A470 Articles and Debates
Poet, essayist and author Robert Minhinnick has been the editor of Poetry Wales since 1997. His latest book To Babel and Back (Seren), is on the Wales Book of the Year 2006 Short List. Here he pays tribute to Raymond Garlick, who celebrates his eightieth birthday this year. Robert outlines his vision for the remainder of his editorship of Poetry Wales.
Photo: John Briggs
In 2005 I edited the anthology, Poetry Wales: Forty Years. Many writers stood out but maybe none made more impression than Raymond Garlick, whose best work was deliberately committed to Poetry Wales, and who can now be seen as a seminal influence upon it.
Thus, in 2006, his eightieth year, it seemed natural to arrange a tribute evening for this poet. But contacting Raymond I was astonished. He said he felt he had been forgotten, and was genuinely surprised at the idea of a celebration of his work.
Maybe such is the fate of older writers, especially those who have stopped publishing. Amidst the contemporary froth of readings and tours, and in an era when writers must exhibit the most visible ‘profile’ possible, quieter voices and real achievement go unnoticed.
Yet if Poetry Wales failed to rise to the occasion of Raymond Garlick’s eightieth year, it would not be doing its duty. Garlick’s combination of lyricism and politics, his apparent denigration of his native England in favour of an idealised Wales and Holland, yet his exasperation with the Labour–voting, English speaking Welsh majority, make him a rich and varied poet. I believe the tribute evening, with many guests who wish to read from Raymond’s work, will be a memorable occasion.
As to Poetry Wales, the remainder of my editorship will be international in outlook. In a globalised world with instantaneous communication, this seems obligatory for any literary magazine worth the name. No poet should be assured of any form of publication simply because of nationality. The concept is absurd. And Poetry Wales’s ‘internationalism’, whilst reflecting an appetite to know how things are done elsewhere, is in part compelled by the fact that our writers are incessant global travellers.
Thus our Summer ‘06 number features essays by Pascale Petit on the problems of translating Chinese poetry, and Owen Sheers on the dichotomies of Colombia. The Autumn issue will look at some of the best younger Polish poets in translation, and be launched in London and Krakow. Winter ‘07 will include new Dutch writing.
Does this exclude the Welsh? Absolutely not. Some of our finest voices will be prominent in these issues, together with new Welsh writers for whom such international context should prove an enormous encouragement. Indeed, I am more convinced than ever this is the best way to present Welsh writers. Context is crucial.
But Poetry Wales cannot call itself an international magazine and simultaneously ignore Welsh language literature. Raymond Garlick would mock such a situation. And the significance of the local, our own locale wherever that is, and issues of roots and belonging, are eternal. Thus in coming issues we have a series of essays by Bobi Jones about the ancient sonic structures of cynghanedd. The possible influence, via Poetry Wales, of these verse forms on other European poetry, is not the fanciful notion it might seem. It certainly stirs this editor’s imagination.
We will also carry an outspoken interview with Menna Elfyn in which she describes the problems facing Welsh language women poets (still, it seems a difficult reality for some critics) and those who want their poetry translated into English. We will feature reviews of Welsh language collections, and, if we can acquire them, brave translations from the Welsh.
But, as I recently assured Twm Morys and Meirion McIntyre Huws, the magazine is always prepared to include untranslated Welsh poetry. It has a long tradition of such publication. Indeed, I’ve ensured Welsh poetry has been heard at special Poetry Wales events from Brazil to Bangor to the Royal Festival Hall.
I also encourage English language poets to enrich their work by a little study of Welsh verse, having loosely attempted this in my own writing. Moreover, I would like to receive more experimental work from some of our established writers, together with translations from European languages by such poets. Predictability, wan ambition and resentment for those who seek to embrace other cultures, are ever problems in Wales.
Last of all, I’m delighted to announce that in Maureen Barrett, the magazine has a new, dedicated officer at Seren Books, responsible for production, distribution and much more. For details of the forthcoming Raymond Garlick, London and Krakow events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org>