Geraint Talfan Davies Talks Unfinished Business

Scholar and cultural personality Geraint Talfan Davies has been travelling the UK talking about his book Unfinished Business: Journal of an Embattled European and why it’s important that the United Kingdom backs out of Brexit.

Thursday 25th October the turn came to Swansea University, where Geraint Talfan Davies was invited to a panel discussion by the Morgan Academy, a research-based political think tank, and the political organisation Wales for Europe | Cymru Dros Ewropof which Davies is chair.

Watch a video of the event here.

Davies started out by giving a moving talk on the book and why he wrote it. Unfinished Business charts his personal experience with Europe and EU-UK relations during his many years of collaborating internationally.

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Geraint Talfan Davies at Swansea University

Personal is the keyword here, for during the Brexit-debates of 2016, Davies was appalled by the coldness and steely logic of the Remain side’s arguments. To him, Europe is first and foremost an emotional issue, and the failure of the Remain-side, Davies argues, is that it did not bring out the emotional side of Europe, but made the EU into something that could be argued only in cold and monetary terms.

According to Davies, the UK, and Wales in particular, are intimately interwoven with the EU. The EU was essential in bringing about and sustaining — devolution, both with its funding and with its focus on regional self-determination. He questions the impact Brexit will have on this.

Unfinished Business also centers on what Davies calls ‘The Single Market of the Mind’ — the way the EU has allowed the free exchange of ideas, culture, and creative products, and free movement of people. Through the EU, UK citizens have been free to move and experience Europe, and free to bring back ideas. To Davies, the EU is not about funding for vanity projects, but about free intellectual collaboration and exchange of ideas.

In his moving address to the audience — and his readers — Davies implored people to act against the ‘happy band of Brexiteers’ who would force people to choose between identities — Welsh, British, European, global. The world today is a lot more complex than it was when the UK joined 50 years ago, and identities today are no longer ‘confidently unitary’.

Panel Debate on Brexit and Unfinished Business
Left to right: Dr. Aled Eirug, Dr. Simon Brooks, Chloe Hutchinson, Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Geraint Talfan Davies

After the talk, Geraint Talfan Davies was joined in a panel discussion with Dr. Aled Eirug from the Morgan Academy and Dr. Simon Brooks (political historian), Chloe Hutchinson from the Swansea University Students’ Union and Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower.

They discussed the impact of Brexit and the various failures of the Remain-campaign, but the discussion very quickly turned more optimistic and the panel was joined by the audience in discussing ways to avoid Brexit. The evening thus ended on a distinctly positive note as people left with hope and concrete plans for action to agitate for a people’s vote.

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Davies’ tour with Unfinished Business continues, and if you want to catch him speaking, now’s your chance:

Check out our Events Page for more info.

 

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The Launch of Rhys Owain Williams’ ‘That Lone Ship’ – a recap

Our intern Ann went to the launch of Rhys Owain Williams’ new poetry collection ‘That Lone Ship.’

Friday 14th September, Rhys Owain Williams launched his first poetry collection, That Lone Ship, published this autumn by Parthian Books. The event was held in TechHub in Swansea and the room was crammed full of people.

The Swansea-based poet was surrounded most of the evening by a crowd of friends, family, and other enthusiastic supporters. There was no doubt that this was home turf.

As he began his reading by stating that, “I really love reading poems in Swansea, especially the ones that are set here,” it became clear that here is a man who knows his roots. Many of the poems in That Lone Ship are inspired by situations and places in Swansea, and it was with a particular relish that the poet read these aloud. Poems acquire a certain intensity when read out loud in the place they are set, and through the poet’s powerful voice, Swansea became a charmed place.

Rhys Owain Williams reading from That Lone Ship
Rhys Owain Williams reading from That Lone Ship   © Parthian Books

Rhys finished off his reading to an overwhelming applause that was as much praise for his moving poetry as it was acknowledgement of his success. To finish off the evening, the local musician and singer-songwriter Joe Bayliss gave a couple numbers as people settled down to celebrate the launch with music and drinks.

The venue itself seemed very well-suited for a poetry reading with its atmospheric lighting, simple and elegant colour scheme, and rough-hewn wooden table tops. The TechHub is hidden away down an alley off High Street, a well-kept local secret. In a way like Rhys Owain Williams himself, who toured the Swansea open mic scene for years. But hopefully, he won’t stay that way for long now that That Lone Ship has set sail.

Read an interview with the poet himself as he talks to Rhian Elisabeth as part of her Polar Bear blog-takeover.

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Personalised signatures for all who bought a copy on the night   © Parthian Books

Listening to Literature at the PENfro Book Festival 2018

Our intern Ann visited the PENfro Book Festival in Pembrokeshire this September. In this blogpost, she writes about her experiences of the festival, the speakers and the country house Rhosygilwen.

When I arrived Saturday afternoon at the beautiful grounds of Rhosygilwen, I was immediately struck by the sense of history and atmosphere as I glimpsed the old manor between the trees. The whole place seems steeped in mystery and wonder.

Now in its twelfth year, the PENfro Book Festival once again demonstrated that with smallness comes intimacy. At PENfro there were no Authors’ Tents or VIP areas; the ‘VIPs’ mingled with the rest of the participants. The festival had the feel of an ongoing conversation in which some people were allowed momentary prominence, but once their formal talks were over, the audience continued the discussion.

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Richard Lewis Davies, creative director of Parthian, introduces the speakers

David Lloyd Owen’s talk of A Wilder Wales (Parthian Books), in which he used 18th and 19th century travel accounts to paint a vivid picture of a Wales, described a place that was dark, mysterious and of another world. Seated in a gazebo overlooking the Pembrokeshire countryside, it was easy to get lost in tales of incredulous travelers describing the exotic Welshmen and their odd customs, trying to deduce some insight into human nature.

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David Lloyd Owen

Another highlight was the Saturday night ‘Evening with Roy Noble,’ a well-known BBC radio and television presenter and author of Down the Road and Round the Bend (published by Graffeg). He regaled us with stories from his book; a hotchpotch collection of tales of Welsh places – a delightful mixture of ghost stories, tall tales, personal anecdotes and historic connections to famous events. Fact and fiction were expertly blended as Noble, an animated and charismatic storyteller, plied his trade. The setting itself strengthened the enthralling narratives with its beautiful, high-ceilinged hall and oak rafters. Darkness gradually fell outside as we were huddled together in the dim light around the travelling storyteller.

Sunday afternoon saw a completely different kind of performance when the winners of the various creative writing competitions were announced. I especially enjoyed the radio play competition, where the four best plays were performed live by two talented voice actors. Not being accustomed to listening to radio plays this was a completely new experience to me. There was something deeply fascinating about witnessing a play written for the ears. It was an intense experience in which the visual was put aside in favour of the smallest of sound details.

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The two voice actors performed the radio play entries for an enthralled audience

The competition event – the Grand Finale – had the best turnout of all the events. The festival revealed itself as the centre of a community dedicated to supporting emerging writers and facilitating a local love for the arts. It was inspiring to listen to readings of the many entries and see how hard Brenda Squires and Glen Peters – owners of Rhosygilwen and two of the founding members of PENfro – worked to bring vibrant new literature to their community.

 

A Danish Trip to the Eisteddfod

Our Danish intern Ann D. Bjerregaard writes about her experiences at the national Eisteddfod in Cardiff august 2018.

Our intern Ann writes about her experience of the National Eisteddfod and muses on the idea of Welshness.

Ann D. Bjerregaard & Richard Davies at the Eisteddfod, Cardiff 2018

This week, I spent two days at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff.

One of the things that was most immediately impressed upon me was how foreign I felt. I speak English fluently, and up until now, I had not had to deal with many language or cultural barriers, but at the Eisteddfod I was a total stranger. Everywhere, I was surrounded by people and signs speaking a language I had no idea how to decipher. These people didn’t necessarily peg me as a foreigner right away, and so I had more than the usual number of awkward encounters of “Sorry, I don’t speak Welsh” and “Pardon?”

So I went and bought a Welsh-English pocket dictionary, which quickly became a treasured possession. Suddenly, I could understand (somewhat) all the cariad, hiraeth and croeso that I saw everywhere on merchandise and souvenirs. My fourth Welsh word was bin sbwriel, courtesy of the kind people from Mermaid Quay who laboriously labelled everything.

Cymraeg T-shirt Eisteddfod
Cymraeg – probably the oldest living language in Europe”

In the mostly non-Welsh speaking south Wales, Cardiff Bay became a haven for Welsh, a tiny enclave of adamant Welshness. It was quite interesting to witness, especially given my academic interest in identity politics. I particularly enjoyed the Welsh-speaking kids’ events and seeing how much energy was spent on keeping the children interested in learning Welsh or giving the native Welsh speakers the equivalents of all the English language paraphernalia of childhood such as talking toys, posters and wall hangers. Had I doubted it before, this would certainly have convinced me that Welsh is very much a living language – not some antiquated relic that is being artificially sustained. It was a joy to be a part of.

Parthian had a lovely little stand in the Craft in the Bay area, where many of their titles were beautifully on display. Richard Davies, Parthian’s managing director, said I could just take a book if I liked it, but of course that was too much responsibility to handle for a book hoarder like myself, so I decided not to tempt myself. It was interesting to see the books in the ‘flesh,’ so to speak, as I am so used to only looking at the cover photos on a screen. It made the whole Parthian-business much more tactile and real, somehow.

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Parthian’s stand at the Eisteddfod with neighbouring Firefly Press

During my visits, I saw how the Parthian stand became a meeting point for Parthian-lovers and Welsh literati alike, and I began to realise just how vast a literary network Parthian is a part of and how much the Parthian people do to sustain it. I also had the pleasure of meeting some authors and most of the Parthian team during the Parthian Get Together Friday evening. It was a nice introduction to the co-workers I don’t see every day.

I had an enlightening two days in Cardiff. It was a memorable experience, and one that truly showed me the depth of some Welsh experiences. After a month and a half in Swansea, I’ve felt that on the surface the city is rather like the rest of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t till I came to the Eisteddfod and saw the numerous stands and events that I could really begin to understand what people mean when they talk of Wales. Here, I saw the things that were highlighted about Welshness and national pride such as flags, dedicated literary talks, Welsh catchphrases printed on T-shirts, local and souvenir crafts and Welsh food and cakes.

Of course, the culture of a country is more than what can be found in a souvenir shop, and I can’t wait to delve deeper into the idea of Wales.

 

 

An Interview with Bernard Mitchell

Every photo tells a story. A collection of the right photos, can tell a history. Bernard Mitchell’s new collection, Pieces of a Jigsaw: Portraits of Artists and Writers of Wales, captures the faces behind the artistic and literary tradition of Wales. He sat down to an espresso with Parthian and described the origin and process for how these distinct photos were created. Bernard will be presenting Pieces of a Jigsaw at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery on 25th November at 11:00 a.m. as part of the Being Human Festival.

How did this project of taking portraits of writers and artists begin?

I realised there was a group of people from Swansea who were all connected with Dylan Thomas. They were friends, but they were influenced by his writing and they were a symbiotic group if you like. I call them the ‘Swansea Gang.’

Can you talk about your process of staging these portraits?

Daniel Jones was the first of [the Swansea Gang] and I was quite young and very nervous. He very kindly saw me, and they all did. Daniel met with me and we went upstairs to the room where he had a grand piano and he composed his music. Pubs in those days were open at 12 and dead on 12, the clock went boing! and he said ‘Time for a beer.’ So we went to the pub and as we drank more, the more relaxed he got.

Pubs close at three, by that time, we got some very relaxed photographs and it was great. But his wife came in at 3:00 and said ‘Danny, I’m taking you home, I’m locking you in your room, until you compose some music.’ So that’s how it all started, the very first group of people were the Swansea Gang.

And when you’re shooting, do you know when you have ‘the one’ or do you see it in the negatives afterwards?

 

You’ve got to feel it. You know when to stop. But with some artists, they become friends, and some artists I follow. When I restarted in the 1990’s … I wanted to photograph artists and writers and the correlation between them, this catalytic, symbiotic thing that writers and artists are together. Writers are influenced by artists and artists are influenced by writers.

How much time would you spend with these writers and artists before you felt like you could accurately capture them?

I’d always start work about 10 a.m., go to their house, have a coffee, sit down relax have a chat, and while they’re doing that, I’m looking around.

For portraiture and photography, what are the benefits of that medium that other forms of storytelling don’t offer?

Well in the early days, everything was black and white and my opinion of black and white was that it gets to the brain quicker, it’s a very simple . One of the most important things about photography is that it’s international. You don’t have to speak the language. It communicates instantly. You see the image, you should get the message. Fortunately or unfortunately with my photographs, the message is buried deep within the photographs.

Do you envision this project to continue in the future?

I’ve only really just started again, about two years ago. But five years ago, I had a stroke and I did nothing for quite awhile … But now, I want to do it again.

What do you hope people take away from Pieces of a Jigsaw when they read it?

I hope they will look carefully at the photographs and try to analyse what it’s all about, because they’re not accidents. They’re not snaps. They are very carefully constructed, they are constructed within millimeters of what’s in and what’s out.

You said you like the black and white contrast, but there are some stunning colour ones.

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Now, then the reason for this one in colour. Do you see the portraits of herself? She has a red tam. The red tam is by her left foot. By her right foot is a toolbox, it’s red. The tam isn’t on her head, but the tam is on all the portraits in the background and it’s red. That’s the reason for the colour. You see, the colour has a use; it’s not colour because it’s colourful.

Image of Bernard Mitchell with camera.Bernard Mitchell grew up in Swansea where he currently lives after a retiring from a career in photojournalism with Thomson Regional Newspapers. Bernard’s passion for this decades-long project has led to exhibitions at the National Library of Wales and generous donations of portraits to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University.

Pieces of a Jigsaw can be pre-ordered at the following link: Pieces of a Jigsaw – Parthian Books

An Interview with Eleni Cay

 

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Thursday the 24th of August saw the Slovakian-born poet Eleni Cay attending an evening event at Blackwells in Manchester, alongside two other poets; Michael Conley and Rebecca Hurst. The poets read from their debut collections and engaged in discussion. Parthian intern Julia Bradley attended the event, and interviewed Eleni.

A video of some of the poems performed is available here:

 


 

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Eleni with Parthian’s Julia and Maria

Julia: In your ‘non-poetry’ life you’re a researcher, investigating the effect of technology on children’s learning. How has this research affected your poetry, particularly in A Butterfly’s Trembling in the Digital Age which takes technology as a major theme?

Eleni: Art and science reveal the reality about life and the truth about the world. In my academic research I approach technology systematically. I look for patterns, commonalities and objective assessments of their impact. In my poetic work, I address technology with my heart. I let my feelings bear upon my words, and bring in intelligence from life rather than didactic books.

 

J: A lot of your poems in Butterfly’s Trembling seem to be quite disillusioned with this ‘digital age’ in which we now live, particularly when you write about the use of technology in relationships. Do you think that technology used in this context is purely negative?

E: Definitely not! As Alain Badiou wrote, ‘We shouldn’t underestimate the power love possesses to slice diagonally through the most powerful oppositions and radical separations’. This includes technology and the fact that it can both impoverish and enrich love.

 

J: You’ve created many film poems of your work, which have been shared widely on social media – do you feel any tension or conflict about this, when some of your poems in the translated collection highlight the uneasy alliance between intimacy and technology?

E: As I write on my website, I see multimedia poetry as a way of challenging discriminatory poetic forms. I believe there are many ways into poetry and multimedia can open and validate these multiple paths. To me, poetry can be expressed in a spoken, written, physical or visual mode. Although these different modes of expression have all distinct qualities, I don’t think there should be a hierarchy to them.

I’m particularly interested in spaces that augment content and form into novel poetic genres. This is where dancepoems come in. I have recently created a “Living Book” about dancepoetry. This is part of my ongoing efforts to enrich contemporary poetry with new art forms and diverse voices. The book is freely available online: https://dancepoems.wordpress.com/ . So far, I have received some very positive feedback from poets and dancers across the world.

 

J: Last week novelist Howard Jacobson caused controversy over his comments that the rise of smartphones and twitter could ‘make children illiterate in 20 years’ – how would you respond to this?

E: That’s an interesting comment and I’m curious to know what made Mr Jacobson say that. My definition of literacy is expansive. We have traditional literacies such as reading and writing and new literacies such as multimedia production and design. My projection for the next 20 years is that both kinds of literacies will evolve and enrich our understanding of what it means to be literate. These changes will affect both children and adults.

 

J: What advice would you give to (particularly young) people about navigating today’s ‘Digital Age’? 

E: I don’t think I’m in a position to give advice- we are all participants, designers and evaluators of one big experiment and need to work together to ensure it doesn’t fall apart or leave anyone excluded. The signs that I look for when navigating this “Digital Wild West” are beauty and knowledge. I firmly believe that both hold tremendous potential for recognising that life is full of colours, shades and hues, not black-and-white pathways.


You can watch a video of another interview that Eleni has done here:


Eleni’s first translated poetry collection is A Butterfly’s Trembling in the Digital Age . It was translated from the original Slovak into English by John Minahane.

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The book speaks to the poet’s own (young) generation about how technology affords new ways of expressing love, while nostalgically evoking times before Facebook and selfies. However, nature-versus-technology is not the primary theme here. In fact, most poems focus on how human beings are entangled with technology, and on how they jointly influence all aspects of being in the 21st century.

The butterfly, a symbol of change and fragility, sounds a note of caution about using technology to reinvent love and quintessentially human values. To find the ways in which love can survive in a high tech world, one might need to look again at nature and its laws. The poet tries to catch those subtle harmonies that are often missed when ‘human’ and ‘technological’ are counterposed too exclusively, as Either/Or.

There are 55 poems in the collection, written in a variety of metrical and stanzaic forms, but mostly in common metre, analogous to sung music. The poems are accessible on a first read, with layers that invite a re-reading and re-thinking of what it means to be loved in the digital age.

 

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Eleni Cay is a Slovakian-born poet living in Manchester, UK. Her poems have been published in two pamphlets – Colours of the Swan and Autumn Dedications – and featured in MK Calling 2013 & 2015. Eleni’s poems were included in anthologies such as Mother’s Milk, poetry magazines such as Envoi and Atticus Review and on Button Poetry. A full collection of translated poems was published by Parthian Books in July 2017 and a pamphlet is due in autumn 2017 by Eyewear Press (The Lorgnette Pamphlet Series).

 

johnminahaneJohn Minahane was born near Baltimore in the south of Ireland in 1950. In 1996 he moved to Slovakia. His first major undertaking as a translator from Slovak was a selection of the poems and literary essays of Ladislav Novomeský (Slovak Spring, 2004). Later published works include selections from the lyrics of Milan Rúfus, To Bear the Burden and Sing (2008); Six Slovak Poets 2010; Ján Buzássy’s Eighteen Poems (2012); and the classic novel Three Chestnut Horses by Margita Figuli (2014). Recent poetry collections which he has translated include Jozef Leikert’s The Cobweb of Being (2015), Štefan Kuzma’s whisper (2016), and the anti-war poems written at the outbreak of World War 1 by Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, Bloody Sonnets (2016).