Kevin Cadwallender and Alistair Robinson

Kevin Cadwallender, hosting the Literature Festival's Welsh Night with fellow Sunderland-based poet Alistair Robinson made the introductions - "He's Morecambe, I'm Wise." - and explained how the intrepid duo had been lured by Ric Hool to one of his poetry readings at Abergavenny's Hen & Chickens, and how, while Kevin was reading, a hat which had been left on a table had spontaneously combusted (the prosaic explanation was that it had been placed on top of a burning tea light). Alistair Robinson gave a more factual introduction, and drew some parallels: he had stayed, he said, in Jeff Rees's converted school in Blaenavon, which was like the North-East in being an area of great natural beauty, dotted with brick pit villages.

One connection which he did not mention was embodied by Ric Hool: he is now settled in Wales, where he has lived for 16 years, and draws much of his inspiration from the Welsh landscape, but he was born in Cullercoats! He is deeply aware of the natural world, but also of its mythological significance. He introduced the poem Scourge by talking about the ash tree in his garden, which keeps cropping up in his poetry, connecting Yggdrasil, the World Ash of Norse mythology, with the deep roots of the real tree: "Have you ever tried to uproot an ash?" he asked. The poem, too, moved from the natural world to the Zodiac and the I Ching.

Jeff Rees and Ric Hool

Jeff Rees's poems were less mystical, more lyrical - literally so, as music was integral to his performance, whether in the form of his own fiddle playing, Ric Hool's guitar accompaniment or simply his subject matter: Forgotten Tunes, the first of a set of poems about his childhood, quoted the names of some of the tunes his father, a jazz pianist, had played. It described the boy's eye view of the dirty old town through which he would be sent to deliver the sheet music which his father had accidentally left at home. Regret for Mary was a poem for his mother, and for the sister he nearly had. Other poems shared Ric Hool's delight in the countryside, but through the eyes of a child: The Coat, which he described as a thank you for his freedom as a child to roam the fields and river, begins "Imagine a boy at the edge of a wood..."

In a second set, Ric Hool talked about some specific locations, encouraging his audience to visit St Non's Well - if possible at night, and read three parts of his sequence of poems which follow the course of the River Monnow down to where it flows into the Wye at Monmouth. Jeff Rees returned with a highly dramatic rendition of his own poem The Dogs of War, and finished off with a sonorous reading of Michael Burn's Welsh Love Letter, which he described as "the most passionate Welsh poem ever": certainly he put great passion into the lists of Welsh place names it contained.

You can see a video in which Ric Hool talks about islands on the BBC Wales web site.

Gillian Clarke

Throughout the first half, special guest Gillian Clarke had been turning the pages of her notebook and making notes, and after the break it became clear why. Speaking without amplification ("I come from a long line of Baptist ministers,"), she explained that when she saw the young people in the audience, and realised that they were probably studying her poetry for A-level, she had decided to rewrite her programme for them - though the rest of the audience were welcome to eavesdrop!

"I love teenagers," Gillian Clarke carried on. "I love them even more since I don't live with them.". She read her poem Catrin (reproduced in the For Students section of Gillian Clarke's web site, about a moment of confrontation with her then teenaged daughter:

As you ask may you skate
In the dark, for one more hour.
When she wrote the poem, she said, this ending was a simple demonstration of a demand she could not grant, the teenager's desire for a dangerous pastime. But a student at a question and answer session had seen it as a coming full circle, a return to the opening of the poem, to the moment of Catrin's birth, and the baby's desire to continue "skating in the dark" in the security of the womb; and she embraced this reinterpretation of her poem.

The two poems which followed were linked by a childhood memory: Cold Knap Lake describes an incident which may be genuinely remembered, but may be transmuted into legend. Another poem, about the same lake in winter, was introduced with the assertion "I know for a fact that my sister never reads a word I write, because she's never said anything about this poem!".

On the Train, written on a train, after hearing the news of the Paddington crash in 1999, is a meditation on the way the private worlds and private concerns which compose our lives may nonetheless be touched by the wider world. Gillian Clarke followed it with a more upbeat poem, but one which also took as its starting point something overheard. She had genuinely heard a visitor to the Yeats School in County Sligo lament that:

I married the man from County Roscommon
And I live at the back of beyond.
and warned her audience to take note, and not to marry the man from County Roscommon before at least getting a driving licence!.

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