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A Poetry Kit Interview

Selwyn Pritchard

 

Conducting an interview can be a difficult business, when one of the people involved is in the UK and the other in Australia it could be thought almost impossible.  Selwyn Pritchard was willing to give it a go so we sent off a series of questions and after a few more emails the following biographical portrait was written.

 

My name is Selwyn Pritchard Hughes. When I arrived in Oz I found a poet called Selwyn Hughes, an aborigine, and lopped the Hughes off. I prefer to be anonymous and I think it's as daft for poets to pursue celebrity, as if they are part of the 'entertainment industry', as for them to expect to make money. I understand why many do hope for such recognition, for even fifteen minutes of fame helps. Of course bums on seats seem to justify state subsidies too. It's difficult to make judgements nowadays, as no one knows what counts as good or bad beyond a certain ability, and some people, like Richard Burton, can make one weep conjugating the verb 'to be', so a good deal of what gets applause at readings and festivals is illusory. It is better then nothing, of course, in a world which seems indifferent to poetry - except doggerel at toe-curling funerals or in death notices. (eg 'We looked up to the Lord and we cried for mercy/And the Lord looked down and he took our Percy'. The Stockport Advertiser.)

 

I'm a peripheralist by nature - and old to boot - and see the role of the poet as that of the tribune, or as the Dark Ages thunder near, the monk preserving the word in the scriptorium.

 

One of the first poetry anthologies I bought (and those pursuing courses in creative writing ought not to be passed if they cannot  provide evidence of owning at least 20) was Allot's THE PENGUIN BOOK OF CONTEMPORARY VERSE, published in 1950, the year I left school aged sixteen. I carried it about in my army haversack  It's language was as exclusive as that of my fellow officers, designed to maintain a social gap between us and the troops; its poets were predominantly Oxbridge ('He got his Blue for golf') and metropolitan. It was oppressive. I did not stop writing poems, but I did not ever expect to get them published. Even when encouraged by Herbert Read, a director of Faber, I failed to pursue the matter.

I think that it was because I had spent five years as a phoney in that literary regiment, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, that I turned from the pretentiousness that poetry required (and still does in some literary magazines) and kept myself to myself. I went to Oxford at thirty-two in 'order legitimately to reject it', as I told my Economics don in a fit of candour, and also in the spirit of George Mallory, but it wasn't until I became an émigré that I began to send out what I wrote to literary magazines around the English-speaking world. Not that my troubles were solved: to some I'm a boring-old-Pommie-fart falling between the two stools of the UK and Australia. But what's the fuss, per specie aeternitatis? More than half of Allott's poets are gone and forgotten; some of Dr. Johnson's exist only as names on his list of the illustrious.

 

I have decided to cast my poems on the cyberzee and it is surprising where they wash up. What I now try not to do in these dissonant times is write clever, tinkling or ambiguous poems. I rhyme but only if is it's there.  I want the force of breath to shape the poem. I blurt my deepest feelings whilst I may.
 

Selwyn Pritchard has a website at -   http://www.poetselwynpritchard.com/

 

 


POEMS


 

Suppressing the Welsh

 

December 1932, they cracked

the kids' moneybox, came home singing drunk.

Dadda had played two games for Wales, had

                                   

had two wives, two pubs, three kids...No means

of support when he landed on my Mum and Dad:

twice the mouths to fill; twenty shirts in Monday's tub.

 

Down on his cold couch Dadda heard my making.

Slump or not, the doctor said, now I was

in her belly, they must get off her back.

                                   

Guilt kept her on the attack years after

Dadda had gone, feet first, back home to Wales.

I saw his dead face in my dad's who had

 

'FOOL!' round his neck for talking Welsh at school,

but died talking it to Dadda, proud as a bard.

 


 

Becoming Australian

 

From beneath a tent of flags Her Majesty

stares down on where we wait on ceremony.

Babel builds. All kinds of kids slide and yell.

‘About bloody time!’ a ripe voice informs

His Worship, processing in his chain and ruffs.

He blows in the mike, starts, says four times

he’s fifth generation Oz, murders the M.P.’s

Polish name, nods to Polly Glot, his clerk,

who raps them out, no sweat. We line up,

swear or affirm loyalty to the photo.

Republican Pom, doubly smug, I say ‘Elizabeth

the First’, not ‘Elizabeth the Second’,

but feel a right burk. Vietnamese

weeping with joy scotch my smirk.

 


 

 Family Album

 i.m. Haydn 1960-69

 

Dead son, dead son, I can no longer

hold you in my mind

as once I held you in my arms:

it can’t be done, it can’t be done.

 

So I arrange your smiles, print dates,

chart your curve beyond our knowing,

here in God’s gravity record the faint pulse

of love’s disproof of time and space.

 


 

 

 The Last of England

                       

I remembered Pendle, strapped in, waiting to go,

the low eaves, steep slate roof, miles from the road

under Brown Clee and a smattering of snow.

 

Flakes floated in the kitchen as we stood

at the door holding hands, Katie, Bu and me,

the roar of the Teme undercutting a hanging wood

 

on the Hereford bank, windows forced by Autumn bluster,

snow cleanly carpeting flags worn by clod-hopping boots

which once thumped the stream bridge between Salop and Worcester.

 

At that confluence of waters where old shires met,

we hesitated, turned away in December dusk long ago,

as I gratuitously recalled in the hurtling jet

 

as it lifted from Heathrow...(Would I come there again?)

climbed over M4, industrial estates and fields of bright rape below,

banked so I saw the spires of Oxford, where I heard urbane

 

Mozart played by the Warden of Wadham in Jacobean chapel gloom

(Sir Isaiah Berlin had inflated his rubber ring) and the glory

of evening lit the glass and tune.

 

Astounding in the streets outside, English beggars sit,

so young and pale, reasonably reciting woe

and only asking for ‘a little change.’

                                              Some hopes!

 

That’s it.

We are into clouds and climbing. Eleven hours to go.

Soon drinks and dinner in the sun, Tokyo...then Australia,

but first Siberia’s page beneath us blank as Pendle’s under snow.

 


 

Ubermenschen

 

‘I never knew one who was not a beast in comparison.’

Byron on Shelley.

 

How romantic of Byron to snatch Shelley’s heart

from the pyre. The bones were black and cracked,

his fats had fried and flamed,

but there was his heart, a blackened lump.

No doubt he tugged hard on its strings

before it came free, half-cooked.

 

He passed it to Leigh-Hunt, but Mary claimed

her widow’s part and bore it of to be

buried at Bournemouth years after her death.

 

Meanwhile Byron swam where Shelley sank,

a match for any man in water, for any woman

in bed, and the sun flayed him. When his Contessa

died a hag, they found fragments of the poet’s hide

preserved in a velveteen bag.

 

It’s fifty years since the Rector of Hucknall

assuaged clerical ennui by lifting a slab

to discover the heroic lord lying ‘handsome’,

except that the grateful Greeks had taken his brain

to explain his genius. The noble brow

was laced like a football or that of Mary’s Űbermensch.

 


 

Penultimate

 

I made myself walk because I’m slack

Turned at the crossroads towards the cliff edge

Under the dark trees on the red dirt track

 

Before I glimpsed the sea I came to a stop

Something was wrong - I felt like

A hot water bottle being filled to the top

 

A dull evening and the wind was still

No one was near as I breathed in deep

Only waves collapsing over the hill

 

Was this it? I waited…Turned for home

In slow motion as the blade in my chest

Turned sharp under my breast bone

 

I lay waiting for the ambulance on my bed

And looked at the cherished and familiar things

Which would not mind if I were dead

 

You see I survived again and it’s true

Take out the future and it’s small matters -

The condolence of doves the sea’s rich blue

 

The fridge photo of a grandson’s face

The morning shadows of my wife’s flowers

On the sitting room wall - her kindness - and grace -

That delight me like Mozart as I wake…

 

 

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