Thursday, 5 November 2009

Lynette Roberts Conference Report

Professor M. Wynn Thomas writes:
A conference to mark the centenary of the birth of the remarkable late-Modernist poet Lynette Roberts was held on Saturday, October 31. A refreshing feature of attendance was its mixed nature – professional and lay, Welsh and English, postgraduates and published scholars, young and not-so-young. Particularly notable was the presence of one or two who remembered Roberts, in her later years, cutting an exotic figure in Llanybri and Carmarthen, dressed in colours as vivid as her extraordinary poetry.

The group of invited speakers, organized by Professor Patrick McGuinness of St Ann’s College, Oxford (who co-hosted the conference along with CREW), addressed many different aspects of Roberts’ work. Both her debts to Welsh culture (including her interest in the Welsh school of anthropologists during the thirties) and her place as a significant cosmopolitan figure in the late resurgence of Modernist styles were fully explored. A highlight was Patrick’s concluding interview with Roberts’s daughter, Angharad Rhys, who amused the audience by recalling that the family regularly received gifts from both Robert Graves and T. S. Eliot. ‘Eliot’s presents,’ she recalled to general incredulity, ‘were better. Graves made his own presents – toffee, fudge, that kind of thing. But Eliot gave useful, sensible presents, like money or something like a bike.’ Events were rounded off by a memorable evening of readings by contemporary poets – Menna Elfyn, John Goodby and Nigel Jenkins – and from Roberts’ own work by Margot Morgan.

The event was deemed a notable success, and such was the quality of the papers read that Patrick McGuinness hopes to ensure that they assume permanent form in print. Warm thanks are due to Dave and Jo, at the Dylan Thomas Centre, and for Fliss Wagstaff, who provided excellent support on the day. Without them, there would have been no celebration event and thus no opportunity for celebrating the success of a landmark conference.

Afterword: As we go to press, a copy of this week's Times Literary Supplement lands on my desk.

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