Public lecture on the poetry of Meirion Jordan

Matthew Jarvis will be giving the next of his Devolved Voices public lectures on Friday 18th September, at 6.30pm, in the Gas Gallery, Aberystwyth. His subject in this session is the poetry of Meirion Jordan, author of Moonrise (2008; shortlisted for the 2009 Forward Prize for Best First Collection), Strangers Hall (2009; winner of the 2009 Norfolk Commission prize and shortlisted for the 2009 East Anglian Book of the Year) and Regeneration (2012).

Full details of the event can be found here (and also, as a Facebook event, here). Please do come along – entry is free.

Poster for Meirion Jordan lecture

Devolved Voices at #AberAAA

There was a Devolved Voices presence at the Aberystwyth University ‘Access All Areas’ day this last Saturday, with two of the team – Peter Barry and Matthew Jarvis – staffing the stall for the Department of English & Creative Writing.

Prof. Peter Barry, ready and waiting before #AberAAA got going…

Prof. Peter Barry, ready and waiting before #AberAAA got going…

We had a busy afternoon, talking to people of primary school age and upwards. The activity that we’d arranged was a sort of poetry game – specifically a ‘cloze procedure’ task, in which words have been taken out of a poem so that participants have to decide which words should be chosen to fill the gaps. (The two poems that we used were by Jonathan Edwards, from his Costa Poetry Prize-winning collection My Family and Other Superheroes.) It was fascinating to see quite how much this gave us a chance to explore a whole range of ideas around meanings, rhythm, and register. And it was great to see people engaging so enthusiastically with poetry.

Our thanks go to the Department of English & Creative Writing for asking us to be their representatives. And to Aberystwyth University themselves…who very helpfully put us just across the room from the chocolate fountain, which kept a steady flow of people coming past our own stall. Chocolate then poetry – what’s not to like?!

Public lecture on the poetry of Nerys Williams

I will be giving my next Devolved Voices public lecture on Friday 3rd July, at 6.30pm, in the Gas Gallery, Aberystwyth. My subject in this session is the poetry of Nerys Williams, whose debut volume Sound Archive was published by Seren in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in the same year.

Full details of the event can be found here (and also, as a Facebook event, here). Please do come along – entry is free


Extracts of ongoing studies of Welsh poets available on our website

Some extracts of work by Dr Matthew Jarvis are now available on our website. The first, an extract looking at Jonathan Edwards’s poetry of place, comes from Dr Matthew Jarvis’s recent lecture on the Costa Prize-winning poet’s My Family and Other Superheroes. The second, looking at the work of Dai George – ‘Poetry and the 99%’ – comes from ‘Devolutionary complexities: reading three new poets’ which is planned to appear in the volume Matthew Jarvis, ed., Devolutionary Readings: English-Language Poetry and Contemporary Wales, to be published by Peter Lang in 2016, as part of their Modern Poetry Series. The book will bring together a dozen essays, by a range of scholars, about post-1997 English-language poetry in Wales. Alongside Matthew’s book, I will be editing, in the same Modern Poetry Series, a selection of interviews with post-1997 poets under our Devolved Voices focus, which will also appear next year.

PDFs of the extracts are provided at the bottom of their web pages.


‘Family and Community: The Poetry of Jonathan Edwards’

Dr Matthew Jarvis delivered a lecture on the poetry of Jonathan Edwards at The Bookshop, Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 28 May 2015. The lecture, entitled ‘Family and Community: The Poetry of Jonathan Edwards’, can be found at this link on Soundcloud or at this link on YouTube. The event also included Jonathan reading from a selection of his work beforehand. With thanks to Simon Williams for the recording.

Poetry and the New Man

This morning I slightly misunderstood the topic of a student’s dissertation, which I misheard as ‘Poetry and the New Man’. It sounded interesting, as I had vague memories of the New Man (caps or not? – no pun intended). A recent BBC online news mag asked ‘Whatever happened to the term New Man?, and defined it as ‘a once radical way to describe a male who wholeheartedly accepted equality in domestic life’, asking ‘But 30 years on, what has happened to the term?’

Lots of students want to do dissertations on ‘the changing role of women’, and the gender switch seemed a refreshing notion. So I was ready to suggest three representative poetry collections by men through which the changing ‘role’ of men would be evident across the contemporary period, meaning from roughly 1970 till now.

These are the three I came up with, with a gap of about twenty years between each one: firstly, Douglas Dunn’s Terry Street (Faber, 1969), in which the male speaker is a student lodger in a working-class street in Hull, observing family life in a detached way (men going off early to work, women pushing prams, going to the shops, coming back from a night out, and so on).

Secondly, Don Paterson’s Nil Nil (Faber,1993), in which the persona clings to the Dundee working-class roots which his education pulls him away from, and writes with fierce and angry tenderness about his father teaching him how to drink a bottle of pop (in ‘Heliographer’) or being patronised by a Hi-Fi salesman (in ‘An Elliptical Stylus’).

And thirdly, one of our ‘Devolved Voices’ poets, Jonathan Edwards’, My Family and other Superheroes (Seren, 2014), which recently won the Costa Poetry Prize. In this book the family is embraced, celebrated, and choreographed as a kind of limitless resource of chaotic and surreal energies, and the father poems are tender without the angst, as this poet too learns how to handle fizzy drinks while cozied up in the dark of the cinema with his father – ‘I sit here in the darkness with my father/ slurping Pepsi’ (the opening of ‘The Death of Doc Emmett Brown in Back to the Future’). Certainly the ‘role(s)’ of men have been changed and pluralized, and, yes, it’s there in the poetry. Two questions: (1) is it a coincidence that all these books are debut collections? And (2) What would be your three poetry collections from the same period on this topic?

Peter Barry

The ‘collapsed lyric’

Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Nerys Williams’s interview with Alice Entwistle in the book In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales (published by Seren last year). Williams is an intriguing poet whose debut volume, Sound Archive, was well received by reviewers and had pleasing recognition in prize culture – most notably, it was on the shortlist for both the 2011 Michael Murphy Memorial Prize and the 2011 Felix Dennis Prize (the Forward Prize for Best First Collection). But Sound Archive isn’t in any way a straightforward read, as some of the reviews make very clear. Perhaps most notably, Leah Fritz wrote in Poetry Review about how Williams’s poems make music and ‘some kind of sense, perhaps’ – that perhaps being important. Similarly, John Greening, in The Warwick Review, expressed both bafflement and delight in his response to the collection. I think that Williams’s interview in the Entwistle book gives us some useful context for understanding the challenges of her writing when Williams talks about how she is engaged in producing what she calls the ‘collapsed lyric’: ‘You could think of [the “collapsed lyric”] as the expanding and collapsing bellows of an accordion, which sometimes produces a cacophony of dissonance and competing notes, and often only the insistence of one solitary tone.’ In other words, it seems that Williams is aiming both for a certain tonal simplicity as well as the confusions of ‘cacophony’ and ‘dissonance’. A fascinating challenge.

I’m currently in the middle of writing an essay about Williams’s work – which will hopefully form the basis for a Devolved Voices lecture later in the year. (Watch this space!) And it’s this notion of the ‘collapsed lyric’ that is directing my thinking.

Jonathan Edwards shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards

Jonathan Edwards, who was recently interviewed by Devolved Voices, has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2014 (Poetry Category). Jonathan, a 2014 poetry debutant with My Family and Other Superheroes from Seren, is shortlisted alongside well-established talents Lavinia Greenlaw (for A Double Sorrow, Faber), Kei Miller (for The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Carcanet) and Colette Bryce (for The Whole and Rain-domed Universe, Picador).

You can view our interview with Jonathan here.