Tag Archives: Gillian Clarke

Publication of Persians – winner of second Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry – launches, workshops, readings.

‘Persians’ in a new version by Kaite O’Reilly, Fair Acre Press. Cover photo of Gerald Tyler, John Rowley and Richard Huw Morgan by Farrows Creative from Mike Pearson’s production for National Theatre Wales.

Almost a decade on from its premiere on Ministry of Defence land in the Welsh Brecon Beacons, and eight years after winning the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, my version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’ is finally published by independent publisher Fair Acre Press…. and I perhaps shouldn’t, but will state, I love everything about it. Yes, I’m biased, but it is a thing of beauty – from the striking cover, using my favourite image from Mike Pearson’s acclaimed National Theatre Wales production, to the texture and quality of the paper. I also loved liaising with editor and designer Nadia Kingsley on every aspect of the book, relishing the thought given to the layout, which had Nadia and I yo-yoing back and forth in discussion, aided and abetted by the brilliant Chris Kinsey.

Chris and Nadia were attentive readers, responding to my revisions as I transferred the verse drama from something to be experienced live and site-specifically, to a text to be read possibly silently and alone. The layout and structure has changed to suit this new manifestation, reverting more to the original dramaturgy, as opposed to the one I devised to fit the promenade aspect of Pearson’s production.

From the Introduction.

Persians by Aeschylus is the oldest extant verse drama in the Western canon. First presented at Athens’ City Dionysia Festival in 472 BCE, it recounts the Persian response to military defeat at the Battle of Salamis in 480BCE.

Aeschylus: poet, philosopher, soldier-playwright, anti-warmonger, humanist. He chose to write about an astonishing, almost miraculous event, a David and Goliath of its day: the spectacular and relatively recent defeat of the marauding Persian Imperial force by the people of Athens. Aeschylus was an Athenian. He could have written a swaggering tale of victory, of the battle-prowess Greeks and their cunning and sacrifice to protect this early, emerging experiment in (a form of) democracy. He could have written a xenophobic pageant of blood-lust and warriors, filled with self-congratulatory jingoism and gloating over the dead. Instead – in my reading at least – he chose to write a powerful anti-war verse drama which painfully depicts the waste and agonies of conflict – what Wilfred Owen, another soldier-poet, called ‘the pity of war’ – written with fire and dignity from the point of view of the defeated.

Reviews and endorsements:

I am hugely grateful to Gillian Clarke, the former Bard of Wales (2008-16) and one of the judges of the Ted Hughes Award, for her enthusiasm towards my reworking of Aeschylus’s “Persians’.  Her words grace the back cover:

“In her version of Europe’s oldest dramatic poem, a requiem to a nation’s dead in a reckless, fruitless war, Kaite O’Reilly chooses the iambic drumbeat of English blank verse, and a long-lined lyricism that befits an epic lament. The language is modern, the word-music timeless, the rhythms ring with echoes of Elizabethan drama. In this powerful translation, the three voices of the Chorus tell the tragic story in a breathless song of mourning that insists on being heard.” Gillian Clarke.

The book is currently out with reviewers, but Liz Jones has already critiqued the verse drama for New Welsh Review:

“Kaite O’Reilly’s powerful, emotionally charged text…. stands squarely on its own as a notable work of poetry…. There is no Henry IV rallying his troops, no deposed king in search of his horse, no heroism on the battlefield. Instead we have something more resonant; a reflective mediation on war’s aftermath; a dramatic study of loss, grief and defeat, voiced by a sorrowful chorus….Under the weight of grief, language itself breaks down into incoherent keening…. A haunting tragedy and a salutary reminder that all empires must eventually end, it is hardly surprising that Persians continues to resonate across the centuries. O’Reilly’s translation, written as it was when American troops were withdrawing from Iraq, anticipates the fall of the empire of our age; that of America (and by association, of Western hegemony). Written and performed during ‘a time of terror’, O’Reilly has overlaid Aeschylus’ timeless tragedy with a distinctively contemporary howl of pain.”

Liz Jones. New Welsh Review.  NWR issue r31. Full review here.

‘Persians’ will be published by Fair Acre Press on 29th July 2019, but advance copies can be ordered from the publisher here. It will also be available via Amazon, online, and all good bookshops from the publication date.

Launch and workshop:

I will be launching Persians in Cardigan at Small World Theatre on 7th September, following a workshop on adapting ancient texts:

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
.
Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
.
Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. 
After the workshop:
.
Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.
.
There will be further readings and events celebrating Fair Acre Press’s publication of ‘Persians’. Details will follow. I’m simply ecstatic being able to reveal the cover and some of the details of this, my debut poetry publication, which has taken so many years to reach print. Thanks to my fantastic agents at Blake Friedmann, Gillian Clarke, Chris Kinsey and to Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press. What a beautiful collaboration!

Singing the Old Bones – a workshop with Kaite O’Reilly 7th September 2019

Singing the old bones –  new stories from ancient texts. 
.
Revisiting older stories can be a masterclass in narrative. Myths, fairystories, epics from Ancient Greek drama and the oral tradition survive as they seem to speak to each age anew. These archetypal characters and narratives inspire and invite constant reinvention, yet the old bones remain true. In this practical workshop we will retell, remake and renew, participants exploring individual perspectives on timeless themes, reshaping ancient tales to illuminate something contemporary. The tutor, Kaite, is a repeat re-teller, creating to date three very different performances on the story of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, and a new version of Aeschylus’s Persians,the oldest verse drama in the Western tradition, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
We ask participants to come with a myth, fable, ancient drama or story, which we will use to explore the fundamentals of story making: theme, structure, setting, dialogue and character. Through examples of Kaite’s diverse approaches to reinventing existing texts, we will make our own, sparking a new cycle of telling and retellings, seeding work which could be developed further beyond the masterclass.
.
Workshop 2-5pm on 7th September 2019, £25.
Small World Theatre | Theatr Byd Bychan
Cardigan | Aberteifi, SA43 IJY
Booking:
sam@smallworld.org.uk
01239 615 952
smallworld.org.uk
twitter: @theatrbydbychan
Numbers are limited and already almost sold out, but plans are afoot for a further workshop/event in November 2019 at the same venue. Further details will follow.
.
After the workshop:
Launch of ‘Persians’ Kaite O’Reilly’s new version of Aeschylus’s classic verse drama. 6pm. Free entry.
Aeschylus was a soldier-playwright involved in the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE, when the vastly out-numbered Greeks defeated the might of the marauding Persian Empire. This exploration of the pity of war from the point of the view of the defeated is an extraordinary feat of compassion, and the oldest existing text in the Western theatrical canon. Kaite wrote her new version for Mike Pearson’s site-specific production on Ministry of defence land in the Brecon Beacons for National Theatre Wales’s inaugural year. Revised and reinvented, it won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry and is published by Fairacre Press.
Kaite will read from the verse drama and speak about the historical and contemporary contexts of this extraordinary text. There will be a book signing after the reading and launch.
.
“In her version of Europe’s oldest dramatic poem, a requiem to a nation’s dead in a reckless, fruitless war, Kaite O’Reilly chooses the iambic drumbeat of English blank verse, and a long-lined lyricism that befits an epic lament. The language is modern, the word-music timeless… In this powerful translation, the three voices of the Chorus tell the tragic story in a breathless song of mourning that insists on being heard….”  Gillian Clarke.
.
——
I will be making a ‘reveal’ of the cover and details of this publication after Easter… have a restful and creative time.

Talking with poets

Penglais woods, above Aberystwyth. Walking the bluebell trail with Chris Kinsey, April 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

For the past few years I have been undergoing a slow transformation, partly documented in this blog. It has been sedate but determined, rather like the growth of lichen on a tree,  so perhaps a better term might be evolution…

For years my performance texts and plays have been described by reviewers as ‘poetic’ and my writing as having a ‘lyrical’ quality. When I won the Ted Hughes Award for my version of Aeschylus’s Persians in 2011 I almost argued with the judges, asking how could I win such a prestigious award when I was a dramatist, not a poet? (Thankfully the judges were sage enough to ignore my protestations, insisting in their wisdom I was indeed a dramatist and a poet, despite my cries ‘But I don’t write poetry!’)

Many conversations on this subject have followed over the years, some referenced in this blog. I often wondered if my resistance was not towards poetry  per se – I have too many learnt by heart to be considered a poetry denier – but to the idea of me trying to write it. I also suffered from a rather limited definition of what poetry might be.

As my resistance (fear, perhaps?) weathered away, I became aware of how many of my new but close friends were practising poets. When I became seriously ill in 2015, I found what I wanted to read was, of course, poetry, perhaps because, as Robert Frost put it: ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

My friend and poetry-whisperer Chris Kinsey has accompanied me along this journey, generously sharing reading platforms (at Oriel Davies where she was poet in residence) as well as work in progress. Interesting articles on form are sent my way, along with illuminating quotations on writing alongside her extraordinary engagement with the natural world in language. It was a masterclass in itself and a great privilege to witness the creation of her latest pamphlet, Muddy Foxpublished by Rack Press. We ruminate on process, often – to my huge pleasure – when walking along hidden tracks in different parts of Wales. As a former winner of the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, she is  attuned both to the natural world and ways to express it. We exchange work and encourage each other in our writing, but never once has she suggested I try writing poetry, not even covertly… (I am confident in asserting this, for as a playwright, I am skilled in detecting subtext and ‘what lies beneath’).

Aberystwyth from above the town. Walking the gorse trail with Chris Kinsey April 2017.

So it is she, alongside Samantha Wynne Rhydderch and Gillian Clarke who have and continue to patiently incubate my on-going evolution as someone who now experiments with poetic form. I have wonderfully stimulating lunches with Sam overlooking Cardigan Bay in a cafe which was previously the post office where Dylan Thomas sent his manuscripts to London – a detail we both find entertaining. The hours disappear in our varied and diverse conversations on live performance, poetry, writing, the voice. Gillian has recently become a more formal encourager, meeting me for ‘masterclass encounters’ as we coin them, part of my Creative Wales Award, granted by the far-sighted Arts Council of Wales (read about this incredible initiative here).

It is only now I am beginning to fully understand the power and influence of talking with poets. These conversations guide, stimulate, provoke, engage, and encourage growth and change. Talking to poets (particularly along the by-ways of our beautiful Ceredigion) should be available on the NHS.

 

Creative Wales Awards 2017

I’m delighted to announce I am one of the artists from Wales fortunate to be granted a Creative Wales Award.

The awards, presented at an event held at Cardiff’s contemporary art gallery G39 on Thursday 12 January, “recognise the very best talent and potential of individual Welsh artists applying for this development opportunity.

The annual Creative Wales Awards offer up to £25,000 to enable artists to take time to experiment, innovate, and take forward their work. The aim is to develop excellence by offering a period of research and development to some of Wales’s most interesting artists.”
Phil George, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales said:

“The Creative Wales Awards is the Arts Council of Wales’s opportunity to recognise some our country’s remarkable talents. They are awarded to the artists at significant stages in their careers and as they take the brave decision to explore new ways of developing and making their art. We look forward to seeing how these awards will impact on their work and to how their creativity flourishes in the future.”

I am immensely excited about this award, but also phenomenally grateful to be living in a country which recognises life-long learning and development in an artist. For me, just writing the application for the award was stimulating and useful – it encouraged me to perceive where I ‘am’ in my career, and possible new ways forward.

My Creative Wales is based on my love of words and the incredible joy I experienced when writing my new version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’, directed by Mike Pearson site-specifically on MOD land for National Theatre Wales in 2010. You can see a promotional video of the project here.

Apart from starting a love affair with the remarkable poet-playwright-soldier Aeschylus, it introduced me to composer John Hardy, long-term collaborator of Pearson and the brilliant Brith Gof. I knew John’s work intimately, but hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him, before. At the read-through of the first draft, he said to me: “Do you write for opera?” and I answered in the negative. “Well, perhaps you should think about doing so,” he replied – words that remained scorched into my mind for six years – until I started thinking about a Creative Wales Award. I am happy to say John Hardy was immensely generous in our conversations about form and process, dialogue which helped me shape a programme of learning when drafting my application. He, alongside David Pountney of Welsh National Opera, and Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales, were incredibly encouraging as I stumbled in my ignorance through possible approaches. I hope dearly to have the opportunity of observing process with WNO and MTW, and developing material alongside John Hardy during my experimentation.

But my award is not solely about writing libretti. It is about exploring the performative power of language with music. The gift of a Creative Wales Award is remarkable – it is not product-based, but about process, learning, experimentation, creative exploration. I will spend months exploring different form and approaches – from underscored performance poetry and verse drama through to exploring contemporary libretti.

Perhaps this exploration was inevitable. I won the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for the text of ‘Persians’. This extraordinary honour both humbled and bewildered me (“but I’m a playwright, not a poet!!”) and started me off questioning what the relationship might be between the poetic and the dramatic. It is perhaps no accident that new friends and collaborators are themselves accomplished poets – Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, Gillian Clarke, Sophie McKeand and especially Chris Kinsey, who has consistently nurtured my interest in poetry, and encouraged my own practice through inviting me to read alongside her at public performances. I’m excited about where my journeying into the poetic may take me, and I’m thrilled that Owen Sheers and Gillian Clarke will give me some masterclasses in poetry and verse drama in the first stage of my Creative Wales.

All I need now is to get through the next four months before my exploration commences. I’m trying to curate an experience which will stretch and challenge me, forcing me to grow as an artist perhaps into unexpected places. I am so grateful to all who assisted me in the application, and those who wrote supportive letters. My greatest thanks, of course, goes to the officers of the Arts Council of Wales and that sterling institution which has such vision and understanding about how to grow mature artists within Wales. I know my colleagues outside Wales are envious we have such opportunity – and it is one we must cherish and jealously protect in uncertain times in the future.