War from a Welsh Woman’s Perspective – Lynette Roberts

Born in South America, Lynette Roberts travelled widely before settling in the rural Carmarthenshire village of Llanybri at the start of the Second World War. Married to the Welsh writer Keidrych Rhys, she was well known in literary circles of the time – Dylan Thomas was best man at her wedding!

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Lynette Roberts, Collected Poems, Carcanet Press

The collection of her poetry edited by Patrick McGuinness in 2005, shows how Roberts harnesses and articulates the complex situation of war and consequent arrival of modernity in rural West Wales. Through the subversion of wartime propaganda, Roberts’s poetry displays women who emerged empowered despite their world being turned upside down by modern warfare. Most importantly her poetry showed urban modernists of the forties that a Welsh modernism existed.

From accusations of spy craft in ‘Raw Salt on Eye’ to a poignant account of miscarriage in ‘Lamentation’, Roberts’s poetry is a first hand account of life in wartime rural Wales. Roberts’s prose poem ‘Swansea Raid’ is one of the finest accounts of war disrupting a domestic space: ‘I, that is Xebo7011, pass out into the chill-blue air and join Xebn559162, her sack apron greening by the light of the moon.’ Roberts identifies herself with her war time identity number. A ‘collyrium’ sky is ‘chemically washed’ and a searchlight is described as ‘a glade of magnesium’ as nature is contaminated by warfare. Her poetry describes war in rural Wales from a unique, female perspective.

Tony Conran admitted that the neglect of Roberts’s poetry is ‘the greatest failure of the Anglo-Welsh tradition to date.’ Lynette wrote on the edge of a literary period and her great epic poem about the Second World War ‘Gods With Stainless Ears wasn’t published until the fifties by which time literary circles had made way for a group of Angry Young Men.

As well as her poetry, a collection titled ‘Diaries Letters and Recollections’ also edited by Patrick McGuinness is a great account of life in rural Wales during the forties. You get a real sense of her eccentric personality as well as a glimpse of women’s war time troubles. Her account of meeting T.S. Eliot at the Faber offices in London (with her two young tantrum-throwing children in tow!) is, in itself, a reason to look up this brilliant Welsh author.

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What is Welsh Writing in English?

Defining the texts that could be considered ‘Welsh Writing in English’ can be difficult and some texts are easier to define than others. Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas are perhaps some of the most well known authors in this tradition, however, there are many other writers to uncover.

Let’s take Lynette Roberts for example – born in South America, educated in Bournemouth, yet her most important modernist poetry was written whilst she lived in rural Carmarthenshire during the Second World War and the influence of Wales in her work is undeniable.

In one sense, Welsh Writing in English texts are those written in the English language by Welsh authors. However, the tradition branches out further – to include authors with Welsh parentage, connections to Wales or those who currently live in Wales. The authors’ backgrounds are diverse yet they all have one thing in common – a passion to creatively express what it means to be Welsh.