Scottish poets? No problem.

English poets? Certainly – which county would you prefer? Irish poets? By all means. American poets? Yes, we have two of those.

But up to now, no poems by Welsh writers.

Hurray! This sad omission is now remedied. Two new publications, both to be launched in Wales next month, are putting things to rights.

First there’s Unleaving by Kristian Evans, the debut pamphlet from a young man I met in Wales last year when I went to launch Robert Minhinnick’s lively essay The Mythic Death of Dylan Thomas. That was the first foray into Wales, land of my childhood holidays and therefore a magical place for me.

b2ap3_thumbnail_COVERSCAN.jpgOf course, the two new publications are in English, not Welsh. However, Unleaving has a strongly Welsh flavour—not in the lobsters on the cover (though they are there for good reason) but in some of the contents. There’s a splendid translation of Dafydd ap Gwilym’s mischievous ‘Merched Llanbadarn’, for example.

Kris Evans is a poet who really knows his oats in terms of poetic tradition: his influences are many and various – from Tristan Tzara to D H Lawrence. He loves form, but he likes surreal experiment too. And there’s prose to wallow in, full of assonance and richness. Kristian Evans is a writer on his way somewhere, and well worth following.

The other new publication, Pattern Beyond Chance, is a first book from Stephen Payne, whose debut pamphlet The Probabilities of Balance was brought out by Smiths Knoll in 2010 and distributed to readers of that lovely (now extinct) magazine. Stephen’s day job is in academic psychology. No surprise when you see the way these poems are presented.

The volume is divided into sections: Design, Word, Mind and Time, with a quotation from a leading psychologist at the front of each. Payne is provocative and playful: he’s thinking about thinking even when he’s thinking about poetry. This book is a pleasure to read, I would say (although yes, I am biassed).

There’s a wonderful poem in Pattern Beyond Chance in memory of Linda Chase, the American, Manchester-based poet who was a leading influence on Stephen, and died far too soon. ‘To: Linda’ makes me cry each time I read it, and I know all friends of Linda (she influenced numerous writers) will feel the same.

Poets sometimes appear to be fiercely in competition with each other in this age of prizes and shortlists, but in fact they’re all on the home team. There’s a generosity of spirit in Pattern Beyond Chance that confirms this. Hard to pin down exactly what I’m talking about, but it’s there. Trust me. I’m a publisher . . .




. . . the only two themes, it seems to me, and they are one and the same. I only met Linda Chase once in the flesh, but I loved her. And now she’s gone.

. . . the only two themes, it seems to me, and they are one and the same. I only met Linda Chase once in the flesh, but I loved her. And now she’s gone.

She died last Friday. She was a person so bursting with vitality that I realise I never expected her to do that. Not die. Dying is what ordinary people do.

She was a good poet. That’s how I met her first — on the page. I reviewed The Wedding Spy, I think, for someone — can’t remember which publication — but the poems caught my interest like a small flame catches dry kindling. I knew she was different. But not how different.

Linda organised Poets and Players, hosting readings by all sorts of poets and performers, in Manchester. Other people, who knew her much better than I did, will write much more about all the things she did for, around and at the service of poetry, which she loved. There is a brief obituary by Jeffrey Wainwright here.

It was through a Poets and Players reading that I met her. At her invitation, I read at St Ann’s Church in the centre of Manchester, with Caroline Carver and Janet Loverseed — the only time I’ve ever read in a church, except at school for Christmas services.

Afterwards, Caroline and I stayed overnight in Linda’s beautiful house in Didsbury, a place of peace and light. I associate Linda with white light. It is a combination of something about her and her poem, ‘Night Vision’, which I”m going to quote in a moment or two.

Many of her poems are exceptional. This, for example, from ‘Kiss in the Dark’ in The Wedding Spy:

She has thickened around the middle
like a successful custard
on a wooden spoon.

See how tender she is towards women — loving, generous, warm. Here’s the end of ‘One Woman Dancing’. I have been this woman. Perhaps I still am:

I don’t have to dance if I don’t want to dance,
but I do, so I do. One woman dancing.
Look, there’s another. And another.
Each of us out there, eyes shut, rocking. Yes!

And in Extended Family, opposite the ‘Nice’ which is brilliant and funny and will never leave me until I leave, ‘Premature’, with more white light:

She knew about light already–
white hair, white stick
and the scent of the garden,
premature as a rampant spring
bucking the frost, regardless.

I thought Linda would buck the frost forever. The energy that emanated from her was something else. For breakfast, at her huge kitchen table, there was fresh fruit salad she had chopped that morning, with fresh mango and blueberries and thick creamy yoghourt. The mango was better than any mango I can manage to buy. I can remember her cutting it with consummate ease as though she had been doing that all her life, and laughing. I marvelled at this woman who did so much, including chopping mangos, just before more visitors arrived for a poetry session.

I think mango and Scotland are impossible to combine with conviction. But I often buy blueberries, extortionate as they are, and when I eat them, I think of Linda. Always. I am not even making this up, and of course, she didn’t know this, because I didn’t tell her. So much we don’t say.

I intended to spend more time with her, some time in the future which now she hasn’t got. This is mortality. We go along, and along a bit more, and along a bit more, and then our light goes out.

The blossom outside today is incredible. Summer has arrived without warning, bypassing most of spring. You can practically see buds swelling and opening into leaves and flowers, like BBC documentary film on fast-forward. And it’s wonderful and it’s sad because love and loss are the same thing.

Here is ‘Night Vision’ by Linda, for Linda. You will find her quite clearly, if you didn’t already know her, in these lines:

The bed is piled high with white.
All six plumped up pillows are white
and the night shirt I have on is white
and the lampshade and the blinds are white
and the rugs around the bed are white
and I wait here, covered, while you wash.
Then you come dripping, rubbing your rump
buffing your back, trailing the towel
and I open the duvet and draw you in
as the feathers fill their cases, freshness
from the bath, gardenia scent from the soap,
making much lighter the white in the room.
You tell me it’s time to go to sleep,
but sleep is for people blinded by dark.