Wednesday, 30 September 2009


What with all the talk of libraries and classification lately, here's an apposite poem from John Terry.


The books you’ve requested

are certainly here – but since

our Index altered itself

the stock moves at random.

Whole shelves of books

will vanish, then reappear

in a different section. You

have entered an area

where high Index numbers

frequently auto-accelerate

beyond their Critical Library

Mark. You can expect Flutter,

Disordered Page Syndrome

and complete Control Reversal.

Our librarians are fully trained

in runaway system management,

but Health and Safety insist

that borrowers must wear

protective dust-jackets at all times.

Some of our more rugged volumes

will not hesitate to read you like a book.

Monday, 28 September 2009

more about Bristol's eskimos


'Ignorth' and the baby

I was quite excited to find out about the three Inuit brought to Bristol by Martin Frobisher in 1578; he'd captured them as hostages against the return of members of his crew who had been captured by the locals, and were not seen again. So he brought them back with him, and they died not long after. A post-mortem showed that the man, Callicho, had sustained broken ribs, presumably at the time of his capture by a crewman who was a Cornish wrestler. He was buried at St Stephen's church in Bristol; the woman, Ignorth (though the name is simply based on the Inuit for 'woman'), was present at the burial, as they wanted to reassure her that they weren't going to eat Callicho. It was observed that she appeared expressionless. She died soon after. The baby was sent to London to be presented to the Queen, but died before getting to court.

the view from the specimen jar

After a nice weekend in deepest Oxfordshire, I'm shuffling pieces of paper around and wondering where this week will go. To start with, let's look at the state of play with the Campaign To Rescue Books With Transsexual Content From Stupid Categories In The Dewey System.

Must think of a snappier and acronym-friendly title. Hmm.


As mentioned earlier, it appears that biographies and autobiographies of people with a transsexual history tend to get lumped into Social Sciences: Culture and Institutions. That's if they're lucky. If they aren't, they might well find themselves among the paedophiles over at Mental Health: Personality Disorders.

Previous posts are here, here and here.

I have written to Bristol Library, whose stock officer accepted that the latter category 'is now incorrect and unacceptable', but stated that Becoming Drusilla, the book in which I have an interest, is about a change of sex, and is therefore correctly assigned to 306.768, where it can presumably be studied by students of social science. He expressed the hope that it clarified things for me.

Alas, it did not, as my reply explained.

But answer (from Bristol library) came there none. And two weeks later, Jan Morris' Conundrum is still listed in the 'incorrect and unacceptable' 616.858 category in the library catalogue.

I still await a reply from the British Library.

Thanks, though, to SteveL, who posted the link to this article, which deals with ways of ordering information, and which introduced me to the word ontology, which is a good word.

I feel rather less alone when I realise that 'othering' is an inevitable side-effect of hierarchical ordering, performed by 'experts', as in the Dewey System; here, for instance, is the category Religion

Dewey, 200: Religion
210 Natural theology
220 Bible
230 Christian theology
240 Christian moral & devotional theology
250 Christian orders & local church
260 Christian social theology
270 Christian church history
280 Christian sects & denominations
290 Other religions
...can you see what it is yet? -as Rolf Harris used to say....

As Nose In A Book commented,
I assume there is a biography section in the Dewey system? What's in there? Perhaps it's considered lazy to use it; not trying hard enough.

How come plays all get classified under 'plays'? Perhaps Hamlet should get moved to 'mental health disorders'. Most of David Hare's output could go under 'politics'...

Friday, 25 September 2009

sart innit

I was in the Museum the other day, looking at some drawings. It was nice to be able to get in there again, after the long summer of the Banksy exhibition, and I popped upstairs to say hello to the stuffed animals, several of which have found their way into my own drawings.

And then I met Sandra and had a cup of tea while talking about Banksy and stuff. Sandra thought that it was a Good Thing that the museum had thrown its doors open to Banksy, as his stuff is very Now, and Vernacular, and Street. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting you too much, S...). I'm less sure; it seemed to me a bit like repressive tolerance. Out on the streets, the City Council no longer automatically paint over graffiti; they must first determine whether it is art. And if it is art, it stays. At least, if the people who are paid to determine whether it is art, say that it is.

Coincidentally, young Katie was recently fizzing and popping about developments at school.

Last year, the children had asked for a graffiti wall.

They have finally been granted one.

A graffiti artist was paid to come in and paint the graffiti wall for them.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

eskimos in Bristol

John Lee has been putting interesting stuff about Elizabethan Bristol onto a Google map, and I've been looking out for things to add to it too.

Here is the map...

View Elizabethan and Jacobean Bristol in a larger map

I was impressed with the story of how the people who were burning the Protestant martyrs, during the reign of Bloody Mary, trekked up the hill to Redland to get green timber for the fire, so that the men they were burning would die more slowly and painfully, rather than use the more readily-to-hand seasoned timber available.

And I discovered what was almost certainly the very first kayak to ply the waters of Bristol Harbour, paddled by an Eskimo who was brought here by Martin Frobisher after his failed attempt to find the North West Passage.

“In (b) the year 1578 a great ship of our Queen’s called the Aid, al’ the Ann of 2OO tons [with a small barque, R’ R’] came into Kingroad from Cattaie, Martin Forbisher being captain of her, after having attempted to find the North-west passage to the East-Indies, China, and Cattay. She brought certain ore, which was esteemed to be very rich and full of gold; heavy and so hard that it would strike fire like a flint. Some of it was tried in our castle, and the rest sent to London, where it was esteemed not worth the charges in refining. They brought with them a man of that country called Callicho [al’ Cally Chough] with his wife, called lgnorth, and a child. They were savage people, clothed in Stag’s skins, having no linen nor woollen at all, and fed only upon raw flesh: she suckled her child, casting her breasts over her shoulders. Oct’ 9th, he rowed up and down the river at the Back of Bristol, it being high tide of sea, in a boat, the which was about fourteen feet long, made of skins, in form like unto a large barge or trow, but sharp at both ends, having but one round place for him to sit in; and as he rowed up and down he killed a couple of ducks with his dart; and when he had done he carried away the boat through the Marsh on his back. The like he did at the Weare, and at other places. Within one month they all three died. [These were Greenlanders or Eskimaux.) Also on May 31st, the said captain Forbisher set out on another voyage to Cathay; but he returned without success.”

quoted in Memoirs Historical and Topographical of Bristol and its Neighbourhood, Rev. Samuel Sayer, 1823

(this story is continued here)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

torpedo run

I knew that if we didn't finally get out and go canoeing over the weekend, what with the weather being so perfectly autumnal and all, then I'd be spending the time till next autumn lamenting a lost opportunity. So I prised Katie away from her computer and off we went.

Past the city limits and heading south, we were approaching the big roundabout where the A4 meets the ring road and the road to Keynsham. I started to slow down. The nose of the yellow kayak up on the roof appeared in our field of vision at the top of the windscreen. I eased off the brakes as much as possible, but there was a queue of cars ahead waiting to enter the roundabout, and I had to slow down. Katie and I watched, fascinated, as the kayak continued to advance. Then it launched itself off the roof and down our starboard bow onto the road, bouncing enthusiastically along the centre lane as I banked hard to port to get as close to the side as possible. It was really quite dramatic. It would have been like the bit in Sink The Bismarck, where the Swordfish go in with their torpedos, if their torpedos had been great big yellow things on the Swordfishes' roofbars. And the Swordfish had been Morris Travellers, of course.

Katie went into her hoping-the-ground-would-swallow-her-up mode, which she's getting quite good at. I leapt out, gestured frantically at the cars speeding towards me to encourage them not to mow me down (though they were probably discouraged from doing so by the Big Yellow Kayak, anyway) and hauled it to the side of the road and thus back onto the roof, where I added a rope noose around its snout to discourage any further escape bids.

We paddled along the Kennet and Avon canal, which was both busy with narrowboats and a bit narrow too, so that Katie pranged badly into a thicket of brambles, and had to be rescued. She was rapidly developing a detestation of all things kayak, when fortunately we reached the Dundas aqueduct, and descended to the River Avon, which was wide and placid and entirely devoid of other boats.

This was what we had come for. A kingfisher flew ahead of us. We paddled through a family of swans, all smacking water around in their beaks like wine tasters; TCHTCHTCHTCHTCH. And there was a conker tree hanging right over the water, the conkers just waiting to be plucked from the split shells hanging on the boughs. Heavened with conkers.

That is what we'll remember, for longer than the wet bums and the brambles. Well, hopefully.

Monday, 21 September 2009

letter to the British Library

a copy of today's e-mail to the British Library

21st September 2009

To: British Library

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have been looking at the way that books about transsexual people have been classified by the British Library using the Dewey Decimal System. Some decisions appear to have been made in the past that, to a contemporary eye, can appear at least questionable and sometimes plain wrong, as I hope you will agree when I highlight them.

Perhaps the best-known autobiography of a transsexual woman, Jan Morris’ Conundrum (1974), has been assigned to 616.85, Diseases: Personality Disorders. I find that in the British Library catalogue, the book is placed between two volumes entitled respectively Clinical Aspects of the Rapist and Perversion. Similarly, Duncan Ashwell’s book April Ashley’s Odyssey (1982) may be found between Adult Sexual Interest in Children and The Child Molester. There can surely be no doubt that they do not belong there.

There is, of course, a category for Transsexuality; though the position of that category within the Dewey system is itself questionable, as a sub-group of 306.7 (Culture and Institutions: Sexual Relations). Transsexuality is a condition related to gender identity, and not a mental disorder; it is not a cultural phenomenon, and has nothing to do with sexual relations. However, accepting that, as a topic, it has to exist somewhere, surely this is a section which should deal with the condition itself? There are books dealing with the medical, social, and even political aspects of transsexuality; and they are indeed in this section, and perhaps rightly so.

But I would argue that, in biography, transsexuality may be an element, and even an important element, of a subject's life; but it is not the defining element. And I am concerned that, by placing biographies of people with a transsexual history into the 306.768 category, those people are being 'othered'. This can and does happen in everyday life, where some people are too ready to see the 'transsexual' in the individual to notice that they are in fact just people too: and, in doing this, they marginalise, exoticise, isolate and even persecute them.

It was at least in part to address these concerns that I worked with Richard Beard on the book "Becoming Drusilla", and it seems sadly ironic that this book has been pigeonholed as it has been (306.768092), when the subject matter is as much the biographer as the biographee; and the book is as much a travel book as it is a biography; and, where it is a biography, it is concerned with a whole life rather than a ‘sex change’.

I should be most grateful if you would review the categorisation of these books, and the other books in your collection which may have suffered a similar fate.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Drusilla Marland

Saturday, 19 September 2009

old school bell

Bicycle bells are important when you live in a city like Bristol. Well, I think so, though it seems that lots of people think they are uncool. Hmm. Getting splatted by a car or having a pedestrian step in front of you? That's uncool. Sorry if it's confusing.

I even had an air horn for a while, which caused jaywalkers to leap into the air in a pretty gratifying way, let me tell you. But it was a bit of a faff pumping it up again.

I have had a big Chinese bell that goes DING DONG, and another one that whizzes round and goes RINGARINGARINGARINGA for just as long as you want to keep pressing the lever. Long ago, I had a fork-mounted bell that you operated with a Bowden cable, causing it to rub against the wheel and ring like fury. That was good fun.

Latest bell to adorn my handlebar is this neat Japanese job, with a clear ring to it and a very long sustain. It somehow manages to sound Japanese. It came from the nice folk at the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative.

And that's about it for today. Except that we got a glossy magazine through the door yesterday, which is nothing particularly unusual in the Leafy Suburb, but I'd not seen this one before. It's called School House, and it's basically a big brochure for private schools. There are advertisements with pictures of well-groomed children in Ralph Lauren clothes, or studying Harrods shoes. There are articles like Leader Or Follower? Why the first day really matters. There are statements like "having a child with extra-curricular talent feels like having a hand of cards with one sensational ace in the hole". Gosh. To me, having a daughter who does stuff and is good at it feels like having a daughter. I guess maybe it's a Two Nations thing.

The brochure has been put together by Penny, Fiona, Petra, Camilla, Melissa, Sophy, Lulu, Sophie and Tom. The small print explains that the magazine is delivered to 'AB homes'.

Got it wrong here, then. Crikey, those school fees are more than I've ever earned in a year.

Guess they're desperate for business.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

class consciousness

not a librarian

The correspondence with Bristol City Library, concerning the classification of books with transsexuality in their content (for the story so far, go here and then here), continues. Here is my latest e-mail to them.


Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I am glad that you recognised the unsuitability of the old listing for Jan Morris' "Conundrum"; its reclassification is a welcome step forward.

I do still question, though, whether 306.768 is the right place for a biography. The position of the Transsexuality category within the Dewey system is itself questionable, as a sub-group of 306.7 (Culture and Institutions: Sexual Relations). Transsexuality has nothing to do with sexual relations. However, accepting that, as a topic, it has to exist somewhere, surely this is a section which should deal with the condition itself? There are books dealing with the medical, social, and even political aspects of transsexuality and transgender; and you have some in Bristol; and they are indeed in this section, and rightly so.

But I would argue that, in biography, transsexuality may be an element, and even an important element, of the subject's life; but it is not the defining element. And I am concerned that, by placing biographies of people with a transsexual history into the 306.768 category, those people are being 'othered'. This can and does happen in everyday life, where some people are too ready to see the 'transsexual' in the individual to notice that they are in fact just people too: and, in doing this, they marginalise, exoticise and isolate them.

It was at least in part to address these concerns that I worked with Richard Beard on "Becoming Drusilla", and it seems sadly ironic that the book has been pigeonholed as it has been, when the subject matter is as much the biographer as the biographee, and the book is as much a travel book as it is a biography.

It was only when I noticed the library classification of this book that I started to look more deeply into the subject, and recognised, as you have, that there have been decisions made in the past that, with hindsight, were misguided or just plain wrong. I do urge you to look again at the matter of biography and its categorisation.

Yours sincerely,

Dru Marland

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

rescuing Jan Morris from the paedophiles

In an earlier post, I described how I found that Bristol City Library had filed Becoming Drusilla under 306.768 (Culture & Institutions: Sexual Relations: Transgenderism and Intersexuality). Further research showed that Jan Morris' autobiography Conundrum had been placed in the personality disorders section, where it was sandwiched between a couple of books about child sex offenders and their victims.

I sent a copy of my previous post to Bristol Central Library, and got a reply yesterday.

Dear Dru Marland,

Your recent e-mail querying the classification of books on transsexuality/transgenderism, has been passed on to me as I am responsible for classification and cataloguing at Bristol Libraries.

The basic answer to your question is that we classify any book by its subject matter, regardless of whether the author has written books on other subjects or is more famous in another field.

So - 306.768 is the number for transsexuality, and as the book "Becoming Drusilla" is about the biographee's change of sex, this is the correct number. If any other material on her was published we would classify it according to what it was about - not necessarily 306.768

Similarly, Jan Morris' s "Conundrum" is about her change of sex, so 306.768 is the correct number for it. The more recent edition of the book is at this number.(the older (1974) version is, as you say at the medical number 616.8583, which is now incorrect and unacceptable, and I shall alter this). Other books by Jan Morris are classified in their individual subjects - travel, architecture, history, etc

With regard to your Noel Coward example, 822 (plays), 792 (stage presentation), 821 (poetry) are examples of the different numbers used. If a book specifically about his homosexuality was produced then it would be classed at the relevant number (306.7662)

I hope that this clarifies the situation for you.

Stock Officer

So, a small step forward. But more work still to be done. Watch this space. Or not, of course, as you please. I do think that, in its small way, this stuff is important, because the way we categorise things is indicative of the way we think about them. We have come a fair distance from 1974, when Conundrum could so readily have been categorised as it was, in a way that is now recognised (if only when it has been pointed out) as unacceptable. But the journey isn't over yet.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

building wings

I knew this chap who could slaughter a pig, play the flute, quote by heart from Joyce. Oh, and he was the Chief Engineer on the ferry I was working on, too. But he was Irish. English engineers are usually a bit more philistine, in my experience.

Well, English people generally, I suppose.

John Terry, on the other hand, is a precision engineer who used to build wings for aeroplanes. And he's a poet, and all-round Good Sort.

We were down at the Arnolfini the other evening, for the launch of his new book. And a very good evening it was too (though Katie was drooping by eleven o'clock; it's hard to keep up when you're mixing with people who are mad, bad and/or dangerous to know...).
John shared the evening with Penelope Shuttle, Esther Morgan, and Gwen Seaborne, so there was a lot of poetry around.

Oh, and Katie designed the cover. She was given a round of applause too!

Here's one of John's poems.


At least once a week, every week for years,

she'd kept on at him to clear the garage:

until one day he locked its up-and-over

from the inside and she heard the sound

of hammering, the clatter of metal,

the sudden shriek of his drill; the beaten

echoes of her own fist on the tarnished

aluminium he'd always refused to paint.

The familiar lock rejected her key

as if she were a stranger. He never spoke,

not even to swear, never sang or whistled –

ignored the food she began to leave outside,

tapping lightly on the aluminium,

her fists grown too sore for aggression.

As winter approached she started to beg:

the house was lonely, the garage unheated.

How could he prefer concrete and the Flymo

to their Slumberland, her flesh under the duvet

yearning now as it hadn't done for years –

heart beating like a Bosch hammer drill,

her nagging complaints filed down to trivia.

When all sound ceased on Christmas eve,

and nine hundred and ninety-nine police

forced open the door, they found a pair

of delicate butterfly wings, cunningly

fashioned from junk and pieces of the Flymo

with the word 'Hers' worked into the pattern.

There was a marked chart of migration routes;

and clear evidence that similar wings

had clipped the lilac as they flew away.

After the police had gone she scribbled a note

for the milkman, folded the chart to its first

section, and left the suburbs; flying up

through the gap in the lilac, heading south.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

the Dewey Dewey fog

I was thinking about the Dewey system the other day. As you do, you know.

And if you don't know, the Dewey decimal classification system is that set of numbers you find at the bottom of the spine on a library book, which defines where it lives on a shelf and who its neighbours are going to be.

Down at Bristol Central Library not long ago, I noticed that Becoming Drusilla, that lively tale of an expedition across Wales undertaken by Richard Beard and me (but with some biography thrown in) was jostling between Sexual Metamorphosis- an anthology of TS memoirs, and The Phallus Palace. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, particularly in the latter case. It got me wondering.

In Bristol's libraries, Becoming Drusilla has the Dewey number

the 300's are Social Sciences
306 gives us Culture and Institutions

and then it gets interesting; we find that the Dewey people have been tinkering with terms, and what was formerly Transsexuality is now something rich and strange- and a bit of a minefield.

306.768 Transsexuality Transgenderism and intersexuality
Standard subdivisions are added for transgenderism
and intersexuality together, for transgenderism alone
Including female-to-male transgendered people,
male-to-female transgendered people, intersex people
Class here transsexuality; transgendered people
(cross-dressers, transgenderists, transsexuals)
Class practices associated with transgenderism
and intersexuality in 306.77

Crikey! It's either a travel book or a biography, for goodness sake!

OK, I am being a little disingenuous; I am a transsexual woman, after all; but the book seems to have been ghettoised. There is more to life - my life - than that.

A little test. Think of famous person who was gay. Noel Coward. Right. Look in library catalogue. There. The Life of Noel Coward, by Lesley Cole. Dewey number 792.028

700's are The Arts

792 is Stage Presentations

How odd. So the library does not define Noel Coward by his homosexuality....

On the other hand, we seem to have got off lightly in comparison with Jan Morris' autobiography Conundrum. Jan Morris is of course a travel writer and historian, with a transsexual past. Her Dewey number in Bristol Library has been assigned as 616.8583

Now anything in the 600's is Technology.

616 narrows it down to Diseases.

The 8 after the decimal point puts us in Mental Health,

and to round it off, 858 is Personality Disorders.

The book is sandwiched between Treating Child Sex Offenders and Victims: a practical guide and The Courage To Heal Workbook: for women and men survivors of child abuse.

Very cheerful making.

And this isn't just Bristol Library; checking the British Library catalogue shows that these classifications are the standard ones.

I wonder what Jan would think?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

finding Alabaster Thomas

Of course, and never mind what RS Thomas says, you can't live in the past: but every now and then you can take a day trip there, if only to worry the carcase of an old song. Saturday afternoon found me heading for the Valleys in, let's say, 1974 or so . So of course I couldn't use the Second Severn Crossing to get there, which suited me just fine. The old Severn Bridge feels much more bridge-like, if in a slightly alarming way; there was a decided breeze blowing in from the Irish Sea, and I had to keep a firm hand on the wheel as I bounced over the sagging box-sections - the bridge is showing signs of wear after forty years of big lorries - and I kept a bit of port helm on, to avoid drifting leewards into the fast lane. From Chepstow, I took the small road to Usk, winding its way through wooded hills and orchards and little fields of sheep, and every now and then, from hilltops, revealing the Sugarloaf and the Skirrid off to the north. There was a glider off up that way too, circling and swooping and glinting in the sun.

After Usk, I headed for Pontypool, where the big hills of western Monmouthshire loomed above me; the long, bare ridges of Mynydd Maen and Garnclochdy, running away to the Blorenge in the north, lapped with beechwoods and purple with heather. I avoided the broad and fast new road to Crumlin, winding instead on the potholed old road through Pontypool and Old Furnace. This valley of Cwm y Glyn was once a beauty spot, where people came to admire the lakes and the wildfowl; but they were engulfed by slagheaps, or at least the lakes were. Now the collieries are closed and the slagheaps are landscaped, green but still recognisable. And the beech woods are pretty much as they always were at this time of the year, just turning autumnal and very nice too.

Down the long, long hill into Crumlin, hoping I'd get to the bottom before the brakes faded to nothing; and past a great clutter of motorbikes; the Patriot Motorcycle Club was partying in a pub they call their own, formerly the New Inn, now The Patriot. They're ex-service people, hence the name. A few of them watched as I drove by; I nodded distantly. Always best to keep your distance with bikers, patriotic or otherwise.

In Newbridge I parked up on Tynewydd Terrace and took a walk around the town. Small children were playing tag around the bus shelter while their parents sat, drinking and smoking, outside the Newbridge Hotel. Hughes the Newsagent had disappeared. It was for Mr Hughes that I once delivered newspapers, for £1.30 a week. He once told me about his brother, an RAF pilot who took delivery of one of the first English Electric Lightning fighters. His shop always seemed very convenient for sweets, magazines, books ....and model aeroplanes; and it was sad to see it replaced by a convenience store that looked fairly inconvenient unless you wanted to get drunk economically.

A Landrover Discovery parked up on the double yellow lines outside the charity shop that had been the Co-op, and a fat man in shorts and trainers sauntered over to the cashpoint. Boys with skateboards loafed on the platform at the re-opened railway station. Passenger services have only recently been re-established up the valley; b
ack in the 70s, there were only long trains of coal wagons, under which we sometimes sneaked when taking an unofficial shortcut to school. Gareth had described to me his first trip on the new rail bus; everyone cheered whenever they went under a bridge. I should like to have been on that trip.

A man on Ebbw View Terrace was busily sawing timber. The terraced houses looked very spick and span; they used to be democratically shabby, with soot-stained walls and un
iform dark green Coal Board issue front doors. Then came the 70s, and a wave of home improvements. There was a riot of different styles; mock leaded windows, frosted glasss front doors with inconvenient letterboxes ( I used to have to try to get the newspapers through them), sandblasted stonework, or pebbledashing, or mock stone cladding. The Valleys folk always showed a lamentable reluctance to live picturesquely. Maybe they hadn't watched enough old movies.

I walked under the railway bridge past the Beaufort Arms, where the sixth form used to do their drinking while listening to The Jam on the jukebox. It's now called The Goldmine and advertises POKER AND KARAOKE. I looked at the school roof for any lingering evidence of BELSEN, painted there in huge letters in 1968 by a disaffected pupil, and still discernible years later through the attempts to mask it. It has finally disappeared without trace.

I sat in the park looking down on the town, and down the valley. A flock or thirty or so jackdaws wheeled over the town, then dropped onto the roof of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, where they strutted up and down impiously. Down the valley I could see the new housing development that covered the place where the South Celynen Colliery had been, and where the jackdaws used to hang out.

It was still quite early, so I went up the mountain. Whinberry bushes grew at the side of the road; I picked some and ate them. They were a bit mushy and dull. Perhaps it was late in the season for them; I remember them being juicy, tart, full of flavour. Maybe my memory was being charitable.

Up on Mynydd Islwyn, I came round a steep corner and saw something quite remarkable.

It was a monument in the tiny graveyard of New Bethel chapel, and it was actually taller than the chapel. It stood glowing white in the evening. I was reminded of a lighthouse. It was the most striking thing I'd seen all day, and I had to stop. I'm still working on a poem about it; at the moment it starts like this:

Startlingly luminous there in the setting sun,
Alabaster Thomas towers high above the tombs
Unblinking, staring northward up to distant Pen y Fan

Across New Bethel's rooftop cast in crepuscular gloom...

(to be continued) (actually, the complete version is here )

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Welsh Landscape

This was the first poem I learned by heart. And the picture is a second version of one I did for my father, now long-lost. It's a bit sword-and-sorcery, but it was a long time ago. Anyway, here's the poem.

Welsh Landscape R S Thomas
To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky,
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
In all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
Vibrant with sped arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is the language for instance,
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields' corners.
There is no present in Wales,
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines;
And an impotent people,
Sick with inbreeding,
Worrying the carcase of an old song.