Four women poets who will take you on an alternative journey through Welsh history



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Alexander Gold/Shutterstock

Rhea Seren Phillips, Swansea University

Poetry has played an important role in the history of Wales. From the medieval courts, to the ongoing National Eisteddfod (the largest music and poetry festival in Europe), writers have used verse to document the land’s culture. But while male writers, such as the 12th century poets of the princes and more recently Dylan Thomas, have presented one perspective of Welsh history and culture, female poets have documented a very different take on Wales through the centuries. Here are four who bring a different perspective.

1. Gwerful Mechain (est.1462-1500)

Gwerful Mechain is one of the few Welsh medieval poets from whom a substantial body of work has survived to this day. One of the loudest voices speaking up for women of the time, Mechain was also one of the first poets in Wales to write about domestic abuse. To Her Husband for Beating Her is a poignant and powerful poem full of enraged language and energetic imagery.

Born into a noble family, Mechain was free to explore her own poetic interests without the pressure of securing patronage, unlike many of her male contemporaries. She became a prolific writer who was not restricted to one style. Her work includes religious, humorous and socially conscious poetry. One of her most well-known works, To the Vagina, chastises her male counterparts for praising a woman’s body from her hair to her feet but ignoring one hidden feature. She was bold and did not shy away from what some may consider crude imagery, as in her poem, To the Maid as she Shits.

This extract, in Welsh then English, is from Cywydd y cedor (The Female Genitals):

Pob rhyw brydydd, dydd dioed,
Mul frwysg, wladiadd rwysg erioed,
Noethi moliant, nis gwarantwyf,
Anfeidrol reiol, yr wyf

Every poet, drunken fool,
Thinks he is just the king of cool,
(Everyone is such a boor,
He makes me so sick, I’m so demure)

2. Katherine Philips (c.1632 – c.1664)

Born in London, Katherine Philips – who later wrote under the moniker “The Matchless Orinda” – moved to Wales when she was around 15 years old. From her home in Cardigan she became a significant female British poet, as well as the first woman to have a commercial play staged, Pompey.

Despite the stigma against women publishing their work, Philips succeeded by circulating handwritten letters and volumes, as her male contemporaries did, while upholding supposedly feminine virtues such as humility and chastity in her works.

Though she was married with two sons, much discussion around Philips’ poetry and life concentrates on whether she was or was not a lesbian. The emotional focus of her poetry was often on women and the passionate relationships she had with them. Regardless of Philips’ own sexual orientation, her work was the first British poetry to express same-sex love between women.

3. Sarah Jane Rees (“Cranogwen”) (1839–1916)

Sarah Jane Rees (also known by the bardic name Cranogwen) is perhaps one of the most pioneering poets in this list. Born in Llangrannog, west Wales, she spurned all attempts to enforce gender stereotypes – her family wanted her to work as a dressmaker – and instead joined her father on board his ship for two years after leaving school. She continued her education, eventually gaining her master mariner certificate. Returning home by the age of 21, Cranogwen fought against opposition to run her old school, and taught children as well as providing navigation and seamanship education to young men.

In 1865 she entered the Eisteddfod festival as Cranogwen with
Y Fodrwy Briodasal (The Wedding Ring), a satirical poem about a married woman’s destiny. When she was announced as the first woman to win the prize, there was disgust from the established and renowned male writers who had been competing. Cranogwen became famous overnight and a collection of her poems was released in 1870.

The following lines are taken from My Friend:

Ah! Annwyl chwaer, ‘r wyt ti i mi,
Fel lloer I’r lli, yn gyson;
Dy ddilyn heb orphwyso wna
Serchiadau pura’m calon

Oh! My dear sister, you to me
As the moon to the sea, constantly,
Following you restlessly are
My heart’s pure affections

4. Lynette Roberts (1909-1995)

Lynette Roberts was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents of Welsh origin. A friend of Dylan Thomas, during World War II Roberts moved to Carmarthenshire with her then husband, journalist and poet Keidrych Rhys, and stayed in Wales for the rest of her life.

Although now her work is seeing a resurgence, for a long time Roberts has been overlooked. She was a poet ahead of her time and her use of language is refreshing. Roberts was influenced by the rich colours and landscape of her childhood, which she entwined with the rural landscape and culture of Wales during a time of upheaval – World War II.

Roberts’s poem Swansea Raid is perhaps one of her most powerful and insightful works. It depicts a snapshot of a relationship between herself and fellow villager Rosie and the tension between war and home. The changing technological world of war brought out warm, colourful language in her work, setting the colloquialisms of quiet, rural Wales against the starkness of bombing and constant threat of loss. Her most influential work has to be the heroic poem Gods with Stainless Ears, on the war’s disruption of domestic life.

This verse is from Roberts’ 1944 Poem from Llanybri:

Then I’ll do the lights, fill the lamp with oil,
Get coal from the shed, water from the well;
Pluck and draw pigeon, with crop of green foil
This your good supper from the lime-tree fell.The Conversation

Rhea Seren Phillips, PhD Researcher in Welsh Poetry, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Andrea Levy: her important body of work set out what it is to be black and British


Sarah Lawson Welsh, York St John University

Prize-winning British novelist Andrea Levy, who died on February 14, will be remembered affectionately for raising awareness of black British writing and the closely intertwined histories of Britain and the Caribbean more than any other British writer of recent times (save perhaps Zadie Smith). In a career spanning 25 years, during which she published five novels (two of which were successfully adapted for television) and a luminous collection of short stories and essays – a significant legacy in itself – Levy garnered an unusually wide readership which crossed literary, popular and academic lines.

Like Angela, the protagonist of her first, semi-autobiographical novel, Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994), Levy was of Jamaican parentage, her father being one of the original Windrush passengers arriving in Britain in 1948, her mother following shortly after. Levy herself grew up in a working-class household with few books, recalling in characteristically frank terms that “being a working-class girl I mainly watched telly”.

Like Faith, the protagonist of her third novel, Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Levy knew little about her heritage and took little interest in Caribbean history and culture until a startling experience in a Racism Awareness training session at work launched her on a journey of rediscovery. As Faith’s mother says: “Child, everyone should know where they come from.”

Levy’s meticulously researched fictions interrogate the human experience of migration to and from the Caribbean in different periods. In Small Island (2004), Levy explores the ways in which Caribbean people were racially “othered” and made to feel unwelcome outsiders in Britain, despite being invited to migrate as British subjects in the post-1945 period.

In her final novel, The Long Song (2010), Levy harnesses fiction to, in her words, “go farther” – imaginatively excavating the human experiences of slavery from a variety of perspectives. Later on, in a twist stranger than fiction, Levy discovered that she herself, like her fictional character Miss July, was descended from a mixed-race liaison between a slave and a white overseer.

Although happy to be termed a black British writer, Levy importantly always saw the long historical connection between Britain and the Caribbean as a profoundly British concern, rather than a niche interest only relevant to those of Caribbean heritage. Indeed, reading her nuanced and inclusive explorations of what it is to be British and of Caribbean heritage might be seen as more urgent than ever in these heated times of Brexit and the Windrush scandal.

A British story

Levy started to write only in her 30s – but her writing achieved that rare thing: critical acclaim and commercial success (notably after Small Island which won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize). Her texts now have a place on academic curricula across the globe but also – crucially – a huge popular readership as her books fill a permanent place on ordinary peoples’ bookshelves.

As the many tributes from her readers, those who worked with her and from prominent black British figures such as Sir Lenny Henry testify, it is clear that Levy’s writing played a hugely important role in helping many readers learn about, connect to and make sense of the complex, brutal and often hidden nature of Britain’s slave history and its lasting legacies. As Levy always made clear: the history of her heritage was also a British story.

Small Island is Levy’s hugely significant contribution to the fictional retelling and exploration of West Indians’ migration to Britain in the Windrush era. Levy’s compelling neo-slave novel, The Long Song, is a historiographic metafiction, a playfully self-conscious probing of the nature of narrative and the telling of history, this time from a slave perspective in an attempt to imaginatively reenter the harsh world of plantation society and give voice, agency and humanity to the enslaved.

Levy’s earliest novels, Every Light in the House Burning (1994), set in 1960s London; Never far from Nowhere (1996), set on a North London council estate in the 1970s; and Fruit of the Lemon (1999), set in the Thatcherite Britain of the 1980s (as well as Jamaica), document domestic experiences of black British life and the particular manifestations of racism – National Front attacks, skinhead violence – prominent in British society during these periods. Later short texts, such as the short story Uriah’s War (2014), return to an earlier period and remind us that Britain and the Caribbean have long been closely connected and that West Indians – as British colonial subjects – also fought valiantly for “King and Country” in both world wars.

Growing up black

Levy seems to have been driven by a strong ethical imperative to tell these stories of West Indian arrival in Britain, of later generations “growing up black under the Union Jack”, to address the widespread British amnesia about its colonial history and the relative silence about Caribbean slavery in so many British institutions, including the school system.

The Small Island of Levy’s title is, of course, both Jamaica and Britain, two islands intimately and often violently yoked together by more than 300 years of shared history and culture. While Levy’s novels are set during different periods, they are all part of a longstanding, shared British-Caribbean history.

Thus, Small Island shows how the experience of the Windrush generation was marked by many of the same attitudes, inequalities and tensions found in the earlier period of plantation slavery in Jamaica, as explored in The Long Song. Levy’s 2014 essay Back to My Own Country, meanwhile, is a moving and powerful account of family, racism and her turn to writing. All are part of the largely forgotten history of Britain’s deep relationship with the Caribbean – a history which Levy’s texts show us is not just “out there” but “here (in Britain) too”.

Ultimately, what links all Levy’s texts is their deep humanity. Fittingly, Levy herself said that: “None of my books is just about race … They’re about people and history.” She described Miss July, the protagonist and chief narrator of The Long Song as “human, very smart, feisty”. There could be no better way of describing Levy as a writer.The Conversation

Sarah Lawson Welsh, Reader & Associate Professor in English & Postcolonial Literatures, York St John University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shortlists for the UK’s Society of Authors Translation Prizes


The link below is to an article that reports on the various shortlists for the United Kingdom’s Society of Authors Translations Prizes.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2019/01/seven-shortlists-announced-uk-society-of-authors-translation-prizes/

More on the Internet Archive’s Open Library Copyright Crisis


The link below is to an article reporting on issues for the Internet Archive in the United Kingdom over copyright and the Open Library project.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/22/internet-archives-ebook-loans-face-uk-copyright-challenge

2018 Goldsmiths Prize for Fiction


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize for Fiction, including the shortlist and winner. The chronology of articles runs from top to bottom.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2018/sep/26/novel-senses-of-new-the-2018-goldsmiths-prize-for-fiction-shortlist
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/14/robin-robertson-wins-goldsmiths-prize-innovative-fiction-long-take
https://www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-prize/

The 2018 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding Shortlist and Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the shortlist and winner of the 2018 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. The winner was ‘Border – A Journey to the Edge of Europe,’ by Kapka Kassabova.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/kapka-kassabova-named-2018-nayef-al-rodhan-prize-winner/

2018 Women’s Poets’ Prize (United Kingdom)


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 Women’s Poets’ Prize, including the shortlist and winners of it.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/10/women-poets-prize-2018-inaugural-shortlist-nine-writers-uk/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/uk-inaugural-women-poets-prize-winners-begin-mentored-programs/

More on the IKEA Reading Rooms in London


The link below is to another article reporting on the IKEA reading rooms in London associated with the Man Booker Award.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/07/ikea-wembley-uk-and-man-booker-prize-create-reading-rooms/

IKEA ‘Reading Rooms’


The link below is to an article reporting on ‘reading rooms’ being set up by IKEA in London to celebrate the announcement of the Nam Booker Prize longlist.

For more visit:
https://www.thebookseller.com/news/ikea-creates-reading-rooms-celebrate-man-booker-longlist-833651

Most Scottish authors want to break up the Union – why don’t they write about it?



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Barking.
eAlisa

Colin Kidd, University of St Andrews and Gerard Carruthers, University of Glasgow

Glasgow’s annual book festival, Aye Write!, is getting underway. Now in its 11th year, big name writers making appearances include the philosopher AC Grayling, broadcast journalist Robert Peston, crime writer Val McDermid and the mountaineer Chris Bonington.

The name of the festival is a play on “aye right”, a sarcastic Scottish way of saying no. This encapsulates much about the literary outlook in this part of the world – a vernacular defensiveness, a strident overcompensation in the face of imagined English snootiness about Glaswegian speech. A neutral might conclude that the arts in Scotland exist in a state of perma-froth at presumed metropolitan condescension.

If support for Scottish independence can be considered a proxy for such froth, there is certainly much in evidence. At the time of the 2014 independence referendum, the Scottish literary scene was near unanimously in favour of a Yes vote – nowhere close to the 55-45 split among the wider population.

This normally disputatious crowd felt overwhelmingly that the Union was inimical to Scottish culture and that the literary tradition would best flourish with independence. Little has changed since. Don’t expect much enthusiasm from them about Theresa May’s Britain at this year’s festival.

This mood didn’t begin in 2014, it must be said. In the Thatcher-hating days of 1988, the pro-devolution Campaign for a Scottish Assembly gave this starkly black and white assessment:

The Union has always been, and remains, a threat to the survival of a distinctive culture in Scotland.

Is this right? Most great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, for example – thrived within the Union between Scotland and England. Indeed, most Scots will know much more about their nation’s literature since 1707 than about previous eras.

Bovvered? Robert Louis.
Mario Breda

If the Union was such a problem for Scottish writers, why was it invisible in what they had to say? Why is there no tradition of anti-Unionist invective? Aside from Burns’s well-known 1791 poem condemning the “parcel o’ rogues” who “bought and sold” Scotland “for English gold”, the Union is at best an absent presence. Even today it receives little attention from Scottish writers – why?

Before nationalism

Scottish literature’s relationship with the Union is the focus of a new book of essays which we have edited, Literature and Union: Scottish Texts, British Contexts. The most compelling explanation for the lack of literary attention to the Union is that until recently, other questions were more important to Scottish writers, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In particular, partisanship and religion long trumped national identity. Indeed, they were deeply interwoven, shaping two distinctive mythical representations of Scotland.

One was Presbyterian and democratic, the myth of Scotland’s godly Covenanting tradition. The other was Episcopalian, royalist and Jacobite, the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Forty-five Rising. Each reached back to earlier periods – the Covenanters claimed to be the true heirs of the Scottish Reformation; Jacobite sympathisers were entranced by the romantic plight of Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned and finally beheaded by a Protestant queen.

Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) might be the classic example of the Jacobite representation, recounting many of the events of 1745 from a perspective very sympathetic to the Highland rebels. It was followed by a long stream of Jacobite literature – and Scott himself returned to the theme both in Rob Roy (1817) and Redgauntlet (1824).

Depictions of Covenanters are variously positive and negative in Scottish literature. Many 19th-century novels present them as heroes for their democratic outlook, with their roots in the culture of ordinary folk. John Galt’s Ringan Gilhaize (1823) is one example, telling the story of three generations of rural people.

Other writers are repelled by the illiberal and philistine totalitarianism they discern in the tradition. The most notorious example is James Hogg’s 1824 satire, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, whose lead character considers that having attained his place among God’s saved, he has carte blanche to commit terrible crimes.

Hugh McDiarmid.

Nationalism took hold on the Scottish literary scene over the course of the 20th century, primarily under the enduring influence of Hugh MacDiarmid. Even so, he and others held to a view that Scotland’s Reformation had been just as bad, if not worse, than the Union. For McDiarmid, it was the founding of the Protestant church – and not the merger with England – that was the beginning of the repression of Scottish folk and their authentic culture.

Novels and poems about Covenanting and Jacobitism still abound today. James Robertson, for example, who is appearing at this year’s Aye Write!, makes sport with Covenanting fanaticism in The Fanatic (2000) and The Testament of Gideon Mack (2006). Robertson has also written the only novel that has brought Scottish nationhood into focus in recent years: And the Land Lay Still (2010). More generally, the Union remains a submerged and largely invisible feature of the Scottish literary landscape.

Stark contrasts

While it is true that the Union never enjoyed much of a fanfare among Scottish writers of previous generations, it was rarely if ever the focus of their work. Several even made conspicuous contributions to British – indeed to English – national identities. How else do we account for the fact that the figure of John Bull was the coinage of a Scottish doctor, John Arbuthnot, and Rule, Britannia the work of the Scottish poet, James Thomson?

It is hard to imagine a Scottish writer expressing a similar sentiment in their work today. Yet the reluctance to write about independence has continued, despite writers’ enthusiasm for the cause. It is as if the literary tradition weighs heavy on their shoulders and encourages them to look elsewhere for inspiration.

The ConversationIn sum, the relationship between Scottish literature and the Union turns out to be much more tangled, ironic and surprising than might have been expected. Today’s nationalists do indeed dominate Scotland’s literary scene, and will undoubtedly be in force at Aye Write!, but they do not have all the best tunes. It will be fascinating to see to what extent this changes in future.

Colin Kidd, Professor of History, University of St Andrews and Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.