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 Fox, published 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’).
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.