Finishing up a book for publication is always an exciting moment - all that work coming to fruition, and the sense of a long-term project being wrapped up. Of course, there are nerves, too. Are readers going to like it? Will reviewers think it's a good thing? Will it make an impact, or sink without a trace? Did I catch that last, lurking typo when I was proof-checking?
It's been no different with my latest edited volume, Devolutionary Readings: English-Language Poetry and Contemporary Wales, which is in the final production stages with the simply excellent Peter Lang and is due out later this year. I'm excited to have such a fine array of contributors - and have fingers firmly crossed that their work gets the enthusiastic reception I honestly think it deserves. The proof-checking stage is great for getting an overview of what's been done, and I enjoyed the care, detail, and punchiness of what my authors had produced. Will readers agree with me? I hope so!
I spent much of the first two days of this week in the National Library of Wales in a symposium that was part of an exciting AHRC-funded research project called 'Troubled Waters, Stormy Futures: heritage in times of accelerated climate change'. 'Troubled Waters' is engaging with three locations that are dealing with coastal change of various sorts: Porthdinllaen (on the Llyn Peninsula in north-west Wales), the village of Durgan (in Cornwall), and Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean.
Project lead, the film-maker Sara Penrhyn Jones - along with her co-investigators elsewhere in the UK and in Australia - has brought together a fascinating mix of participants in order to 'develop deeper understandings and framings of heritage loss at a local level and international level, investigate how the impacts of climate change disrupt this heritage, and seek strategies for improved communication and consultation around these issues' (to quote the project's self-description).
My primary role on the project is to act as a mentor. However, I'm fortunate to have been able to participate directly, too; so I've been thinking about how artistic work - specifically poetry - can play a part in the way that cultures and communities deal with 'heritage loss'. My presentation at the symposium was called 'Poetry and the loss of place' and it gave me the chance to think again about the poetry of Ruth Bidgood - engaging, in this instance, with the way in which her work deals with places in Breconshire that suffered historic loss through depopulation or through the actions of afforestation. Whilst this is neither 'climate change poetry' nor coastal poetry, my hope was to explore one particular poetic engagement with place loss and to see what light it might shed on our broader discussions.
Putting such literary-critical thinking into a context where I was talking with colleagues from very different areas of work - experts from the third sector (specifically the National Trust), from climate advisory work (one of the collaborators on the project is the Climate Outreach Information Network), and from the scholarly discipline of heritage studies (Dr Anna Woodham is one of the project's co-investigators) - was a richly valuable experience from my point of view. So I look forward very much to the project's ongoing work.
Keep an eye out for the project's website, which is expected to go online over the coming months...
I was delighted to win the 'Open' category of the 2014 M. Wynn Thomas Prize, for my essay 'In/Human Place: The Poetry of John Barnie', in Zoë Skoulding and Ian Davidson's 2013 volume Placing Poetry (published by Rodopi). The award was made at the annual conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English at Gregynog.
The M. Wynn Thomas Prize is "offered to celebrate outstanding scholarly work in the field of Welsh writing in English" (to quote the prize's rubric), and is divided into two categories: 'Open' (for experienced scholars) and 'New Scholars' (for postgraduates and recent postdocs). Its name celebrates the leading figure in the field of Welsh writing in English scholarship.
Photos from the award event are by Aidan Byrne, whose fine album of the 2014 AWWE conference as a whole can be found here.
On Saturday 15th December, it was a pleasure to be present at The Institute in Llangammarch, in Breconshire, for the launch of a CD of Ruth Bidgood reading a selection of her poems. The CD is the work of Sarn Cambria, a collaboration between the photographer Liz Fleming-Williams and the sound recordist Simon Fraser (recipient of a 2012 BAFTA Cymru for his sound work on the film Patagonia). A beautifully produced piece of work, the CD can be bought online here.
Matthew Jarvis and Ruth Bidgood. Photograph by Liz Fleming-Williams.
The event itself saw a considerable turnout, with The Institute being pretty much full to bursting - testament to Ruth's ever-increasing popularity as a poet. Ruth herself read a few poems, and the audience was also treated to selections from the CD itself. Simon Fraser and Liz Fleming-Williams were both present at the event, too, with Ruth drawing particular attention to Simon's recent BAFTA Cymru success. Sarn Cambria have previously worked with Ruth's poetry in the DVD stillfilm Gwesyn.
Ruth Bidgood's 'Treachery' is Poem of the Week at the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre: http://poetry.brookes.ac.uk/poemoftheweek/treachery/ Alongside the poem, this page includes a helpful biographical note about Ruth herself - as well as a reference to my own recent book on Ruth's work.
Ruth has identified 'Treachery' as a poem that emerges from the Black Mountains region, specifically the Grwyne Fechan valley (towards the west of the area). Her important sequence 'Singing to Wolves' (the title sequence of her collection published in 2000) is also rooted in the Black Mountains - this time, on their eastern side. Indeed, 'Singing to Wolves' reaches as far as the villages of Clodock and Michaelchurch Escley, which are to be found just beyond the eastern-most reaches of the Black Mountains themselves.
Ruth is, of course, best known for her mid-Wales work which locates itself in the region that radiates out from Abergwesyn in north Breconshire. However, she also has an intriguing clutch of poems which draw on the fascinating borders area of the Black Mountains. These certainly deserve more critical consideration, as a group of geographically interlinked works.
Ruth Bidgood identifies the following poems from her output as rooted in the Black Mountains:
* The Fluent Moment (Bridgend: Seren, 1996)
'The Fluent Moment', p. 7
'Olchon Valley', p. 57
* Singing to Wolves (Bridgend: Seren, 2000)
'Singing to Wolves' sequence, pp. 7-11 (five poems in all)
'Angel with Wolf and Saint', p. 30
* New & Selected Poems (Bridgend: Seren, 2004)
'Guerinou' sequence, pp. 257-67 (seven poems in all)
* Above the Forests (Blaenau Ffestiniog: Cinnamon, 2012)
'Bridges', p. 30
'Treachery', p. 32
'Capel-y-Ffin Story', p. 33
'All Manner of Thing', p. 53
'At Capel-y-Ffin', p. 62
'Tout Passe', p. 74
Here is a fantastic opportunity to attend the launch of new books from two of Wales's most important poets, Gillian Clarke and Menna Elfyn. Get yourselves down to Lampeter on Tuesday 23rd October, to the very pleasant surroundings of the Founders Library on the University campus, for what is certain to be an extremely memorable evening.
Poetry Wales, 48/1
The American website Poetry Daily has picked up my recent appreciation of Ruth Bidgood's poetry - originally published in this summer's Poetry Wales (issue 48/1) - as their Prose Feature this week. I hope this will generate even more readers for Ruth's fascinating work.
The article is featured for a week on the front page of the site, and it then goes into the Poetry Daily prose archive for a year.
You can read the full article on the Poetry Daily website here.
And, of course, you can get hold of Poetry Wales here. If you subscribe to the magazine, you'll get four issues a year delivered directly to your door.
Ruth Bidgood and Matthew Jarvis.
My UWP book, Ruth Bidgood, in the Writers of Wales series, was launched on Friday 27 July in Aberystwyth's Arts Centre Bookshop. Ruth herself was there, as she was launching her own new poetry collection, Above the Forests (Cinnamon), at the same event.
Having very recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday, Ruth was - entirely appropriately - the star of the show. Not just a launch, even a dual one, this was ultimately an event to celebrate Ruth's poetry and her ever-more-important place in the English-language poetic life of Wales. Suitably, the bookshop was packed, as a large crowd turned up to honour one of Wales's most distinguished poets. Ruth read from her new collection and I was interviewed about my critical study by the marvellous John Barnie. One thing that came out especially clearly from Ruth's reading was the wit of her work, with her reading drawing a number of laughs from the audience.
This was an evening of considerable warmth and clear affection for Ruth herself. It was a particular pleasure that members of her own family were able to attend. My thanks are due both to the Arts Centre Bookshop for their hospitality and to Jan Fortune-Wood of Cinnamon Press for organising the event.
(Photograph courtesy of Daniel Jarvis.)
I'm delighted to have received the following response to my book on Ruth Bidgood from the major critic of Welsh writing in English, Swansea University's Dr Daniel G. Williams:
'Ruth Bidgood is a poet of subtle complexities. It takes a particularly sensitive and incisive critic to do her work justice. Matthew Jarvis is such a critic and, in its attentiveness to language and environment, this volume in the Writers of Wales series is a major contribution to the study of Welsh poetry in English. Jarvis's superbly attentive readings should lead to a broader appreciation of Ruth Bidgood's distinctive contribution to Anglophone poetry.'
My book on the fascinating mid-Wales poet Ruth Bidgood, in the landmark University of Wales Press 'Writers of Wales' series, has now been printed. My author's copy dropped through the letter-box this morning, and it does look very handsome - complete with a striking 1997 photograph of Ruth herself, by the marvellous Bernard Mitchell, on the front cover (see left). So, kudos to UWP for making such a good job of it.
If you'd like to buy a copy, you can find it online at the Welsh Book's Council's gwales.com (here) or on Amazon (here), though I guess it'll take a few days yet to arrive from the warehouse.
Professor Jane Aaron has been kind enough to say of the book that 'Bidgood’s achievement stands out clearly from its pages, which ring true, like her poems.'