Tag Archives: Richard Gwyn

I set out on a journey

21 Dec

I set out on a journey

 

Imagine my surprise (horror/fascination/wonder) on receiving a photo on my iphone a couple of months ago, displaying the shoulder of a regular at The Promised Land (a charming fellow and good acquaintance: I do not know him well enough to claim him as a friend) who had had tattooed upon himself a short poem of mine, in its entirety. The poem is called ‘Restless Geography’, and, in case it is difficult to make out the words in the picture, it goes like this:

I set out on a journey, but the geography would not

stay still, and I ended up somewhere I hadn’t intended

going.

I wanted to use this as the title of a collection of prose poems, but the publishers said it was too long, and I would have to cut it down, which I didn’t want to do. So we called the book Sad Giraffe Café instead.

The night before last, the house having being borrowed by daughters, who were entertaining friends, I put down the book of poems I was reading, and Mrs Blanco and I set off under Scary Bridge, and across the road into the Vue cinema and fitness complex. The long haul up the escalators presented a panorama of the huge gym on the first floor. The place was almost empty, just a few Wednesday night loners pumping iron and a solitary immobile cyclist. All three of them were young men. There was something tragic in this display of righteous pumping and pedalling in the perennial pursuit for a well-toned physique and bulging biceps under the blinding glare of strip-lighting. All I could see, as we glided past them on our upward journey, was a dreadful torpor. All I could see – as Beckett might have said, actually did say – was ashes. This set the tone for the rest of the evening. The chatty girl in the empty ticket hall (a dozen cinemas, no visible customers) told us we were the only people to have bought tickets for Seven Psychopaths, the new film by Martin McDonagh, and starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Tom Waits (pictured, here, in an empty cinema).

Tom Waite in empty cinema

 

So Mrs Blanco and I chose our seats, two thirds of the way back, next to the aisle, and had the place to ourselves. This is a strange sensation. A private viewing in a full-size cinema. The seats are very comfortable at Vue, and there is plenty of space, but even so it is a luxury to lounge in abandoned fashion, and lounge we did. It is a pleasure to be able to loudly curse the fools who populate the ads and the trailers, as practically every film that Hollywood chucks at places like the Vue franchise are complete tripe. Trivial meaningless drivel circling around a half dozen well-worn and clichéd themes, all of them dire and depressing.

But the empty cinema inspires melancholy, rather than depression. The film is entertaining, even if it adheres to many of the post-modern meta-fictional tropes made fashionable by Tarantino. Nevertheless it made me laugh like a loon, which is never a bad thing. Laughed myself almost into a stupor at various points in the movie, in fact.

We came home around midnight, and the party was breaking up. The young were setting off for Clwb Ifor Bach or some other Cardiff nightspot.

Earlier in the evening, when I had been reading through the Selected Poems of Roger Garfitt, two short lines from his poem ‘The Journey’ had stood out:

I had to go on

without me

And I realised these lines evoked the precise emotion that had (paradoxically) accompanied me earlier that evening, as I passed the young men pumping iron in the empty gym, on our way up the escalator to the empty cinema. I realised also that if I had not been accompanied by Mrs Blanco, my evening would have been unutterably desolate and solitary (in a bad way). Company helps divert us, temporarily, from our essential and terrifying aloneness, allows us to go on, even if ‘without oneself’, who is unaccountably absent, then at least sharing the emptiness with a warm and sentient human partner.

Afterwards, I lay awake, and the words of Garfitt’s poem stayed with me long into the night.

 

 

 

 

 

The Vagabond’s Breakfast: a perfect stocking filler (wash thoroughly after use)

18 Dec

 

Thanks to Scott Pack for his mention of The Vagabond’s Breakfast and selecting it as runner-up in his top ten ‘Books of the Year.’

Scott says:

The fact that it (The Vagabond’s Breakfast) has been totally ignored by the mainstream literary press – it managed one review in the Morning Star – is bloody annoying but not all that surprising. I don’t think literary editors go looking for great books any more, they are content to wait for them to fall into their laps. Although they still miss them when that happens.

The VB also made it into the hallowed pages of Times Literary Supplement, featuring in its ‘Books of the Year’, as one of the choices of Patrick McGuinness, so perhaps I’d better quote that too:

Richard Gwyn began The Vagabond’s Breakfast while recovering from a liver transplant. A memoir of the nine years of drink, drugs and vagrancy that did for his first liver, it’s a jagged tale gracefully told. Full of humane surreality, there’s something whole, even holistic, about the brokenness of the life it pieces (back) together. Like many books about illness, it’s also about health: Gwyn is a citizen of both realms, describing life with “two passports.”

It is still not too late for you to buy a copy of The Vagabond’s Breakfast as a yuletide gift for your beloved or for a friend or deserving relative, through The Book Depository (£7.23 plus free worldwide delivery), Abebooks (various prices) or even Amazon (£6.99 plus free UK delivery).

Such shameless self-promotion would be scandalous were this not being written at arm’s length for me by my amigo, accomplice, intermediary and sometime translator, Señor Ricardo Blanco.

 

 

 

 

The Promised Land

16 Oct

I have made a couple of references recently to The Promised Land, my favourite bar and hostelry, which can be found in Windsor Place, near the city centre, and which serves, amongst other things, the best coffee in Cardiff.

The Promised Land’s owner, Nick Davidson (pictured) set the place up in the style of a certain kind of city bar to be found in Manhattan or Madrid, places that serve quality drinks, fine wines and good food – often of a Spanish flavour – in a friendly, informal atmosphere, and which isn’t burdened by a particular social identity: lawyers, plumbers, painters and decorators, dropouts and even journalists, politicians, poets and the odd celebrity drop by and mingle, and there is a space upstairs for hire to private parties.

Which is the point I am coming to. In my other role, as Richard Gwyn, I teach on the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University, and our Visiting Writers’ programme, supported by Literature Wales, is hosted by The Promised Land. Every few weeks between October and April we invite writers to give a reading, answer questions and share the evening with our students and other guests. The reading is followed by an Open Mic session for Cardiff University creative writing students, often work of a very high standard. The Promised Land provides evening meals, which you are welcome to enjoy before or after the guest reading. On October 3rd we hosted the first of the series, novelist Lindsay Clarke. The rest of the programme is as follows:

 

24th October, poet Clare Potter

14th November, Student event coordinated by scriptwriter-dramatists Othniel Smith and Tim Rhys

5th December, poet Peter Finch

6th February, ex-national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis

27th February, poet and novelist Owen Sheers

12th March, novelist Belinda Bauer

26th March, poet Douglas Houston

 

All events take place on a Monday evening at 7 pm and are free to the public.

 

 

Hunger for Salt

13 Oct

from left to right, Blanco’s stuntman and sometime collaborator Richard Gwyn, Carlos Pardo, Juan Dicent and Niels Frank.

 

A post from Pablo Makovsky, director of the Rosario International Poetry Festival, and a video of us reading ‘Hunger for Salt’ in English and Spanish (translation by Jorge Fondebrider). Also on the festival website a very good quality recording of our rendition of ‘Dusting’.

 

 

 

Hunger for Salt

 Will I remember you in the dull yellow light,

as a fish that enters my mouth, as a virus

that enters my blood, as a fear that enters my belly?

Will I remember you as a catastrophe

tearing between my legs, fine teeth slitting my lip,

tongue touched with salt my tongue was crazy for?

You never confessed to those little thefts:

my mother’s ring, the statue from Knossos,

the locket I kept for the hair of children

we never had. I see you, come to steal my bones,

small teeth so white, a necklace of coloured stones,

clams and mussel shells around your waist,

an ankle chain of emeralds. But now you have gone

back to the sea, I can forgive your cruelty,

your violent moods, your plots of revenge,

remembering instead the brush of your skin

on mine, the way you looked at me that afternoon

in the sea cave, gulls clamouring outside,

a crowd of angry creditors in a world otherwise

gone terribly quiet. And you, nestling in

the white sand, caught in the nets I wove

with a devout sobriety, turned utterly to salt.

 

 

 

Hambre de sal

¿Te recordaré en la luz insulsa y amarilla,

como a un pez que me entra en la boca, como un virus

que me entra en la sangre, como un miedo que me entra en la panza?

¿Te recordaré como una catástrofe

desgarrándome entre las piernas, dientes minúsculos que me hienden el labio,

lengua tocada con sal por la que mi lengua estaba loca?

Nunca reconociste esos pequeños robos:

el anillo de mi madre, la estatua de Knosos,

el medallón que yo guardaba para el cabello de los chicos

que nunca tuvimos. Te veo, ven a robar mis huesos,

dientecillos tan blancos, un collar de piedras coloridas,

valvas de almejas y mejillones alrededor de tu talle,

una cadena de esmeraldas en el tobillo. Pero ahora te has ido

de vuelta al mar. Puedo perdonar tu crueldad,

tus humores violentos, tus tramas de venganza,

recordando en lugar de eso el roce de tu piel

sobre la mía, el modo en que me viste aquella tarde

en la cueva marina, las gaviotas chillando afuera,

una multitud de airados acreedores en un mundo distinto,

vuelto terriblemente silencioso. Y tú, anidando

en la arena blanca, atrapada en las redes que tejí

con devota sobriedad, por completo convertida en sal.

 

From Being in Water (Parthian, 2001).


 

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