Monday, 9 August 2010

No Longer Quite So Anglo - Can This Be True?

One of the great things about the Anglo-Welsh in the new millennium is that they are no longer all that Anglo although it has to be said quite a number are not that Welsh either. Emyr Humphreys, eminence grise among our English-language novelists and the man who did for the slate quarries what Jack Jones did for the industrial south, was one of the earliest to take objection to the term. He was a Welshman, he declared, not an Anglo anything. RS Thomas agreed. The fact that this fluent Welsh-speaking pair chose to write in English was a matter for them. Nothing to do with racial origin.

There, I’ve used it, that difficult word, race. Does this actually mean anything these days in Wales? The flood of new books written in English flows unabated. They are Welsh books, written about Welsh things with Welsh backgrounds, set in Wales and often displaying an entirely Welsh sensibility. But their authors were not born here. Nor were their parents. They’ve arrived ten years back, forty years back, whenever. And now they belong. The world shifts. Wales changes shape. It is how nations mature.

Edward Storey, poet of the Cambridge Fens, founder member of the John Clare Society, erudite flatlander, moved to Wales more than a decade ago and has allowed our mountainous landscape to infect his verse. His Almost A Chime-Child, from the publishers Raven Books, celebrates the Welsh landscape – hill farming, sheep, the island of Ramsey, low tide at Laugharne and gardens at Presteigne fill his clear, measured poetry. Is he one of us? He is.

John Goodby, Dylan Thomas expert and re-treader of many things from the culture of Wales was born in Birmingham and has done time at English universities before settling as Professor at Swansea. His Wine Night White from Tom Cheesman’s Swansea-based Hafan Books is not for the faint hearted. Naturally not. Goodby never is. This latest fluctuating spray of verse denial takes the reader on board with care. His opening lines are almost conventional. But wine-driven winds of change soon knock all that over. Intelligence and chance. Goodby is one of the few writers in Wales who can combine both with ease.

Nigel Humphreys, is author of The Flavour of Parallel from Arbor Vitae Press (and still they keep appearing, these new small publishers, if it wasn’t for the internet this would be a golden age). He comes from Shropshire but has spent most of his life in the coastal west. He’s learned a fair bit from the twentieth century modernists but keeps his poetry accessible. Does he belong? He does.

Checking the stacks of the newly published it’s getting harder and harder to find anything that fits the old criteria. Unless, of course, we switch languages. Which takes us neatly back to Emyr and RS. So where next?

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail, Saturday 7th August, 2010 #159

1 comment:

Flo Fflach said...

anglo-welsh is not a very satisfactory category/label. we sort of know what it means ... welsh writing in english: not as neat but might be more accurate. Anglo welsh seems to mean english welsh. welsh speaking in english...