Literature and Random Chance

By Colin Dodds

Inviting Randomness to the Party

It was about a year ago, and I had a stack of notes that wouldn’t agree to be poems or stories – oddball refractory fragments that had accumulated over the years. Or maybe it was me who was feeling oddball and refractory. Either way, it occurred to me to fashion the best of them into oddball and refractory aphorisms and collect them in a book.

As I revised, rewrote and so forth, the question of how to order the aphorisms kept bothering me. There was a temptation to structure the book into discrete groups – themes or chapters or moods or seasons or something like that. But grouping the aphorisms like that felt like an apology, an immediate watering down of the individual force of each individual aphorism. And deliberately placing similar aphorisms far from one another felt artificial.

Not long after I’d sent an early version of the collection to some friends, one of them wrote me saying that she enjoyed flipping through the collection each morning and reading the aphorism she landed on. And I thought she had exactly the right idea. At the same time, I was chatting with my friend Matt Dublin about technology-slash-art projects. Those conversations with Matt, along with her comment made the randomized-aphorism app idea click into focus.

I imagined a book, where the pages hang on a single spine, transforming to something like a dandelion in late summer, when the white floaties stick off the seed head and a strong breath blows them all away except for one, or one of those plasma balls, where the pink lightning strikes from the core to the glass surface where you press your finger.

A Short and Inadequate History of Books and Chance

The idea of random chance interacting with literature isn’t new. Bibliomancy – the practice of flipping through a book and dropping your finger down to learn the future, or the will of G-d – is as old as the codex. It was how St. Augustine decided to convert to Christianity, according to his Confessions.

In the I-Ching, the reader navigates the text by flipping coins or other random means to arrive at the correct page for them in that moment. More recently, the cut-ups of William Burroughs attempted to expose intentional language to the mysterious dynamics and agendas of so-called randomness. There’s even a Cut-Up Machine that allows you to enter text in, and receive something else out. When I was pounding away at a manifesto/marketing document for Forget This Good Thing I Just Said, I dropped that document into the machine and read back – from among the block of text, if I squinted – the spooky phrase “Like don’t messages chance to say a reader’s idea?”

As the author, I had some say in how random I wanted things to get. And the cut-up approach gave chance more license than I wanted. I liked the aphorism as the unit of meaning, because it’s just long enough to make a statement, and too short for much equivocation or obfuscation.

Why Let Random Chance Speak at All?

Bibliomancy, the I-Ching or Burroughs’ cut-ups all embody a largely unspoken faith that what you most needed to hear in a given moment is likely a bolt from the blue.

It may be mystical. But there’s a lot of common sense in mysticism. Randomness, as an idea, smells like science. But it’s an unproven assumption. It’s a placeholder for something else.

What is that something else? I’d always had an on-again-off-again fascination with Jung’s idea of Synchronicity, or serendipity, and the idea that random chance was the camouflage for some unbelievable beast you could occasionally look in the eye.

Random chance, if it’s a mystery, can also be liberating. People like to say that we can forge meaning from randomness. But what if randomness is the one thing that’s uniquely poised to deliver the meanings that can transcend our habits and our hand-to-mouth scheming?

You can check out Colin Dodds latest project concerning literature and random chance here: Forget This Good Thing I Just Said


Keats 1Fanny Brawne.

Towards John Keats’s Third Collection of Poetry by Byron Beynon

Two hundred years ago in July 1820, John Keats’s third book of poems “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems” was published by Taylor and Hessey, of Fleet Street, London.

His two previous collections “Poems” (1817), and “Endymion” (1818), had either been ignored or reviewed with savage scorn. This third collection contained most of the major work and is rightly considered his greatest collection.

The eighteen months or so leading up to the book’s publication had been for Keats a rollercoaster of different emotions, with the death of his brother Tom from TB, anxiety over money, personal illness, interspersed with periods of calm, inspiration, and fresh landscapes. However, he managed to create in a relatively short time (between January and September 1819) a body of work which challenged comparison with those of John Milton in his maturity.

This outpouring of major poetry in 1819 produced “The Eve of St Agnes”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Melancholy”, “Ode to Psyche”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “La Belle Dans sans Merci”, “Lamia”, and “To Autumn”. Poetry full of atmosphere, with wonderful delicacy and reserve. It was also a time when his older brother George had already left England and emigrated to America, he’d also met the love of his life Fanny Brawne, not forgetting he had to catch up on and digest several scathing reviews of his previous collections.

These reviews, as John Barnard points out in his book on Keats, were the product of “snobbery and class-consciousness….”. He also noted that “Keats’s aspirations had touched a nerve. Keats represented a threat.” Undaunted Keats would have the strength of mind to continue with his writing.

In his journal letter to his brother George and his sister-in-law Georgina written during December/January 1818/1819 Keats recalled:

“The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature; but his last moments were not so painful, and his very last was without a pang – I will not enter into any parsonic comments on death – yet the common observations of the commonest people on death are as true as their proverbs. I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature o (r) other- neither had Tom….. Sometimes I fancy an immense separation, and sometimes, as at present, a direct communication of spirit with you.”

George had sailed in June 1818 from Liverpool to Philadelphia, onto Pittsburgh, then to Illinois territory, and the frontier settlement of Henderson in western Kentucky. After several years he eventually moved to Louisville. By the early 1830s, with a successful lumber mill and flour mill, he prospered, and built a large house in Louisville in 1835.

Keats, after the death of his brother Tom on 1st December 1818, moved into Wentworth Place, (now called Keats House), Hampstead with his friend Charles Brown. He had been writing and working on the poem “Hyperion” but put it to one side as the year drew to a close due the stress of his brother’s illness and death.

It was also in his journal letter to George on the 16th December 1818 that Keats first mentions Fanny Brawne:

“Mrs Brawne who took Brown’s house for the summer, still resides in Hampstead – she is a very nice woman – and her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange – we have a little tiff now and then- and she behaves a little better, or I must have sheered off.”

Two days later, on the 18th he wrote “shall I give you Miss Brawne? She is about my height- with a fine style of countenance of the lenghthen’d sort – she wants sentiment in every feature-she manages to make her hair look well- her nostrils are fine- ……her full-face which indeed not full but pale and thin without showing any bone – Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements….”

Through the encouragement of friends like Charles and Maria Dilke, Keats decided that  a change of scene might do him good, and by mid January 1819 he travelled and stayed in Chichester, and then onto Bedhampton, to the old Mill House, where he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes” (January/early February 1819). It was another friend, Isabella Jones, who probably suggested to Keats that he should write this poem, a short romance, based on a legend. He had also been working again on the poem “Hyperion”, but the going was slow, and he finally abandoned it before or during April 1819. In mid February he began something new, the unfinished “The Eve of St Mark” where he pictures a cathedral town on a Sunday evening. At the time he worked on this poem he was suffering from a sore throat and was confined to his rooms.

He was now heading towards a golden period when the great odes of late April and early May would come. Back in London, on 11th April Keats took a walk across Hampstead Heath and met Mr Green an acquaintance from Guy’s Hospital in conversation with Coleridge, he joined them on their walk and as Keats said “In those two miles he (C) broached a thousand things……Nightingales, Poetry, – on Practical Sensation- Metaphysics- Different genera and species of Dreams….”

Soon after he wrote “Fancy”, and then on 21st April the ballad “La Belle dame sans Merci” (not included in his third volume). Within another nine days he had completed “To Sleep”, two sonnets “On Fame” and then “Ode to Psyche” the first of the great odes which was written by 30th April. “Ode to Psyche” proved to be a valuable springboard, within two or three weeks all the five remaining odes except “To Autumn” were written. His mind open and restored again with a fluency of purpose after a period of uncertainty and anxiety.

His friend Charles Brown wrote that “Ode to a Nightingale” was written soon after “Ode to Psyche” and composed in a single morning, he described the time of composition as lasting “two or three hours”. Brown also wrote:

“In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continued joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of papers in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale.”

Richard Holmes in his essay on Keats reflects on the poet’s survival in popular imagination via the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and how in the twentieth century “Scott Fitzgerald revealed a lifelong obsession with Keats, which produced not only the theme and title of “Tender is the Night” (1934), but also inspired his late pedagogic attempt to become a literature professor, as movingly recounted in Sheilah Graham’s “College of One” (1967), which began when Fitzgerald started reciting Keats to her as they drove back from a Hollywood film premier in his ancient Ford.”

Between July and September 1819 Keats stayed in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, he would also move to Winchester, working on the play “Otho the Great”, and the poems “Lamia” and “The Fall of Hyperion”. That July, Keats who was by then engaged to Fanny Brawne, wrote to her from Shanklin:

“My Sweet Girl,

Your letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe it it, …I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else – I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.”

At Winchester, in September he wrote the sensuous and richly powerful “To Autumn”, and on the 19th he wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds and mentioned:

“How beautiful the season is now- How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it…I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now- Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm- this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

During the winter of 1819/1820 and back in Hampstead, Keats became unwell. His increasing ill health would continue throughout 1820, and his doctor ordered him to go to Italy, hoping that a warmer climate would aid his recovery. In July his third book, after revisions, was published by Taylor and Hessey. With an intuition for sound Keats had produced a body of work unmatched by a poet who had not quite reached the age of twenty-four. As RS White stated in his “John Keats – A Literary Life” the poet did have the “satisfaction of seeing into print a new volume of his poems, containing mainly the fruit of his astonishing creative output in 1819, its title emphasising the romances:”. White further adds that “the 1820 volume is a sublime artistic success, comparable to Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge in its significance for literary history.”

By September, along with Joseph Severn, Keats set sail for Italy on the Maria Crowther. There in Rome, on the 23rd February 1821, the 25 year old poet died from TB. Joseph Severn later reflected “Nothing seemed to escape him, the song of a bird and the undernote of response from covert or hedge, the rustle of some animal, the changing of the green and brown lights and furtive shadows, the motions of the wind.”

When I lived in London I took advantage of visiting the restored house in Hampstead where Keats once lived and wrote several of his poems and letters. On display inside were first editions of his three books of poetry. These books were once owned by his good friend Charles Brown, and they bear his signature. They were originally issued in drab grey paper covers but Brown had them re-bound in leather to match other books in his library. All three volumes went out of print and they were not available again until 1840. However pirated editions appeared in Paris in 1829 and also in Philadelphia in 1837.

For further reading and sources on John Keats:

John Keats: The Complete Poems edited by John Bernard Penguin Books 2006

Letters of John Keats: A selection edited by Robert Gittings Oxford UP 1986

John Keats by Walter Jackson Bate Harvard UP 1963

John Keats by Robert Gittings Penguin Books 1979

John Keats by Nicholas Roe Yale UP 2012

This Long Pursuit by Richard Holmes William Collins 2016

Keats and his Circle – An Album of Portraits compiled & presented by Joanna Richardson

published by Cassell London 1980

John Keats A Literary Life by RS White Palgrave/MacMillan 2012


Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, The London Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Poetry Salzburg, Agenda and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and the Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)







Dearest Nature By James E. Diamond


PRELUDE: After a four-day visit to Kodiak, Alaska, during August 2018, I witnessed Mother Nature’s stunning beauty that is difficult to describe in words. It is fortunate that the flora and fauna featured in Kodiak’s breathtaking beauty is protected by the laws of nature and those imposed by humankind. Natural physical forces (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, tsunamis) cause and regulate these phenomena. The natural forests, landscapes, oceans, seashores, mountains, gentle breezes, powerful winds, tumbling streams, singing birds, fresh clean air, changing cumulus clouds, warm sunshine, falling rains and other features made me feel very blessed that I was able to walk and experience the ambiance of such peaceful creations. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, in her book “Molly Bawn” (1878), states “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I was inspired to write this essay titled “Dearest Nature” as a feeble attempt to put into words my thoughts and feelings as I experienced being the eye of the beholder viewing the beauty of nature while meandering within nature’s abode.

Dearest Nature

Dearest nature, I hope that you never know that I was here! I hope I did not leave even a single footprint that would indicate my one-time presence. Nature is for all humankind to view, appreciate and protect by leaving behind no unsightly symbols of human existence.

English Romantic lyric poet John Keats once wrote, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” The poetry of Kodiak Island’s beauty is very much alive, and I would not want to risk disfiguring or marring it by my being there. The beauty portrayed before me on Kodiak Island cannot be replicated by humankind. Only the laws of nature can effectively change, modify, alter or improve the landscape. Nature’s law is stronger than any law humans have ever composed and implemented.

I felt my asthmatic lungs enjoying my breathing in clean fresh air. German-born diarist Anne Frank once wrote, “I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” My late wife always knew I was distressed when she would see me going off for a long walk in the woodlot on our farm.

Visiting nature in its purest form was like being home even though it was just a short drop-in visit. American essayist and poet Henry David Thoreau once stated, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” As I meandered in Kodiak’s Forest, I felt heaven was surrounding me with peacefulness, serenity and calmness. The emotions of nearby seas varied with calmness and perilousness. Calm seas dominated two ravishing days of fishing with dear friends. Hazardous seas fraught with danger impeded an additional two days of fishing.

Both calm and hazardous seas were beautiful in their own natural way. Calm seas were ruled by clear blue skies sprinkled with white cumulus clouds. Hazardous seas were commanded by high winds, fast moving white capped waves and rain noisily crashing against rocky and sandy coast lines.

In that part of the world winter can be harsh and gruff but dazzling in its own way. I was confident cold temperatures, freezing winds and snow unrolled their frigid wrath over trees on mountains and valleys with a snow white blanket while they slept during winter months. Rachel Carson once said in her book “Silent Spring,” “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

To appreciate and understand the traits of nature’s pace, her secretive wherewithal virtues include patience, persistence and perseverance. My love of nature in Alaska evolved because I found pleasure in trail-less woodlands, bliss on isolated shores, a culture where no one disturbs nature’s beauty and the roaring euphonic music of the deep sea. Naturalist and conservationist John Muir wrote, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while never-ending cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Let me close this essay with a prominent Latin proverb, “Nature is our mother!”


James E. Diamond, Ph.D. Dean Emeritus (Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) retired after a 47-year career as an agricultural educator.  With Dr. Diamond’s extensive agricultural, academic and international background he felt a need to write prose poetry as a way to put his life experiences into perspective.  He does not profess to be a renowned poet, however his writings are a sincere attempt to express his inner feelings without shame or inhibition.  He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science at Delaware Valley University; Master’s Degree in Education at Lehigh University; and his Ph.D. in Agricultural Education at Pennsylvania State University.  Dr. Diamond has worked, studied and traveled in 58 countries on five continents as a farmer, agricultural educator and international consultant for Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.



The Holodomor: A Genuine Genocide


By Aly Flaig

There is no valid reason for the Holodomor to not be viewed as a genocide. The arts of and about Ukraine during Stalin’s ruling help depict what most of the world now views as genocide. Even now, there are scholars who disagree about the categorization of the Holodomor, and Russian and Ukrainian officials who try to erase it to hide the atrocities Stalin committed, but the signs of genocide are clear.

Many scholars that Rebekah Moore writes of who argue that the Holodomor was not an act of genocide, do not disagree about Stalin’s malice. They concur that Stalin wanted Ukrainians dead, but instead of causing a human-made genocide, they argue he simply took advantage of environmental resources, or lack thereof. Some of Alexander Motyl’s scholars coincide, arguing that Stalin’s collectivization of the peasantry grew excessive. The International Commission of Inquiry into the famine concluded that “the Soviet authorities, without actively wanting the famine, most likely took advantage of it once it occurred to force the peasants to accept policies which they strongly opposed” (Moore). All but two commissioners failed to interpret the act as genocide. Another point they make is that since Kazakhstan fared worse than Ukraine during the famine, and since the famine travelled outside the Ukrainian border, then it was not a “concentrated” attack against exclusively Ukrainians (Moore). Lastly, Ukrainians in urban areas were granted a little more provisions than in the rural parts, therefore they argue that it was an assault on the peasantry, not Ukrainians as a whole, but the stages of genocide and the depictions of life during the Holodomor, show a different argument.

The ten stages of genocide are described as predictable, and the route the Holodomor took is not an exception (Stanton). Propaganda plays a damning role in various stages. Classification is the establishment of “us” versus “them.” In the Holodomor’s case, “us” is Russia and “them” is Ukraine. In the movie Bitter Harvest, Stalin exclaims “I told you to crush them. Damn those Ukrainians!” His hatred for Ukrainians is stark in the movie. Russia circulated propaganda depicting Ukrainians as irresponsible and incapable of ruling themselves, therefore denoting their inferiority as a group to Russians, who propped themselves on a pedestal of faux superiority.

Propaganda is used in the symbolization stage as physical ways to distinguish “us” and “them,” such as offensive caricatures. Discrimination is the governing of a group’s rules and laws, particularly ordering the Ukrainians to surrender their food to Russia. The denouncement of their cultural identity, such as taking away icons, as seen in Bitter Harvest, is discrimination by suppression of identity. In Eugenia Sakevych Dallas’ “My Childhood,” she states, “A million souls were crucified/The rest conveniently Russified” and “My parents were arrested/Their identity stripped.” Those who lived were subjected to their culture and identity being erased to reluctantly assimilate with the Russians for their own survival. Moore describes it as “an assault on Ukrainian nationalism.” Former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, continued the practice decades later. “Yanukovych’s assault on Ukrainian identity… has focused on education, culture, language, and history” (Motyl). His Russo-centric regime replaced the pro-Ukrainians ones at colleges and universities, specifically history, a culture’s basis of understanding their identity (Motyl).

Stalinist propaganda portrayed Ukrainians as cannibals, denying them the opportunity of arguing their humanity, bringing next the fourth stage: dehumanization. The fourth stage is a harbinger for further, much more devastating problems because once a group is compared to vermin, or animals, or even cannibals, it is not probable for their innocence to be realized, causing the other stages to occur rapidly.

The organization stage involved Russia using troops to fear-monger Ukrainians and seize their grain, using force and threats. Poetry about the Holodomor show depictions of an organized group with arms terrorizing them. “The communists from Russian lands formed into dangerous bands” from Halia Dmytryshyn’s “Through the Eyes of a Child” speak of food being taken by bands under Stalin’s orders. It is obvious in Bitter Harvest that the famine was not because the food would not grow, but because all the food was stolen.

Hate speech and more propaganda was used to cause polarization, the sixth stage, and fabricated an illusion to the Russian people that Ukrainian deaths were insignificant. Stalin’s plan for how to eradicate Ukrainians came to fruition in the preparation stage. Agricultural products were seized. Food and livestock were taken or killed, and anyone who harbored them were arrested or murdered, making the access to food nearly impossible, Stalin’s plan all along. “Take all their food,” Stalin orders in Bitter Harvest. “Not just their grain. Everything. Close the food stores and banks. Transport the food out.”

Persecution plagued alongside the famine, and Ukrainians were identified and cornered off, this eighth stage making way for the next. Borders of Ukraine were closed, and long-distance travel was banned so Ukrainians could not travel elsewhere in search of food, the rest of the world was left unaware, and international aid was unable to help (Moore). “Close the borders. Keep them in. Don’t let one of them leave.” Stalin does not have many lines in the movie, but they are all incriminating, those lines being his order of condemning Ukrainians.

The ninth stage, which was happening in lesser numbers throughout, reached its peak: extermination. The human-made famine killed more than ten million Ukrainians, and then afterwards, denial, the final stage, concluded the evidence of genocide. Stalin’s government lied throughout, saying the famine was the Ukrainian’s fault that the harvests were bad, and the death toll was minimalized. In his poem “Extermination by Hunger,” Nicholas M. Latyshko refers to the famine as “artificial,” and Eugenia Sakevych Dallas directly claims it as an extermination. Former president of Ukraine even tried to erase it when he deleted the link to a page about the Holodomor from the official presidential website (Motyl). Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is based out of a Russian speaking, Communist sympathizing region, where the streets are named after Stalinists (Motyl). That is a Communism-red flag. Ukraine was dragged backwards in time as Yanukovych silenced discussion of the famine. Soviets and assured that it was an “emigre delusion” (Motyl). The first accounts about the Holodomor came in the 1950’s from the survivors who fled to North America, who wrote about the atrocities they endured, but even Western scholars denounced them as “rabid anti-Communists (Motyl). It was not until the 1980’s that the West could no longer ignore the reality of the Holodomor.


Moore, Rebekah. “‘A Crime Against Humanity Arguably Without Parallel in European History’: Genocide and the ‘Politics’ of Victimhood in Western Narratives of the Ukrainian Holodomor.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 10 Sept. 2012

Motyl, Alexander J. Deleting The Holodomor: Ukraine Unmakes Itself. World Affairs. Sep/Oct2010, Vol. 173 Issue 3, p25-34. 10p

Stanton, Gregory H. “10 Stages of Genocide.” Genocide Watch, 2016,


Aly Flaig began writing fiction but has turned her attention to gender and sexuality, humor and satire, and commentaries and essays. She is currently studying at Bridgewater College.

Pages From the Concourt Journal


By Ray Greenblatt

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, brothers and collaborating novelists, decided in 1851 to begin a journal that would truthfully observe their friends and events. Although younger Jules died in 1870, Edmond continued the journal until 1896, when he died, totaling nine volumes. This 1962 edition is one of the few English translations.

Here is why they collaborated so well: “Edmond can see himself perfectly well as a soldier in another age, with his Lorraine blood, no distaste for fighting, and a love of daydreaming. I for my part see myself involved in chapter-house negotiations, in monastic diplomacy, taking a vainglorious delight in tricking men and women for my own pleasure and the irony of it all . . . The strange thing is that although we are absolutely different in temperament, taste , and character, we are absolutely identical in our ideas, our judgments, our likes and dislikes as regards other people, and our intellectual perspective. Our minds see alike and see with the same eyes.” (108)

This was their intention: “But I assure you on my honour—and those who know me can testify that they have never heard me tell a lie—that the conversations I have quoted in the four volumes which have so far appeared are as it were shorthand transcripts, reproducing not only the speakers’ ideas but more often than not their actual expressions. And I feel certain that every disinterested and perceptive reader will recognize that my desire and ambition have been to depict exactly the men I was portraying, and that not for anything in the world would I have wished to attribute remarks to them which they did not make.” (358)


          And the Goncourts were truly at the center not only of literature in Paris but also of art, music and the theater. Since they were fiction writers, let us first look at their novelist friends. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary and leader in the school of Realism, was a long-time friend. “He started looking at our portfolios, our books, our bric-a-brac, like an inquisitive, excited child. He looks extraordinarily like portraits of the actor Frederick Lemaitre as a young man, very big, very powerfully built, with large protuberant eyes under puffy lids, full cheeks, heavy drooping moustaches, and a complexion speckled with red patches.” (40)

Flaubert’s home was elegant. “The vast Seine along which the masts of boats which are hidden from sight pass as if at the back of a stage; the tall, splendid trees twisted into tortured forms by the sea breezes; the espalier-shaped park, the long terrace-walk facing due south, the peripatetic path, all make a real writer’s home.” (254)

Emile Zola , who defended Alfred Dreyfus in the press, was another friend: “A waxy, anaemic complexion, a strapping young fellow with something of the delicate modeling of fine porcelain in his features, in the line of his eyes, in the angry planes of his nose, and in his hands . . .The dominant side of him, the sickly, suffering, hyper-sensitive side, occasionally gives you the impression of being in the company of a gentle victim of some heart disease. In a word, an incomprehensible, deep, complex, character; unhappy, worried, evasive, and disquieting.” (144)

Alphonse Daudet took fiction a step further with his Naturalism: “And to make up the deficiency, he promptly poured himself a succession of glasses of liqueur. His hand, of an extraordinary whiteness, kept going up to stroke his Ninevite beard and his long hair, which seemed damp with all that he had drunk and fell in tearful locks over his forehead; and a rakish beauty came to his face, which bent lovingly over his waistcoat as if over a woman’s body.” (221)

Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables: “And there, his arms folded across his chest, his body thrown back a little in his buttoned frock-coat, and a white scarf round his neck, Hugo started talking again. He spoke in a soft, slow voice, slightly muffled yet still clear, a voice which played with words and uttered them caressingly; he spoke with his eyes half-closed and with all sorts of feline expressions passing across that face of his which was shamming death, that flesh which had taken on the fine, warm coloring of the flesh of a Rembrandt syndic; and when he grew excited, there was a strange rising and falling of the line formed by his white hair along his forehead.” (223)

Known for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas: “At the Princess’s, resplendent in white tie and white waistcoat, huge of breath, and as happy as a Negro’s fortune, Dumas pere made his appearance. He had just got back from Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia. He spoke about Pesth, where they had staged his plays in Hungarian; about Vienna, where the Emperor had lent him a room in his palace in which to give a lecture.” (116)

Anatole France won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921: “Extremely talkative, he speaks with the eloquence of an academician—which he has yet to become—appreciated by society, but with an admixture of paradoxical, anti-bourgeois ideas, somewhat reminiscent of Renan, which make his conversation amusing. And then he no longer has the foolish face he had when he was young: somewhat thickened features give him a thoroughly masculine head, which has shed the silly fatuity of his adolescence.” (396)

George Sand is one of the few women novelists in the Goncourts’ group. “When we got up to go, she rose, gave us her hand and showed us to the door. At that point we were able to catch a glimpse of her face, which is sweet, gentle, and serene; the color has gone out of it but the features are still delicately defined in a pallid, matt complexion of a pale amber hue. There is a serenity and a subtlety in these features which her latest portrait, coarsening her and over-emphasizing the line of her nose, entirely fails to reveal.” (72)

“Guy de Maupassant,” famous for short stories like The Necklace, “told me that Cannes is a wonderful source of information for him. There the Luyns, the Orleans and the Princesses de Sagan spend the winter; and there life is much more easy-going and people talk more freely and more readily than in Paris. And he gave me to understand that, understandably and intelligently, he goes there to find his male and female characters for the novels he is planning to write about life and love in Parisian society.” (300)

Even a Russian who lived a number of years in France, Ivan Turgenev noted for the novel Fathers and Sons, was part of the Goncourt coterie: “Turgenev, that gentle giant, that lovable barbarian, with his white hair falling into his eyes, with a deep line crossing his forehead from one temple to the other like a furrow, and with his childish language, enchanted us from the soup-course on, wreathed us, as the Russians put it, with his combination of innocence and shrewdness—the great charm of the Slav race, heightened in him by the originality of a superior intelligence and by an immense, cosmopolitan fund of knowledge.” (197)

                                                          Poets & Philosophers

          Theophile Gautier, a Romantic poet, was another one of the Goncourts’ oldest   friends. The energy in his prime: “I never think about what I’m going to write. I pick up my pen and I write. I’m a man of letters and I’m supposed to know my job. So there I am in front of my paper, like an acrobat in front of his springboard. And then, I’ve got my syntax very tidily arranged in my head. I throw my sentences into the air, like so many cats, and I know that they’ll fall on their feet. It’s all very simple: all you need is a good grasp of syntax.” (23)

Toward the end of his life: “And his head fell forward, his great, heavy, wrinkled eyelids dropped down over his eyes, his hands dangled limply, and sleep, bending him forward, seemed to be pushing him towards one of those deaths which are found with their faces on the floor. We were seized with gloomy forebodings about the man, laden with honors at the moment and standing on the threshold of academic immortality, a threshold on which it seemed to us that the cruel irony of life’s compensations was already nailing together his coffin.” (143)

Stephane Mallarme, a Symbolist poet, “whom Alphonse Daudet asked with every circumspection whether he was not trying at the moment to be more obscure and abstruse than in his first works, in that slightly wheedling voice which someone once said occasionally goes flat with irony, after a great many strange phrases such as: ‘One cannot write in white,’ finished his nebulous amplifications by confessing that at present he regarded a poem as a mystery to which the reader had to find the key.” (383)

Two poets known as Decadents were Verlaine and Baudelaire. Paul Verlaine: “Mother and son lived in a wine-dealer’s house: the son downstairs, unable to leave his bed on account of something wrong with his legs, the other upstairs, watched over after her death by friends of Verlaine’s who were dead-drunk all the time. Friends and undertaker’s mutes, each as tight as the other, had enormous difficulty in maneuvering the coffin down the narrow staircase: a descent in the course of which the son’s door was opened for a moment and an aspergillum handed to him so that he could sprinkle holy water on the coffin from his bed.” (315)

Charles Baudelaire, known for his Flowers of Evil, “had supper at the next table to ours. He was without a cravat, his shirt open at the neck and his head shaved, just as if he were going to be guillotined. A single affectation: his little hands washed and cared for, the nails kept scrupulously clean. The face of a maniac, a voice that cuts like a knife, and a precise elocution that tries to copy Saint-Just and succeeds. He denies, with some obstinacy and a certain harsh anger, that he has offended morality with his verse.” (30)

Three men were known for their expertise in literary criticism, history and also philosophy: Sainte-Beuve, Taine, and Renan.  “Sainte-Beuve, who had written to ask if he might come to see us, came here at two o’clock. He is a short, tubby little man, stockily built with a peasant’s neck and shoulders, dressed in a simple country manner, rather like Beranger, without any stylish touches. He has a high forehead, a bald white head, large eyes, a long, inquisitive, sensual nose, a wide, crudely shaped mouth, a broad smile which reveals a set of white teeth, prominent cheekbones like a pair of wens: altogether a somewhat batrachian face with a pink, well-fed complexion.” (63)

One of the Goncourt’s oldest friends, they described him just before his death: “Sitting at the head of the table, Sainte-Beuve looked like a butler. It was a gloomy meal, and anybody might have thought it was the host’s funeral feast. He looked broken, old, and doddering, complaining of the agony of living with those senile grimaces of old men, that closing of the eyes that seem to say: ‘There, I can feel it again,’ those gestures of miserable compunction and those empty words of self-pity. He ate nothing, got up two or three times during dinner, asking us to pay no attention to him, and came back like the ghost in his house, like the shade of an old man anxious not to disturb anybody.” (131)

Hippolyte “Taine dined with us this evening, with his pleasant, friendly glance under his spectacles, his almost affectionate consideration for others, his rather puny but distinguished appearance, his smooth, flowing, picturesque conversation, full of historical and scientific ideas, and the overall impression he creates of a young, intelligent, even witty professor, in deadly fear of being pedantic.” (83)

Ernest “Renan looked up from his plate.

‘In all the subjects I have studied, I have always been struck by the authority of the German mind and German workmanship. It is not surprising that in the art of war, which is an art after all, inferior but complicated, they should have achieved the superiority which, I repeat, I have observed in all the subjects I have studied and with which I m familiar . . . Yes, gentlemen, the Germans are a superior race!’” (170)


        Various famous people passed by on the fringes of the Goncourt circle: the playwright Ernest Feydeau and the actress Sarah Bernhardt; sculptor Auguste Rodin and Impressionist painter Edgar Degas; Prosper Merimee who wrote Carmen and the wife of Georges Bizet who transposed it into an opera; even Georges Clemenceau the politician before he became Prime Minister. They all were x-rayed in the Goncourt Journals in their good and bad moods for posterity.

In all my readings about British and American writers, I have never come across extended times where they came together socially.  The Nineteenth Century French camaraderie of like-minded artists is a rare one to be savored. Yes, the rivalry must have been strong and arguments fierce; but it was worth it for the opportunity to trade ideas and obtain valuable criticism. Can you imagine casual statements often made in the Journal like this: “Dinner at the Café Riche with Flaubert, Zola, Turgenev, and Alphonse Daudet. A dinner of men of talent who have a high opinion of each other’s work, and one which we hope to make a monthly occasion in the winters to come.” (207) I wish I could have been an eavesdropping waiter. Fortunately, the Goncourts were there to transcribe and prove that this world existed!

You can find the book here:

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.





Montpellier – Echoes from a French city

Musee Fabre.jpeg

by Byron Beynon

Montpellier is where Paul Gaugin brought Vincent van Gogh in an attempt to cheer-up the fading spirits of the Dutchman. Late in 1888 both men travelled by train from Arles to spend the day in this southern French city, they came especially to see the works of Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix inside the Musée Fabre. Vincent would soon write a letter to his brother Theo about the visit in the second half of December 1888.

“Gaugin and I went yesterday to Montpellier to see the museum there and especially the Brias room. There are a lot of portraits of Brias, by Delacroix, Ricard, Courbet, Cabanel, Couture, Verdier, Tassaert, and others. Then there are pictures by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter,

Botticelli, Th. Rousseau, very fine. Brias was a benefactor of artists, I shall say no more to you than that. In the portrait by Delacroix he is a gentleman with red beard and hair, confoundedly like you or me…..” In the same letter he goes on to say that “ Gaugin and I talked a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt etc. Our arguments are terribly electric, we come out of them sometimes with our heads as exhausted as an electric battery after it has run down.”

Alfred Bruyas was indeed a benefactor of the arts and friend to artists, and his narcissism for having dozens of portraits of himself commissioned was defended by Vincent. After the trip, tensions grew between the two artists.


          Today visitors still enter the gallery, which houses paintings, drawings, sculptures, video library, and a fine selection of books and magazines. The building is settled near a wide esplanade with plane trees  and fountains, in the heart of the city. During the seventeenth century it was a Jesuit college, then a mansion before being enlarged when Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), a former pupil of David, donated in 1825 his collection of paintings to his native city, and by doing so gave his name to this tall, wise building. Inside there are paintings by Rubens, Berthe Morisot, and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), who was born into an affluent Montpellier family of wine-growers, but who was tragically killed in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. He began a career in medicine before turning to painting. He was, by all accounts, very well liked. He helped his impoverished artists friends, and in 1868 Bazille moved to a studio in Paris which he shared with Renoir.

Sadly he was killed during an attack on Beaune-la-Rolande. His father made the journey there to find the body of his son. For ten days he dug in the snow-covered battleground, eventually he found the body and hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.

Portrait of Baudelaire (1)

         You can also see the portrait of CharlesBaudelaire painted in 1847 by Courbet, the poet with his black hair cut short, smokes a pipe, concentrating his mind on the pages of a book which rests on a table.

My first visit to France’s seventh largest city was in 1991, the following year I lived there for six months. I arrived by train, on the ultra-rapid TGV, to one of the country’s oldest protected stations,built in 1844. With a cosmopolitan population of over 270,000, a healthy mix of European youth, North African, American (there is an American library), many are students studying at the university, and the faculty of medicine, the oldest stillopen in the world. A papal bull, dated 26th of October 1289, announced the creation of the University of Montpellier, together with the medical, law, and arts faculties. Here the old, historical areas, with their narrow, shaded, antique streets exist in relative harmony with modern developments despite the angry graffiti and polluting traffic.

Since the 1960s which saw an increase in population, the council, led by Georges Freche decided to create a new neighbourhood called l’Antigone, a living area to provide accommodation and housing with relatively low rents for the people, it was the task of the Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to extend this area of the city. Close by is the Polygone, a shopping centre with cafés, restaurants, and a plethora of shops.

Cathedral St Pierre.jpeg

         One view of the city can be taken from the top of the Corum, a complex used for conventions and opera. To the north you can see the cathedral of St.Pierre, its twin, cylindrical towers stand like rockets about to be launched, also the orange-tiled roofs of the old quarter where on summer evenings, a young medical student named Felix Platter used to sit, playing his lute. He once wrote in his diary “I can see the town, spread out, as far as the sea, which I can sometimes hear in the wind”. If the Corum offered me a good view , the most popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike is the Place de la Comédie, with its fountain of the Three Graces. The three smiling girls embrace, gazing at people of all ages, passing by with their thoughts and with purpose.

Montpellier was first mentioned as far back as 985. By the year 1204 the crown of Aragon belonged to the city, eventually it was bought back by the French. It has witnessed the coming of Arab and Jewish scholars, a garrison, the French Revolution, the wine industry, a university, trams, underground parking and the new technology, pharmaceutical and research laboratories.

To get away from the centre I used to walk to the Peyrou with its eighteenth-century water tower, and the St.Clement aquaduct, the Arceaux, which brought water to the city. The cool air is reviving along with the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea to the south and the mountains of the Pic Saint Loup to the north.

Nearby is the statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, made of bronze it almost sank in Bordeaux harbour before arriving in Montpellier in 1718. There is also a botanical garden within easy walking distance from the Peyrou, created during the reign of Henry IV in 1593, with its exotic, ancient trees and plants. It is an oasis of green in the city. The poet Paul Valéry who had married the niece of the painter Berthe Morisot, enjoyed the peace here and wrote “we are going where you would go, if you were here, to the ancient garden where……all those people who meditate, worry or who talk to themselves go, as water goes to a river, and of course they meet up.”

In these gardens, one October afternoon, I met some students from the Netherlands. They were visiting Montpellier for a couple of weeks in order to improve their French, and were also doing a survey, asking questions about their homeland, the first question they asked me was to name at least one Dutch artist! “Vincent van Gogh “ I answered, “who came here by train with his friend and brother-in-art Paul Gaugin.”

 Sources and books for further reading

The Letters of van Gogh  edited by Mark Roskill (Fontana edition 1979)

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Chatto&Windus 2006)

Impressionism by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing 2007)



Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)



The Trajectory of Sharon Olds – a look at five poems

By Ray Greenblatt
         Leafing through the most popular poems by Sharon Olds, I discerned the development of a mid-twentieth century woman. I am not interested in whether this is the poet’s actual life revealed; what I did see was the representative life of many American women, vivified by these highly emotional and uniquely rendered poems.


          The poems I will be investigating are: her parents in The Victims; dating in After Making Love in Winter; marriage in The Wedding Vow; her daughter in The Month of June: 13 ½; and finally divorce in Unspeakable.

                                                               I – THE VICTIMS

          This poem opens with rather prosaic lines explaining how the mother and her children battled against what must have been the abusive treatment perpetrated by the alcoholic father.

          We don’t begin to know the essence of the father until we encounter striking imagery. His suits were “those dark carcasses hung in your closet.” “Carcasses” were once living things that the father no longer is figuratively, having lost his living as well as being kicked out of his home.

          Likewise, that image is intensified by “the black noses of your shoes with their large pores.” Even the shoes were alive, if leather, especially if they had “noses.” “Their large pores” added a distasteful element to the human comparison that will be touched on later with the use of several other images.

          It seems as though the mother, with her own limitations, had to teach the children to hate, because love for parents can be a powerful, instinctive quality without the leaven of reason. So “we pricked with her for your annihilation” employs a strange verb in that context; the children had to be pushed. The excessive word “annihilation” underscores how their hate had reached extremes.

          Then the poem serves to view down-and-out street people. They are strongly described in ugly terms: “The white slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their suits of compressed silt” and “stained flippers of their hands.” It is as if these people inhabit an aqueous lower world.

          The final telling image continues the sea reference: “The underwater fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the lanterns lit.” These people are still alive—“fire of their eyes” and “lanterns lit” and we are led to wonder if the woman who has spoken throughout this poem has come to feel pity for people who have lost everything– including her father.

                                        II – AFTER MAKING LOVE IN WINTER

          This is a very sensual, passionate poem. After making love the woman feels “a plate of iron laid down on my nerves” and “our bodies touch like blooms of fire.”

          This experience has intensified all of her senses so that she sees “the light from the hall burns in straight lines and casts up narrow beams on the ceiling, a figure throwing up its arms for joy.” “The angle itself is blessed, and the dark globes of the chandeliers.”

          A very unique comparison is “the silvery bulbs” cause her to “feel my ovaries deep in my body.” The intensity of this sexual experience reverberates throughout her body to its very core.

          For her, intercourse has made her a complete human being; before, she was a child. “Like God putting the finishing touches on, before sending me down to be born.”

          And with the line “we have come to the end of questions” the woman and man no longer wonder if they can relate fully; they now feel that they have formed a deep indissoluble union.

                                                     III – THE WEDDING VOW

          The couple legalizes their relationship in a simple church, not an ornate high church. Although they have already made a laypersons’ pact between them, they desire a religious benediction.

          And religious imagery is significantly used. “God’s stable perfectly cleaned” while outside is “a moat of mud.” This stresses the plainness of the church, even employing a reference to where Jesus was born.
          The poet uses what I may call a unique “delay technique.” For instance:
          In truth, we had married
          that first night, in bed, we had been
          married by our bodies, but now we stood
          in history—what our bodies had said,
          mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
          gathered together, death.
The word “death” holds considerable power coming at the very end of the sentence. It sums up a total relationship between two people that inevitably ends in old age and death.
          Again: “We stood
          holding each other by the hand, yet I also
          stood as if alone, for a moment,
          just before the vow, though taken
          years before, took.
“Took” shows that it involved a long time to develop a relationship before the woman personally could feel secure in it.
          Finally, early in the poem “flies” are wiped off the Bible the minister holds. Later in the poem they appear again to refer to the woman’s parents in a comparison of the two marriages:
           I felt
           the silent, dry, crying ghost of my
           parents’ marriage there, somewhere
          in the bright space—perhaps one of the
          plummeting flies, bouncing silently
          as it hit forsaking all others
          then was brushed away.

                                                  IV – THE MONTH OF JUNE: 13 ½

          Years later the couple now has a teenage daughter. They love her very much and applaud each of her growing stages. The poet capsulizes each stage by using school years. Kindergarten is defined as “a strip of thumb-suck blanket.” 1st grade is “a dim cocoon . . . back there somewhere on the path.” 4th grade was a “hard jacket . . . when she had so much pain.”  This reference is cleverly slurred over, as many youngsters encounter difficult times for myriad reasons. “Magenta rind of 5th grade” could mean the daughter graduated from one school, shedding one for another.

          And now 8th grade is “a chrysalis cracking”; she is outgrowing another school, but also as a person she is growing up. “The whole school is coming off her shoulders like a cloak unclasped.” “Her jerky sexy child joke dance is self, self.”  She can “jazz out her hands” and “chant I’m great! I’m great!”  She is not conceited, only realizing her worth.
          The parents are watching:
          Like a good mother and a
          good father who looked down and
          love everything their baby does, the way she
          lives their love.

The parents take joy in their daughter maturing into a feeling, expressive adult; so far they have succeeded in raising their child.

                                                           V – UNSPEAKABLE

          After thirty years of marriage the wife is involved in divorce. It is “unspeakable” because it is a tragedy to her; it might also be that she has not come to terms with it using reason. Her mate is “my almost-no-longer husband.”
          She is still full of questions:  “What was it like, to love me—when you looked at me, what did you see?”
         She muses sadly: “When he loved me, I looked out at the world as if from inside a profound dwelling.”
          She thought:
          We were joined not just for breath’s time,
          but for the long continuance,
          the hard candies of femur and stone,
          the fastnesses.

          She tries to show no anger, sometimes employs even humor. “All is courtesy and horror.”

          We don’t know the complete story. Is someone to blame? We don’t know his side—except hints of another woman—and never will. In life we often don’t learn all sides of a situation. A poem can explore just so much.  The ending is an enigma: “When I say, is this about her, and he says, No, it’s about you, we do not speak of her.”

I see these five poems as a five-act play about a woman’s life. A woman lives through a difficult childhood. She falls in love. She marries. She and her husband have a child who fulfills them. However, after considerable time their marriage bonds do not hold. The woman cannot say she is reliving her parents’ marriage; hers is different. Also, her child has received a firm foundation to live a healthy life. As all adults, the woman must meet new challenges and continue her life. With power, humanity, and keen poetic skills, Sharon Olds allows us to view all of these vicissitudes in life.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

“The Welsh Poppy Flame of the Sun” A Tribute to Raymond Garlick (1926-2011)

Raymond 006

By Byron Beynon

Raymond Garlick, who died in Cardiff on 19 March 2011, was an important and influential figure in support of Wales and Welsh writing in English. He had significant achievements as a poet, editor, critic, political campaigner and teacher. The last time I spoke to him was in March 2010 when he telephoned me about an article I had written on the letters he had received from the Nobel Prize nominated poet R. S. Thomas. Garlick had introduced me to the works of Thomas when he tutored me at Trinity College, Carmarthen. It was there that he also led me to discover David Jones, Idris Davies, Glyn Jones, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, John Ormond and Leslie Norris. As a teenager, listening to him speak about these writers was an inspirational and illuminating experience. I will miss the conversations and meetings we went on to have over the years at his flat off College Road (along with some meetings in London, Cardiff and Swansea), as well as receiving his letters and cards. His beautiful italic handwriting was a fine aesthetic experience. Even R.S. Thomas, in his letters to Raymond, noted, ‘I hold your calligraphy up to Gwydion as an example’.

Garlick had fascinating recollections of other writers. He met Dylan Thomas a month or so before his death in 1953 and described him to me as gentle, modest, humble, a dedicated poet. He also spoke of Roy Campbell’s poetry as having a stronger influence on his own apprentice efforts than anybody else’s. Garlick was impressed by Campbell’s exact craftsmanship, his striking imagery, the almost crystalline quality of his verse.

RG - Cross

It was because of Campbell’s poem, ‘Horses on the Camargue’, that Garlick went there himself. The emblem on the front of three of his books is the Croix de Camargue . Made of wrought iron, the original rises from a block of stone and stands in the village of Saintes Maries de la Mer by the church where the gypsies made their annual pilgrimage. It looks towards Africa, and it struck Garlick as being a symbol of Europe, together with the many other symbols that one can work out from its shape, the crossed trident and the anchor.

Garlick was conscious of how fortunate he had been to know two major writers, R. S. Thomas and John Cowper Powys, and to have been enriched by their friendship. He was aware of the strange coincidence that a book by each of them, The Stones of the Field and Obstinate Cymric, was published a short distance from where he lived in Carmarthen, at Keidrych Rhys’s Druid Press, and added that not every town sees the launch of a book by two great writers.

Collected Poems - RG

Garlick was fascinated by the shape and appearance of letters, words (examples of his shaped poems include ‘Marwnad’, ‘Capitals’ and ‘Vowels’) handwriting, carved and engraved inscriptions, samplers and alphabets. It came as no surprise, therefore, that on the cover of his Collected Poems  was an alphabet by Eric Gill, carved by Lawrence Cribb. He thought The Engravings of Eric Gill, by Christopher Skelton, a marvellous book, and believed the fundamental mystery was that certain shapes can convey sounds, meanings and nuances of feeling. He found them beautiful as shapes, as well as carved, engraved, penned or painted letters.

As a child growing up in north-west London Garlick spent holiday visits at his grandparents’ house in Deganwy. It was there that a sense of place and freedom was awakened in him, which eventually brought about a commitment towards Wales. London suburbia was not for him.

By the 1940s he had met Brenda Chamberlain, the first painter he had ever known. He was a student at Bangor at the time, and he rented from her the studio half of Ty’r Mynydd, the cottage where she had lived with John Petts. In 1949, still only twenty-three, with no Arts Council funding, he became one of the founding editors of Dock Leaves (later renamed the Anglo-Welsh Review). The 1960s saw him teaching in the Netherlands. Again, the experience brought a new dimension to his poetry; it also brought further opportunities to travel in Europe. By 1967 he decided the time was right to return to Wales and he eventually became Principal Lecturer in Welsh Studies at Trinity College, Carmarthen.

I recall his enjoyment at seeing a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition in London during the 1980s. He had known many of the pictures from reproductions going back to childhood and had seen many of them at the Tate on previous visits. But to him it was magnificent to see them en masse. He wrote to me at the time, ‘I like so many of them because they are essentially literary and have their point of departure in a poem. Many of them too display wonderful technical skill, and a breathtaking sense of colour’. He thought the same two things characterised the Gwen John film shown on BBC2 in 1984 – beautiful landscape shots, posed like paintings, and interiors like Dutch still-life painting.

On the walls of his apartment, two works by Gordon Stuart gave him, he told me, huge pleasure every day. The Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s and a wonderful blue Llansteffan Headland. He also thought highly of Gordon’s portrait of him, made during the Year of Literature, held in Swansea in 1995 (Fig.3). In his poem, St. David’s by Gordon Stuart, Garlick writes: ‘Towers, gables, clerestories swim/In washes of Arthurian light/No rain can dull, no winter dim.’
It is worth quoting a few more lines from his poetry where his eye sharpens into focus:
The hat, I think, fixes
In truth’s relief
An unprepared heart
In the ambush of grief.
–        from ‘Picasso’s Femme Qui Pleure
Done for my grandfather, the first
Painting I knew …
                     –        from ‘A Still Life by Barbaro’
The high corn like a golden fleece
For Van Gogh to eternalise.
            – from ‘Hiraeth’
Above the shimmering Turner-scape …
As we draw
Near to the buoyant palaces,
We see what Canaletto saw.
            – from ‘Venetian Entry’
He had a childhood memory of entering the beauty of an art room at school and wrote:
Dazed by the beauty, For the first time …
Sit down
said the voice, Except
That boy with the grin
On his face. You put
Your hands on your head,
To-day, I know, of course. It just did not occur
To him that school might be a place one could be happy in.
              –        from ‘The Art Lesson’

Reading through his poems gives one a sense of pleasure; the elegance of form, the style and structure are all there – richly shaped and tuned words, skilfully conducted. A man of elegant qualities and skills, Garlick played a central role in the advancement of Welsh literature in English.

Delphic Vogage - RG

It was a privilege to have met him and, like many others, I was fortunate to have known him. I will let Raymond have the final words, from his fine poem, Traeth LLansteffan, which the artist Jonah Jones illustrated for the cover of The Delphic Voyage :
Walking along the washed
skin of the world, under the high
ocean of the evening
heavens, only the insistent sigh
of the respiring
sea to be heard. The scoured rocks dry,
sculptured and matt, ice-blue
and Tyrian, acid as inks.
The promontory
silhouetted, bulks like a sphinx
over the orient Tywi,
and the sun sinks.
Raymond Garlick
A Sense of Europe (Gomer Press, 1968)
A Sense of Time (Gomer Press, 1972)
Incense (Gomer Press, 1976)
Collected Poems 1946-86 (Gomer Press, 1987)
Travel Notes (Gomer Press, 1992)
The Delphic Voyage and other poems (Carreg Gwalch Cyf, 2003)
Literary Criticism:
An Introduction to Anglo-Welsh Literature (University of Wales Press, 1970)
Ed. with Roland Mathias, Anglo-Welsh Poetry 1480-1980 (Seren,1984)
Raymond Garlick by Don Dale-Jones in the Writers of Wales series (University of Wales Press, 1996)
R.S. Thomas – Letters to Raymond Garlick 1951-1999 (Gomer Press, 2009)
“Byron Beynon lives in West Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including Agenda, London Magazine, Plainsongs, Chiron Review, Poetry Wales, Cyphers and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest).”

Sleep By Peter Warzel

blue throat
4:00 AM rising. My sleep is ravaged by hummingbirds. I hear the buzz first, the whirr. I know it is a dream but it is a call also to wake to industriousness. I fight it. I am pissed at being awake and my bed becomes a battlefield. I reach to touch the dog in the dark knowing D. is not there but find that Padmé is missing too. Three books are in their place, always three at a time.
Books as literal bed partners began in Europe years ago, in Budapest. I could not sleep so kept CNN International turned on the television at low volume hoping white noise and flickering light would mesmerize me. They did not help so I read one of the twenty or so books I would read on these two-week trips. I placed the book on the bed next to me to fill the space and slept, eventually. I have been married thirty-nine years total with two wives and most likely have slept alone thirteen of that count. Bedded alone maybe better said as sleep is elusive and increasingly so.
When awake at two or three AM you begin to inventory the night. Santa Fe is a peculiarly quiet city, the continual hum of the grand cities absent. Silence is startling at any time so even the whirr of wings will wake you.
I will not make coffee until four AM on the chance that I will grow tired and find sleep again. “I have lost too much sleep/I’m gonna find it…” Shawn Colvin’s song on a maddening loop. Crepuscular music.
This morning I was set to rise early to fish in the Valles Caldera with my fellow exile Michael Brown. Not this early. My task was set for 6:00 AM when I would drive to the Burrito Spot for two breakfast burritos for our hour drive, Michael meeting me back at the apartment at 6:45. The Spot’s two shops on Cerrillos Road were the only ones offering breakfast burritos that early according to their web site and no, they were not open as advertised, though the neon sign in the window of the closest said open.
Sometimes I wake simply because sleep is completed, sometimes because of the Clangs. A long gone friend described the Clangs as the panic of that cold ball of shit working its way slowly towards your heart. The Clangs get me more often these days before dawn.
Then what? I leave the lights out and maneuver in the dark so not to disturb Alex and Svenja across our courtyard. I usually do not turn on the radio either until about six-thirty not wanting to disrupt the remedial properties of silence. I never read due to my black-out but sometimes write by the clean light of the Mac screen, notebook laid across the keyboard in my lap. I do read newspapers online and trip across the world lightly through the NYT, The London Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, sometimes The Santa Fe New Mexican, though that is a hometown paper, a comfort and nuisance like weekly papers in small town America, though daily. The Taos News is a weekly and locals there subscribe to it for fire starter.
Rarely do I start a fire this early and certainly not until November but when the cold creeps in beneath the doors the hiss and pop is comforting as I plan the day already started.
Suddenly the day is deep on. Sometimes three, four hours into it before I need to ready for work and decide if it is a formal day – starched shirt and jeans – or informal – washed shirt, jeans, white Chuck Taylors. I adjust my calendar for things I can and cannot do, jot meandering thoughts like these in my notebook, knock off emails to staff and Board Directors, and think about the Denver house not yet rising and perhaps think about the conversation with D. last evening and whether I should be concerned about her or not today. At times there is a decided instability in her words, each one not connecting to the next, edgy, ready to run away on a frenzied walk-about. I wonder whether the voice and the reality are the same or if this distance is the cause and concern, the catalyst of my disquiet. She is in charge of her own kingdom and I can only listen to dispatches from the chancellor.
When I walk out into the yard for air the night sky is ripe with stars, we turning beneath at a fast clip, and then later a linear line of orange-fired clouds outline the mountains up Canyon Road. Coyotes talk some mornings before the sun, most likely near the School for Advanced Research due east of here or in the river bed, the trickle that halves downtown from the Barrio de Analco.
This morning my hummingbird is feeding voraciously as if autumn is coming on hard. I rarely see it, he, singular, en route from north to south through the neighborhood feeders and flowers mapped by instinctual energy efficiency. 5:00 AM, it feeds while I watch, flits up into a seeping pine tree and hovers then sits a limb, waiting for me to leave and go inside. When I do it goes to the feeder again, juicy with Perky-Pet Instant Nectar and I see the white bars on its fanned-out tail as it hovers. This is a real look at my visitor and I pull the bird book from the window shelf – blue throated hummingbird, male. There is one green dot on the map in the book over Santa Fe. That is my boy.
A gift for not sleeping today. A naming. The words complete this live thing at my kitchen window – language has defined the morning. “And to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.”*
     * Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe.
Peter Warzel has published poetry, fiction, essays, and non-fiction articles in newspapers, literary journals, and national magazines including Pilgrimage, Zone3, the Roanoke Review, Grays Sporting Journal, Cowboys and Indians Magazine, and New Mexico Magazine. I live in Denver and the place of exile – Santa Fe – and everywhere in-between.