NWR Issue 114

Roman Wall Blues

>In this edition, the past is glimpsed through secretions of silt and mud. In ancient times at Ephesus, silt buries the temple of Artemis; in 1922, a harbour clogs with corpses in the Smyrna Massacre, and in 2012, sixty-one refugees are drowned off Ahmetbeyli. Karen Phillips reports on the melancholy past of modern-day Izmir, Turkey.

Cynan Jones' story, 'Object', is also set where 'the vegetation petered out as the marsh gave way to silt'. Here, a treasure of the present time, akin to 'some wafer, to be put upon the tongue... a thing of worship' is unearthed well into our future where it confounds then is deemed 'worthless'.

Marshland, at Llanrhidian, is also the setting for misplaced anthems and a mothertongue, in ‘Songs of the Soil’ by Jessica Mookherjee. The poem finds the banks of the holy Ganges to be a place of creation, as there 'a leathery man dressed in white rags // took the ground in his hands, made a bird- / shaped flute with the winds tongue.'

The river Thames on the other hand, is a force of destruction in J Twm's 'Dirty Old River': 'now i spend my / days and nights getting young men / drunk and taking them back south of the / river, he laughs trying to touch my neck... the secrets of london / are lapping the steps... drifting with the grime and / filth.’

While having written the lives of Rimbaud, Balzac and Zola’s wife Alexandrine, Graham Robb allies himself with the French tradition of historical geography. Ben Skelton talks to him here about how cycling is part of his geographical approach to writing, in terms of planning, execution and maintaining a 'peripheral' viewpoint. For The Ancient Paths, Robb followed the tracks of Hercules and Hannibal through Europe to the Alps. In it, he explores the scientific "intellocracy" of the Celts', proposing a controversial theory of solstice lines 'stretching from the Alps to the Atlantic and Bavaria to Anglesey', and arguing that following the defeat of independent Gaul in 51 BC, 'Celtic resistance and civilisation found a new home in Britain, based on a... solstice line stretching from... Oxford to Dinas Emrys... and the Druid stronghold of Ynys Môn.' The Mabinogion legend of Lludd and Llefelys (with its dragon pit at Oxford), Robb argues, preserves 'the translation of the Druidic system from Gaul to Britannia'.

I’m not sure if I'm doing the highly respected and erudite Graham Robb a disservice by comparing solstice lines with ley lines but definitions agree on them being a supposed line of energy connecting prehistoric sites, which does fit his definition of 'a grid of solstice lines'. In the Ynys Môn-set ‘Ley Lines’ from his debut short fiction collection, The Tower, Tristan Hughes parodies a New Age incomer's mystical attachments to our physical landscape (while the character physically and emotionally disengages from his neighbour and girlfriend in a rotting caravan). Kieron Smith shows, in his essay 'One Foot in the Water', how Hughes, in his 2008 novel, Revenant, continues to actively demythologise' the island, which has become 'heavily burdened with mythological associations in the Welsh imagination'. Fflur Dafydd does the same for Enlli, Smith argues, in her debut English novel, Twenty Thousand Saints, set among the dust of that many bones but maintaining an anti-mythological if not even an anti-archaeological stance. So recent fiction from Wales remains resolutely forward-faced.

This issue's 'Roman Wall Blues II' by Jeremy Wakeley also joins the anti-archaeology canon. For the poem's soldiers, the truths that test time are not the 'great city' or the reportedly facile labour of its creation, nor any 'hard fight' but rather the long-evaporated 'single bead of sweat that fell from / your forehead that afternoon / we watched the forest from // the wall.'


previous editorial: Some Small Portion of Eternity
next editorial: Precision and Clarity


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