Karen Hayes and her family have been coming to Newport for over twenty years. The first of her three daughters was two and the second only 6 months old when they stumbled across this beautiful little haven with its ancient history.
“We fell in love with it here,”she tells me at her book launch in the Newport Boat House, within sight of the houses she has imagined and written about for all of those years.Returning over and over she truly feels that her children and their friends have grown up here.
We snatched a few minutes before she begins reading from The Houses Along The Wall, a collection of poems imagining the lives and history of the people who have lived along the Parrog here in Newport, Pembrokeshire.
Based in Bristol, Karen was an actor for many years but her imagination was caught by the houses that had become so familiar. Following the death of her mother and an accident eight years ago that left her unable to walk for a while, she began to write her imagined histories with one or two coming to life each year.
“Something about the area and how much life had changed over the years inspired me. I wanted to capture something that had been lost as local people made way for incomers. It’s a sad fact that tourism is so necessary for Newport but has made it more expensive for local people to remain here.”
Last year Karen found a competition online and submitted one of the poems, to Holland Park Press. “The competition was about refugees. I had come across an Edwardian photograph in Newport of a group of girls, entitled The Belgians at Ocean House and I was intrigued .”
The poem inspired by that image won the competition.
Bernadette Jansen op de Haar , who publishes authors from all over the world, informs us that the poem won from a thousand entrants and that they were so impressed, they decided to publish the whole collection.
The first poem Karen reads to us, Tesserae, was inspired by the long days on Little Beach, collecting pieces of broken pottery that her family treasured on their holidays here. She describes them in her poem as….’little pieces of everyday.’
The local people who have come to share this afternoon, nod and smile. The little pieces of multi coloured history are well-known hereabouts.
Karens second poem In His Cups (Morawellan) has been set to music she tells us by Roddy Williams, the great British baritone and performed by him at the Wigmore Hall.
‘…and she has been widowed by drink…’
‘…her shadow falls across the table and into his pint of beer…’
The Wedding Breakfast (Swyn-y-mor) is her third poem, with bright images of young girls in coloured stockings and a poignant description of the watcher.
‘…the house of her heart vacated long ago is now shut up for demolition….’
‘…her famine is their feast..’
The poem, The Belgians, (Ocean House) that won the competition comes next, and is followed by Watermark, (Rock House which is now owned by the Chaston Family). Mrs Chaston is clearly moved by this little gem, as are we all.
Fire On The Mountain (Seagull Cottage) and The Misses (Parrog House) follow. The latter being a poem Karen’s youngest daughter had been so moved by that she had written about it in a school essay believing it to be factual and not imagined by her mum.
The next poem Karen reads for us is based on Ondara House where her family have spent so many happy holidays. Ondara House had been the childhood home of Suzy Lamplugh who was working as an estate agent in London when she disappeared without trace in 1986. The poem is titled Four Floors For Suzy and Karen describes the kind indulgence of the family who she approached before including the poem in the cycle.
This is Karens first book of poetry but she clearly has a love of words. She has been writing Libretti for Welsh National Opera, though her passion she tells me, is in her verbatim poetry work with people with Dementia.
“ People often describe family members with dementia as having gone, but music and poetry allow people to still communicate on their own terms. My work as a Dementia poetry Consultant means I see how imagery is summoned up as a way for people to express themselves.”
Karen is developing this work from her home in Bristol.
Karen can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her volume of Poetry entitled , ‘The House Along the Wall is published by Holland Park Press and is available from them. website: https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk/book_
Please follow this link to hear Karen read her poem The Belgians:
The book can be ordered from bookshops. Seaways in Fishguard has copies of Karen’s book in their shop.
Here are three of Karen’s oems to whet your appetite. The first is from THE HOUSE ALONG THE WALL.
IN HIS CUPS. Morwellan
It was an affliction in the village;
Like polio or a stammer, it marked you out
As an object of sympathy.
Or pity rather…. The sympathy
Was always for your wife
And she had been widowed by drink.
He had heard rumours
Passed coarsely amongst the men,
Vibrating between the women,
But in his cups he’d thought her beautiful.
Another man’s wife; another’s handprint
On her jaw. Her tears his bar.
Now though, as time is called for the long wait
In the stillroom, those fists have stiffened
And she has taken the pledge.
He watches her come out of the mission,
Clutched to the bosoms of female supporters.
Her shadow falls across the table
And into his pint of beer. It sours as
He gulps her down.
He watches her, moved by her spirit
Sunday by Sunday, walks the dry path
Down the long hill of her neck,
Lays parched at her throat’s pool
Where a pulse will sometimes surface.
He’s memorised that supple movement
With which she drops to her knees,
Drops with her, sweating behind his eyes.
He smells her tidal body like a malt flowing toward him,
In at the offertory, out at the creed.
His shilling, like ice in his palm, he touches
The rim of the collection bowl
Where the wood is warm from the heel
Of her hand and at the communion
Tastes where her lips have been.
And he knows how she gropes for the kneeler
Blindly with thumb and forefinger
And how she pulls
The resistant tapestry
Out of its hiding place.
She emerges from yew-tree dark
With the glamour of rain in her hair,
Her arm through his. Her smile an intoxication
To quench his thirst for ever,
And exacts her own promise in return.
He never took a drop from the day
She agreed to his proposal.
A sunday it was. And wet. And he thought
How the church porch step was glistening
Like wine from the rock of God.
DAWN PROLOGUE. from STREET OF BUGLES.
An oratorio for young musicians. Composer Thomas Johnson. Librettist Karen Hayes
To the sounds the house makes
Just before eye-open.
A reveille of birds warms it awake
With a hum. The furniture stirs
Under the buzz of sun
And the scratch of wool on wood.
The sound of almost today.
To the creep along the landing,
Dent of foot upon stair-rod,
Before-fire chill, before the coax
Of water to wash is heating in the kettle,
The turn of warm bodies,
Fitfully clinging to dreams
In feather beds.
The slide of palm on bannister
Holds the breath of the house.
Past the prints of pike and mackeral,
Past the old rifle suspended on its hooks,
Past the photograph of all of us
Taken on the path towards Fosse
Only last summer.
The latch of the kitchen door,
Which only I can open silently
Twitches a little. It knows
When I snatch my bugle from the table
And give it the shape of my mouth
Without the sound of breath. It knows
Where I am going.
It knows where I am going.
DEMENTIA POEMS. A verbatim poem created by Karen Hayes
in conversation with John Wilson.
from an anthology Only Just Orchid with artist Richard Aylwin
I’LL GET THERE
I’ll get there.
In the small course of things,
Exactly the why
I think a lot of might-be,
A lot of throwaway.
I’ll get there.
You’ve got to have some untying.
One will start up in a little while,
The what I’ll put in a different place.
I think, lets say I am.
I’ll get there.
At the large scale,
Glory, I haven’t even got my age.
But let’s just say a brief, brief thing
About to match imagine things
Going on behind here.
And what I am trying to do
I’m trying to show
That I can.
The first thing I can.
The many things that are happening.
And she might think,
Let’s say, this person who is shaking,
And she might think at first
It wasn’t any happening.
He was, let’s say it would, it could.
I’ll get there.