BLOG Jonathan Edwards

NWR Issue 106

A Poet’s Year

You drive. You drive towards the night. You drive towards the darkness and the sea, and when you get there you open the car door to the sound of seagulls, and this is another country, and it’s Wales. Or you drive inland, towards the ups and downs of the mountains, towards road-crossing sheep, shuttered pubs and bad radio transmission. You drive. You drive to the voice of your Sat Nav, the closest thing you have to the voice of God and, one dark night, at the end of a five-days-teaching, four-nights-reading week, you are sure – sure – you hear it say Nearly there Jon, nearly there, and come to just in time to stop your front bumper becoming intimate with the back end of an Eddie Stobart truck.

You drive. You drive towards your hope, with a rucksack of books with your name on. You drive towards the e-mailed enthusiasm of the organiser of this latest event, in this latest back room of pub, hotel, town hall. This could be the breakthrough, the big hit, the one. You drive towards a room which contains four people. The borrowed practice guitar amp which the poet usually reads through is on the blink and seems, as far as you can tell, to be picking up Radio Luxembourg. But the acoustics in here are good, you’re told, and it should be okay if you shout a bit. Mr Williams’ deaf-aid is on the blink anyway, but he likes to come here for the atmosphere. Mrs Williams is seated, knitting, when you arrive, and continues throughout your set, pausing at one point, mid-stanza, to ask if you know her brother. Another woman eats throughout your reading from something which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a plate of boiled potatoes. The last man, who resembles something like a flip-flopped David Bellamy, listens carefully to your first two poems and, as you are about to launch into your third – a 300-line epic about the entirety of Welsh history, told from the point of view of a doorknob – he reaches into his top pocket and takes something out. It is an enormous pair of mirrored Ray-bans, which he dons and continues to wear throughout the set. Is this some sort of signal? Are your words too bright?

You drive. You drive towards the darkness and the night, the weight of your rucksack untroubled and, as if this were Hollywood, the rain now coming. Your book took you a decade to write and has cost you relationships, career opportunities, sanity and once, almost, your life. In a few hours’ time, you will be teaching the finer points of comma use to Year Eight. You turn the radio up to a hiss of static. You drive.

So runs one exaggerated narrative of a year reading around Wales. There were nights when it wasn’t so far from the truth, and it’s important to say that, just as my mentors said it to me. Everyone’s been through it. It isn’t you. The work’s good. Welsh Poets Anonymous might be something we need. At the same time, this has very easily been the most interesting and exciting year of my life, in which I’ve seen more of Wales than I knew existed, and met more amazing people than I can praise. From Cardigan to Cardiff, Llandrindod to Llandovery, there are people with incredible energy putting on literature events for their local community. Sometimes as a poet, writing in a room and dropping your words every few months into the blackness of the postbox, you can feel as though that blackness is exactly what you’re dropping your words into. Not so. Praise be to the saints putting up marquees, filling in forms for funding, handing out flyers on the street. These are acts of love.

At the same time, though, this. I’ve just got back from the Aldeburgh International Poetry Festival which is, very easily, the most impressive poetry event I’ve ever seen. The level of professionalism, the size and enthusiasm of the audiences, the way the three days bring together so many people who love poetry. Why on earth haven’t we got something like this in Wales? Our reputation across the world as a land of poets is unparalleled, so we deserve – no, we have an obligation to provide – a huge annual event, a celebration of international poets. The Aberystwyth International Poetry Festival? The Cardiff International Poetry Festival? With the energy that’s out there, spread around Wales, if we all came together….

Meanwhile, here’s to the poets whose books will come out in 2015. I hope you have a blast. I hope you meet the people I met, and have the nights I had, and get to see how important poetry is in the lives of so many people. May your warm-up act be a troupe of Morris dancers, and may you in turn be the warm-up act for the Sheep Beauty Contest. Only poetry can make this happen. The best country in the world is waiting, crammed with readers, and there’s really nothing to it. You fill up a rucksack with books. You fire up the Sat Nav. You drive.

Jonathan Edwards is a Seren poet whose debut collection, My Family & Other Superheroes is a nominee for the Costa book awards poetry category.


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