Hay Day 1: The grand drive to Hay, making out east from Bangor, trailing the north coast of Wales, adjacent to it in fact, the modern motorway plunked between sea and mountains. This is where my parents came to holiday when they were kids, in the 50s, nipping to Llandudno from Liverpool. We stopped in Conwy. Joe was attached by a diving seagull. It tore his lamb sandwich from his novelist’s grip, but then he met a pug puppy, gurning, and karma has rebalanced. I discovered a tack shop or four, and bought a wraparound lobster bracelet. A defining object from some power from thereon in, many a famous writer has their wrist Llobstered (with an emphasis on the Ll being the top-of-the-mouth Welsh pronunciation).
With Joe shaking from the bird attack, Nia drove us back into England before we turned straight south. The day was a beautiful one and I was aware of the rarity of the occasion, the privilege, to be talking with these poets who had become friends, to be hearing about their work and the history of the places we passed, thanks to Eurig, whose erudition and knowledge of his nation’s history is quite remarkable. We stopped in at the most isolated café in the Shropshire hills, who offered dishes which (for real) advertised ‘a free phonecall to the hospital’, such was there fat content, admittedly.
We made it to Hay by the later afternoon, and having never been before I will admit to it being a very special experience for me. We were treated pretty remarkably well, with the staff being really hospitable and helpful, giving us access to the spaces for the readers and artists, and tickets to other events. We got to see Gareth Thomas give a brilliant talk, utterly immediate and unpretentious, before we got to see Tinariwen live in the big tent. I’ve loved their music for a long time. We headed into Hereford, where we were staying in the 11th century Green Dragon hotel, late, but happy.
Hay day 2: With our final performance in Wales being a completely different format from the other events we prepared accordingly, and excerpted our 15, ten minute, core poet collaborations into 3 minute bursts. We rehearsed them in order, so that as one poet pair finished the other would stand up to follow it. 15 works, over 40 minutes, all showing the way in which the unique structure of Gelynion, and it’s rare atmosphere of generosity and creativity, has created such different and complimentary works. We spent hours hewing the works down, retrying them, building on the many performances in Wales, the rare second chance and we even stepped through the whole show, which would finish with a reading of the pamphlet produced by Hazard Press and a Q&A.
I had some really interesting and lovely conversations during the day, there is always the rare chance to meet people you admire at things like Hay, not that I’d really know, but speaking to Helen McDonald, David Mitchell, and lots of old friends from the Norwich Writers Centre and the British Council made the experience more homely than I’d imagined. I also always find these kind of enterprises, which are quite ambitious and labyrinthine, tend to be run by younger people with necessary senses of humour, and I could have a laugh with my Llobster.
Our performance was a real joy, such a privilege to be working with Rhys, Zoe, Joe, Eurig, and Nia, and I took the time to thank them properly. We all hit our marks and added new strings to our previous collaborative bows. The event was schedule opposite some huge events and so our attendance wasn’t great, but that was a consequence of other factors and didn’t detract from the intensity of the experience, and the growing realisation that this project has been very very special. A rare and important tour, Gelynion had clearly left its mark on Wales, and the poets who had participated. It has to be said, as we chatted with the manager of the Poetry Bookshop in Hay (where I bought 1st edition Tom Raworth and Anselm Hollo books), who had heard of our tour and Enemies in general, that we realised just how much it now felt that Wales was waiting for something like Gelynion, and for me, just how energetic, positive and humble the poets involved were. Everyone gave their all and some real friendships were made, and some real ground broken.