Saturday, 4 July 2009

Don't Put Bricks Through The Library Window

I checked the periodical racks at the local mini market this morning. Huge stack of pamphlets about the last days of Ninian Park. Boxing Monthly. Fighters On Top. Rock Star. Rap Star. Porn Star. Construction News. The Puzzler. Yours. Ok. Heat. Nuts. Lots of things full of pictures. Nothing at all to actually read.

There was a dream, once, that the literate world would enlarge and we’d be engulfed by great works and our lives would change. Might that still happen? At the brand new Roath Library someone has already put the door in with a brick. Attendance is up at Central but that’s mostly from punters going in there to check their emails. Magazine circulation figures wobble and sink. Why would they do anything else? Could it be that we no longer want to read new work this way?

I stood in the rain, once, for six hours outside the old Cardiff Library trying to sell poetry magazines. Shifted two. Had 10p given to me by an old lady who thought I was a deserving cause. Then a desperate wearing a stained mack came up and told me to sod off as this was his pitch. Literature was clearly for the specialist.

But then when you read a magazine like the new New Welsh Review you wonder why? Here’s Kathryn Gray, the hip new editor, giving us all something that’s genuinely exciting to engage with. Writing that matters, with a new direction and seemingly boundless energy again.

Inside is Kitty Sewell on the rise of crime writing. Rachel Trezise giving us street-wise band-chasing fiction full of wide boys and amphetamine cool. Thoroughly enjoyable poetry from Joe Dunthorne, Damian Walford Davies (a man these days who just can’t stop), Anne Stevenson and Meirion Jordan. Tim Lebbon reprising that master of Welsh dark fiction, Arthur Machen. Richard Gwyn rattling the bars in Sicily. There are also decent reviews and an excellent piece on Wales’s late master photographer, Philip Jones Griffiths.

This is issue number eighty-four, which ought to make the Review venerable. But it doesn’t read like that. £5.99 a copy. But buy it cheaper by post.

Agenda, the English Agenda that is, an erudite and pretty old fashionedly solid journal of letters, has come out with a bumper Welsh issue. The last time this happened its editorial reports, was fifty issues ago. The English take on Wales is broader than might have been expected but with quirky appendages, particularly in the reviewing. But is does give a good intro to how poetry is, here, in 2009. Inside everyone from Robert Minhinnick to Byron Beynon have their say. There’s probably no hope of getting this one in the local shop, either. Try instead.

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 4th July, 2009

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