March 07, 2007

Extracts from an Interview with Gwyneth Lewis by Richard Poole

*Lewis on Sonedau Redsa a Cherddi Eraill*

I went to the Philippines first on a visit with James Fenton, for whom I was house-sitting while he was being Far East Correspondent for The Independent. While I was there we were asked to be godparents to a friend’s child, who’d been conceived during the momentous events of the People Power uprising which ahs toppled Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. […] The title sequence of Sonedau Redsa was my christening gift to my god-daughter, a sequence of twenty-five sonnets giving a very simple outline of the history of the Philippines up to the Revolution. (25)

Lewis on the role of the Poet

The awareness of the public role of a poet is perhaps inherited from the tradition of Welsh poetry, and does inform my work in both languages. I tend not to be interested in subject matter that’s merely personal. I’m fascinated by history, politics and goings-on out there in the world – and I think this shows in the rest of my work. (25)

Lewis on Poetry and Science

I don’t know that I see poetry and science as diametrically opposed. In fact, they’re both provisional ways of describing a creation which is more than both, so they’re partners in the world. The discarded metaphors of science are of great use to a poet. (25)

Lewis on Saxons versus Celts, the Line versus the Circle

I used the geometric images as shorthand for the values ion two very different cultures – their history is, after all, why different nations have widely varying aesthetics. The heavily elaborated swirls of Celtic art are a reflection of a whole system of religious and political values which have been and are still alien to the more hierarchical Anglo-Saxon model. (26)

Lewis on her Development as a Poet

The big leap forward came for me when I realised that I was primarily a religious poet. This was a tremendous liberation in relation to language because it means that the values which are most important to me reside not in any one language, but beyond language itself. To me language is only a servant in the project of praising God, and can never be an end in itself. Of course I delight in language endlessly, but if you regard it as a wonderful carriage that can only take you part of the way towards expressing what you want, then you don’t get too attached to it or too annoyed when you finally have to get out and walk. (27)

Lewis on Faith

Faith is a gift, which I enjoy to the full when I have it, and I do think that praise is perhaps the most important stance a poet can take, because it puts the rest of the world into perspective. (26)

Lewis on writing in English and Welsh

What is different is the cultural and literary background against which you write, and these are very distinct in Welsh and English. For example, the poetic line in English in always dragging you towards a pentameter or a tetrameter, whereas this isn’t such a familiar sound in Welsh, a fact which can be exploited for the sake of novelty. This principle extends far beyond prosody, because poetry, if it’s any good, always gives us new information – cultural, emotional or spiritual. What’s new is different in Welsh and English, because what’s gone before in both cases is very distinct. Whereas lyricism and the music of words are nothing new in Welsh-language poetry (in fact, an excess of music has been a problem for it), they are new in English verse, which has been suffering to my mind, from a dull flat-footedness in some quarters for quite a while. (28)

Poole, Richard.: “Gwyneth Lewis talks to Richard Poole.” Poetry Wales. Vol. 31:2 (1995), 24-9.

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