Arts on the very edge of Wales
Details have been released of the 9th Annual Poetry & Arts Festival Weekend which starts 15th June in the small coastal village of Aberdaron, organised by Cymdeithas RS Thomas & ME Eldridge Society.
The village may be small, the numbers of attendees relatively small, compared to Hay Festival, however this festival focusing on RS Thomas is big in reputation, drawing in speakers and attendees from all over the UK and as far as America, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.
Wit and wisdom
This year’s renowned speaker is Rev Dr Malcolm Guite, a small man with a big beard, a published poet and priest whose reputation takes him on speaking tours to America. He looks like a Tolkein character, with all of the wit and wisdom: indeed he could be the Hobbit to Rowan Williams’ Gandalf.
He’ll be very much at home, smoking his pipe in the Celtic Roundhouse for the Bards around the Fire session, after being in the company of aspiring poets in his writing workshop throughout the day. This year’s theme is Childhood, so he’ll be spinning the threads of Thomas, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poetry on memories of childhood into his presentation on Saturday afternoon. In the evening alongside Twm Morys and Gwyneth Glyn he’ll leave the audience spell bound with folk songs and music.
Malcolm is one of the eight presenters who will lead people on journeys of the imagination, walking literally and metaphorically in the footsteps of RS Thomas, through the three days of the festival.
Two poets compared
One of the sessions, a lecture by John Greening called “Love the Disordered Man” will compare the childhood experiences of RS Thomas & Iain Crichton-Smith. Both were contemporaries of each other but each was displaced soon after birth, raised predominantly by their mothers, without a male presence in the household.
Similarly, both were aware of the imposition of the English language and the impact on culture. They met later in life as delegates at a conference in Dublin for minority European languages that were under threat.
Thereafter they seem to have travelled in opposite directions, Thomas receding from the English cities that he had rejected, towards a more rural insular Welsh language and culture, whilst Crichton-Smith left behind his Gaelic island insularity in favour of the broader outward looking Scottish urban cities of Clydebank, Oban and Dumbarton.
They both however recognised the need to write in English, and to use English publishers to reach a wider audience.
RS Thomas was a teacher of faith and religion with the bible as a literary source. Crichton- Smith was a teacher of literature and an atheist.
They shared a dislike or mistrust of dogma and authority, as well as holding political and emotional thoughts and views of their respective countries and their histories – the Highland Clearances for the one and the flooding of villages for the other.
Other attractions at this year’s festival include the children’s book illustrations of Elsie Eldridge, Thomas’s wife, which will be opened up, showing her alongside Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake in the pantheon of illustrators who are great artists.
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