Dŵr / de l’eau

“Surround yourself with people of talent,” I remember the poet, Gwyneth Lewis saying once in interview, answering a question something to do with “how on earth do you do all that you do?”

This is what I have in mind today, as I prepare to read at La Maison de la Poésie with Zoë Skoulding and I bubble up with gratitude for such wonderful, get-things-done, sky’s-the-limit artists in my world.

How many people try to get ahead by putting others down, especially those who are seemingly bright and therefore threatening?

So what have we been doing? Living curiously. Inviting each other into our respective creative and mad worlds.

Zoë was Poet in Residence, at Les Récollets, Paris in 2014, and she followed the route of the Bièvrean affluent of the Seine which has today disappeared. Following, therefore, the streets of Paris and literature, her journey follows the traces of what is no longer visible.

Rivers are one of my obsessions – that’s probably a little obvious – and I’ve long thought I  should probably write about something else (even if my current novel keeps taking me to the Pieve, and translating Tagore’s work is taking me to the Padma…). It seems that rivers, the world itself and Zoë have different plans for me. Rivers return.

And so, Zoë invited me to take part in a parallel project, following another invisible river, Yr Adda, Bangor: r’Adda. We pursued this river with stethoscopes and listening devices. We walked in silence and then shared stories and drank tea from polystyrene cups half way at Bangor station.

Our conversation leaked into a continued poem-conversation over the last month.  What unites the Bièvre and the Adda is our attention, and the languages we set them to. From writing in Welsh to translating into French and for the first time in my life, deciding against translation because the desire to pick other words in the French was stronger. So the Bièvre and the Adda are also bound by three languages: Welsh, English, French. A friend and writer recently reminded me that the ancient Italic writer, Ennius called himself ‘three-hearted’ because he wrote in three languages (Oscan, Greek, Latin), so tonight is a three-hearted performance which would never have come about if I weren’t “surround with people of talent”.


1st of April, 2016, 19h, Maison de la Poésie, Paris.

Zoë Skoulding, Sian Melangell Dafydd and Cathy Heyden (saxophone)

Video and sound: Alan Holmes

Photography: Ben Stammers

The event is organized with the support of Bangor University ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, l’Institut Français and the City of Paris.

Click here for tickets. Price: 5 € / adhérent : 0 €

IMG_2858IMG_2858To read more of Zoë Skoulding’s Teint: for the Bièvre / pour la Bièvre, trad. from English by Jean Portante, Hafan Books, 2016 click here.


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