Before heading off to Wales earlier this month for a sneak preview of what that principality has in store for literary tourists next year, I took an inventory of what I knew about the place: Dylan Thomas of course: grew up in Swansea; lived in the coastal village of Laugharne; baritone; had a tempestuous marriage, died in New York, drank a lot. Tom Jones, baritone, drank a lot, tempestuous marriages. Richard Burton, baritone, movie idol, Taming of the Shrew, tempestuous marriages, drank a lot. Hay-on-Wye, leeks, and the Gregynog Press.
The team at Visit Wales did a superb job touring us around, and rounding out my limited knowledge of the place. Unfortunately we couldn’t fit Gregynog Hall, where the press’s books are printed, into the itinerary. So I decided to fit the itinerary into the press by keeping an eye out for their books along the planned route.
First sighting was at the National
Aberystwyth. People here were priming for a big Dylan Thomas exhibition scheduled to open next June in the Gregynog Gallery. The space will be filled with Dylan’s books and letters, a literary pub and a replica of the fictitious Under Milk Wood town of Llaregubb.
On the way out I managed a glimpse at these Gregynog titles
on display, though oddly not for sale (they had been until recently apparently). Over a river, along a road, through a
dale, and we arrive at Tregynon for a night’s stay at The Talbot Hotel just in time to catch Rhiannon before she closes her shop. She specializes in rare Welsh gold, and jewellery design, and, as it turns out, the Gregynog Press. Well a few of them at least, you’ll find a display under glass in the back room, downstairs from a small Celtic jewellery museum.
Next morning, we headed for booktown central, Hay-on-Wye – set in gorgeous, lush hilly countryside, this picturesque village is as thrilling as it gets for bibliophiles – especially during the Hay Festival in June. To get there we had to drive through some truly spectacular mountain terrain.
I’ve never seen such colours. Just as impressive as the grand canyon if you ask me. This little splash of yellow
reminded me of those dead white patches you sometimes see on otherwise full, dark heads of hair.
We only had a few hours, so I made a bee-line to the Hay Cinema Bookshop, probably the biggest in town, where I found A Biographical Sketch of Francis J. Blight, a publisher’s history (collecting area alert) I didn’t have, and stopped (realizing that there was at least one Gregynog book I could easily justify purchasing) in on Francis Edwards (a dealer that shares space on the second floor) to see if they had the press’s bibliography. No, but perhaps Addyman’s.
Off down the road I strode. No, they didn’t have it either, but they did have some of their other books. I had to move on. Not however before a pleasant word with this lovely woman of the memorable
smile. I headed over to a favourite stop, The Poetry Bookshop, one of the few places in the world, the owner informed me, where you’re surrounded by nothing but poetry books, including this
handsome volume, the second off the Gregynog press. He also had a more recent
effort, written by Wales’s national poet. A woman who, coincidentally, I’d interviewed several nights before.
Though I didn’t get my bibliography and didn’t see a leek, I did gain a great feel for this lovely, deeply literary land, a good look too at some early, important books, and a strong desire to learn more about Gregynog – one that should be met when I go to Minneapolis next month. Turns out David Esslemont, the artist, printer and binder who ran the press from 1985-1998, lives today in Iowa, of all places, a short drive South; so we’ve planned to get together for a conversation. Not sure if he’s a baritone. Please stay tuned to find out.