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 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.
Our newest intern, Ann Bjerregaard, reviews the new writers’ anthology, Cheval 11.
Last month, I had the good fortune to witness the Terry Hetherington Young Writers’ Award ceremony. The Terry Hetherington Award is an award set up in honour of the late Terry Hetherington, a renowned Welsh poet. He had always been passionate about celebrating and supporting the work of young upcoming writers, and so this award was instituted as the best way to serve his memory.
Over the course of the last year young writers who come from Wales, or who are living here, have been pouring their creative energies into works of literary art and submitting it to the award judges. Thirty-four of these submissions were chosen for publication in Cheval 11, an anthology of this year’s best submissions, published by Parthian Books. At the ceremony the first and joint second prize winners were announced, and they and the thirty-one entrants read excerpts of their texts – be it poems or short stories – out loud for the audience. Something mystical happens to a text when it is read out loud. During these readings, it struck me how much of a difference a voice or intonation can make for a text. The poems especially, though perhaps unsurprisingly, gained from being read out loud, but also the short stories were endowed with a strange sense of vitality, brought to life by the voices who composed them. You could really tell, listening to these readings, that these young writers were serious about their passions, serious about following them. This was deep-felt creativity we were hearing, no less.
Afterwards, I read the Cheval 11 anthology, and while I remembered some of the excerpts from the readings this was an entirely different experience. Due to competition requirements, most of the texts are quite short. This gave many of the submissions a sense of urgency, or denseness of meaning, a sense that every single sentence was loaded with significance – an experience that is quite different from reading most novels. I don’t normally read a lot of short stories, so this was an eye-opening experience. You could tell that these writers are very talented – albeit to varying degrees – and that these texts were very carefully crafted.
Reading the whole collection cover to cover, I was struck by the recurrence of themes such as death, loss, and a sense of falling apart. Many of the stories and poems featured people who were dying, or who did die during the tale. Rather than being repetitive, this created a sense of coherence within the collection, as if these individual submissions were in constant conversation with each other, transferring between the pages some of their sadness and abject, abrupt otherworldliness. There were also several pieces which featured urban or industrial decay; loss of something intrinsic, perceived to be forever gone with the past. It’s an interesting notion – an anthology of the work of young writers full of loss and breaking apart. I wonder if this is a sign of something deeper, something endemic in contemporary Welsh society? What will that promise for the future?
Some of the stories were also quite humorous, such as “Bring me the Head of Dylan Thomas” by Rhodri Diaz, or the poem “Three Wimbledon Sonnets, or Serve, Return and Rally” by Thomas Tyrell. These and other submissions contrasted nicely with the rest of the collections, contributing to show the creative span of young Welsh writing today.
The stories that I remember the best were also the ones that most strongly touched my heart. Here, I especially wish to draw attention to the two texts “Borderline” by Eve Elizabeth Moriarty and Gareth Smith’s “Lost.” Both texts – a poem and a short story – have narrators who struggle with mental illness, and with coming to terms with their diagnosis. One narrator feels that everything about her has been reduced to the word ‘borderline’, a diagnosis stamped upon everything she does and feels, while the other story features a mother who has an anxiety attack in a shopping centre and this anxiety is made all the worse by her own fears of being called ‘crazy’.
These texts, along with many others from the anthology, show how in touch these young writers are with the world and the struggles we are currently facing. In many ways, Cheval 11 is life, condensed.
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:
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:
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.
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).
John 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).