Last month I interviewed poet and author Matthew Francis for New Welsh Review about his upcoming short story collection, Singing a Man to Death. He told me how he attempts to recreate ‘the chaotic pluralism of modern culture’ in his work, and about his early flirtations with surrealist literature (‘the idea of it liberating, the practice usually disappointing’). His collection weaves together a truly staggering breadth of settings and influences. Did you know, for instance, that the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was a mythical tiny sheep once thought to grow from the stem of a plant? No, neither did I. Like Michael Ondaatje or Anne Michaels, Francis’ background as a poet (he was named as one of the Poetry Book Society’s ’20 Best Modern Poets’ in 2004) has given him a prose style that is at once spare and energetic, and an impressive eye for detail makes his new collection an enchanting read.
As the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics fills the Royal Court of Justice with a strange mix of comedians, authors, actors, and the victims of unspeakable tragedy, anyone following the news this week would be forgiven for overlooking another investigation taking place in the halls of government, one that could have even broader ramifications for the cultural life of the nation. A cross-party select committee has been summoned to investigate the forest fire of closures currently set to ravage libraries across England and Wales. The situation on this side of the toll booth looks particularly dire. Libraries in some of North Wales’ worst areas for literacy and employment face closure, as do many in Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Bridgend, and all this despite book-borrowing in Wales enjoying an increase of 5.4% last year. Before you start entertaining notions of going door to door collecting signatures, or setting up tents and placards outside your local library, be aware that there is a simpler solution. The select committee, chaired by conservative MP John Whittingdale, is calling for members of the public to send in their thoughts about what they would consider to be ‘a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st Century’ and are asking for perspectives on ‘the impact library closures have on local communities’. If you think you have a thing or two to say on the subject, email your testimony as an attachment to email@example.com by 12 January, with ‘Library Closures’ as subject. Guidelines for submitting evidence to a select committee can be found at http://bit.ly/1g2o3v. Have fond memories of your own local library? Believe they should be reformed into Open University-style hubs of learning and betterment? Think that cutting libraries in recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague? Let the committee members know!
A version of this was published in the Western Mail on Saturday 7 January 2012
Paul Cooper is an online contributor and intern for New Welsh Review
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