NWR Issue 76

Dead Poets' Society

When I took over the editorship of this magazine in 2002, I decided that, apart from the first few editorials, I would save my mission statements for grant applications. I assumed that readers were far more interested in the magazine itself than in the paraphernalia of its production and politics. My editorial columns would bring together and crystallize in a very straightforward way the criticism and new writing featured in a particular issue: I had, after all, read enough back copies of The Welsh Review, The Anglo-Welsh Review and New Welsh Review itself to gauge the state-of-the nation proselytizing that lies around the corner for any editor.

Different times, of course, call for different approaches. I have quite deliberately taken the magazine away from a primarily academic literary criticism towards a far broader, more catholic - but no less serious - approach to literature. New Welsh Review as a forum for cultural debate was previously lively and frequently fascinating, but too often self-referential and cliquey. The same twenty or so individuals were to be found in issue after issue - they all had interesting, thought-provoking things to say about the state of Welsh writing in English in the last century, but when a quarterly magazine of 100-odd pages is dominated by so few and focused on such a narrow range of writing, some of which is of purely cultural historical rather than literary value, many readers could, and certainly did, feel alienated. It became a forum for a select few to talk to each other over the heads of a much larger group - a well-read, well-informed and engaged cluster of writers, readers, film-makers and artists, a dynamic group of individuals who I knew would welcome a sustained attempt at the intelligent broadsheet literary journalism still lacking in Wales. As for the new wave of writers who have bubbled up since devolution, adding much-needed energy to the contemporary literary scene - writers whose work I have showcased and whose interests I have catered for in this magazine - they are still referred to in some quarters as 'Creative Writers'; the term 'Author' is intoned in hushed voices, as if it is the jealously-guarded preserve of the dead.

This magazine is not a wake, a commemoration of death, a dead poets' society; it is a celebration of life, movement, progress - the forward impetus that any thriving literary culture needs to foster and savour by turns. As editor, I aim to offer an interesting bunch of articles, poems, fiction pieces and reviews and to let the reader get on with it. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive response that I have received from readers across the spectrum, this is exactly what you want, and exactly what you had been waiting for.

Apart from a strong emphasis on the contemporary (which nevertheless leaves plenty of space for revisionist historical pieces or historical articles with a contemporary perspective or link), New Welsh Review now does what I consider to be the greatest favour anyone can do for Welsh writing, and that is to put it on a platform alongside work from the rest of the United Kingdom, and occasionally international writing, and to see if it passes muster. Some of the best work does, but there is other material that is either not good enough in such a context or simply not to my taste, nor is it to the taste of my fiction and poetry editors (Tessa Hadley, Tristan Hughes and Kathryn Gray), and so it does not find a place in these pages. That is not to say that I think that New Welsh Review is the last word on Wales's literature in English - far from it. It is a single small magazine with a single editor, a magazine which over the years has become over-determined by the various expectations of worthy organizations and individuals. I don't set out to defy such expectations; I just work on the premise that you can't hope to please all of the people all of the time, so as editor you might as well put together something that you know you would like to read yourself, something you know you can be passionate about.

This issue, which explores some subtle connections between Wales and Europe, is no exception. Heike Roms, for example, re-visits the performance art programme at the National Eisteddfod in 1977, contextualizing and illuminating what can now be seen as a pivotal moment in performance art in Wales, a point at which this burgeoning art form suddenly found itself transformed into a means of political expression. Coincidentally, the participatory emphasis of performance art during the second half of the twentieth century has certainly left its traces on the (very different) work of Heather and Ivan Morison, also featured in this issue, who together make up one of the three selections of visual artists from Wales who will be showing work at this year's Venice Biennale. Of especial interest is the crossover, interdisciplinary appeal of the Morisons' work, which relies on wordplay, the subversion of narrative, captions and titles in order to achieve its artistic effect. Along with a travelogue written by Tristan Hughes during a residency in Helsinki, and a review article by Kathryn Gray of several new poetry collections, some of which have an international flavour, these pieces point to a phenomenon which the traditionalists can no longer ignore: the increasing permeability of generic, as well a geographical, boundaries. It is impossible - in fact it would be quite blinkered - to discuss contemporary writing without referring to art, theatre, film, performance or dance. This is hardly news, of course, but, surprisingly enough, it seems that the 'new' New Welsh Review is still too new for some. I suspect, though, that this means that the magazine is doing its job, challenging and helping to reshape the literary cultures of Wales, rather than simply reflecting a monoculture back to itself for universal approval.


previous editorial: Compass Points
next editorial: Wales and Film


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