Blokes no longer hold sway

Peter Finch ponders the literary highs and lows of 2010

On a personal level one of the literary highs of 2010 in Wales had to be the appearance of Zen Cymru, a book of poems I had long laboured over which flexed experimentalism and stuffed it firmly into the jaws of convention. In it my two obsessions met – the east and the Welsh. Poems of age, family, love, life, political disaster, boundary pushing  and celebration. This would be the book that won me prizes and caused the critics to stand back in awe.


Tomorrow we begin a specially commissioned series of articles on CickonWales, looking ahead to what we can expect during 2011 in key Welsh policy areas: the economy, health, education, local government and politics. We begin with Swansea Business School John Ball’s take on the Welsh economy.

Did any of this happen? Someone wrote in their blog that they thought that in his verse Finch displayed “wit” but that generally he should take more care. Apart from that nothing. Undeterred I launched at Laugharne and again at Hay. Seren sold a pile of copies and audiences went home happy. If you can’t win them all you can win some.

I suppose a real high was the appearance, after a gap of thirty-five years, of a new issue of of the avant garde pubication second aeonAngel Exhaust #21 – Each Aeon Free After the First One: The Welsh Underground was edited by Andrew Duncan and John Goodby. Ignored for decades the avant garde was back with a vengeance.  The low would be me being taken into hospital the day before the launch for a “procedure”.  Finch misses revival.  But survives.  Must look on the bright side.

The year’s book prizes went well. The Dylan Thomas Prize, awarding huge sums of money to writers under 30, was not won by a Welsh author. American poet Elyse Fenton picked up the £30,ooo for a book of verse set in Bagdad. As ever the Wales Book of the Year Award was not without controversy. Giving the Award for the Welsh-language volume to a book which mixed scholarly journalism with photographs (John Davies’ Cymru: Y 100 Lle I’w Gweld Cyn Marw illustrated  by Marian Delyth) was seen as being somehow absurd by the Welsh-language press. How could half a book win?

When exactly the same thing happened in English with winner Philip Gross’s collaboration with Simon Denison for I Spy Pinhole Eye no one said a dickey bird.

Meic Stephens noted that not one of the three of the English-language shortlisted winners came originally from Wales. They certainly didn’t either. But like most of the rest of the population they do now live here.

Parthian’s Library of Wales series of reprints under the editorship of Dai Smith continued to surprise and sell. The reprint of Gwyn Thomas’s The Dark Philosophers was adapted for the stage by the ground-breaking new super company, the National Theatre of Wales.  Their production was so good that even my son attended.

Hard copy book production was up again, despite economic gloom and the inroads being made by electronic hand-helds and digital downloads. That revolution will begin to bite next year.

Readings took off like a religious revival. Never in wales have there been so many. Nothing is launched without a reading party. Poets take the stage everywhere, every night of the week. They are joined by great flocks of novelists who sit on stools reading chapters of their new works to listening, excited audiences. We are garrulous and raucous where once we were studied and silent. Is this a good thing? It certainly sells more books.

Gillian Clarke, National Poet for Wales was awarded the Queens Medal for Poetry, an well-deserved award that has never before come to Wales.

And finally our three long-lived literary magazines, Planet, New Welsh Review and Poetry Wales, remain in the editorial hands of women. Gwen Davies, Zoe Skoulding and Jasmine Donahaye smile from their new age pulpits. Blokes called Gwyn, Glyn, Thomas, Jones, Williams, Davies, and Jenkins no longer hold sway. Around me history shivers and shifts. I begin to wonder if they ever did.

Peter Finch is chief executive of the Welsh writers organisation Academi

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