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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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5. In Paris or Sofia? Avant-Garde Poetry and Cultural Nationalism after Devolution (Daniel G. Williams)


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5   In Paris or Sofia? Avant-Garde Poetry and Cultural Nationalism after Devolution

ABSTRACT A predominantly ‘anti-nationalist’ emphasis on ‘hybridity’ and the ‘transnational’ may be seen to characterize much of the poetry and poetic analysis in the period since 1997. Critics have tended to describe Welsh avant-garde poetry, in particular, in terms that make it antithetical to cultural nationalism. This chapter responds to the claim that poets have lacked a commitment to the Welsh ‘national project’ since the advent of devolution, and aims to offer an alternative account. I begin by exploring the assumptions and values at work in the current espousal of ‘hybridity’ before proceeding to argue that in the works of Nerys Williams, Rhys Trimble and Childe Roland we see the distinctive bilingualism and cultural traditions of Wales being engaged with in ways that are of profound relevance to contemporary debates on Welsh culture, politics and national identity. I am not attempting to corral these writers into a movement, nor to associate their writings with positions that they may not wish to embrace. My claim, rather, is that the poems discussed in this chapter emerge from a convergence of poetry and national identity in the period since political devolution; a convergence that results in the formal and thematic experimentation of avant-garde poetry reconfiguring Welshness, while the distinctiveness of Wales reconfigures the avant-garde.

The condemnation of attachment to national values changes significance according to whether you live...

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