Where is the Poetry Library of Wales?
This was a question I asked on Radio Cardiff last year.
Answer at the moment has to be – nowhere. Wales, home of the Eisteddfod bards, does not have its own poetry library.
England has its own Poetry Library – on London’s South bank. For hands-on research it’s open every weekday except Mondays. One can even do research via its website – http://poetrylibrary.org.uk/ It also puts out a monthly newsletter, giving details of poetry events in England. (Rumour has it that Manchester and Leicester or also getting their own poetry libraries.)
Wales does not have its own poetry library.
Scotland has its own poetry library – near the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It too is open to all-comers for research, or for general reading. Like the English poetry library it too subscribes to most poetry magazines published in the UK; as well as taking copies of poetry collections, chapbooks and criticisms published within Scotland’s border, or of related interest. http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk. Both libraries have staff eager to respond to pretty much any enquiry.
Wales does not have its own poetry library.
Peter Finch did try to get one going. When he had the Oriel bookshop in Cardiff he amassed a balcony length, floor-to-ceiling collection of poetry publications. Unfortunately he had to give it up and Wales is still without its own poetry library.
Wales does have two large general libraries, one in Aberystwyth and a tall one in Cardiff. Neither specialises in poetry. And Wales is in desperate need of a library specifically for poetry, where the works of generations of Welsh poets can be stored and, more importantly, accessed.
Personally I would like the Poetry Library of Wales to be situated in Swansea. It is in Swansea that a hoarding saying in letters large ‘More Poetry Needed’ looms over one of its car parks. Despite plans by some philistines on the council to now demolish that wall, I still find Swansea easier to get to and more culturally ambitious than Cardiff. The National Poetry Library being in Swansea would also avoid the centralising / capitalising of the nation’s culture as with our fellow nations. And as Swansea already has the Dylan Thomas Centre and theatre, plus several regular reading venues, having the Poetry Library of Wales here would seem a natural fit. Let’s leave Cardiff to politics, sport, publishing and shopping.
I would also take as a model for the Poetry Library of Wales the Scottish Poetry Library. Not only for its promotion of Scotland’s indigenous languages and dialects, but also for its design, incorporating as it does shelving capable of being moved to allow performance and workshop space.
The Scottish Poetry Library did have as well as an indoor space an outdoor reading space. The one reading I did there I had to shout over the jackhammers on next door’s parliament building. Cardiff’s general library does have a performance space, but which gets interrupted by tannoy announcements. The English poetry library lacks a reading space.
Wales does not yet have its own poetry library.
When Swansea, Wales city of poetry, does become home to the nation’s Poetry Library what will give me great pleasure is seeing Idris Caffrey’s work indexed there. Idris and I started getting poems published in magazines like Borderlines and Purple Patch at around about the same time. We became friends; and when I set up Original Plus one of the first collections I published was Idris Caffrey’s Other Places.
Born in Rhayader, Welsh to the marrow, but having had to move to Tamworth for work, kept there by family, Idris’s one regret, despite several subsequent collections, was that he felt he never received any recognition in his own country. In fact he even found it difficult to get single poems published in Welsh magazines. Belatedly maybe he could get that recognition in Wales own poetry library, find shelf space if not a resting place alongside his Thomas heroes, Dylan and RS.
While I’d love to know where to go to explore and investigate the works of Dannie Abse, Mike Church, Gillian Cark, WH Davies, Menna Elfyn, Peter Finch, Bryn Fortey, John Freeman, Ric Hool, Elin ap Hywel, Nigel Jarrett, Mike Jenkins, Bobi Jones, John Jones, Peter Thabit Jones, Phil Knight, Huw Lawrence, Alun Lewis, Dave Lewis, Gwyneth Lewis, Iwan Llwyd, Sophie McKeand, Robert Minhinnick. Rob Morgan, Owen Sheers, Fran Smith, Gareth Writer-Davis, and any others who on that day may occur to me. And that’s before one starts on the exclusively Welsh language poets, which I am unfortunately not equipped to do.
Apart from more poetry – as Swansea’s sign said – what we need now for a Poetry Library of Wales is funding, political will, a system for acquiring Welsh poetry publications, and a Swansea building to house them in.