by M. Wynn Thomas, author of All That Is Wales: The Collected Essays of M. Wynn Thomas
I still remember a car journey I made a quarter of century ago. Starting from Cardiff I skirted post-industrial Merthyr, marvelled at the bare majesty of the Beacons, wound my way through the verdant mid-Wales countryside, and ended in the shadow of the grand silhouette of Snowdonia before arriving on the banks of the tranquil Menai Straits at Bangor.
How small and neat Wales had appeared to me to be on that occasion. But also how richly varied had been the terrain through which I’d passed during my short day’s journey. Having just returned from spending several months in the USA, I had experienced this modest trans-Cambrian journey as a revelation – a revelation of Wales as an exquisitely compact little mosaic of miniature localities.
I had in short electrifyingly undergone what has recently been rather fancifully termed a ‘micro-cosmopolitan’ experience. The closer we get to ground level, the more complex that ground usually turns out to be. Small does not necessarily mean simple – it is more likely to mean complexity in miniature. And my own studies of Welsh literary culture over the past two decades have been informed by this understanding.
It is this understanding that underlies this new collection of my essays previously published in a variety of outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. The volume as a whole sets out to offer its reader a textual experience equivalent to my trans-Cambrian journey, highlighting as it does the astonishing difference of terrain, both literal and metaphorical, in the various writings studied.
From Lynette Roberts’ estuarine world at Llanybri, Carmarthenshire, to the hybrid culture of Dylan Thomas’s seaside port of Swansea; from the North-East Wales of Emyr Humphreys’s classic novel Outside the House of Baal to the slim arm of the Llŷn peninsula in whose ancient landscape R.S. sought spiritual refuge from his increasingly alien church; and from the mad squierarchy of Nigel Heseltine’s border-country capers to the rural Cardiganshire where Gillian Clarke has found her physical and spiritual home, this volume traverses the length and breadth of Wales to show that the worlds imagined by its writers are as wonderfully diverse as are its physical locations.
It is thus from beginning to end a celebratory mapping of modern Wales’s singular, variegated cultural landscape.
M. Wynn Thomas is Emyr Humphreys Professor of English at Swansea University. A Fellow of the British Academy, he has published books on American poetry and the literatures of Wales.