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This review is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

Cover of Letters from Wales: Memories and Encounters in Literature and Life
Gwyneth LewisSam Adams, Letters from Wales: Memories and Encounters in Literature and Life (Parthian) £20
A Thicket of Goldcrests

When I heard that Parthian was publishing a com­pendium of poet Sam Adams’s ‘Letters from Wales’, I was overjoyed. PN Review has published one hundred and fifty-eight of Adams’s letters since the 1990s, forming a body of cahiers of ‘affective response’ to the history and writing of Wales. Published alongside epistles from all corners of the world (I remember writing one from New York, about events marking the tenth anniversary of W.H. Auden’s death), Adams’s missives read together are a treasure trove of deep knowledge about Welsh culture. This is a tradition which the English think they know but don’t and which, as Michael Schmidt notes in his introduction, resists both Anglo-Saxon integration and insularity. There’s a good deal to be learned elsewhere from the particular conjunctions of Welsh politics and history: the first being that deep strands of English literature are inextricably formed by, through and with it.

Welsh writers have cause to be grateful to Sam Adams for his sustained and careful attention to Welsh writing. Adams is self-effacing and never mentions his own work as a poet – restraint that sometimes I wish others would observe. His prose is poetic in the best sense: he mentions the ‘St Vitus’s dance of TV in the corner’ and, in Rhys Davies’s flat, notices ‘a small bronze of a naked youth, in the antique manner, with a full wineskin on his back, in the act of pouring wine into a beaker, his image of the burden of self-expression in writing, joyfully borne’, an exquisitely poised description of the ...

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