2021 Presenters

Philip Gross

Philip Gross has published over twenty collections of poetry, including The Water Table, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize 2009, and a new collection, Between the Islands, from Bloodaxe in March 2020. He received a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and his science-based collection for young people, Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) was shortlisted for the CLiPPA prize. He is a keen collaborator, e.g. with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold in the River (Seren, 2015), with poet Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018) and currently with Welsh-language bardd Cyril Jones. www.philipgross.co.uk

Writing Together: Words and Water  

Water has always been a presence in Philip Gross’ poetry – the Severn Estuary in the T.S. Eliot-Prize-winning Water Table, the Taff inA Fold in the River and, in his new collection, Between the Islands, the sea. For more than 30 years, Philip has been opening doors into writing for people of all ages and any level of experience.

The morning will start at St Hywyn’s Church within sight of Thomas’ ‘timeless’ and yet ever-changing sea to explore how we can use words, and the spaces between words, to become more alive to the world around us and within. Sarn Plas, the retirement cottage of RS Thomas and ME Eldridge will be the afternoon venue.

“Bards Around the Fire” in the Celtic Roundhouse, Felin Uchaf, in the evening, will be an opportunity for the writers and Philip to share some of their inspired words.

Mark Pryce

Mark Pryce is Director of Ministry for Birmingham Diocese, and Chaplain to The Queen. Originally from Wales, Mark served as Curate and Hospital Chaplain in West Bromwich, Fellow and Dean of Chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Vicar of Smethwick Old Church. He is a member of The Diviners, a group of theologian-poets with whom he co-authored Making Nothing Happen [2017]. He regularly lectures on The Welsh Poet-Priests [including RS Thomas], exploring connections between poetry, spirituality and the practice of ministry. His most recent book is Poetry, Practical Theology & Reflective Practice. [2019]

The Landscape of Anglo-Welsh Poetry: RS Thomas in 2020

Drawing on his family roots in Wales and the Welsh Marches, Mark will offer a reading of RS Thomas’s poetry set in the vibrant company of Anglo-Welsh poets such as George Herbert, Wilfred Owen, David Jones, Saunders Lewis, Dylan Thomas, Lynette Roberts, Ruth Bidgood and Rowan Williams. What themes emerge in these ‘songs from the hills’, as we hear the poetry of prayer, nature, community, love and war?

Mark Oakley

mark oakley

Mark Oakley is Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge, and a former residentiary canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (London). He served as Rector of St Paul’s Covent Garden (the Actors’ church); he is Deputy Priest in Ordinary to HM the Queen, and a Visiting Lecturer at King’s College, London and Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, Salisbury. His writings and broadcasts explore poetry, spirituality, and human rights. His books The Collage of God (2001) and The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry (2016), winner of the 2019 Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing, were recently the top two selling books of The Church Times along with his publication of 50 sermons By Way of the Heart [2019]. His latest book is My Sour-Sweet Days: George Herbert and the Journey of the Soul (2019).

The Tides of Faith in R.S. Thomas

The festival is delighted to welcome back Mark Oakley as one of the Society board members and a speaker in the 2017 Festival.  ‘Time and Tide’ is the theme for this year’s festival and Mark will be exploring the tides of faith as expressed in Thomas’ poetry and experienced by those of us in whom his words resonate deeply.

Manon Ceridwen James

Manon Ceridwen James was one of the first women to be ordained in the Church in Wales.  Welsh speaking, she was brought up on the Llŷn Peninsula. She is Dean for Initial Ministerial Training for St Padarn’s Institute, with responsibility for training lay and ordained ministers in the Church in Wales.  Her poetry has been published in Poetry Wales, Envoi, Under the Radar and Obsessed with Pipework. She is the author of Women, Identity and Religion in Wales [2018] and has also contributed several chapters for edited collections on poetry, theology and feminist research.

Bring on the dancing girls’ : An RS Thomas Perspective

In the poem Perspectives, Thomas describes modernity, referring to electricity pylons as ‘the dancing girls of the future’.   Manon Ceridwen James appropriates his phrase to speak about Thomas’ contribution to the poet priest tradition, and how this living tradition is expressed today. Some of this will be drawn from her own research and work into the role religion plays in constructing Welsh female identities. She will explore how this tradition, over time, informs our understanding of the Church in Wales in its Centenary year.

Jon Gower

John Gower.
Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, Wrecsam. 2011

Jon Gower is a former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent, and author of thirty books. The Story of Wales, which accompanied the landmark TV series; An Island Called Smith was awarded the John Morgan Travel Writing Prize. Y Storïwr won the Wales Book of the Year Award. He has made two radio programmes about his occasional birdwatching companion RS Thomas, in particular Radio 3’s R.S. Thomas: Always Seeking Greater Silence [2013], which draws on interviews conducted whilst birdwatching and at the poet’s home on Anglesey in the late 1990s. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r5n6g

Time and Tide: Waiting For The Rare Bird

R. S. Thomas wasn’t just a keen birdwatcher, he was an expert, able to identify rare birds that made landfall in his parishes. As Thomas’s poem Sea-Watching suggests, such birds – which appear ‘when one is not looking’ – are elusive, like God, and the act of birdwatching is thus akin to prayer. Jon will discuss Thomas as a naturalist and conservationist, sharing his correspondence with other writers and birders; spotting the various species – some mythical, some real – that fly through Thomas’s verse.

Tony Brown

tony brown cropped

Tony Brown is Professor Emeritus in the School of English at Bangor University and Co-Director of the R.S. Thomas Study Centre. He has published extensively in the field of Welsh writing in English. He was the founding editor of the journal Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of Critical Essays (1995-2007). Publications on R.S. Thomas extend over some thirty years and include R.S. Thomas (U. of Wales P, 2006 & 2013) He and Jason Walford Davies published R. S. Thomas’s Uncollected Poems (2013) and Too Brave to Dream (2016)

Reading the Poems At several points on Saturday there will be brief (approx.10 minute) sessions devoted to the close reading of individual R.S. Thomas poems – some well known, some less so – to consider how the meanings of Thomas’s poems are partly derived from the poetic techniques which he uses.

Mared Emlyn

mared emlyn

Mared Emlyn is a graduate of Bangor University, who completed a doctorate in performance on the harp and composition in 2014. She studied composition with Prof Pwyll ap Siôn and harp with Elinor Bennett, with additional lessons in Switzerland and Canada. Mared has received many composition commissions, including works for Wales International Piano Festival, Colwyn Male Voice Choir, a work for the Bangor Music Festival premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and a harp concerto for the Beaumaris Festival. In 2018, she collaborated with musician Gwenan Gibbard and poet Mererid Hopwood on a commission by the Wales International Harp Festival to celebrate the world-renowned harpist Osian Ellis’ 90th birthday.

Cyngerdd: Emyn i Gymro – Hymn to a Welshman Concert

Emyn i Gymro was created as a tribute to RS Thomas after his death in 2000. The words were written and performed by Menna Elfyn, translated into English by Gillian Clarke, with music for the harp composed by Pwyll ap Sion, performed by Eleanor Bennet at Portmeirion in 2001. This will be its third performance with Mared Emlyn as the harp soloist.

John Beynon


John Beynon has had a lifelong interest in and involvement with poetry, from academic study and writing as a young man to becoming more substantially engaged since retiring as a practitioner with children who have complex and profound special needs. He is a member of Cannon Poets in Birmingham, contributing to their journal, as well as helping facilitate community poetry initiatives. He enjoys reading his own work at local events and in Cardiff. Having spent his childhood and youth in the Vale of Glamorgan and Swansea, he has been drawn to this area, the country of Wales and his Welsh identity in his writing. While appreciating the poet’s work over many years, he has come late to a fuller understanding of RS Thomas, and to participation in the life of the Society.

Cyngerdd: Emyn i Gymro – Hymn to a Welshman Concert

John Beynon will read some of the verses of poetry by Menna Elfyn in Welsh.

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. She has been a Journeying leader: guiding people on walking holidays with a spiritual intent. She co-leads RS Thomas retreats with her partner John McEllhenney in the UK and America.

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 church, where he was inspired to write The Moon in Lleyn

“ …………………..Here
on my knees in this stone
church, that is full only
of the silent congregation
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 quiet path that RS would have taken, stopping along the way for the reading of his poems.

Cyngerdd: Emyn i Gymro – Hymn to a Welshman Concert

Susan Fogarty will read the English translation of the poetry by Menna Elfyn.

John Davies

John Davies was elected Archbishop of Wales in 2017. Born in Newport, Monmouthshire, he graduated in law from the University of Southampton, moved on to the College of Law in Chester, and was admitted as a solicitor is 1977, specialising in criminal law. In his spare time, he was a church organist and choirmaster. After ordination in 1984, he completed a Master’s degree in Canon Law and served parishes in the Diocese of Monmouth. He was appointed Dean of Brecon in 2000, and elected Bishop of Brecon and Swansea in 2008. Lead Bishop for Church and Society issues, Davies is especially interested in the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders and in healthcare, particularly for those in life’s closing years.

Celebrating the Centenary of the Church in Wales

The Most Reverend John Davies will lead a service of worship and preach, with the Venerable Andrew Jones in St Hywyn’s Church, celebrating 100 years since the Church in Wales was formed and 60 years of RS Thomas’s ministry. The Eucharist Service will be bilingual, as usual.

Francis Pott

Francis PottFrancis Pott is professor of composition at the University of West London, who has developed an international reputation as a composer over the past thirty years. His dramatic, challenging music unites a distinctive personal voice with a highly disciplined but versatile technique rooted in a keen awareness of the past. To date his works (including a steady flow of major commissions) have been heard in concerts and on radio across the UK and in over forty countries worldwide. They have been widely published and extensively recorded for global release. www.francispott.com

WORD: The Composer’s Presentation of his Recording

WORD is a sequence of musical meditations on the Gospel in the 21st century for mixed chorus and organ, setting together verses from St John’s Prologue and five poems of R S Thomas.

Francis will share his insights into the challenges of composing this work, in particular using Thomas’s free verse poetry with the text of John’s Gospel.

Performed by Commotio in Keble College, Oxford in September 2018, it was subsequently recorded in March 2019, for general release in the summer of 2020. Francis is grateful for the fact that some members of the RS Thomas & ME Eldridge Society privately sponsored the recording of WORD. [Naxos 8.573976]

Ian M Parr

Ian M ParrIan M Parr retired from the chemical industry 2010. He has published poems and songs for over 50 years. In recent times he has been associated with organising, assisting and participating in poetry events and publications, mostly in the Shropshire and Cheshire area. He has been published recently in several poetry anthologies. Some of his work includes reference and responses to poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, WB Yeats, John Clare and of course RS Thomas.

Writing Together: Words And Water  

Ian will be facilitating the Writing Together events with Philip Gross on the Friday.

Dane Briscoe


Dane Briscoe is a young artist, currently studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL. He was raised in Old Colwyn in North Wales. Primarily, he works with sculpture, performance and photography often adopting a light-hearted approach to his work. He is intrigued by the notion of cultural identity, embedded within his practice. The seeds of inspiration are sown through the exploration of literature. His work featured in the Galeri 19 Exhibition, Caernarfon and in Golwg the largest circulation weekly Welsh-language magazine.

Time & Tide Exhibition: Time – Bardd

Bardd is one of a series of performative, photographic portraits, in which Dane dressed up as RS Thomas. This piece was informed by his fascination for the Romantic Era and the works of Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich and the poetry of R.S Thomas. He was twenty years old when the photograph was taken.

To a Young Poet

“For the first twenty years you are still growing,
Bodily that is; as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet.”

Liz Mellor

Liz Mellor Sea Works

Liz Mellor is an artist living near Oswestry. She was involved in the campaign to raise awareness about the potential loss of ME Eldridge’s Great Masterwork, The Dance of Life, when it was announced that the building which housed the panels would be demolished. Liz’s work can be viewed at http://www.borderlandvisualarts.com
Time & Tide Exhibition: Tide – Sea Works
Her art in this exhibition is about the sea, light and infinity. She is inspired by the pilgrim coastal paths and spiritual spaces of Llŷn. Thomas’s poem The Moon in Lleyn has a particular resonance …. These very seas/ are baptised.

Time & Tide Exhibition: Tide – Sea Works

Her art in this exhibition is about the sea, light and infinity. She is inspired by the pilgrim coastal paths and spiritual spaces of Llŷn. Thomas’s poem The Moon in Lleyn has a particular resonance …. These very seas/ are baptised.

Ffion Wood

Ffion Wood (2) (002)

Ffion Wood is a talented young harpist of remarkable composure and confidence for her age. She has played in a diversity of locations and events from Eisteddfod to Chapel, Celtic Roundhouse to Church weddings. She will be playing the harp as a counterpoint to the words of the “Bards around the Fire” on the Friday evening.