I attended a book launch at Aberystwyth Arts Centre recently, held to mark the 90th birthday of the poet Ruth Bidgood. Two books from different publishers were 'launched' (how, I wonder, did this nautical metaphor come to be applied to books?) One of them was Ruth Bidgood's latest collection of poems Above The Forests from Cinnamon Press. The other was Matthew Jarvis' critical appraisal of the poet's work in the 'Writers of Wales' series from University of Wales Press. Both authors were present, Ruth Bidgood to read some of her poems and Matthew Jarvis to be interviewed by poet and critic John Barnie, an interview that occasionally referred across to the poet herself to clarify some factual points arising from the critical discussion.
It was a relaxed event, informally conducted by all the participants. Poems were read before and after the interview and between these the discussion teased out some of the critic's main themes and established a context for the poet's development over a long writing career. Ruth Bidgood has produced much of her poetry out of a deep sense of connection with the landscapes and the communities in the area around the Mid-Wales village of Abergwesyn. One of Matthew Jarvis' contentions is that the main body of the poet's work comprises a developing 'Mid-Wales epic'.
Among the features of the landscape of this area are the large tracts of land covered by dense-growing Forestry Commission plantations of non-native conifers. These sharply contrast with extensive treeless uplands on which sheep are grazed. Ruth Bidgood commented during the evening that she had, after a long life, come to terms with these forests. The title poem of her new collection imagines exploring their dark interiors and finding deep within the remains of human habitation:
… or you might
just miss a cut from rusty chunks
of corrugated roof, propped on dark roots
upheaved by a wind-blow, …
But the final vision of the poem looks back to the formation of landscape by glaciers:
… when, for a moment
you can feel the nothingness
of a million years; when all that seems real
feels like a beginning.
Those two quotes from the poem seem to me to capture the tension that often occurs in the poet's work between the concern with the human presence in the landscape and the sense of the place of humankind in the natural order; typical. too, is the way in which that final phrase catches the thread between these things in a moment of illumination.