Woodrat Podcast 43: Marly Youmans in Wales

Marly Youmans with an ancient yew on the grounds of Powis Castle
admiring yew #35 on the grounds of Powis Castle

Even though my friend the poet and novelist Marly Youmans lives just five hours away from me in upstate New York, we went all the way to Wales to record this podcast. How’s that for dedication? We start out at a tea house on the grounds of Powis Castle, where we’re joined by another novelist and blogger, Clare Dudman. Then we go to Ty Isaf, the stately Clive Hicks-Jenkins residence near Aberystwyth, where we talk about such topics as the ghosts of Cooperstown, New York; whether children are an inspiration or a hindrance for a busy writer; women leaving the world for the woods; and how writing in rhyme resembles surfing. We are serenaded by rooks.

Marly’s latest book of poems is The Throne of Psyche and her latest novel is Val/Orson. She blogs at The Palace at 2:00 a.m. and tweets about raspberries and radishes.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Woodrat TV: The Book of Ystwyth poetry reading

The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 1).

The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 2).

The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 3).

The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (part 4).

In lieu of a podcast this week, here in video form is the full, hour-long poetry reading I flew to Wales to take part in last month. This was a group reading in support of The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, whose launch coincided with a 60th birthday retrospective exhibition of, and monograph on, the contemporary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (who I interviewed in the two most recent episodes of the Woodrat podcast). All six of us — three Yanks and three Brits — had written poems in response to his paintings, and The Book of Ystwyth includes a generous selection, illustrated with full-color details of the paintings in question.

In the reading, ably MC’d by Damian Walford Davies, as you’ll see, each poet appears twice, once on either side of a break (which occurs in part 3), so that the first poet is also the last, the second is the penultimate, etc. Here’s a key to who appears in which video:

Catriona Urquhart (read by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Ian Hamilton): parts 1 and 4
Andrea Selch: 1 and 4
Callum James: 2 and 4
Marly Youmans: 2 and 3
Damian Walford Davies (as reader): 2 and 3
Me: 3

Anita Mills was the camerawoman. I take the blame for the sound and all the editing. The bookstore’s set-up had the podium in shadow, which meant that the camera often focused on better-lit bookshelves behind our heads. In the process of lightening and increasing contrast on the videos, the color turned spotty, whence my decision to make it black and white. I assure viewers who have never been to Wales that it is a fully modern country now, and almost everything is in color all the time.

The Book of YstwythAs for the book: quite apart from its contents, which are of course scintillating, it’s a beautifully designed object with high-quality paper and image reproduction, retailing at a very affordable $15.95/£9.99. It was published in the U.K. by Grey Mare Press in association with Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales, and in the U.S. by Carolina Wren Press. Click on either link to order.

Woodrat Podcast 41: A walk with Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Part 2)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins in context
(l-r) Clive points out hart's-tongue fern; Jack on bridge over Ystwyth; sand martin nests in the riverbank; Basil the Shetland pony; Clive in front of his painting "Green George"

The conclusion of our May 5 walk around Clive’s neighborhood in rural Wales, near Aberystwyth. (It should stand on its own, but do listen to Part 1 if you haven’t already.) I’m grateful to Clive for taking the time to show me around in the midst of frantic preparations for the launch of his retrospective exhibition just two days later (for more about which, see the series of posts on his Artlog). We’re also lucky he’s such a great communicator, because as the naive quality of my couple of questions about his painting demonstrate, my general knowledge of art is woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, somehow this walking conversation with Clive has turned into one of my most satisfying podcasts to date, I think. Give a listen.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Woodrat Podcast 40: A walk with Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Part 1)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
(l-r) view of Llanilar, Clive and Jack at table, three Welsh cows

Join me for a walk with the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his dog Jack. Clive and his partner Peter Wakelin live a few miles from Aberystwyth in a beautiful old place called Ty Isaf, which I’d been reading about on his Artlog for a couple years now, and was lucky enough to visit — and even stay three nights in — earlier this month.

I thought it would be fun to record a tour of Clive’s neighborhood for the podcast, allowing us to hear how a major artist relates to, and finds inspiration in, the land and people around him. For those unfamiliar with his work, it’s worth mentioning that specific places have always featured prominently in his paintings. Even elements which I had assumed to be fanciful, such as castles beside the sea, turn out to have been common features of the local and regional landscape. (For more on the sense of place in Clive’s work, see the essay by Andrew Green, “The Place of Place,” in the new monograph simply entitled Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from the British art publisher Lund Humphries in cooperation with Grey Mare Press.)

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Be sure to check back next weekend for the conclusion of our walking conversation, in which I prompt Clive to talk about his journey from the theater world to art, what he looks for in painting, and more.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Of time travel and coracles

Time-travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Shortly before I left, I heard a mention on the radio about the effects of jet lag on memory — it sounds worse than marijuana by far. I heeded the advice to expose myself to plenty of sunshine, though (I was fortunate that my visit to Wales and England coincided with an unusually sunny period) and managed to reset my body clock fairly quickly. What I didn’t get used to was the longer day. I would wake up when the blackbirds started singing at dawn and discover that it was only 4:30 in the morning.

Traveling home, of course, I got back the time I lost on the flight over. It was just about the longest morning of my life, starting at midnight when I was en route on the express train from London to the Birmingham airport, continuing for many hours at the airport lounge (I didn’t bother getting a motel room), and then on the flight itself, which left at 9:00, lasted for seven and a half hours, and arrived at noon. I had a window seat at the very back of the plane, and spent much of the time gazing at the tops of clouds from 35,000 feet in a state of mild stupefaction, the combined effect of sleep deprivation, a recently contracted head cold, and the sheer wonder of it all.

The plane was a Boeing 767 and bucked and heaved a lot more than I remembered from my previous intercontinental flights on 747s, and this combined with the wave-like tops of the clouds made it feel almost like a sea voyage. From time to time I’d switch on the screen in the back of the seat in front of me to check our position and verify that we were, in fact, hurtling along at 500 miles per hour. I thought back to my very first day in Wales, when I got a chance to ride in a small, flat-bottomed boat known as a coracle, a version of which the Irish St. Brendan supposedly crossed the North Atlantic in. Thousands of newly hatched mayflies were rising off the river as we took turns trying to pilot the rudderless, slow-going craft against the current.

View on YouTube

The boat had just been made two days before by John and Cathryn Warren, the next-door neighbors to my hosts in Wales, Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Peter Wakelin (that’s Peter in the coracle after me; Clive’s voice is in the soundtrack, and he did the filming while I took a turn in the thing). I had simply happened to mention that a good friend of mine in the States was crazy about coracles, and asked if they knew where I might see one.

Somehow the unreality of flying across the Atlantic in a few hours was balanced by the unreality of having my desire to see a coracle instantly granted, sitting in it and finding myself unable to go anywhere very quickly except in circles. In fact, at that moment, there was nowhere I particularly wanted to go. Though the ancient ocean-going coracles did probably have rudders (and according to The Voyage of St. Brendan, could be fitted with a sail), their relative unsteerability constituted part of their attraction to Celtic monks, for whom the ideal form of travel involved surrendering to the will of God and going wherever the winds and currents took them. Some of the more God-besotted ones set off without even an oar. I could see their point. Almost everything — trees, wildflowers, birdsong — was new and miraculous to me, and I wanted nothing more than to stop and soak it in.


UPDATE (5/19): I’m honored to report that this post has spawned not one, but two responses from my friend Kristin Berkey-Abbott. Check out “Coracles and Communication,” which includes a poem called “Coracle of Prayer,” at her personal blog, and “Coracles and Currents” at Liberation Theology Lutheran.