2019 Presenters

Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. A distinguished theologian, author, churchman, Welshman and poet, highlights of his career are: Doctor of Divinity degree, Oxford; Fellow and Dean of Clare College, Cambridge; Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Oxford; Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales. In his book The Poems of Rowan Williams (2002), his tribute to the memory of R. S. Thomas titled “Deathship” opens with lines that capture RS in retirement, living in a cottage overlooking the sea: “The last years, words from a window / smoothing the sea, / the iron back and forth / to probe the fugitive wrinkles.”

ROWAN WILLIAMS PRESENTS: WITHIN THE THEME OF THE FESTIVAL. The festival is delighted to welcome back Dr Williams as our patron and speaker in 2017. ‘Spirit of Place’ the theme for this year’s festival, suggested by Menna Elfyn, will no doubt provide a suitable springboard from which Dr Williams will launch his thoughts.

Menna Elfyn

Menna Elfyn is an award winning poet, playwright. She has published fourteen collections of poetry, children’s novels, libretti for UK and US composers as well as plays for television and radio. Her latest collection Bondo Bloodaxe Books was published in 2017 and will be published in Italian in 2019. Her work has been translated into over 20 languages.

She has written half a dozen tribute poems to RS Thomas as well as a commissioned libretto ‘Hymn to a Welshman’, with composer Pwyll ap Siôn. The harpist Elinor Bennett performed the work at a premiere in Portmeirion in 2001.

Her biography of the Welsh poet Eluned Phillips was published by Gomer and the English translation Absolute Optimist ( Honno) in 2018 . Cennad ( Barddas) a literary memoir was published in March 2018. Professor of Poetry, President of Wales PEN Cymru she has been a columnist with the ‘Western Mail’ since 1994. www.mennaelfyn.co.uk

SPIRIT OF THE LAND: CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP. ‘To know even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience’. And yet, where we live and to what we are rooted doesn’t always define who we are. In these workshops, we will try and explore what we mean by the rhythm and spirit of the land around us and what inspires our imaginations through writing. As RS Thomas was himself writing about such places like Abercuawg.

A chance to write the world anew – whether you are already a writer, poet or one who aspires to write poetry or prose. Aspiration indeed can create marvels! www.felinwales.org

Included in your ticket price is an opportunity for workshop participants, to perform their poetry or read something of their work at “Bards Around the Fire” in the Celtic Roundhouse, Felin Uchaf.

Sandra Anstey

Sandra Anstey studied English Literature at Reading University and then moved to the University of Wales, Swansea, where she completed her PhD study on the writings of RS Thomas. She taught English and was reviews editor of Poetry Wales (1980-1990). In 1989 she began work in examinations and assessment. She has edited a number of publications, including Critical Writings on RS Thomas (Seren), RS Thomas: Selected Prose (Seren), William Wordsworth: Selected Poems (Oxford University Press) and Selected Poems and Letters of Keats (Heinemann). She is currently Chair of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales.

REVISTING RS THOMAS: THROUGH HIS POETRY, PROSE & CONVERSATIONS. Sandra first contacted RS Thomas when she was an undergraduate student. She visited him in Aberdaron and in Y Rhiw, interviewed him during her doctoral studies and corresponded with him for many years. Her talk will include reference to unpublished material.

Ted Harrison

Ted Harrison is a writer, was a Radio 4 presenter and BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent and has a PhD in Theology. Ten years ago he made a career change, deciding to work as a visual artist and took an MA in Fine Art. Much of his work since then has been exploring what he calls ‘visual theology’. He uses a wide range of media, including paint, charcoal, etched slate, cut steel sculpture and found objects. Past exhibitions have been held in several cathedrals; Llandaff, St David’s, Gloucester, Norwich and London St Paul’s. His wall-sculptures honouring organ donors can be seen at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals. http://www.tedharrison.co.uk

‘…. HIS ARE THE ECHOES WE FOLLOW …’ The title of the exhibition is taken from a short RS Thomas poem ’Via Negativa’. The poem talks of God as the empty silence, ‘the place where we go seeking’.

The images are about those places in the poet’s life where he himself went ‘seeking’: the coastline of Holy Island as a boy; Bangor where he was a student; the parishes where he served as a priest; Aberdaron and the Llŷn Peninsula. The medium is charcoal – appropriately, the product of natural wood and fire.

Nick Fisher

Nick Fisher is a Church of England rector serving in five parishes in the Cotswolds. The holder of doctorates in English literature and theology, he has written extensively on the poetry of the Restoration poet Rochester. His study of Bishop Symon Patrick (1626-1707) is being published this autumn.

WORD: CHORAL WORK BY FRANCIS POTT, COMMISSIONED BY NICK FISHER. WORD seeks to re-interpret for our postmodern times St. John’s extraordinary ‘Prologue’ (John 1.1-14). Into a precis are woven lines by R.S. Thomas, whose adamantine poetry perfectly complements the evangelist’s stringent prose, both of which have been brilliantly fused together by the sensitivity, intelligence, and integrity of Francis Pott’s music. A recording of WORD sung by Commotio of Cambridge will be played. www.francispott.com

Côr Meibion Carnguwch: Welsh Male Voice Choir

Formed in October 2016 under the direction of Ann ‘Hafod’ Williams, who has performed and competed in the National Eisteddfod over many years. The choir is unique in the area as it has drawn young men from all around the Llŷn Peninsula.

SPIRIT OF ABERDARON CONCERT. Will include a repertoire of Welsh songs written about the people, landscape and events of Aberdaron along with poetry in Welsh written and performed by Menna Elfyn.

Susan Fogarty

Susan Fogarty is a founder and director of the RS Thomas & ME Eldridge Society, facilitating RS Thomas events in Aberdaron and elsewhere since 2013. She specialises in reading Thomas’s work: engaging her audience to move through the poetry, in churches and the natural environment. She has written articles for The Church Times, Faith & Freedom and Christians Aware. Since 2015 she has been a Journeying leader, guiding people on walking holidays with a spiritual intent.

STATIONS: PILGRIMAGE TO THE UNTENANTED CROSS. A poetry meditation by candlelight, whose roots are in the Easter tradition. Moving over the sacred ground, connecting the words of Thomas’s poems to the iconical features inside the ancient pilgrim place, where he was inspired to write “Here on my knees in the stone church, that is full only of the silent congregations of shadows and the sea’s sound…”

WALKING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF RS THOMAS. Starting at St Hywyn’s Church, this easy walk, over uneven paths along the river, leads to the old vicarage by the ‘secret’ path that RS would have taken, stopping along the way for the reading of his poems. The quiet road back to Aberdaron affords extensive views. Sturdy footwear essential. www.st-hywyn.org.uk/pilgrimage

Peter Hewlett

Peter Hewlett is treasurer of the RS Thomas and ME Eldridge Society. He studied history at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, spent his working life as a timber merchant in Nottingham, and now runs a walking holiday and accommodation business in Aberdaron. He has a deep knowledge of the history of the Llŷn Peninsula and a lively sense of the way that some of the poetry of RS Thomas relates to local places.

THE SPIRIT OF LLŶN: MINIBUS TOUR. Starting out from the National Trust car park in Aberdaron village, going directly up to the Mynydd Mawr headland with breath taking views across to Bardsey Island. On the way back down, passing the derelict Vicarage where Thomas lived when he was the vicar in Aberdaron. Rising up to the eastern hills to Sarn y Plas, overlooking the spectacular Hell’s Mouth bay, where he and Elsi lived in retirement. Down to the church at Llanfaelrhys where Elsi and Gwydion are buried, before returning to Aberdaron and St Hywyn’s church. Thomas’s poetry will be read in the landscape, redolent with images that appear in the work. [Only limited walking ability is required]

Barry Morgan

Barry Morgan is the former Archbishop of Wales and a Patron of the RS Thomas & ME Eldridge Society. He published “Strangely Orthodox: RS Thomas and his Poetry of Faith” in 2006.

It was after RS Thomas had retired, living in Sarn Plas, when they met for the first time, as Revd Morgan was Archdeacon and later the Bishop of Bangor. In retirement he spends more time as an international speaker on Thomas’s life and poetry.

SUNDAY MORNING EUCHARIST SERVICE. Revd Morgan will preside at the bilingual service, delivering his sermon in English.