Ceri Shaw



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The Moving of the Water - An Interview With Welsh American Author David Lloyd

user image 2018-12-20
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Author Interviews

Welsh American author David Lloyd

David Lloyd

themovingofthewater.jpg AmeriCymru: Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new short story collection, The Moving of the Water for our readers?

David: The Moving of the Water is a collection of stories set in a Welsh-American immigrant community in upstate New York during the 1960s, exploring their struggles, aspirations, and desires; how the past helps creates the present, how the present makes us reinterpret the past. Immigrants and their children live within competing cultural currents - some they welcome, some they ignore, some they struggle against. I want to entertain readers but also address large issues: what is “home” for an immigrant? how does culture shape behavior? what connects us to others, and what divides us?

AmeriCymru: What is the origin and significance of your title, The Moving of the Water?

David: The title is from the New Testament, John 5:2-3 - and that passage is the book’s epigraph: “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” My characters, like those at the Bethesda pool, are (in different ways in different stories) hopeful and faithful, but complexly damaged. In a sense they all are “waiting for the moving of the water” - for healing, fulfillment, transformation. “The Moving of the Water” is also the title of the collection’s final story - and my favorite. Those interested can find it at the Virginia Quarterly Review web site: https://www.vqronline.org/fiction/2018/06/moving-water .

My father emigrated to the US with my mother, eldest brother, and sister in 1948. While minister at the Welsh Presbyterian Church in Liverpool, he received a call from Moriah Presbyterian Church in Utica for a minister who could preach in Welsh. So I was born into a Welsh-American chapel community, attending two services on Sunday, Sunday school, choir practice, and so on. It’s no surprise that passages from the Bible and from Welsh hymns echo in my mind and memory!

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us something about the book cover?

David: The cover art is by Welsh artist Iwan Bala. I’ve admired Iwan’s political and cultural art for decades and found the image in a book of his art, Hon: Ynys Y Galon (This: Island of the Heart). It’s a detail from Iwan’s oil painting Cof, Bro, Mebyd (Memory, Community, Childhood), and shows a figure in a coracle-like boat on the open sea, the dark mountains of Wales looming behind. An umbilical cord stretches from this adult figure back to Wales as the archetypal head faces west - in my mind, towards the “new world.” The figure in the coracle is nourished by Wales, tethered to Wales, but striking out into the unknown.

AmeriCymru: One of your stories (included here) is "Dreaming of Home," which won the 2015 Americymru short story contest. What can you tell us about this story?

David: The main character is Llew, short for Llywelyn, an illustrious name in Wales because of Llywelyn the Great, King of Gwynedd, and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last independent prince of Wales, who died in battle in 1282. Llew is a nickname for Llywelyn, and in one of my stories Llew had also been a warrior. Another connection with these medieval warrior-princes is that “Llew” in Welsh means “lion.” In my story, Llew was a soldier in WWI who almost died of his wounds in battle. An immigrant to the US, Llew is psychologically wounded: he’s become an alcoholic, and during the evening of the story, he comes home drunk to his shabby apartment, turns on the TV, and hears news of an attack by the Viet Cong on the Bien Hoa air base. He falls asleep and dreams of his own battle, his wounding in a trench during a German mortar attack. In his delirium, surrounded by dying and dead comrades, his father appears in the trench to comfort Llew - and Llew asks his father to take him home. “But you are home, my boy,” his father tells him - meaning that this trench is a new home for Llew, one he can never leave. Llew wakes up - and remembers nothing of his dream except seeing his father. He falsely believes that he dreamed of his childhood in Wales, the home in the village where he “truly belonged.” But the story suggests that “home” is complicated for Llew, as for all of us. We have many homes that define who we are, and for Llew it is his childhood home in Wales, the flat where he lives in upstate New York, and also a trench in Belgium. The many places to which we belong reminds me of the passage from John 14:2-3: “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.”

AmeriCymru: "Anchored in the community of first-, second-, and third-generation Welsh Americans in Utica, New York, during the 1960s, the stories in David Lloyd’s The Moving of the Water delve into universal concerns: identity, home, religion, language, culture, belonging, personal and national histories, mortality." Is there anything unique about the Welsh-American community or are their concerns and experiences in any way universal among the various immigrant communities?

David: Utica, New York, where I grew up, was home to many immigrant communities: Irish, Italian, Polish, Eastern European Jewish, Welsh, Lebanese, among others. And more diverse populations have arrived since I left. While distinct in so many ways (religion, food, music, the language, and so on), the Welsh-American community definitely shared concerns and experiences with their neighbor communities. My family’s social life was centered around Moriah Church, where my father served as minister, similar to how the Catholic church was central to most of my Irish and Italian friends, and the synagogue to my Jewish friends. But culture is not static - it moves and spreads - so we all learned from each other. We all absorb what’s around us. I’m lucky to have a Welsh and an American heritage, and the weird blending that results.

AmeriCymru: You use Welsh words and phrases in many of the stories: how does the Welsh language function in the book?

David: Many contemporary writers from immigrant backgrounds include their languages of origin in their English-language stories. Translating their characters’ speech would sound false, since immigrants would naturally use a hybrid of English and the family language - in my case Welsh. At home my parents spoke English with Welsh accents, and every day from bore da (good morning) to nos da (good night) I heard some Welsh. At dinnertime, my mother would call out, “mae’r bwyd yn barod” - she’d never say, “food is ready.” In my stories the meaning of the Welsh that characters speak should be evident within the context, but at the end of the book I provide “Notes on Welsh Words, Phrases, and Names.”

AmeriCymru: "Lloyd’s stories are in the realist mode, yet sometimes broken up with startling, dream-like, hallucinatory passages that are decisive in opening up another range of experience." Would you agree with this assessment?

David: Yes I do agree. All the stories deal with people facing crises or challenges drawn from the “real world.” But life - for immigrants or indeed anyone - is not simply made up of verifiable facts. It’s also magical, mysterious, irrational, infused with memory - we dream, we fantasize, we hallucinate, we remember and misremember. I want to build those dimensions of life into some of my stories. So for example, in the story “The Visitor” a woman in her 70s receives a nightly visitor - Geraint, whom she’d hoped to marry when a young woman living in Wales, before her parents brought her to the US. She has conversations with this figment from her past - conversations that help her live in her present and understand the conditions of her early life. The conversations are real, but they’re also a fantasy arising from her past in Wales, impinging on her present in the US.

Another example is the story “Crooked Pie,” in which the ten year old son of Welsh immigrants who has assimilated into American culture visits a theme park based on Disneyfied renditions of Grimm’s fairy tales - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, and so on. He enters the House of the Crooked Man. There, in this magical place, he meets himself as he might be at age fifteen. This is impossible, but his double in a lengthy monologue gives him a vision of what it’s like for a boy to live through American culture of the mid to late 1960s. I hope this dream-like dimension conveys the traumatically rapid pace of deracination, and of dynamic American culture generally as experienced by the children of immigrants during that era (and in our current era!).

AmeriCymru: What attracted you to the short story genre? Will you be publishing more collections?

David: In adolescence I wanted to be a poet. And that identity continued through my college years. But while in the PhD program at Brown University, I took a fiction writing course with novelist John Hawkes - a magnificent teacher and an amazing writer. I was hooked. So I joined the Brown master’s degree creative writing program in fiction - not poetry - while completing my PhD. I soon discovered that I’m less interested in writing stand-alone stories than in extended projects, such as story cycles - that’s the case with my first collection, Boys: Stories and a Novella, and with this new book, The Moving of the Water. I am working on a novel now featuring a Welsh American - I won’t say more so I don’t spook myself!

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your poetry?

David: I’ve published three poetry collections: The Everyday Apocalypse, The Gospel According to Frank, and Warriors. All include poems about Wales or Welsh-American experience, but The Gospel According to Frank is entirely about blended experience, the ebb and flow of cultural forms and ideas. The “Frank” of the title is Frank Sinatra, and so in general the poems explore issues relating to popular culture in twentieth-century America, such as fame, greed, creativity, and power. But in doing so, the forty-eight poems merge Sinatra’s public persona with other cultural materials, including the Old and New Testaments (this is, after all, Sinatra’s “gospel”!), Greek mythology, the medieval Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, and the medieval Welsh masterpiece, the Four Branches of The Mabinogi.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Lloyd? Any new titles, readings in the works?

David: I have a new poetry collection, The Body’s Compass, just accepted by Salmon Poetry (based in Ireland). And I’ve been giving readings to promote The Moving of the Water. Last summer while in Wales I gave readings at Bangor University, the Imperial Hotel in Merthyr Tydfil, and the Workers Galley in Ynyshir. I have readings coming up at Wells College, Aurora, New York on February 26; at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York on April 4; and the Utica Public Library, Utica, New York on June 1. I’ll likely give a reading in Portland, Oregon in March.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

David: I’m thankful to see such dedicated engagement with Welsh culture and language on the AmeriCymru site. Books, music, art, film, photography - they give us pleasure, they expand our horizons. They also need our active support!

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