I recently discovered that Cardiff University holds a unique collection of rare books and manuscripts. Amidst this literary treasure trove, there sits a shelf or two of unassuming boxes, containing the Edward Thomas archive – a set of objects, original manuscripts, letters, notebooks and other material relating to this popular poet. And it just so happens that it’s exactly one hundred years since Edward Thomas was killed, at the Battle of Arras in April 1917…
In fact, it was the outbreak of World War One, alongside his relationship with the American poet Robert Frost, which kick-started Edward Thomas into writing poetry. Before 1914 he had been a prose writer, earning his living through writing travel books and critical reviews.
The story is tragic – he spent most of his life slaving away in prose, struggling to make ends meet, stressed by family life and suffering from bouts of depression. He almost committed suicide on one occasion.
In 1914 he began to write poetry, to feel satisfied, at last, with his own writing, and yet, by this time he was attempting to make the biggest decision of his life: pondering emigration to America, or salving his conscience by enlisting in the army. He chose to enlist, and was killed just two and a half years later, on the battlefield in France, having written just under 140 poems.
The more I discover about the life and work of this remarkable man, the more I realise just how many poets have cited his influence on their own work. This influence begins with Robert Frost, his friend, who wrote the famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ for Edward Thomas. Numerous others have acknowledged Thomas’s influence on their own poetry, from Auden and Larkin to Heaney and Hughes.
Lucy Newlyn, in her book Branch-Lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry, explains how “several contemporary poets place themselves in a ‘line’ descending from Frost and Thomas…” and here are a few quotes taken from the book (which I highly recommend):
“He comes naturally, I think, to writers in English, like grass growing.”
(U. A. Fanthorpe)
“I have been surprised by just how much he’s influenced my work, without me even realising it”
“This ghostly quality in Thomas’s writing – his sense of place as peopled by the past – has affected me profoundly.”
“Auden read Edward Thomas, so did Dylan Thomas and Philip Larkin, so did Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley. All of these were poets I came to before Edward Thomas; all of them touched me as they in turn were probably touched by him. Perhaps a little of Thomas’s conversational rhythms, his rich groundings in the earth, his strong gentleness found their way through these poets to me.”
So the natural step, of course, was to organise an event to celebrate the influence of Edward Thomas on the work of poets writing now, an entire century later. As well as an evening of poetry on 21st April, featuring three poets (Lucy Newlyn, Jonathan Edwards and Glyn Edwards) as well as an open mic, the project will include a creative writing workshop on 8th April. These events are supported by Literature Wales.
I’m also creating a series of online prompts as part of National Poetry Writing Month (#NaPoWriMo) to encourage people to write one poem each day throughout April, in response to Thomas’s work. If you’d like to take part, all you need to do is follow @CUSpecialColls on Twitter or like my Facebook page, where I’ll be posting the prompts each day.
Yes, I Remember Adlestrop:
Celebrating the Influence of Edward Thomas on Contemporary Poetry
Friday 21st April at 7.30pm (doors open from 7pm)
- Hear Lucy Newlyn, Jonathan Edwards and Glyn Edwards reading their poems
- Hear local writers (Ellie Powell, Steve Kenward, Marc Eoin Hamer, Gordon Anderson, Fran Murphy, Dave Daggers and Mark Curtis) reading work written specially for the occasion
- An opportunity to take part in an open mic, on the theme of Edward Thomas
Venue: Little Man Coffee Company, Ivor House, Bridge Street, Cardiff, CF10 2EE.
Free entry, no need to book.
Visit the Special Collections and Archives website for more information.
The University is also hosting a major conference (19th-21st April) – find out more details here.