It’s my last day here as writer-in-residence and I’m wondering how I’m going to slip back in to doing my own shopping, cooking and washing up...
Two and a half weeks have gone by. I arrived with some rather vague ideas about my great-nan who used to go to the Women’s Social and Political Union meetings and I’m heading home with a sequence of 13 Suffragette poems and a suntan! I’ve also edited and completed five other poems, written two more and managed to draft a chapter of my PhD.
I’d decided in advance to take a break from the internet during my stay and to read whatever took my fancy in the library. I began with the library’s Suffragette literature (I’d recommend The Militant Suffragettes by Antonia Raeburn), and then numerous poetry collections, including work by Eavan Boland (In a Time of Violence is wonderful), John Burnside, Gillian Clarke, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Owen Sheers and R.S. Thomas. I’d never really got to grips with Thomas before (maybe meeting so many vicars over the past two weeks lead me to Thomas’s long poem ‘The Minister’; I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it).
I can’t praise the peace and atmosphere in the Library enough. Although it’s mainly known for its theological collections, the history, politics, contemporary fiction and poetry collections are great. Other highlights of the library include a new biography of Keats, Damian Barr’s Maggie & Me and Baudelaire’s letters (though the latter comes across as an egotistical whinger)! Surely not all poets are like that. Are we?
As writer-in-residence, you’re pretty much left to your own devices but we are asked to run a workshop, which I’ve just finished today (a really animated bunch of poets – great fun) and to give a reading. I did the reading in my first week, performing poems from two of my collections, as well as from new work. I had a good audience (I’m sure the free gin with a ticket must have helped) and some lively questions. I always enjoy readings but was slightly nervous beforehand. How would a self-confessed heathen go down among such an erudite and, I suspected, rather religious audience? Well, the gin worked its wonders, and you’d need to ask the audience what they thought, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and seem to have sold quite a few books.
I’ve also had some great conversations, with a jolly chaplain from Pontypridd, an academic from Liverpool who has written on the Suffragettes, and some interesting arguments with another writer over the merits of Bach or Led Zep – I’ll leave you to decide which music I’d plump for.
I’d like to end with my thanks and some recommendations. First, huge thanks to all the staff and interns at Gladstone’s Library for your kindness and for making the residency such a positive experience. I’ve loved it. Special thanks to the catering staff for cooking tasty and imaginative food for a vegan for 17 days – and keeping smiling!
Finally, a few recommendations. Do go to the pub (both the Fox and Grapes and the Glynne Arms are pretty lively on a Friday night, and the latter has Welsh whisky and gin), the castle at Flint/Fflint is lovely (you might be lucky and have it all to yourself), and a train trip to Llandudno or Conwy is a must. Finally, see if you can view the painting sequence Dance of Life by Mildred Elsi Eldridge at Glynd?r University in Wrexham/Wrecsam. Eldridge is a brilliant artist (who also happens to be Thomas’s first wife). Her art deserves to be as respected as Thomas’s poetry.
I’d love to come back to Gladstone’s one day. Thank you/diolch!
Katrina's recommendations can be found in the library.
For more information on Katrina Naomi, visit her website here.