Past Conferences: 2011

Hand Hotel, Llangollen

Cymri and Cimmerians

The Conference was held from Friday 19 August to Sunday 21 August 2011 at The Hand Hotel, Llangollen.

Conference Prospectus

'... that mysterious country of the underworld of which the Greek wanderer had his vision, coming to it at last through those Cimmerian mists ...'

We are returning once more to The Hand Hotel, beautifully set above the dark River Dee, in a landscape charged with symbolic resonance, and with a magnificent view of the hill of Dinas Bran high above. What all three Powys brothers have in common in their writing is the experience of Walking — of journeying on foot as a kind of Quest — so that each landscape will tend to take on primeval, mythic overtones. John Cowper took up the hints in Rhys and elsewhere that the Welsh 'Cymric' might be synony­mous with Homer's 'Cimmerians', who lived beyond the Oceanus, in a land of fog and darkness, at the edge of the world — at the entrance to Hades. Among the few facts recorded about these mysterious Cimmerians is that one of their kings was named 'DUGDAMME'. And it is in Ducdame (1925) that JCP develops a mythology of ‘Cimmery Land’ as some longed-for retreat, a ‘land of untroubled twilight’, fed by ‘the memory of old, defeated, long-forgotten gods whose only immortality was in grey, cool, silent, sadly-driven mists’. We are close here to Keats’ vision of Saturn’s underground realm - the deposed god plotting his return. Twenty years after Ducdame, in Obstinate Cymric, John Cowper writes: ‘the everlasting Welsh habit has been to sink inwards’ — a dominant theme in all his Welsh fiction and, it could be argued, in the daily practice of life for both Theodore and John throughout their later years. For better or worse that Cimmerian aspect should be less in evidence on a busy August weekend in Llangollen.

Stephen Batty and Jonas Aagaard
Stephen Batty and Jonas Aagaard
Patrick Wright by the River Dee
Patrick Wright by the River Dee

Our Conference programme encompasses all three brothers. Patrick Wright will speak mainly about Llewelyn; Stephen Batty about Theodore; while Jonas Holm Aagaard will focus on one chapter of A Glastonbury Romance. It is a special delight to welcome again a long-absent but almost legendary Powysian, the poet Jeremy Hooker, who will speak on the writings of Mary and Gerard Casey and their relation to both Theodore and John Cowper.


Friday 19th August

16.00 Arrival
17.30 Reception and welcome
18.30 Dinner
20.00 Stephen Batty: ‘Cold, silence, height: T. F. Powys & Friedrich Nietzsche’, introduced by Louise de Bruin

Saturday 20th August

08.00 Breakfast
09.30 Jonas Holm Aagaard: ‘Reading the Will’, introduced by Charles Lock
11.15 Jeremy Hooker: ‘On the Writings of Gerard and Mary Casey’, introduced by Glen Cavaliero
12.45 Lunch
Afternoon free for expeditions
19.00 Dinner
20.00 A reading of Mr. Weston's Good Wine, adapted for voices by Kate Kavanagh

Sunday 21st August

08.00 Breakfast
09.30 Patrick Wright: 'Metal, Compost and Chalk: Reflections on English Vision and the ground beneath Llewelyn's feet', introduced by Timothy Hyman
11.00 AGM
12.00 A Discussion
13.00 Lunch
15.00 End of conference and Departure

About the Speakers

Jonas Holm Aagaard wrote his Master's thesis on JCP at the University of Copenhagen, under the supervision of Professor Charles Lock. His essay ‘John Cowper Powys‘s: Titles‘ is in The Powys Journal xix (2009). He is now extending his work to Powys's contemporaries, including Dorothy Richardson, to explore theoreti­cal issues arising out of book history and printed matter.

The Reverend Canon Stephen Batty is parish priest of Branksome St Aldhelm, Poole, and is a non-residentiary canon of Salisbury Cathedral. He has worked on TFP manuscripts in Dorchester (including his annotations to Nietzsche) and is planning to research the mss of TFP's Biblical interpretations at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas. He came to know Gerard Casey well, and conducted his funeral service at Mappowder.

Jeremy Hooker, poet and essayist, was an early member of The Powys Society. His first collection, Soliloquies of a Chalk Giant, came out in 1974, and his collected poems were published by Enitharmon in 2006. Mary Casey was the daughter of Lucy Penny and niece to all the Powys brothers. She married Gerard Casey, born in South Wales and later Will Powys's assistant in Kenya. Both were remarkable writers in verse and in prose.

Kate Kavanagh joined The Powys Society in the 1980s (?) and has been Newsletter editor since 2001.This radio version of Mr. Weston was made (with P. J. Kavanagh) in the 1970s, for an enthusiastic, but ultimately powerless, BBC producer at Bristol. It is almost entirely in dialogue lifted straight from the book. A small group at Dorchester enjoyed reading it in 2008, and we hope it will find favour with a larger audience at Llangollen, equipped with lively imaginations.

Patrick Wright is a cultural historian and journalist with a long-standing interest in the Powyses as one strand in that weird tapestry of Utopians and prophets that took shape in southern England between the wars. His many chronicles of absurd cultural collisions range from The Village that Died for England (about Tyneham in Dorset) to Journey through Ruins (about Dalston Lane in east London). In 2001 Patrick Wright collaborated with Timothy Hyman on the Tate's Stanley Spencer retrospective. His most recent book, Passport to Peking, centres on a mission to China in 1954 that included both Spencer and A. J. Ayer. Visit Patrick Wright’s website