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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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9. Poetic Hybridity in Patrick McGuinness’s Other People’s Countries (John Redmond)


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9   Poetic Hybridity in Patrick McGuinness’s Other People’s Countries

ABSTRACT While Patrick McGuinness’s Other People’s Countries is, on one level, a memoir of his childhood home in Belgium, it is, on another level, a memoir of his own poetry. The book synthesizes the practices of his poetry collections (including a handful of poems from both), of his novel The Last Hundred Days, and of his extensive set of critical works. The ‘Afterword’ states: ‘With this sort of writing it seems important to distrust the material, maybe even to make distrust itself the material.’ Here McGuinness’s own status as a poet is implicitly put in question – is the practice of poetry ‘enough’? Like many of the characters and places evoked in this intensely spectral book, the poems have the air of staging-posts, at once over-developed and not fully evolved, ghostly remains of a genre which is in transit to something else.

The winner of the English-language category of the 2015 Wales Book of the Year,1 Other People’s Countries evokes Patrick McGuinness’s childhood home of Bouillon, a small town, attractive to tourists, set in the forests of Wallonia in south-east Belgium. Far from being a charming postcard, this generically blurred memoir evokes a place that is dwindling, slowed-down, in a sort of permanent decline. Blended with this is McGuinness’s fragmentary treatment of his own past and present – the book functions as a severely diced autobiography – in which the author...

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