Posted on 3 June 2011
Left to right: The 2006 Dylan Thomas Prize Winner, Rachel Tresize, together with Elyse Fenton, the 2010 Dylan Thomas Prize Winner, both reading at the Hay Festival
It was a standing congregation in the University of Wales shop, who listened to the poet Elyse Fenton read from her award-winning collection, Clamor, at midday on Tuesday.
For these poems, written during her husband’s deployment in Iraq, Elyse won the 2010 University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize - the first poet to have won the £30,000 accolade since its conception in 2006.
Speaking before the reading, Elyse explained to her audience that her inspiration for writing poetry comes from an immersion and fascination in language and not from any strong objection to war. This fascination was evident from the way in which she clung to the enunciation of words during her reading; words such as ‘friendly fire’ which despite her insistence of being a non-objector to the war, undeniably had a wounding impact upon her.
While her husband was away on active service her preoccupation with war never abandoned her thoughts. Even whilst sleeping her dreams conjured horrors of war; in the poem ‘Infidelity’ she imagines her husband’s dismembered body following a mortar attack: Bricks mortared into a broken kingdom of sleep where I found you, dream-sift, rubbled, nowhere. Forgive me, love, this last infidelity. I never dreamed you whole.
“There was no real political reason for my writing this material” said Elyse, “it’s the language which drives me. I wasn’t even paying attention to the potential of an audience when writing this, it just felt necessary and urgent and it wrote me while I was writing it.
“To now find myself in the international spotlight is a little unnerving because I didn’t set out for this at all. The Dylan Thomas Prize has gotten me an international readership; it’s allowed me to think of myself as a professional writer, which I’ve never before been able to do. For the most part it’s just thrilling!”
The University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize founder, Professor Peter Stead, said:
“I am thrilled that the Dylan Thomas Prize was finally awarded to a poet. Like Dylan, Elyse’s work conveys vivid images and a fascination with words. We had a real insight into the nature of poetry in today’s reading. Indeed, none of this would have been possible without help from the University of Wales; together we’re not only taking Wales and Dylan Thomas to the world, but also bringing the world to Wales”
The following day Elyse gave a reading at the Hay Festival of Literature, capping off her brief visit to Wales in which she spent much of her time in Swansea, exploring the old stomping ground of Wales’s most revered literary export.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elyse now lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.
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