On visiting the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Laugharne

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By Anna Evans:

Approaching along the peninsula, the town seems to lie at the end of the road, like reaching a final destination. A castle stands guard over the quiet estuary, dramatic and imposing, its battlements slowly reclaimed by the landscape. It is a trip I embark on as much to look for traces of the past, a memory of a prior visit fifteen years ago. Arriving at the hour of dusk in early spring, the town quiet and deserted, the Boathouse already closed for the day. We walked along the street to the pub where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas used to drink together in the evenings. Then we continued our journey into Pembrokeshire, driven on by the time.

I am thinking of a photograph on a beach somewhere on that trip to Wales. Dark clouds and grey sea. There is synchronicity in the image; our faces are together, touching in the half light. When photographs were still like slips of chance on the paper. Thinking about being outside as night fell in the mountains, sharing a bottle of wine; jubilant in the almost total darkness, with no lights to guide us home.

Today I am on time to make the pilgrimage and see inside the house, but I had imagined my return differently, that I would have more time to look around and to absorb the atmosphere of the place. I am distracted, harassed; my mind caught in the argument we had this morning, still unresolved. Family life spinning around us, its currents of confusion. I am looking for clues of something. Thinking back to a simpler time and recalling pictures of my past self, shrouded in the rain-soaked hills and twilight of the Welsh skies. Dylan Thomas is important to me. His poetry resonated with me, the colour of language. He gave me a way to think about death and the passing of time, and about change.

Thomas lived in the town with his family, and for the last few years of his life acquired the Boathouse and the writing hut. It is a place in which he wrote some of his most important poems, and a place that witnessed arguments, the disintegration of his marriage, of his body. A life lived outside convention. The house is understated, leaving scope for imagining life here. I look around, my camera stuck on sepia mode, nostalgia in the recreated drawing room space. A notice explains that this is not the actual furniture, much of which Caitlin sold in response to the ever-advancing demands for money, the unpaid bills.

Family photos on the wall. Dylan and Caitlin in a rowing boat, his deep brown eyes stare into the camera. The exhibition tells me that Dylan would retreat to his writing shed, away from the noise of the children, from the travails of family life. The closed door. I look out from the window at the far-reaching view out into the bay, across the estuary, outwards to sea. Thinking about the precarious balance of art and life, between real life and life on the page, and about trying to carve out a space for one from the other. Thomas is seen in a pure sense as an artist, one who created his art and placed it above all things, the artist as genius, demon angel, doomed to destruction.

I continue back along the path to the writing shed. It is beautifully restored and has inspired many aspiring artists, as the photographs and paintings of it attest. It is overlooking the water, the sweep of the bay and the harbour where boats lie, picturesque, as if cast adrift from the sea. A place to think about moorings and being unmoored.

I am always compelled by images of writing spaces and desks, by descriptions of how and when writing takes place. I think of my own chaotic balance of writing and life, the hasty tidying away of books and paper to make a space for living, my writing is always on the move, from one place to another. A dedicated writing space where things could remain untouched is every writer’s dream. Where, as Caitlin explains, from two until seven each day – often she would lock the door - Dylan would disappear, returning hours later with a perfectly crafted line or two of poetry. In his writing space, the many lists of words he compiled. The possibilities of language, and the meticulous hours spent in constructing a single sentence. Looking out to sea, a retreat away from the domestic confines of home, exposed to the waves and sealed off.

Leaving the writing shed, I begin to walk, thinking to head back into the town. There is a path leading to the churchyard where Thomas is buried, and a sign says that ‘the path to Dylan’s grave can be muddy.’ It occurs to me that I am the same age now, as Dylan when he died. I would like to keep following the path but I am uncertain where it goes and how long it will take. Instead I read your messages, you are wondering where I am, how long I am planning to be away.

Looking back as we drive onwards, the remains of the castle unexplored, the map open displaying the route along the coastline, the town falling away behind us.

Now I see that the road continues.

About the author:
Anna Evans is a writer and researcher from Huddersfield in the north of England, currently living in Cambridge. Her interests are in migration and literature, cities and movement, and she completed an MA in ‘Writing the Modern World’. She is currently working on a project on the places in Jean Rhys’s fiction and has recently launched a blog playing literary detective around Paris and London in seach or Jean Rhys and other wanderings, titled And The Street Walks In. 

Printed Matters: The Line Between Two Towns

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We are really excited about this place-related project from our friend and Elsewhere contributor Laura HarkerThe Line Between Two Towns is a new zine that explored the Esk Valley line between Middlesborough and Whitby in northern England, bringing together writers, poets, artists and photographers who have all been inspired by the different destinations on the line between the two towns. Here is Laura's introduction to the zine, and you can order your copy online here.

The idea behind this zine came from wanting to explore the differences between Whitby and Middlesbrough, and all the unique nuances and cultures that set them apart from one another. Though there are such stark differences between the two towns, there is still one thing that brings them together: the Esk Valley Railway.

It clocks in at only 36 miles long, but the Middlesbrough and Whitby line was once part of a larger network of railways that covered the area until many lines were closed after Dr. Beeching’s cuts. Thankfully, the line remained open due to its popularity. Originally intended to serve the mines and quarries across the region, the Esk Valley line quickly became a hit with Teessiders who realised that it placed the North Yorkshire seaside just over an hour away.

Over the past few decades, the area’s industry has disappeared, Brits have set their sights on sunny European beaches, and the line is now rarely busy except for Bank Holiday weekends. But it continues to be an important lifeline for many in the villages it passes through, connecting them to Middlesbrough and Whitby.

I was born in Middlesbrough but we moved to Glaisdale, just outside Whitby, when I was 11. Carefully picked up from my urban childhood, I was transplanted to the countryside where most other kids were members of the Young Farmers and thought my Boro accent came from Ireland. Even though my childhood so far had been spent less than 30 miles from Whitby, I realised there was a large gulf between these two locations – industrially, culturally and aesthetically.

This isn’t something that bothered me that much until I moved to Berlin and I was constantly asked the same question: Where are you from? When Germans and other non-Brits asked, the answer was easy – I went with North Yorkshire. But when Brits asked, expecting a more specific pinpoint for their mental map, I couldn’t bring myself to give just one answer.

I couldn’t just say Whitby and ignore Middlesbrough or that would be turning my back on my first decade, family ties, and roots as a Teessider. But I couldn’t simply say Middlesbrough, as I’d spent 15 years on the moors by this point. My Boro accent is long gone and my Middlesbrough geography gets hazy whenever I step off Linthorpe Road in the centre of town – I can’t quite stomach saying I’m a true Teessider. And so I thought about writing a personal essay on this identity crisis and the towns that sparked it, using the Esk Valley Railway to bind it all together. When I realised there was just too much for me to say, I decided to make this zine and open it up to submissions to try and create something of a printed tapestry of the area.

The zine includes works from local writers, poets, artists and photographers, all of which have been inspired by stops along the line. Threading together their work along the context of the Esk Valley Line, I wanted the zine to explore the cultural and landscape shifts that can be found taking this particular train journey, from starting in Middlesbrough surrounded by tired factories and ending in Whitby just steps from the beach. And it might actually help me figure out what to say whenever someone asks me where I’m from.

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Elsewhere No.05: Some thoughts from the editors

IMAGE: Paul & Julia in discussion, Tim hiding behind the camera

IMAGE: Paul & Julia in discussion, Tim hiding behind the camera

For the first time in the short history of the journal, for Elsewhere No.05 we did the submissions process a little differently. Unlike with the previous four editions of the journal, we had a call for submissions  and a specific window of time in which people had to get us their work. On top of that, Elsewhere No.05 is also the first time we had a theme. So we were certainly interested, as the 31 March deadline approached, as to what writing and visual art on the theme of place and transition we would receive.

This week, after weeks of reading, I sat down with our editor Tim Woods and our creative director Julia Stone, at Elsewhere HQ Berlin-Neukölln to discuss the submissions and, slowly but surely, build a contents list for the fifth edition of the journal. With the number of submissions, we were unable to give personal feedback to every person who sent us their work, but we thought it might be a nice idea to share some general thoughts from our perspective, which might be food-for-thought for anyone submitting to us or another magazine/journal in the future:

Theme

Elsewhere is a “journal of place” and we decided, for issue No.05 to add the theme of “transition” into the mix. Now, within both of these there is an awful lot of room for manoeuvre. We had said from the beginning that genre or style of writing is not a deciding factor. Fiction or non-fiction. Poetry or prose. We will consider writing that could be labelled memoir or travel-writing, psychogeography or local history, reportage or experimental fiction … we really don’t care. What we are interested in is that it is good, and that it somehow conveys some sense of place within the topic of transition. Unfortunately, some submissions either did not relate to the issue theme of transition and/or were not related to the topic of place, and so however well-written they might have been, they were just not right for us.

That said, we did receive an incredible mix of writing and other submissions that DID fit the theme of the issue; from prose essays to poetry; illustration to photography; interview suggestions and book reviews. What was most gratifying was not only the quality of the work shared with us, but the diversity of approaches and styles that made it so much fun to read and also so difficult to come to a final decision. It meant that the decision-making process took a bit longer than we would have hoped, but it was certainly never boring!

Transition

Talking of the theme, and this is not a criticism but more an observation; we were interested in how many of the writers sending us the work interpreted the theme of transition on a very personal level, relating to movement, home and emotion, rather than on a political or societal level. As you will hopefully see when Elsewhere No.05 is published, we have tried to put together a journal that offers a mix of different perspectives on that theme.

Paris and Berlin

Perhaps because of where we are based, we often get a lot of submissions on the topic of Berlin. And for this issue, the German capital was joined by its French counterpart as the most popular place to write about in our submissions pile. But especially when it comes to Berlin and other places we know well and – more crucially – have been written about a lot, we are extremely picky. It is a reminder that writing about places that have been covered a lot, or with which your audience are familiar, it can sometimes be more difficult to make your writing stand out.

Format

At Elsewhere we consider every submission that arrives, however it is formatted and even if it is clear at first glance that someone hasn’t read our submissions guidelines. Sometimes, in very rare cases, we also receive submissions from people who appear to think we are someone else, or haven’t actually looked at what we DO publish. It would not take long on our blog, for example, to know that we are unlikely to publish a listicle piece about 30 Ways To Get Cheap Spring Break Tickets To Europe. It is also better not to send submissions addressed to our friends at The Berlin Quarterly or Gorse.

In general though, what was really nice about this submissions window was how many people did appear to be following what we do, both in print and online, and had sent us pieces that they thought would interest us. In the vast, vast majority of cases this was true, and the reading process was all the more pleasurable for it. We also wanted to use the blog to say thank you to everyone who took the time to send us their work. We really appreciate it. And we can’t wait to share the details of Elsewhere No.05 in the coming weeks.

Paul

Event: Disappear Here Launch in Coventry, 16 March

We have recently discovered a fascinating project in which a collaboration of 18 artists have produced 27 films about the Coventry ring road as an inner city superstructure that crosses the boundary between Modernist and Brutalist architecture. Sounds interesting? Well, on the 16 March the work of the last few months will be launched at The Box - Fargo in Coventry where there will be a screening as well as a Q & A session with the artists and the organisers of the project.

Here are a few words from Adam Steiner, the Project Lead of Disappear Here:

“It’s been a great experience to work alongside emerging and established artists from Coventry and beyond to reimagine the ringroad through a series of poetry films. Coventry ringroad is one of the city’s most iconic (and notorious) physical landmarks , acting as both city wall, orbital conduit and dividing line. 

I feel the ringroad deserves to be celebrated as well as criticized – it is the duty of artists and citizens to engage with issues of public space, control of architecture and the human experience of our built environment – to shine a light on the fantastic, the boring and the universal in the everyday. Coventry has always been underrated as a place to live, work and create – so I hope the films will encourage people to visit and seek inspiration where they can to read, write and attend more poetry events!”

You can watch the trailer here and all important links are below:

Poetry of place: Chalybeate, by Evie Connolly

IMAGE: Evie Connolly

IMAGE: Evie Connolly

Chalybeate
(from a visit to Gorthaclode)

Do truths find their way home? Are there
imprints left behind from centuries before, when
smoke and steel drove paths beneath
amaranthine skies, through rolling forests
ablaze with oranges and golds? The spa well
spills its secrets into the pools of colour
collecting in the millrace and along the weir and
in the trout streams. 

In the shadow of a blasting furnace, iron water
was collected by the bucketload and pilgrims
soaked in the chalybeate spring. The
Gorthaclode Spa was hailed as miraculous
before events and circumstance dissolved a
ritual into history and stories were hidden in the
rivers and streams.  

Does a landscape summon its stories home?
Does an element return to its source over and
over?

Sitting along a pathway at Gorthaclode are
wagons loaded with steel as they wait patiently
for an old railroad to return to life. Sharing a
history with the crystalline rock birthed in the
soil and pulled home by the lodestone buried
in the hills, is this celestial metal merely finding its
way home and are we merely the transporters?

Evie Connolly lives in County Waterford, Ireland. Her poetry and short stories have been published in various literary journals and anthologies.