It was a strange and wonderful evening at Aberystwyth Arts Centre Bookshop. Big thanks to Hannah and Andy at the bookshop for organising, to Pete John and Anne-Marie Sherwood for conceiving the occasion and helping to publicise it, and having me to stay, and to all who came including those from many years ago – including some who hadn’t realised we had met before.
The reading was the Welsh launch of The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead, so it started with the poem in last week’s blog about arriving in Wales for the first time and returning there. It’s not often in my experience that I read poems where so many people are either in the places in the poems (though written elsewhere), or who were directly involved in events in a poem and who remember people from the poem who are no longer with us, whether in Wales or on the planet at all.
Eileen, in the first picture, is most definitely still here – and we discovered that we had been students together. And we were yards from Neuadd Fawr / Great Hall. This was where I scribbled about Hamlet in my final exams, but more importantly was where David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour came to Earth on 3rd May 1973 – the day before my 20th birthday.
Five or six years later I was living here (meet Pete too). It was in better nick then, the railway carriage on the level crossing at Ynslas, and Pete reckons there are plans afoot to demolish it. But one night forty or more years ago I was up late at night in there reading the Mabinogion and dreaming about Cantre’r Gwaelod, a legendary kingdom now drowned in what is now Cardigan Bay. Whatever the truth in the legends, there are certainly stumps of petrified trees visible at low tide, especially after storms.
The night was banging on the walls
the neighbouring house or two
had turned away and shut.
Beyond the reading light the streets
across the estuary
were lit in another county
and the train that went through
was an hour or so before.
Otherwise, there was just the book.
You would have felt the mile-long breakers
up through the soles of your feet
if you had been out there on the sands.
In the morning there was
the littered beach, the sunken forest
and the bells from last night’s pages.
Now, a whole life on, the night
sometimes shakes the walls
and underwater bells start swinging.