s before we come to the second-century AD gnostic Gospel of Judas, where he is Christ’s confidant. There are a myriad of historical, theological, political and psychological arguments as to why Judas did what he did (if he did). To accept the historicity of Judas – which many scholars of first-century Palestine and early Christianity do not – means recognising him as an elusive figure. He is a no-man as well as a knot of contradictory representations, built up over twenty ideological centuries. (See Susan Gubar’s excellent 2009 biography of Judas.) This is the guy with the dark halo.

What is it you enjoy most about exploring history through poetry?

I like to write against big accepted narratives, intervene in them at personal, psychological levels, offer case studies of emotional quandaries, reveal terror on local, personal scales. I use the dramatic monologue for this, aiming for an imaginative inhabitation of voice and situation, aware at the same time that ventriloquising others has an ethics attached. This is Judas’s speaking platform, throughout. My previous Seren collection, Witch, did similar things, exploring how a witch is ‘made’ in the tense atmosphere of 1640s Suffolk. In Judas, I’m constantly negotiating suggestive gaps in the canonical gospel accounts. One has to be nuanced here, as well as bold. I made the decision from the outset to play with timescales, and so Judas is encountered during the week after the crucifixion, wandering through first-century Jerusalem one minute, but then clocking two women air kissing in the contemporary city’s Sheraton Hotel the next. Judas quotes Bob Dylan. Time is spliced; the Arab-Israeli conflict is as real to him as the Roman occupation. He is disturbed by a history that hasn’t yet happened. So I enjoy querying dogmatic versions of history, indulging in counterfactuals (which is more than a parlour game – it’s a way of changing the future). History always happens somewhere, and (like religion) is in many aspects terrifying. All this is not to say that the collection is iconoclastic, or without belief/faith, or blandly ‘materialist’. Quite the opposite. Multiple ironies mean that there are no final, fixed positions in this collection.

Throughout the collection you play around with many biblical images, such as the ‘thorns’ in ‘Annunciation 1’ and the ‘silver coins’ in ‘Denominations’. I imagine it would be difficult to write a poetry collection titled Judas without them! But did you ever worry about finding a new way to use imagery that has been around for centuries?

I saw it as an opportunity – to inflect, defamiliarise, and recontextualise these ‘core’ images. Judas is a collection in which all these images exist (I hope) in a complex, kinetic, shifting relationship. Did I worry about this? All the time. Poets must always be on edge, edgy. Poetry is about edgework. Judas is published at a time of political-religious crisis and horror. The collection is a reflection on fundamentalism, belief, faith, history, knowing, unknowing, violence, intolerance and human beings as agents and casualties of history. And (of course) beauty, friendship, love, worlds of spice.

You paint a very vivid picture of Jerusalem throughout the collection, picking out places like Yad Vashem in ‘In Vino’ and Ben Yehuda Street in ‘Siloam Pool’. Was giving your poems a specific setting important to you while writing the collection?

It was crucial. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Jerusalem in April 2012, and parts of the volume were written there in a hostel room under the muezzin’s recorded call to prayer and on the hostel’s roof, from which I could see the Al-Aqsa mosque to the east, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the west, and a sea of satellite dishes in between. And so the journeys that the shattered Judas takes through the old city are the ones I myself took through the narrow streets – full of managed but mangy colonies of cats – and souqs, around the Baths of Bethesda (a place of deep peace), down to the Garden of Gethsemane (from which I phoned my 93-year-old grandmother, who quite understandably asked ‘How big is it?’), back up to the ‘tufted wall’ of the Temple and through the four quarters of the divided (and machine-gun-patrolled) town. Judas is a map. Gethsemane, by the way, is tiny.

What, if anything, have you learned about Judas and the idea of evil through writing this collection?

He wants answers as much as we do. He’s still waiting.

Pre-order Judas from Seren’s website.