Monday, 17 September 2012

Book Launch: Ruth Bidgood and Matthew Jarvis

Ruth Bidgood

(I wrote this post back in July and forgot to post it!). 

I recently attended a book launch at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre bookshop for Ruth Bidgood’s latest volume of poetry Above the Forests and Matthew Jarvis’s study of her work for the Writers of Wales series, called simply Ruth Bidgood. It was also a celebration of the poet’s 90th birthday a few days before.

Ruth Bidgood is an accomplished reader of her own poetry. As the medieval Welsh Bardic Grammars point out, it is rare that a reciter is able to read a poem exactly as the poet composed it and listening to Ruth reading her poems with ‘fluency of expression, elegant sense and full understanding’ was a privilege; especially perhaps, as her full understanding of the poems includes bringing out some of the humour in them which we might otherwise have missed.

The evening included John Barnie, poet and one-time editor of Planet, interviewing Matthew about his book with occasional questions passed to Ruth herself. The book is a fascinating study with some interesting and appropriate biographical details and a close examination of many of the poems. It also includes in an appendix an unpublished letter Ruth wrote to the editor of Poetry Wales about her long sequence, Hymn to Saint Ffraid, which throws light not only on the genesis and intent of the piece but also on the poetic process.

                                                                    Matthew Jarvis

However the poems themselves must take centre stage. They address memory, its importance, its effect on the past, its relationship with what is real. Often they engage with the unseen, the numinous, in a delicate and clear-headed way. The ground of their being though is the landscape and communities of the area surrounding Abergwesyn in mid-Wales, Ruth’s ‘home patch’ as she refers to it. Ruth Bidgoood observes in fine detail the life in the locality, past and present. Written over four decades, such an achievement must be almost unique and, as Matthew suggest, the work amounts to a mid-Wales epic. It is a record of the milltir sgwâr, the square mile, a Welsh phrase used to describe the patch of land that nourishes, sustains and calls to you. Matthew Jarvis describes it as ‘a bluntly defiant commitment to the region’s memory and its yet-surviving life’. Ruth says simply:

It seems important 
to remember right:
know exactly the angle
of house to hill, be able
to count the pines…

as though the intensity
of my recall
ensured the reality
of the place, its being…

as though the existence
of a loved place were something
to be built, sustained
each moment, held to, against
the cold and cancelling wind.  

( from Recall)