BETWEEN RIVERS is a quarterly series edited by Alan Horne. It is focused on the area bounded by the rivers Alyn, Dee and Gowy, on the border between England and Wales in Flintshire and Cheshire. You can read about the background to BETWEEN RIVERS here: https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/05/between-rivers-introduction/.
For May 2023 we have an issue devoted to a contemporary project which combines poetry and music together with some visual art. This is Connections by Sarah Lewis and Diana Sanders, which links creative work relating to two rivers close to their respective homes, the Alun in Flintshire (the Welsh spelling is preferred to Alyn, which we use above) and the Alwen in Conwy. Connections was originally published in 2016 as a pamphlet and accompanying audio CD. Poems and artwork are by the two authors, while the music is by Diana Sanders, Pete Regan and A Handful Of Darkness. This feature presents some selected items and then, in the hope that you may like to read and listen further, we have with the authors’ permission embedded the whole pamphlet and links to other audio tracks at the end.
In the introduction, Sarah Lewis describes the village in the Alun valley where she lives.
Rhydymwyn lies in the Alun valley. The river springs from the moors, high above Llangollen and winds its way down through the softer land, cutting through the limestone, and scooping out the valley on its way to join the Dee. The limestone and the river shaped the industry that grew in the valley around Rhydymwyn and the remains of lead mines, mills and leetes can all be found by the sharp-eyed wanderer. The presence of the river also influenced the sighting of a secret weapons factory during WW2. The site, owned by DEFRA, is now a managed nature reserve and accessible to the public through membership of one of the local groups. The camouflaged buildings, anti-spark paths, huge hangers and crumbling walls covered in old calculations and formulae, tell us of its history. But gradually nature is reclaiming her space. There are otters in the river, great-crested newts in the ponds, horseshoe bats in the tunnels, ravens in the woods, swallows in the hangers, grass snakes coiled under old rubble and a blissful peace that baffles and calms those who know of its turbulent past.
Diana Sanders describes her home too, and we can immediately see the contrast.
The second valley is that of the river Alwen and the village of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr which was the inspiration behind William Wordsworth’s poem Vale of Meditation. It lies 350 metres above sea level, on the edge of the Hiraethog Moors. It is the home of otters, dippers, trout and salmon. On the hilltops, overlooking the river, the landscape appears to be empty but that would not be the truth. There are brown hares in the sheep fields. Foxes use the single-track lanes as their own highways. There are raptors and song birds and the occasional shy woodcock. It is a landscape filled with streams, glacial lakes and reservoirs. It is a land overflowing with history. Old farmhouses lie in the bottom of reservoirs, drowned to provide water for the people of the Wirral. Old roads can be seen disappearing into the water. Medieval sheep enclosures make rectangular patterns in the grass and bronze age burial mounds crown hilltops. The weather in Hiraethog can be wild, with winds that shake buildings and bring down trees. Horizontal rain leaves sheep hunched and us miserable and yet there is something about this valley that gets under your skin and gives meaning to the word ‘Hiraeth’ – the Welsh for yearning for home.
Connections is in two parts, the first about the Alun and the second about the Alwen, with both authors contributing to each. One of the attractions for Between Rivers is that one thing the first section does is to memorialise the Valley Works, that strange and extensive site of the former weapons factory which Sarah Lewis has described in her introduction. The frontispiece for this section shows calculations written on a wall in one of the surviving buildings.
And here is a related poem by Sarah Lewis.
She’s mixing up sunlight
with carbon dioxide and water,
dispensing oxygen for us to breathe.
She lingers and goldfinches spark up
from teasels, willow-herb flames light
up the places where buildings once stood.
She’s stirring up enzymes in the born-again wood,
dissolving the limbs of willow and ash
to nourish anemones, bluebells and beetles.
Inside a bat-filled ruin, she’s covering
the walls of faded formulae,
silencing the ghosts of war-time chemists.
She’s taking back her valley.
Sarah Lewis also has a contrasting poem, Unstoppable, which gives voice to the Alun river itself. You can hear the poem, with musical accompaniment, here: Stream Unstoppable – a poem by Sarah Lewis. by Diana Sanders | Listen online for free on SoundCloud.
The second section deals with the more untamed environment of the Hiraethog moors and the Alwen. Hares run through a number of these poems, as if spirits of the moor. Another of the themes is the drowning of communities to create reservoirs. Here is Diana Sanders’ Llyn Brenig. (‘Llyn’ is the Welsh word for a lake.)
Waves curl and swarm
into a walk-on-water heron
which trembles into wood smoke
and a girl skimming stones across
the river. River, hidden under the lake.
Full of memories and dreams and windows.
Bryn Hir, farmhouse, where wood is popping
in the hearth and flames warm chilled fingers.
Winter holds fast and the shepherd curls into his
sheep’s wool bed. He dreams of waves
breaking in through thatch and door.
The land is sighing out an ache.
Hiraeth, home lost to flood,
Valley lane, moss soft.
The second section contains most of the audio tracks. Some feature the unaccompanied spoken word, others have elaborate musical accompaniment for the poems. An example of the latter is Diana Sanders’ Halloween. You can listen to it here: Stream Halloween by Diana Sanders | Listen online for free on SoundCloud.
This is just a taster. Connections is an ambitious project of the kind that David and I hoped to discover when we started out with Between Rivers. There is much in it to see, read and listen to. Here is the complete publication:
Additional audio tracks can be found below:-
I should like to thank Diana Sanders and Sarah Lewis for allowing us to make the whole of Connections available on Between Rivers.
You can see more of Sarah Lewis’ work, and her driftwood sculptures, on her Facebook page: (2) ShoreLark | Facebook
And there is more of Diana Sanders’ poetry and audio work on her Facebook page: (2) Diana Sanders – Poet and Sound Artist | Facebook
©Alan Horne 2023CheshireDEFRAFlintshireHiraethogLlanfihangel Glyn MyfyrLyn BrenigRhydymwynRiver AlwenRiver Alynriver DeeValley Works