Really grateful to Marble Poetry for reviewing my book That Lone Ship and saying nice things about it/me in their last issue: marblepoetry.com/product/issue-8
"Rhys Owain Williams is maybe a rare talent in poetry. His voice is strong, understandable, serious but lighthearted."
Diolch yn fawr!
The new issue of New Gothic Review is now online and features my short story 'Passengers': a gothic tale set on the banks of the River Severn. This is the first short story I've finished in about seven years, so I'm thrilled that it found a home with New Gothic Review. Thanks so much to the editors for working on it with me, and also to Zuzanna Kwiecień for the incredible accompanying illustration.
To celebrate its publication, yesterday I took a trip the place on the River Severn where the story is set. For centuries, Black Rock was an important ferry crossing point on the tidal river that divides Wales and England.
I began writing this story after a train journey on the line near the River Severn a few years ago. When I decided to finally complete it earlier this year we were in the midst of a national lockdown, so Black Rock as a setting came from researching the area online.
The towering Second Severn Crossing road bridge (1996) makes an appearance in the story, though elsewhere I’ve slightly altered the Severn estuary’s geography – making some places closer to each other, and creating a disused station called ‘Porthsgiwed Halt’ (named after the nearby village of Portskewett).
Portskewett did once have a station that served the Black Rock ferry: Portskewett Pier. It's definitely the most unusual train station I’ve ever heard of. Trains would stop on a wooden pier and passengers would descend to a ferry. After making the crossing by boat they’d then be met by a new train on the English side. Opened in 1863, Portskewett Pier was demolished once the Severn Railway Tunnel (1886) had been carved beneath the estuary. It’s such an interesting station, but I decided it was too complicated to include it in the story and so created a disused Halt on the main line instead.
Wales has begun to open back up now after our winter lockdown, and yesterday’s trip to Black Rock marks the furthest I’ve been from my home in Swansea since March 2020. It was so odd to arrive at a place that I’d extensively explored, but only via photos and Google Street View. Yesterday was stormy, and Black Rock was exactly as I’d imagined it: bleak, moody, ethereal. However, in the picnic area and along the path there are statues, sculptures and information boards, and on a brighter day I imagine it’s a very welcoming place. This seems to be down to the hard work of a project called Living Levels.
I know I'll return to Black Rock many times, in person and on the page. To that rusted lighthouse floating above the water, the rock it sits on only exposed as the tide moves out. There’s so much hidden beneath the surface there.
You can read 'Passengers' and the other five stories in the issue for free on the New Gothic Review website: newgothicreview.com
New Gothic Review are open for submissions twice a year, with the next submissions window opening in a few months' time. If you'd like to submit a story then take a look at their submission guidelines and keep an eye on their social media channels for announcements.
Recently I finished reading Kaveh Akbar's Calling a Wolf a Wolf, a debut collection that follows a path through addiction to recovery. Akbar is one of the USA's most celebrated contemporary poets, writing not just about addiction but also race, religion, spirituality and the American dream.
Often while reading a poetry collection, I'll seek out recordings of the poet so I can listen to them while reading. Sometimes it's to help crack a particularly difficult poem's riddle (hello Frederick Seidel and most of Ooga-Booga), other times it's just to hear the poet's voice while I'm reading. For Kaveh Akbar it was a bit of both – at first I just wanted to locate the key to one of his punctuation-free poems, but then I found such a huge amount of recordings of him online that I ended up listening along to most of the collection. He's a great performer of his work, and his recordings are easy enough to find, but if you don't have time to listen to them all then I'd recommend 'Palmyra' and 'Unburnable the Cold is Flooding Our Lives'.
A poet's thoughts aren't too often far from their own poetry, and the sheer volume of Kaveh Akbar's recordings made me wonder how much of my own collection was available online in this way. I was surprised to learn quite a bit, and so I've compiled a list below – a cobbled-together audio book version of That Lone Ship, should you for some reason want to listen along while reading it.
The print version ofThat Lone Ship is available to buy from Parthian Books.
Note: Timestamps (e.g. 22:17) are included next to poems from longer recordings to indicate when that poem begins.
THat Lone Ship
En Dash [35:54]
A New Year [47:19]
The Pint that Follows [22:17]
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx [37:22]
The First Time
Victoria Park, 5 a.m.
The Man at the Bus Stop [3:05]
The Road Must Eventually Lead to the Whole World
We Weren’t Interested in Girls
Bookshop Evacuation at the Edinburgh Festival
The Walk to Work [10:32]
They Sang Gwahoddiad
A Minute’s Silence
New Shirt [59:19]
Vetch Field Elegy
The Search Party [2:14]
Third Boy (Dicky)
Marking Out the Ground with String
I thought I'd reshare this poem for New Year's Day – I wrote it in 2016 but it feels more suited to 2021. Yes, this January 1st is just a Friday after a Thursday and nothing in the world has changed, but even if things get worse again we’re still one day closer to better times. Keep going.
A New Year
The years are storm-straddled,
crag-black hooves thundering between headlands,
kicking up hailstones,
washing sandbagged towns to the sea.
But, this afternoon, jaws clamp open,
and all surface water reflects a fresh blue page.
So go outside, and with the winter sun on your neck,
a crisp shock of air in your lungs, tune out
the fore-echo of hoofbeats, the sound
of the storm about-turning. A new year stretches out
as empty as mirrors, though no doubt still heavy
with the weight of a first bite.