Sunday, March 29, 2009

Not a pasty in sight

Last Thursday evening we welcomed Cornish poet - and Bard of the Cornish Gorseth - Tim Saunders to Mostly Books. We've never done poetry particularly well (I think) at the bookshop, but this may have to change because the event itself was pure enjoyment. This is the kind of thing you run an independent bookshop for!

You might not immediate think of Cornish culture and Abingdon as natural bedfellows, but it turns out that the chair of the London Cornish Association lives in Abingdon, and there are plenty of people with a Cornish heritage who live in the town. With the added bonus of some singing by Clive's daughters (both professional singers) we had a shop full on the night (put it this way, I ran out of chairs from the back).

As well as Ani and Gwenno, Tim also turned up with his publisher Clive - and the evening was very much a double act, with Tim reading in Cornish (and Breton, and Welsh incidentally) with Clive reading a translation. This made the poetry more accessible to non-Cornish speakers, but in all honesty, Cornish is such a rhythmic and lyrical language that - to my ignorant ears at least - the poetry could be enjoyed without the English words. (Perhaps when that part of the comprehensing brain is turned off, you are more alive to the music of the poem? It's a theory...) I'd learned about Tim from a tip-off from the Wood Green boys after a gig at their shop last year, and the Abingdon Arts Festival seemed a perfect time for a poetry reading event. I'll be honest - Cornish language poetry is not something I knew a great deal about, but on the strength of this event it's something we'll do more of in the future. This was a reading of Tim's poem 'Colours'. I was very annoyed not to have captured his reading of the poem 'Cornish Words' - but you can find it in the anthology of Cornish poems we have in the shop called "Nothing Broken". Stunning. When Tim's daughters got up to sing, the effect was eletrifying. Gwenno has a remarkable voice, and again the Cornish language seems to lend itself to the lilting tones of a talented singer. Interspersed between all of this was nothing less than a comprehensive introduction to Cornish culture. Tim explained the history of the spoken language, the 'dying out' of the last Cornish native speakers in the 1780s, the resurgence of the language and culture, and plenty of examples of persecution, the links between the Gaelic languages (including an impromptu poem from memory in the Welsh language, possibly the oldest in existence). So where next for Clive and Tim's 'world tour'? Well, we feel the Wood Green boys passed on Tim Saunders from their bookshop, we'd like to recommend him to another independent. Any bookshops out there willing to be next on their tour - please get in touch. You won't regret it...

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