Owen Sheers: Five Beautiful Things

24 Mar 2021

Owen Sheers, described as 'the war poet of our generation' by the Independent, and writer of the Olivier-nominated Pink Mist, has put together March's edition of Five Beautiful Things, explaining why he thinks these pieces are important and worth your time:

1. Colson Whitehead

"There are lots of interviews out there with writers and novelists full of advice but this 60 mins conversation with Colson Whitehead is one of the best and one of the loveliest. Colson is in a club of just one in winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with two consecutive novels, The Underground Railroad in 2017 and last year with The Nickel Boys. In this interview he touches deftly upon his process, influences, navigating cultural appropriation (essentially by ‘being a human’ and ‘being very good at what you do’) and the resonance of his historical fiction in the headlines of today.

"His best advice, though, like the best of writers, is in his general sense of being, approach and existential need to write - ‘nothing else,’ he says. ‘Was going to make me whole.’ He also has maybe the sweetest and most infectious laugh in contemporary literature."

2. Gŵyl 2021

"How do you festival in a time of pandemic? In Wales this year a fantastic answer came in the form of Gwyl 2021, a virtual bringing together of four existing festivals in a beautiful example of collaboration and sup-port - Festival of Voice, Aberystwyth Comedy Festival, other Voices Cardigan and FOCUS wales. The result is a defiant explosion of creativity, humour, English and Welsh language music and poetry. I could spend hours wandering through the clips of the events online. To start you off though, three very different, wonderful women performers - The Cardiff rapper Juice Menace, at the National Museum; Arlo Parks at the Millennium Centre and the poet and performer Jaffrin, in a film made by Jukebox Collective. 

"Watching these films made me excited about what’s to come on the other side of this pandemic, but also made me ache to be there, in the room, hearing these voices on the air live… soon, soon."

Watch Juice Menace here | Watch Arlo Parks here

3. Glyn Vivian Gallery & Grounded by Peter Matthews

"In a brief break in the lockdowns I had the opportunity to visit the Glyn Vivian museum and gallery in Swansea. I’ve always lived the Glyn Vivian, for it’s small scale, its architecture and the constant surprises of its collection. But god, I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed standing before art before I was there, standing before art. Ever optimistic, they recently hung a fascinating exhibition by the artist Peter Matthews, the result of a collaboration between Matthews and Dr Ruth Callaway, a marine biologist at Swansea University. The result is a beautiful, challenging, funny and moving engagement with the tidal lagoon landscape of Swansea Bay. It also becomes, of course, an engagement with the state of lockdown, which for an artist like Matthews who works alone alongside and in the oceans fo the world, presented particular philosophical and emotional challenges.

"The exhibition will come down soon, without a single visitor having stood in front of the art and looked at it - a special kind of sadness. But it is there, on those walls, speaking to itself in the rooms of the Glyn Vivian. You can listen in on that conversation via this virtual tour below. Or just spend 6 min 51 seconds with one of my favourite pieces, this meditative, strange and oddly entrancing film, Rewind (see above)."

Check out the Grounded exhibition here.

4. The Poetry Archive

"Pink Mist is a play that began with and moves through voices. It’s also a play underpinned and driven by poetry. Immerse yourself in both with a visit to The Poetry Archive, an extraordinary collection of poems spoken by the poets who wrote them, from Tennyson to some of the most exciting poets writing today. Here’s one of my favourite poets to listen to - for the force of her expression, her passion, clarity and downright lyrical honesty - Clare Pollard, reading her wonderful love poem ‘Caravan’."

Listen here.

5. Journey with Story

"The lockdowns have done funny things with time haven’t they? Shrunk it, stretched it, made it feel lost, made it feel precious. Sometimes the consequences of Covid have also opened up moments of time we didn’t have before; those minutes while we sit there waiting for the host to start the Zoom session; the quiet, still seconds as you wait for a shopper to leave a shop so you can enter or, as we’ve experienced lately, the 25 minutes between two children entering school due to the covid-secure phased entry of classes.

"We’ve been filling these newly gifted minutes with our 7 year old by listening to the storytelling podcast Journey With Story in which Kathleen Pelley effortlessly retells or reads stories from across the world’s cultures, myths and religions. She’s also introduced thousands of kids to the word ‘discombobulating’ which is how, in nearly every introduction, she describes the times in which they are living before also placing them in the grand scope of stories across time. Beautiful."

Explore Journey with Story here.

About Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers is an author, poet and playwright. He has published two poetry collections, The Blue Book and Skirrid Hill which won a Somerset Maugham Award, and has recently been announced as the 2018 recipient of the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award. His debut prose work The Dust Diaries, a non-fiction narrative set in Zimbabwe won the Welsh Book of the Year 2005. Owen’s first novel, Resistance has been translated into eleven languages. Owen co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, released in the UK in 2011. In 2009 he published the novella White Ravens, a contemporary response to the myth of Branwen Daughter of Llyr, as part of Seren’s ‘New Stories from the Mabinogion’ series. His most recent novel, I Saw A Man, was published in June 2015, and was short-listed for the Prix Etranger in France.

Owen’s theatrical writing includes the script and novelisation (The Gospel of Us) for National Theatre of Wales’ 72 hour site-specific production in Port Talbot, The Passion, a play created with wounded service personnel, The Two Worlds of Charlie F, which toured the UK and Canada and won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, and NTW’s Mametz. His verse drama Pink Mist, commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and published by Faber in June 2013, won the Hay Festival Poetry Medal and the Wales Book of the Year 2014 and was produced for the stage by Bristol Old Vic. His BBC film-poem to mark the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, The Green Hollow, won three BAFTA Cymru awards and was nominated for BAFTA and Grierson awards. The book of the film has recently been published by Faber.

Owen has collaborated with composers on two oratorios. The Water Diviner’s Tale was created with Rachel Portman and performed at the BBC Proms in 2007, while A Violence of Gifts, inspired by a period of research at CERN, was created with Mark Bowden and premiered at St David’s Hall in April 2015. Owen is currently developing an original opera with Mark for the Welsh National Opera.

In 2012 Owen was Artist in Residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. His resulting non-fiction work on the Welsh team, Calon was published by Faber in February 2013.

Owen also presents arts and literature programmes for TV and Radio. In 2009 he wrote and presented A Poet’s Guide to Britain, a 6 part series for BBC 4 about poetry and landscape. The accompanying anthology is published by Penguin. His other documentaries include one-hour studies of the poets Dylan Thomas and Keith Douglas. His professional positions have included being Writer in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust and a 2007/8 Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. He is currently Professor in Creativity at Swansea University and a trustee and co-founder of the Black Mountains College project.

About Five Beautiful Things

Over this Spring, Five Beautiful Things will shine a light on inspirational digital content that is free to access from artists working across the UK and beyond. Each monthly post will feature recommendations curated by a different Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic.