Tuesday, 25 November 2008


I was in South Wales at the weekend, and bought a copy of Saturday's Western Mail. There was a (mostly positive) review of Patrick Jones' book darkness is where the stars are, just out from Cinnamon, the launch of which in Cardiff, you'll remember, provoked all sorts of controversy.

Now while I haven't changed my view that Waterstones acted pretty badly in the whole affair, I can't say I'm grabbed by what I've read of the poetry. But the reviewer pointed out that in a recent online search for the top 100 Welsh heroes, Jones made it to No.32, and was top poet behind RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas and Dafydd ap Gwilym, which suggests that his poetry does engage with a wider public than usual.

So, is it a bit churlish of us as poets to complain that too few of our kind tackle real issues and attempt to get the general public interested in poetry, and then complain again when a poet does exactly that, just because the poetry isn't to our taste? No, it's perfectly reasonable, I think, but I can't help thinking Patrick Jones could teach most of us something about marketing.

On the opposite page, there's a column called The Insider by Peter Finch, chief executive of Academi, the literature promotion agency for Wales. His occupation of that role might be seen as giving the lie to the claim that the avant-garde are excluded from all positions of power in the literati, given that he has been, at times, as 'out there' as any British poet. But maybe he's just an exception - whatever, it's a fine column, looking at a number of writers who are turning out fine work in their later years. Among them are Meic Stephens and Herbert Williams. The latter's Come Out Wherever You Are, about a mass German POW breakout from Island Farm, Bridgend, has been reissued. I remember reading it as a kid at my grandparents' house, almost within sight of the abandoned camp, and my mother telling me about seeing General Von Runstedt being marched from Bridgend station to the camp when she was a child. I must get hold of the book again.

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