A Village of Voices - Lynette Roberts
Owen Sheers - 2 June 2009
All of the films in this series have been shaped by the poems with which they engage, but perhaps none of
them more so than this week's offering of Lynette Roberts's 'Poem from Llanybri'. The poem is an invitation to visit her village, written
with a crafted, precise and yet colloquial voice and with a flexible focus that zooms from minute detail to sweeping views. All
of these qualities are, I hope, reflected and followed in the film, but it's that notion of Robert's voice that I really hope we
managed to translate into the medium of television.
Lynette Robert's is a poet who in my mind occupies similar territory as David Jones. Both poets are, i think, traditional modernists, or modern traditionalists
depending on your perspective and where you want to place the emphasis. By this what I mean is that they are incredibly aware of the traditions, accents and forms
out of which they are writing, and yet they also aspire to write truly modern poetry, poetry which knows where poetry has been but which also wants to make
new paths, find its own routes to its moments of illumination and delight. In the case of Roberts her work in Wales is also backlit by her previous life in Argentina,
by the light, colours and rhythms of that country. Added to these influences playing into her voice is her own curiosity and interest in the sound world around her,
especially the dialect, phrases and rhythms of speech of the villagers in Llanybri. She wrote a very academic essay on the phonetics of the language of the village,
but it's in her verse that this interest really takes off. In 'Poem from Llanybri' this means that although it's a poem born entirely of her own unique voice,
I always feel I can also hear the voices of others behind hers - the greetings, comments and gossip of her friends and enemies in Llanybri - 'If you come my way that is..
a breath you can swank...it's treacherous the fen... It was because of this we were keen to fill the film with voices from the village and area now,
weaving them between Lynette's poetry and letters. Underlaying all of this the director made sure that the strong, swinging four beat of Argentine tango kept
swelling beneath the interviews and commentary. For us, in the medium of TV, this was the best way we could maintain that shadow of her South American influence.
When you read more of her poetry, though, that influence comes through in a much more subtle and enjoying way. I'm not going to give any more pointers, because
I really believe that many will relish discovering the layers of Robert's voice for themselves, but needless to say it adds remarkable depth and colour to her
already vividly original voice, often in the most surprising of places...