Packing A Welsh Poet In My Bag For My Upcoming Trip to Wales

RS Thomas on SexTwenty thousand saints are said to be buried on Bardsey Island, all 445 acres of it. So to take the bones of saints to Bardsey would be like rounding up more politicians and lobbyists for Washington.

Excessive, to say the least . . . certainly un-called-for . . . a fool’s errand.

No matter.

I’m packing a Welsh poet in my bag for my upcoming trip to Wales, which will include, if weather permits, a boat trip to Bardsey. The island lies off the coast of Aberdaron, R. S. Thomas’s last parish.

I’ll take Thomas out of my bag in Aberdaron on May 28th, but he’ll come out, first, the previous weekend at Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden, also in Wales.

The story is this: I may be the only American parish minister who developed a personal relationship with Thomas, visiting him in 1992, 1993, and 1994, and corresponding with him from 1991 until his death, in 2000. Indeed, I may be the only American, no matter of what vocation, who learned to know him – I welcome comments proving me wrong.

My book A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry was published in 2013, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. That publication has led to my forthcoming speaking opportunities in Wales.

An American whose tongue does back flips when trying to pronounce simple Welsh words, carrying the preeminent poet of Welshness to Wales; the preeminent twentieth-century poet of God, too.

And that, if anything, justifies the packing of nine talks about Thomas and his poetry in my bag. Like RS, I’m an ordained minister; like him, I was a parish minister for forty years; like him, I’m a doubting-believer. Unlike him, I’m an American. Unlike him, I don’t write poetry. Well, an occasional limerick. So if there’s an acceptable reason for me to speak about RS and his poems, it lies in the way our similarities and dissimilarities afford me a distinctive perspective on his doubt and his belief.

These links will take you to what I’m doing at Gladstone’s Library and Aberdaron:

Who knows what’ll happen. Perhaps I’ll be pelted with leeks. Expect a report in June.


5 thoughts on “Packing A Welsh Poet In My Bag For My Upcoming Trip to Wales

  1. Good luck, John. I’m an American who lived in Wales for three years while doing a Ph.D. on RST, and I have given several talks on RST in Wales. (Not to worry; no one will throw leeks at you.) Most recently, I was the keynote speaker at last year’s launch of The International Journal of Welsh Writing in English, where I spoke on the relationship between RST and Geoffrey Hill. (The journal also includes my article on the same topic.) My book, R. S. Thomas: A Stylistic Biography, was published by University of Wales Press in 2011. I recall a piece you wrote in New Welsh Review in 2002. I was visiting Wales at that time, in preparation to move there, and it was nice to come across another American interested in Thomas’s work. I never had the chance to meet him, but I have the pleasure of counting his son Gwydion among my friends.

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