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Devolutionary Readings

English-Language Poetry and Contemporary Wales


Matthew Jarvis

The September 1997 vote approving devolution, albeit by a tiny margin, was a watershed moment in recent Welsh history. This volume of essays considers the English-language poetic life of Wales since that point. Addressing a range of poets who are associated with Wales by either birth or residence and have been significantly active in the post-1997 period, it seeks to understand the various ways in which Wales’s Anglophone poetic life has been intertwined both with devolutionary matters specifically and the life of contemporary Wales more generally, as well as providing detailed scrutiny of work by key figures. The purpose of the book is thus to offer insights into how English-language poetry and contemporary Wales intersect, exploring the contours of a diverse and vibrant poetic life that is being produced at a time of important cultural and political developments within Wales as a whole.

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1. Zoë Skoulding: Devolutionary Reading (Peter Barry)


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1   Zoë Skoulding: Devolutionary Reading

ABSTRACT This chapter performs the experiment of reading a small number of poems by Zoë Skoulding in the context of the Wales devolution vote of 1997 and the issues and concerns that brought it about. The two main poems are ‘Easy Listening’ and ‘Metamorphic’ both from The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren, 2013). The issues identified in these poems include afforestation, and other forms of land appropriation, such as those for navigational or military purposes, and for reservoirs or nuclear power sites. The method explored is described as a ‘peripheral reading’ of reverberations within and beyond the poems, including echoes of work by R. S. Thomas and Ruth Bidgood. The result is a ‘devolutionary reading’ practice, characterized also as a documentary method, that is, one which makes use of data sources such as those cited in the footnotes.

When we identify a body of work by a large number of poets as having been written after a specified event (in this case the Wales devolution vote of 1997), the implication ought to be that it is possible to select groups of poems from that period and read them plausibly in the light of that event and the issues or concerns it raises. This chapter performs an experiment, based on this premise, using the work of long-term Anglesey resident Zoë Skoulding, and focusing on two poems from her collection The Museum of Disappearing Sounds...

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