Slow trains through Wales

One of the things about living somewhere remote is that most destinations demand a day’s journey. On Wednesday I set out from home at 8.00 a.m. to arrive at Cardiff Bay by 4.00 p.m. The train takes more than double the time of travelling by car, partly because the connections are such that I have a wait of an hour and three-quarters at Llandudno Junction. But the Arriva Trains’ posters assure me that it is the greener option and there is something satisfying about travelling slowly. The scenery is breath-taking in all weathers, but especially today in a sudden pre-autumnal blessing of warm sunshine. There is time to think, write and read and there is time for my body to catch up with the distance it is travelling. Not so much so as when walking the Moelwyns, of course, but much more so than when travelling by car, or – rarely – by plane. There is even time to do editing on trains, but unless there is some rush for a deadline, I don’t. The sumptuous views of Snowdonia or the North Wales coast or the Herefordshire Borders are much more conducive to mulling and reading than work and I have come to associate train journeys leisure. The root of that word is the Latin, licere, via Middle English – to be allowed and train journeys have become precisely that – giving myself permission to coast along at the pace of a small  country’s trains.

I finished Patrick McGuiness’s Booker longlisted The Last Hundred Days. It took me a while to get into, but once hooked I couldn’t take a break from it, the tension starts to escalate slowly from about a quarter of the way in and then exponentially from about halfway through and the characters, in all their dark, flawed and utterly mesmerising complexity are utterly convincing. This is perhaps not surprising since McGuiness was actually in Romania during the last days of the Ceausescus, but witnessing momentous events doesn’t have to lead to great writing and this is brilliantly executed.

I read a tiny, but beautifully formed, entertaining, poignant and well-controlled poetry pamphlet by David Gilbert, Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus and I got through the first third of Louise Doughty’s Whatever You Love. It is a book that begins with tragedy and moves into sinister mystery without a hint of the voyeuristic or gratuitous. Once again I’m hooked and it was only the lure of two Cinnamon poets launching their collections that made me pause. I’m also working my way through Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of  Disquiet, taking it in slow gobbets since it is both aptly named, yet sublimely lyrical prose; at once exquisite and unsettling

And then to the launch. Anne Cluysenaar read from Migrations, a collection in five parts that deals with themes of transience, change, memory and migration, including sections dealing with the archeological memory of landscape, sequences of life on the farm, personal reflections that are also philosophical without ever becoming obscure or stretched and an innovative long poem centred on the scribe writing the Epic of Gilgamesh. Jeremy Hooker describes Anne as one of our most thought provoking and accomplished poets. He’s absolutely right and she is also a skilled performer of her work, making this an engaging and deeply satisfying reading.

Steve Grifiths is another poet at the top of his form. Anne commented after the reading that he is writing pure poetry. The collection, Surfacing, starts in darkness and makes its way into the light, but it is not a linear path. There are moments of sudden bright epiphany in the midst of darkness and tunnels and shadow in the light. Philip Gross comments that this is,”mature writing, picking its way through the layers and ‘surfaces’ of an experience, suddenly clarified into a single lucid image. Steve Griffith’s writing voice is assured but not predictable.” With another assured delivery, this was a superb launch, poetry at it’s best in an iconic location supported by Literature Wales.

The next Cinnamon launch at the Millennium Centre is next. Tuesday, 4th October, with John Goodby, plus readers from the anthology, Kaleidoscope. If you’re in the area do turn up and delight in excellent poetry.

 

 

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