Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 13, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Letters to Raymond Garlick RS Thomas (Gomer, pounds 16.99) He was seen as a wonderful poet who was an irascible and miserable eccentric, and these 48 years of letters to fellow poet Raymond Garlick do little to dispel that image.

But they also reveal a wry wit that did not often surface in RS Thomas' poems, his life as vicar in a church he no longer believed in, or in his public performances, where he hated questions and could come across as curt and dismissive.

After visiting Greece he wrote: "We pursued God up Olympus, but he vanished, as always, into thin air", and after commenting on the "burned up landscape" and the much maligned Welsh climate, he added: "We did have one downpour on Olympus. Perhaps God is a monkey after all. They like to urinate at strangers." After an address to the Welsh Union of Writers in Harlech in September, 1987 he wrote: "I didn't enjoy it, neither, I imagine, did they." His feeling was plain as paper to those of us in the room, and since he asserted that the only real Welshman is one who speaks Welsh, he was right about the general response.

"I have little sympathy with the 'Good a Welshman as you, mun' attitude of the South," he added.

His opinions were as trenchant as his poetry was tremendous.

This complete, if one-sided, correspondence, enjoyed from 1951 to 1999, reveals Thomas' opinions of other major poets like Dylan Thomas, WB Yeats and Ted Hughes and is full of insights that help to round up our idea of the man who Garlick, the leading expert on Welsh writing in English, believes was the greatest poet of the 20th century.

There is a brilliant introduction by Jason Walford Davies and several poems Thomas sent with his letters. Only one letter from Garlick to Thomas survives and is included as an appendix. The 152 from Thomas to Garlick are each allotted a page in this handsome volume, even if they are only two lines long. An important book for Wales..

Return to Hendre Ddu Sin James (Seren, pounds 7.99) James' third novel, A Small Country, published in 1979, is considered a classic of the English language Welsh novel and was adapted into a Bafta award-winning television series, Calon Gaeth.

Here she's back to that setting with war hero Tom Evans returning to the family farm in West Wales, minus a leg, from the killing fields of France in 1917.

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