‘Did R.S. Thomas believe in God?’ Review of Laboratories of the Spirit. Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea, 1st November 2013. In New Welsh Review 102 (Winter, 2013-2014) online.
Did RS Thomas believe in God? The question was put by M Wynn Thomas, a professor of literature at Swansea University, to Barry Morgan, the current Archbishop of Wales, and Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, at a public discussion of faith in RS Thomas’ work at Swansea last month. The prompt was a video clip in which John Osmond asks RS Thomas whether his rôles as poet and priest conflict. No, he replies, because poetry is metaphor, and religion is also metaphor. He sees no conflict between administering the Christian sacraments, which are metaphor, and administering the metaphor of poetry.
R.S. Thomas’s comment was perhaps deliberately evasive, and ignores the other meaning of Osmond’s question, whether the time he spent as a poet kept him from fulfilling his duties to his parish. Rowan Williams especially seemed anxious to defend his record as a priest. Young people remembered him fondly, and his sermons were clear and accessible. He would spend whole nights at the bedsides of the dying, or drive parishioners to see their relatives in hospital at Bangor from his parish on the Llŷn Peninsula, a round trip of eighty miles. His remark, argued Barry Morgan, is less alarming than it sounds, for RS Thomas does not state that religion is merely metaphor. He is not a systematic theologian, and does not pretend to an unambiguous faith, yet his work shows a deep conviction of the centrality of Jesus, of the centrality of his death and resurrection, and of the human-centred hope expressed in God’s future kingship.
Review of Blinc Digidol. Conwy, 25th October 2013. In New Welsh Review> 101 (Autumn, 2013) online.
Elsewhere, a speech synthesiser scratched out lines by Dylan Thomas, but struggled with the Welsh of John Rowlands. A motion detector used passers by to animate a mediaeval danse macabre. A small carpark housed a second projector supervised by young men in gratuitous hats, where quietly disturbing images played themselves out to a background of quietly disturbing sound effects. A boiling egg, blood, a Rorschach blot... I have a particular horror of Rorschach blots... The mobile cinema was very comfortable, and a film by Kika Nicolela had a less attentive audience than it deserved. The lad in the fluorescent jacket seemed grateful just to rest his feet. ‘But, Mummy,’ a child said, ‘I simply must have a pony.’
I felt I'd seen and heard about enough.
Review of Dandelion, by Patrick Jones. Dir. Michael Kelligan. Perf. Sharon Morgan, Anthony Leader, Olwen Rees and Lynn Hunter. Y Galeri, Caernarfon. 24th September 2013. In New Welsh Review 101 (Autumn, 2013) online.
Perhaps by now I ought to be satisfied by the play, and I am, nearly, and I admire it in parts. But even the ending doesn’t quite feel right. It doesn’t feel quite human, as though the author is thinking in boilerplate terms about dramatic reversals and revelations, and as though Mrs Hartson is still not a real person to him. If she were, the business with the phone would be unnecessary. Moreover I’m dissatisfied because I know current and former Jehovah’s Witnesses, not all of whom were ostracised for leaving, and because twenty years ago I was in a cult. It was exploitative and controlling and did great harm to its followers, but there were only a few actual hypocrites, and even most of its leaders didn’t like having power. I feel that Dandelion gives us headline news on its themes but can’t do the human complexities.
Review of A Perfect Architect, by Jayne Joso and A Book For All and None, by Clare Morgan. In New Welsh Review 93 (Autumn 2011), 86-89.
Raymond’s act of homicide is more puzzling still, and if Morgan is aiming for an unexceptionable literary novel, this is where her guard most slips. For even if euthanasia without specific consent or clinical involvement is permissible on compassionate grounds, is Raymond qualified to exercise that compassion? Does he think he has power over Hannah because he is the child of her former employees and pays for her nursing, and is it irrelevant that she has sold land he wanted to keep? There is something deeply displeasing in Raymond’s assumption that an old age less privileged than his own will be is not worth having, or that a woman who can talk, reason and read the paper is helpless and lost to herself. The way that minor characters fare in fiction reflects the way that marginal figures
fare in life, and so learned and sensitive a writer as Clare Morgan ought to know this. One admires this novel for its erudition, its poetry and its acute understanding of male and female passion, but there is something missing from its heart.
I am the author of three short story collections. Reasoning and For His Warriors, originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join Prayer at the End in revised editions at Cockatrice Books. My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums: Stories from Denbigh Mental Hospital Told by Leading Welsh Writers, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016.
I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015), and Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, forthcoming). In addition, I have translated fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros, and am currently translating the Welsh-language writings of Morgan Llwyd.