In the middle of it

The middle part of the Devolved Voices project has been all about building up the bulk of our materials and analysis.

Most obviously, perhaps, Kathryn Gray has been adding wonderful material to the library of poets who have been interviewed for the project’s online media section. So do look out for fascinating upcoming videos of Zoë Brigley, Patrick McGuinness, and Philip Gross. These pieces struck me as having, between them, real intellectual bite, as well as moments that were rather moving. Of course, each interview also has a companion video of the poet in question reading from his or her work, so it’s three such ‘doubles’ that are on their way soon.

Over the same time, I have been trying to carve out a series of lectures about a range of poets who have established themselves since 1997. Choosing which poets to write about has been something of a challenge – there are many you could make a strong case for looking at. The basic idea here (to which I’m committed by the project’s original proposal) is that I should produce detailed studies of eight writers who I think have some sort of significance – by which I suppose I mean that I think their work is valuable in some way (although perhaps I just enjoy it myself!), or that it has gained a certain cultural currency. These studies are intended to be delivered as lectures in the first instance, with each of them subsequently being turned into an individual chapter in a book that will bring them all together.

I had originally thought to restrict my work to writers who have produced more than one full collection by the point in time that I was writing about them. But after a while it became clear to me that I needed adopt a rather different structure: I had to look at a couple of poets who emerged early in the devolutionary period (with first collections within about five years of 1997, such as Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch), a couple of poets whose first collections came out roughly ten years after 1997 (such as Meirion Jordan), and a couple of poets whose first collections are only just upon us (in the period fifteen-years-plus since 1997). The first of this latter pairing that I’ve chosen to look at is Jonathan Edwards, whose debut volume My Family and Other Superheroes came out from Seren only this year. It is one of the privileges of this particular project that I can spend serious time thinking about such a new writer, whose warm-hearted – heart-on-the-sleeve? – engagements with family and locality have made me hope for much more poetry to come from him. (Take a look here for his recent New Welsh Review guest blog post about his writing.)

These three temporal categories give me six of my eight poets. However, to complete my eight, I realised that I wanted to look at two poets who are strongly situated within what might be called a neo-modernist or neo-avant-garde tradition. John Goodby has argued for the importance of modernism to the work of Welsh poetry in English since the 1930s (see note below). And as John and I clearly share a sense of issues and material that need to be explored here – some years back, I wrote the beginnings of an attempt to unearth a ‘radical’ Anglophone Welsh poetics since the 1960s – I wanted my current series of lectures to have a dedicated space for poets who I see as working self-consciously within this particular literary context.

The lectures and essays that will (I trust!) be the upshot of all this are not an attempt to provide some sort of overview of post-1997 Welsh poetry in English. But I do hope they’ll constitute an interesting attempt to provide extended readings of poets whose work is, I think, significantly visible – in one way or another – within the field.

In his article ‘“Deflected Forces of Currents”: Mapping Welsh Modernist Poetry’, Poetry Wales, 46/1 (summer 2010), pp. 52-8, John Goodby suggests that ‘what makes Anglophone Welsh poetry most distinctive is its pronounced modernist origins’ (p. 52). Indeed, he argues that, for Welsh poetry in English, ‘alternative poetry’ is ‘not so much “parallel” to a mainstream as that mainstream itself’ (p. 58).