Winter 2015 Editorial
Oh such wealth, great caskets of sunlight unlocked pouring all over me like the water in the lake – all your letters – three envelopes of your letters – all waiting there today. Darling, darling, darling Frieda, making me feel so many multitudes in my heart & thoughts and manness and one deep mood after another gravely approaching and in the brave pattern dancing. – From Cypress Walk – Alun Lewis’s letters to Freda Aykroyd.
A dose of intoxicating intimacy, sheer emotive – almost unconscious – gutty desiring poetry. Alun Lewis’s letters are, to me, his most striking works and yet it is writing that may never have been meant for an audience like us. These are secret missives from his troubled interior – a place strung between two loves, between pacifism and war and between people and aloneness.
In the British army, stationed in India and Burma, Lewis rode a cog in the killing machine of empire and war, compelled to enact its orders in the repeating manner of the death drive. And death was something he seemed drawn towards over and over until the end – something Jeremy Hooker examines in his essay in this issue. To die or kill, perhaps Lewis chose the former.
It could be the language of something entirely personal in the above letter that makes the writing so compelling. Though he misspells his lover’s name (perhaps intentionally), Lewis’s declaration of masculine desire is somehow, to me at least, refreshingly un-objectifying because of its rawness, its unmediated intimacy. Have we lost something now that we no longer write these kinds of letters? Zoë Brigley Thompson in her essay explores this question through her examination of Lewis’s letters and epistolary poems.
But though the particular epistolary world of literary (love) letters may be gone, their era reminds us still of the far-reaching implications contemporary communication technologies pose for poetry. Digital correspondence is still a pleasure and opportunity like letters, though it be quicker flighty conversation, often dashed off half way between chat, admin and literary discourse. The sheer number of emails and messages involved in curating a poetry magazine, or in much of today’s daily life, would perhaps not have surprised Lewis – though he hated it, he appears to have been in fact very capable at bureaucracy. But it is the poetry inherent in correspondence between human beings that Lewis understood and channelled in his writing.
The new expanded format of Poetry Wales has lead to many more not unpleasurable email threads but it has also allowed for some far travelling. In 96 pages you’ll find Orlando pulling the ornate rug out from under the colonial English canon (Sophie Mayer), sea-traveling émigré-exiles (Geraldine Monk), the bodies of beetles (Mario Petrucci), noir-soaked Cardiff Victoriana (Damian Walford Davies). Collaborations from the Gelynion project brings us Iceland vs Iceland (S J Fowler and Joe Dunthorne), a conversation across the Bristol channel between cwm and combe (Robert Minhinnick and Frances Presley), mis-translations of Welsh and Azeri words (Ifor Ap Glyn and Ghazal Mosadeq) and more. There are objects that have been strangely tinkered with – a tea strainer loaded with assassins and a coal scuttle stuffed with sagaro cactus (David Greenslade), atoms that listen, mould that breathes (Suze de Lee), Scylla in batik pants (Francine Elena) and poetry that waltzes with Shelley and Byron (David Annwn). We also get a deep appreciation of Anne Cluysenaar (Alice Entwistle) and a demand for the rescue of poetry from attention-deficit irrelevance (Ian Gregson).
Happy reading in the brave pattern dancing.