AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your latest collection Dylan's Gower?
Robert: Hi Ceri. On the back cover of Dylan’s Gower, the publisher, Chris Jones of Cambria Books, has written:
“In this tribute to Dylan, his [Dylan’s] life on the Gower Peninsula in Wales is imagined poetically in the movement of a wave, the build-up, the swell, the rise, the disintegration, the spindrift, the crashing down. Then the relief, the calm before the next wave begins to form. Poems that start with poetic intensity, move towards those that have a painful or nightmarish quality and end with poems that have a lighter touch.”
I felt that the influence of the Gower peninsula in Dylan’s formation was being underplayed of late and sent this note in the South Wales Evening Post. It forms the Introduction to Dylan’s Gower:
“Talking to Dylan Thomas’s lovely granddaughter, Hannah Ellis, and to the inspiring Olivier Award-winning actor Guy Masterson last night at the RSA in John Street, London, on the occasion of their brilliant British Council seminar “Dylan Thomas: A Life in Words”, I was particularly struck by Hannah’s reference to Dylan’s notebooks which he wrote between the ages of fifteen (possibly earlier) and twenty. She mentioned how these had been lying mouldering in a box in Boulder, America, but are now available to the public in Swansea. Hannah argued that everything was there, in embryo, in those notebooks, that that period of poetic creativity, those five or more years of “cosseted” (Hannah’s word) creative activity, a veritable explosion that occurred within the young genius relieved to drop out early, at sixteen, from a school in which he was bored, were the foundations of his work to come. Dylan lived in Swansea, on the edge of Gower, during those years.
Hannah referred to a text in which he wrote that he “often” went down to Gower. The gist of this book, Dylan’s Gower, is that it is clearly time to re-evaluate the influence of the spectacular and quirky Gower Peninsula on his work. Hannah maintained that Newquay and Laugharne were key periods in the gestation of Under Milk Wood. I agreed but argued that to them must be added the beautiful bays and villages of his early ‘backyard’, the place to which he would escape during his formative years and to which he was tempted to ‘retire’ in the final year of his life. This book points, perhaps, to the need to re-evaluate the role Gower played in the formation of the creatures of the mysterious entity of Dylan’s literary imagination.”
The above was published on 25 October 2014. In Dylan’s Gower I explore a little possible links Dylan’s imagination had with the peninsula.
AmeriCymru: This is your second anthology on the theme of Dylan Thomas in this centenary year. How important a figure is Dylan in the history of Welsh literature?
Robert: I am not really the best person to judge this. My wife went to a grammar school near Swansea and told me that nobody mentioned Dylan at all when she was there. He wrote only in English, as you know. Personally I feel he is tremendously important for Welsh literature but it depends how you define the latter. Some say he was too “English” for the Welsh. I am not an expert on Dylan’s poetry although I read any book on him that I can lay my hands on.
I am simply somebody who has been inspired, gratefully,
by his work, by its music, its sound and by his voice.
AmeriCymru: What particular personal memories inspired these tributes?
Robert: The memories are numerous. Mark Rees of The Evening Post interviewed me this summer.
The interview was posted on September 14. (See http://verpress.com/to-dylan-2014/). The unabridged version can be read on http://verpress.com/dylans-gower-2014/.
My memories of the area where Dylan grew up begin at an early age, while I was still at Primary/Junior School. I had an aunt and uncle in Baglan. My cousin, their daughter, to who I am close, lives in Mumbles.
I cycled around Mumbles and Gower on old broken down bike with no brakes when I was a child. Over the years my wife and I have spent a huge amount of time down there visiting her parents, sadly no longer with us, in Port Eynon. It’s a very special place to us, as it was to Dylan. My younger son, William, who did the covers for the two Dylan books, was born in Morriston Hospital, near Swansea.
My sons, James and William love being there, as do their sons Alban (3), Matthew (2) and Dylan (10 months).
AmeriCymru: In 2004 you set up an independent press. What can you tell us about this venture? What does the future hold for Verulamium Press?
Robert: I launched Verulamium Press in 2004 because local publishers were not interested in publishing poetry and national publishers were not interested in publishing local poetry (as if poetry is not rooted in an area!).
I began by publishing my translation of El río y otros poemas, The River and Other Poems, by the Patagonian poet Andrés Bohoslavsky and some my own poems of childhood - in Luton Poems. In all honesty the press has not been very active. I published with Verulamium Press this year a collection of approaching 200 short stories (many of them micro-stories) called A Night in Buganda. Tales from Post-Colonial Africa about my experiences on an aid program in Uganda in the sixties. The background is the collapse of democracy and the rise of Idi Amin. The thing is that once I had published my poetry on my own press, publishers in other countries, namely Argentina, Mexico and Spain, began to contact me. I write in Spanish and English.
Lord Byron Ediciones in Madrid is my main publisher outside the UK. (Go to the Home page on http://verpress.com for the list of my published work. Its future? Well, it’s there and it can be used again. At present my publisher is Cambria Books, in Wales.
AmeriCymru: Where can people find out more about your work online?
Robert: From my website: verpress.com.
As you know, I write a great deal in Spanish. My first Spanish teacher in the UK was Señor Enyr Jones (‘Jonah)’) from Gaiman in Patagonia. I owe him a great deal.
I was in Argentina in 1972 working with the exiled Spanish poet, Juan Larrea, at his home in Córdoba and at his Center for Research on César Vallejo (Peru).
I use quite a lot of Spanish and Latin American digital publications, such as Analía Pascaner’s Con Voz Propia –Revista Literaria (Argentina).
Analía and her husband Jorge came over to the UK last year and we met up. If you scroll down the right hand side of http://convozpropiaenlared.blogspot.co.uk to the list of poets she has published, you will see my contributions under Robert Gurney. My work featured in Ketty Lis’s poeticas.com.ar website in which I found myself next to the giant Dylan Thomas (in Spanish), in the UK section, but sadly that site, that was supported by major international institutions and Oxford University, seems to have been taken down. I publish short stories with Benma in Mexico City.
AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment?
Robert: At the moment I am writing a Spanish edition of my poems dedicated to Dylan. The provisional title is Para Dylan (For Dylan). I have been approached about it by more than one publisher. I also plan to publish Juan Larrea’s letters to me and a dual language book of short stories, in Spanish and English, called The Seven Deadly Sins. These have been appearing in anthologies launched by Benma.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Robert: Just that I am delighted to have found AmeriCymru. I have only just found it and am still exploring it. It looks great and I am hoping I’ll be able to make a contribution to it and I look forward to making contact with fellow poets and story writers through its pages.
My antepenultimate book this year, the one about Uganda and East Africa, reflected an American-British shared experience that I treasure a great deal . There is an openess about America that you don’t always find here, sadly. I am still in near daily contact with colleagues in America from that group, TEA, Teachers for East Africa. They helped me with A Night in Buganda. (The ‘Night’, by the way, is the encroaching night of Amin.)
Robert Edward Gurney
St Albans, UK