Caradoc Evans - One hundred years ago, a slim collection of short stories turned an unknown Welsh writer, “the Welsh James Joyce”, into public enemy number one. He pulled no punches in its depiction of a cruel, patriarchal Welsh-speaking community, obsessed with status, reputation and the rigid rules of the Chapel.

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Caradoc Evans, My People: Stories of the Peasantry of West Wales, 1915.


When he delivered the Neil Gunn lecture in Edinburgh last year, Mario Vargas Llosa spoke of the origins of the Latin American novel [note:1]. He recalled how for centuries the Inquisition had banned the novel from the Spanish colonies, with the unforeseen result that the Inquisitors produced 'a world without novels, yes, but a world into which fiction had spread, contaminating practically everything: history, religion, poetry, science, art, speeches, journalism and people's daily habits.' This, he said, was 'the revenge of the novel'. And, according to his colourful theory, the modern Latin-American novel is itself a by-product of this revenge, since outstanding works like Llosa's own The War of the End of the World and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch are the rich product of a culture which has long found it difficult to disentangle fact from fiction.
'The revenge of the novel': what better phrase could be found to describe Caradoc Evans's work? - even though it was, of course, at the short story form that he was chiefly to excel. In nineteenth-century Wales, Nonconformity's longstanding mistrust of the novel led paradoxically to the fictionalisation of religion, the spread into spiritual life of those superstitions and self-deceptions which Caradoc eventually capitalised upon in his ferocious fictions. Not that the Nonconformist spirit was thereafter to be easily subdued: it retaliated in kind, seeking its subtle revenge on the novel in Wales by making fiction mistrust its own fictionality and by inducing writers to suppose they could only render reality justice by being realistic. Caradoc's style of writing, though, was cunningly intermediate and therefore indeterminate in character, again rather like some of the recent work of the great South American writers. His enemies proclaimed it to be impure fantasy and claimed the author had adulterated the truth as unscrupulously as other Londonised Cardis had watered their milk. His supporters, on the other hand, treated his work as sober, and sobering, fact: Welsh peasants, they condescendingly explained, really were like that.
Of course, they weren't, and neither come to that was Welsh Nonconformity. In fact by now it seems high time for the admirable, even occasionally heroic, aspects of that tediously maligned tradition, to receive attention from writers. But revenge is usually a way of dispensing pretty rough justice, and as John Harris makes clear in his invaluable introduction to his new edition of My People,[note:2] rancour was the very taproot of Caradoc's genius. 'The revenge of the novel' was also the revenge of the novelist upon the hypocritical, chapel-dominated society which, he devoutly believed, had humiliated his family. Whether there were indeed sound objective grounds for such prodigious resentment is a question which, as John Harris honestly admits, it may now be almost impossible for us to answer. The harder one looks at the facts, the more, it seems, one is liable to suffer from double vision. For instance the Reverend David Adams, minister with the Independents at Hawen, Rhydlewis, was Evans's bête noir and the symbol, to him, of Nonconformist repression. Yet the recent Oxford Companion to Welsh Literature celebrates Adams as the soul of enlightened thinking, and tartly notes that 'he incurred the hatred of the young Caradoc Evans who, as conservative in religion as in other matters, was bitterly opposed to the political Liberalism and theological Modernism for which Adams strove.' By what seems now to be a positively provocative historical coincidence, Adams's work, Yr Eglwys a Gwareiddiad Diweddar (The Church and Recent Civilization) was published the very year before My People appeared in 1915. It would be interesting to compare the two as rival testaments to the state of Welsh Nonconformity at the time of the outbreak of the First World War.[note:3]
Closer examination of Adams's theological, as well as his social, position may even enrich our understanding of Caradoc's stories. For instance, Adams's 'theological Modernism' involved a Hegelian belief in the progressive spiritual refinement of mankind over past and future centuries. This adds savage point to Caradoc's satiric portrait of the minister in "Be This Her Memorial". Poor Nanni, dazzled by the Respected Josiah Bryn-Bevan's eminently exalted virtues, reduces herself to the level of the beasts in order to be able to present him with a Bible when he leaves for higher realms in Aberystwyth. Indeed her downward progress is by the same subtle degrees that Adams believed man was ascending to new levels of spiritual perfection.' "Old Nanni", folk remarked while discussing her over their dinner-tables, "is getting as dirty as an old sow." ' And of course she reaches her acme of degradation when, in a vile parody of the Christian love-feast, she eats and is finally eaten by rats.
John Harris usefully documents the early reaction to My People. Some of the sense of outrage then expressed may appear simply outrageous to us, but Evans's work can still arouse understandably strong feelings. In his recent fascinating and combative studies of the way Welsh Wales has over the centuries been depicted in English-language writing, D. Tecwyn Lloyd has argued that Caradoc contributed shamefully to a long-established literature parodying the Welsh and their way of life. [note:4] This can be traced back, he suggests, to the period after the sixteenth-century Act of Union, when Welsh infiltration of English government was bitterly resented. But as a prime example of racist mockery designed to make the colonial Welsh seem sub-human, he quotes an extract from Jenkin of Wales. His Love-Course and Perambulation, an anonymous 'early Droll Performed in the Red Bull Theatre', London, 1647:
Jenkin: 'Look you Pages where our Sweet heart and pigsmire be: Sentlewoman if her know not her name, was Jenkin born in Wales, come of Pighouse, and pritish ploods was to have creat Hils and Mountains, awle her own, when was get 'um again, any was her Confins, and her Country was never conquer'd but alwayes have the victories pravely, have her armes and scushrins, to know that say you, was give in her crests creat teal of monsters and Dragons, kill 'um with their hooks very valiantly, as any Sentleman in the whole Urid.'[note:5]
Here already, he claims, can be found all the cheap English verbal tricks used centuries later by Caradoc and his renegade crew of Anglo-Welsh imitators, to caricature Welsh modes of speaking. His conclusion is short and acid: 'Once you've read John Torbuck at the beginning of the eighteenth century you have read Caradoc Evans in the twentieth century.'
Although he does not squarely confront this kind of challengingly dismissive argument, John Harris does implicitly meet it by outlining the alternative terms in which he himself finds it most useful to consider Evans's work. He sees My People as part of a Welsh kulturkampf. In his view, Caradoc was a writer who was involved in a civil war - that is, in a war between different factions within Welsh (and even Welsh-speaking) society, rather than in a struggle between the culture of the coloniser and the culture of the colonised. In particular he explores what Fredric James would call the 'political unconscious' of the stories, and shows how they are informed by Caradoc Evans's hatred of the unholy alliance by the end of the nineteenth-century between Nonconformity and Liberalism.[note:6] In My People he constructed a fantastic fiction that was designed to unmask the spirit of realpolitik which in his fierce opinion really governed life at every level in Nonconformist Wales.
John Harris's carefully contextualised reading of Evans has recently been endorsed by the most trenchant of present-day commentators on the nineteenth-century cultural situation in Wales. Reviewing this new edition of My People on the Radio Cymru arts programme Ffresgo, Hywel Teifi Edwards explained how Liberal-Nonconformist Wales saw the treachery of this book, on its first publication, as a repeat of the Treachery committed by the Blue Books in 1847, when the ignorant English Commissioners depicted the Welsh as a licentious and retarded people, brutalised by the primitive language they inexplicably persisted in speaking. By 1915 the Welsh had been striving obsessively for seventy years to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of the English world. The moderate, respectable,establishment politics of the Liberal party had been one of the most important means by which they had gradually gained respect and self-respect as members of the bourgeois British state and as diligent servants of its Empire. 1914 saw an obscene orgy of recruitment in Wales as sternly ecstatic preachers sent young men to the front to do their duty by the Empire in the hour of its greatest need. 1915 saw the high point to that date of Welsh Liberal power when Lloyd George was appointed Minister of Munitions: it was also the year in which My People appeared.
By 1915, Brad y Llyfrau Gleision had been setting the secret agenda for a whole culture for more than half a century. The half-truths of the Commissioners' reports were vigorously countered during that period by other half-truths that rapidly assumed the form of a complete, regnant myth. The heart of Wales was said to be y werin, the volk, who had evolved a cultured, egalitarian, highly moral and profoundly spiritual way of life. The heartland of Wales was supposed to be the rural regions, whose moral and cultural purity was contrasted with the dissolute, dissident and altogether debased character of the industrial districts of the South East. As John Harris has shown, Caradoc Evans, animated in good part by the socialist sympathies he had acquired from his own brief acquaintance, via Cardiff, with the Rhondda, exactly reversed the picture, depicting the rural West as backward while regarding the South East as socially and politically progressive. In the process he turned the clock back almost exactly seventy years, or so powerful public opinion within Wales naturally believed.
In his stories, therefore, Caradoc Evans used harsh fiction in order to combat and oust a myth. My People was a satire on 'the people' ('y werin'), but 'the people' had been conditioned by that myth to regard all criticism as slander. As Hywel Teifi Edwards has strikingly pointed out, when the National Eisteddfod was held in London in 1887 not a single one of the several entries in the dychangerdd (satire) competition was judged worthy of a prize. The ineffably self-congratulatory comments of the adjudicator, the Reverend J. Cynddylan Jones D.D., a pillar of Welsh Nonconformity at that time, are however worthy of note and would have been deserving of Caradoc Evans's closest attention. 'Very wretched compositions,' he approvingly remarked: 'Not one worthy of a prize. A good sign that the civilization of the country is progressing; that the talent for dychangerddi (satires) is dying out.' The perfect state of Welsh society had, it seems, rendered satire redundant. No wonder satire duly sought its revenge on a presumptuous people in the form of My People.
One clear advantage accrues from combining Hywel Teifi Edwards's comments with those of John Harris. Together they allow us to study Caradoc Evans's work in the fullest social context. Many disadvantages can now be seen to have flowed from the lazy habit of simply labelling Caradoc Evans 'the father of Anglo-Welsh Literature'. One of them has been the practice of removing him from the company of the Welsh-language writers who were his contemporaries, many of whom came from a background very similar to his, and some of whom shared his quarrel with Nonconformity. We have thus willfully prevented ourselves from perceiving how they are all, Evans emphatically included, part of a single, indivisible socio-cultural continuum. It is, for instance, quite astonishing how regularly D. J. Williams's work is ignored when Evans's writing is discussed. Future generations of critics are bound to find, in the tunnel-vision from which we at present suffer whenever we insist on looking separately at Welsh and 'Anglo-Welsh' writers, a fascinating example of our current pathetic state of alienation from the fullness of our own recent history as a people. -  M Wynn Thomas
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One hundred years ago, a slim collection of short stories turned an unknown Welsh writer into public enemy number one.
Caradoc Evans's book My People: Stories of the Peasantry of West Wales pulled no punches in its depiction of a cruel, patriarchal Welsh-speaking community, obsessed with status, reputation and the rigid rules of the Chapel.
The work was lauded in England, but in Wales the knives were out for its author, with the Western Mail branding him the "best hated man" in the country.
There have been several events to mark the centenary of My People in 2015, including the first ever stage version of the book. So has Caradoc Evans finally been forgiven?
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If you are after a spot of light reading, My People is probably not the book for you.
In one story, a starving old lady resorts to eating roasted rat, having spent her meagre income on a bible for a puffed-up local preacher.
In another, a supposedly God-fearing farmer declares his wife insane and locks her in the loft, taking her out at night, strapped in a cow's harness, "for an airing".
The starving, old lady dies and the "madwoman" loses six of her eight children. There are no happy endings here.
"It's dark material," says writer and broadcaster Jon Gower.
"It's mordant, scabrous, bilious and really pretty bleak. But then again, life for many of the agricultural labourers in that era was tough and Evans said that he was holding up a mirror to that life."
David "Caradoc" Evans was born in 1878 in Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, Carmarthenshire, and brought up in the village of Rhydlewis, Ceredigion. He was four years old when his father died and his mother, a tenant farmer, struggled in extreme poverty to raise her five children.
Evans left school aged 14 to work as an apprentice draper, later moving south to Barry, Cardiff and eventually London. He became a journalist, working for the Daily Mirror for many years.
My People was his first book and he claimed it was based on reality; on stories he had heard and events he had witnessed during his unhappy, impoverished childhood.
The blurb for the book's first edition read: "The justification for the author's realistic pictures of peasant life as he knows it is the obvious sincerity of his aim, which is to portray, that he might make ashamed."
'Absolutely hated'
The reaction in Wales was pure outrage.
The Western Mail branded the book "a farrago of filth" and David Lloyd George branded Evans a "renegade". The fact it had been well-received in England only served to intensify the anger.
Two Welsh galleries refused his portrait and, while on display in London, it was slashed across the throat.
Ceredigion-based author Lyn Ebenezer remembers his parents discussing "that nasty man", who returned to live near Aberystwyth with his second wife - romantic novelist Countess Helene Marguerite Barcynska - after the outbreak of war in 1939.
"As a very small child, I was in a car with my father and his friend and we saw a man at the bus stop in New Cross, wearing a red shirt and a wide-brimmed hat," he said. "I remember my father calling him a devil. It was only years later that I realised it was Caradoc Evans.
"My mother told me that whenever he got on the bus and sat down, people would get up and move as far away as possible. They didn't want anything to do with him.
"People did absolutely hate him. You only had to mention his name and people would be fuming. I am sure he liked it in a strange way."
Actor Sion Alun Davies, who appears in a new play based on My People at Mold's Theatr Clwyd, agrees Evans probably enjoyed the notoriety.
"My granddad is actually from Rhydlewis and he remembers Caradoc Evans," he said. "He'd come back from London to visit his brother dressed in bright suits and huge, fashionable hats, which was really out of character for rural west Wales.
"He'd drive his car and purposely park in front of the chapel gates so people had trouble going in. He was a bit of a mischief-maker."
A dark, 100-year-old book about a rural peasant class which no longer exists and a strict chapel-going culture which is rapidly dying out is not an obvious candidate for a modern stage adaptation.
Is there a danger that audiences will find it difficult to connect with the characters? No, says actor Valmai Jones: "I remember reading these stories in school and at the time it felt very, very far removed and like pure fiction to me.
"But coming back to them now, when there is so much poverty in the world and in Britain, and with the awful refugee crisis, it resonated properly with me. An awful lot of what Caradoc Evans was talking about, hypocrisy and that huge desire to look good in the eyes of the community, well that's still happening now, especially amongst politicians."
"The play is set in a present-day, devout, chapel-going community and we see the book through the eyes of the minister and his deacons," said co-director Aled Pedrick.
"It shines a very present mirror and it's up to the audience to decide whether things have changed.
"Women are very much the focal point of the play and specifically the compact compartments and defined routes that they can take. Yes of course one would hope that attitudes have evolved but if you take a look at a modern Saudi Arabian community, for example, that is still very much the case."
The characters' obsession with reputation, gossip and shaming those who fail to live up to the community's often warped moral standards is also still very much alive today, says Sion Alun Davies.
"On Twitter and Facebook, people get called out and humiliated all the time," he added. "Wales's Alex Cuthbert was recently hounded because of his performance in the Rugby World Cup.
"There's a whole social media community out there now and you hear people gossiping and commenting all the time so you've still got those social circles in which people like to bite."
So to reiterate - a barrel of laughs My People is not. But Valmai Jones thinks Evans's roguish streak shines through in the play.
"The stories are bleak," she said. "But it was surprising when we started in the rehearsal room because I didn't realise there is so much humour in there as well. There's quite a lot of warmth too."
"There's an immense amount of playfulness in his work," added Aled Pedrick. "There's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the way he structures language."
He is referring to the way Evans's characters speak in a version of English translated literally from the Welsh. The syntax is jumbled - "Weep you not, Rachel…. Do you dry your eyes on your apron now, my daughter" - lending what Mr Pedrick calls a "Yoda-esque quality" to their words.
"People used to say, 'the man's mad'," said writer Lyn Ebenezer, "but he was creating a new style. He knew what he was doing and I loved it."
But this too was hugely controversial at the time, with some Welsh speakers claiming that Evans - who died of heart failure at the Aberystwyth and Cardiganshire General Hospital aged 66 - was pillorying the language itself.
"I think it's a very clever technique he's managed to create," said Sion Alun Davies.
"If you translate it back into Welsh, it actually makes sense but in English it does sound a bit stupid and that's what people were worried about, that Caradoc Evans was depicting Welsh as lowly and a bit dull."
But as the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity and Evans's status as the "best hated man in Wales" did his burgeoning literary career no harm at all.
London critics compared him to Zola, Gorky and Joyce, and Dylan Thomas later cited "the great Caradoc Evans" as a powerful influence.
So 100 years on, with chapel-going now a shadow of its former self, has Wales finally waved the white flag at its so-called treacherous son?
No quite, says author Jon Gower.
"There are still people in west Wales who can't abide the man," he said. "He was basically having a go at things which people saw as being very, very precious - things such as three-times-on-a-Sunday chapel-going and the Welsh language.
"But as far as I am concerned, I forgive him because some of his stories are among the best in the language, not just in Wales, but in the language.
Aled Pedrick agrees it is time to bury the hatchet: "I believe he should be forgiven for no other reason than he is a literary master and the communities that would have taken offence don't exist in as robust and muscular a way. We have evolved." - Delyth Lloyd

In 1915, the Ceredigion writer Caradoc Evans produced My People: Stories of the Peasantry of West Wales, a collection that still divides opinion 100 years later. David Lloyd-George dismissed Evans as a “renegade”, Dylan Thomas called him a genius, while for the Western Mail he was simply “the best hated man in Wales”.
It’s not difficult to see why. Evans, who crossed the border to work as a reporter at the Daily Mirror, was hardly a patriot. “There is no Wales to speak of,” he declared. “No real national life, no art, no dance, no folklore, no literature except the foolish mouthing of its preachers.”
It was the hardline pieties of chapel life for which he reserved his greatest rancour – a point well illustrated in Steffan Donnelly’s adaptation, a co-production between Clwyd Theatr Cymru and Invertigo, which is set in a contemporary meeting house. At first, we listen to a moralising sermon about the internet, but gradually the atmosphere changes as the congregation begin to inhabit the characters and situations of Evans’s stories.
These are, it has to be said, pretty intense. There is not one episode that doesn’t hinge on some desperate form of abuse, either physical, emotional or spiritual. There are examples of incest, insanity and, in one of the most notorious tales, an elderly woman who starves to death and is devoured by rats having spent all her savings on a Bible.
Donnelly, who co-directs with Aled Pedrick, weaves the tales into a form of increasingly nightmarish, collective hallucination that culminates in a bizarre beach party in which the deacons dance around in their swimwear. The chief problem is that the cut-and-paste construction makes the individual narratives quite difficult to follow; and though there’s no lack of invention, the satire is ultimately inflated into a carnival of the grotesque that might make Evans as many new enemies as converts. -

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Caradoc Evans, Capel Sion (1916)


Caradoc Evans was already on his way to becoming the self-styled "best-hated man in Wales" when he published his second collection of stories, Capel Sion, in 1916. The book was a companion piece to his 1915 debut, My People, and again focused on the "close-handedness" of rural Cardiganshire life as remembered from his boyhood.
Evans was a journalist in London at the time of publication, and there his work was well received; Mrs Asquith, wife of the prime minister, was said to have been "in raptures". But in Wales, his cast of characters - mostly brutal farmers and venal churchmen - precipitated civic and clerical outrage.
Throughout his career Evans seemed happy to cultivate his notoriety with a steady flow of equally contentious stories, novels and plays, as well as the occasional public excoriation of Welsh institutions such as the National Eisteddfod. When a Welsh journal accused him of writing "literature of the sewer" he took it as a compliment and agreed that west Wales was indeed a "moral sewer". But his intention was never to elicit shock for its own sake.
By the time of his death in 1945, Evans's standing was established; the habitual line in the reference books today is that he was the founding father of Anglo-Welsh literature. Indeed, such is his canonical status that encountering his vehemence and revulsion in this reissue of Capel Sion - which comes with two extra stories and a characteristically astute and informative introduction from John Harris (who has probably done more than anyone to reinforce Evans's position) - still takes the reader aback.
In "Redemption", a maid, Hannah Harelip, has been made pregnant by her farmer master. When this threatens to scupper his plans to marry someone else he tricks her into falling, elephant-trap style, into a concealed well. In "The Tree of Knowledge", the brother of a man who hanged himself from a tree reveals his true priorities when he instructs farm workers to cut him down but "be you careful you do not walk overmuch on the hay".
Evans was most exercised by what he saw as the choke-hold exerted by chapel ministers and elders over local communities. Chapel mores and language underpin all of Evans's generally very short stories. They are told in strange biblical cadences, often word-for-word translations from Welsh, Evans's first language. This is a woman praying over a dying beast: "Big Man, turn your think and don't destroy the cow Gwen."
Perhaps the strongest criticism levelled against Evans today is that his vision is too uniformly bleak, and that any social and economic analysis is swamped by his obsessive hatred of the clergy. Evans was certainly embittered by a childhood that ended, aged 14, when he was taken out of school to be apprenticed into drapery. But as Harris persuasively argues, the timing of publication is important. 1916 was to see the cataclysm of the Somme; Evans, through his journalism, had been critical of the widespread profiteering and exploitation of labour that took place under cover of the war effort.
"Though set in a pre-war period," writes Harris, "Capel Sion tones with a contemporary reality in its depiction of a warring unto death over land and money, the protagonists intimate enemies who babble of God and religion."
Contemporary Anglo-Welsh writers - people such as John Williams, Desmond Barry and Niall Griffiths - have been attracting attention for the grittiness and vigour of their work. It has been portrayed as somehow a new phenomenon, with Griffiths even being described as "the Welsh Irvine Welsh". So it is salutary to find that 80 years ago Evans's brutal social landscaping led his publishers to market him as the "Welsh Zola". And when one critic sought to damn James Joyce on publication of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the insult he reached for was "the Irish Caradoc Evans".
- Nicholas Wroe

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Caradoc Evans, My Neighbours: Stories of the London Welsh (1919)

‘Our God is a big man: a tall man much higher than the highest chapel in Wales and broader than the broadest chapel. For the promised day that He comes to deliver us a sermon we shall have made a hole in the roof and taken down a wall. Our God has a long, white beard, and he is not unlike the Father Christmas of picture-books. Often he lies on his stomach on Heaven’s floor, an eye at one of his myriads of peepholes, watching that we keep his laws. Our God wears a frock coat, a starched linen collar and black necktie, and a silk hat, and on the Sabbath he preaches to the congregation of Heaven.’
Set in west Wales and among the Welsh of London, and written in the Biblical cadence which had made its author famous, Caradoc Evans’s third collection castigates the ignorance, greed and hypocrisy of his people.

Damned by the Western Mail as 'literary filth' this collection of stories, from Caradoc Evans's greatest creative period, takes stock of the London Welsh. We meet them at home and at work, and in their prized places of worship. We are shown the Wales that bred them and the heaven promised by their faith. In the meantime, they make their way in the English commercial kingdom, led by a go-getting preacher-politician (not a world away from Lloyd George).
In these unsparing, compassionate dramas, greed and religion go hand in hand. Evans's drapers, dairymen and ministers, vivid as persons and types, reveal themselves through their words and actions. Authorial comment is minimal, the emotional tone restrained, the humour pervasive and pointed. My Neighbours first appeared in March 1920. This reprint, newly edited with an afterword by John Harris, contains two stories originally destined for the collection but suppressed by the publisher on grounds of taste.
John Harris formerly taught bibliography at Aberystwyth. An authority on Caradoc Evans, he has edited numerous of his works; he is author of Goronwy Rees in the Writers of Wales series, and compiler of A Bibliographical Guide to Twenty-Four Modern Anglo-Welsh Writers.

Caradoc Evans, a London based Welshman, a writer whose work was described as “literary filth” (by the Western Mail), is one of the great names of Welsh letters: and yet he is barely known in the twenty-first century, though his work is still in print.
My Neighbours differs from his most famous work, My People (1915) which was a collection of stories set in the Cardiganshire village of Capel Sion. It was a work that polarised public opinion; with many claiming Evans had betrayed his homeland. My People, like My Neighbours, was written in a highly stylised manner – Biblical in tone, for it was through translations of the Bible that Evans learnt much of his English. My Neighbours, however, is not localised in the way My People was: Evans’s aim is broader here. In the fifteen stories that make up My Neighbours, we are with the London Welsh, men and women ostracised or working away from their homeland.
There is only one recurring character in My Neighbours – God – and His influence is felt in all the people gathered here. Their suffering is amplified by their faith. There is a fundamentalism to these people. “David nursed his patience and then, full of misery, sent up a plea to God. He also put arguments in the mouth and money in the hand of a preacher, and the preacher bade God multiply the Welsh nation and listen to the cry of His religious little children.” That is from the story Wisdom, and it highlights the other consistent thread of this collection – politics. It extols a Welsh nation separate from England (though always obliquely). It is a story collection that seems timeless, revealing a group of people for whom the wider world is unnoticed – the stories in this collection were written during the First World War – and in London there were air raids, and danger, and yet none of this is evident. The London Welsh continue oblivious.
My Neighbours then, is a fine, if sometimes awkward collection – ones enjoyment of it is wholly dependent upon you accepting the stylised voice – that revels in the torture of faith and poverty; a work that uncovers a world long forgotten but whose political, and religious messages, are as indentured in the twenty-first century as they were at the beginning of the twentieth. Caradoc Evans is a great writer, and though this may not be his best work, it is never less than powerful. - Ben
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Caradoc Evans, Nothing to Pay (1930)

When Caradoc Evans’s novel Nothing to Pay appeared in 1930, it met with much admiration and also much resistance. His ruthless exposure of the Nonconformist establishment undermined the commonly held view that the Welsh were a pastoral, God-fearing people. As Jeremy Brooks put it The Independent, “What the Welsh could not forgive was that they recognized themselves only too clearly in Evans’s satirical portraits.” But Dylan Thomas praised Evans’s work relentlessly, and H.G. Wells said in a lecture: “There was one, who is too little esteemed, who has done the thing [of telling about the trade shops] with a certain brutal thoroughness, and he tells a great deal of truth. That is Caradoc Evans in his book Nothing to Pay.” (In America, H.L. Mencken saw in Evans the fundamentalists of the South laid bare, and offered one hundred free copies of his story collection to the local YMCA.) Nothing to Pay relates the story of Amos Morgan, an ambitious draper from Cardiganshire who works his way up to London through the shop trade. Largely autobiographical, this novel was admired by the Welsh literati and has since become a classic of Welsh literature, not only for its scathing satire, but for its brilliant linguistic inventiveness and poetic style.

In this long-out-of-print, semiautobiographical work, originally published in 1930, Welsh satirist Evans creates unflattering portraits of the Welsh Nonconformist and of a shop assistant's life at the turn of the century, depicting especially what he perceived as Welsh miserliness and the Welsh passion to get whatever possible for free. Amos Morgan does everything from marrying so he does not have to pay for prostitutes to stealing from his father, all so he has ``nothing to pay.'' The most fascinating aspect of this novel is its description of the life of the British salesclerk in the early 1900s. Clerks lived in unsanitary and crowded housing provided by their employers, had to adhere to strict rules, were fined for the most minor infractions-and yet the competition for jobs was fierce. The narrative's Old Testament style can be overwhelming at times, but even those unfamiliar with the history of Welsh Nonconformism will gain a sense of rural Welsh life and religion's role in it. As the story follows Morgan from Wales to London, the tale becomes an ironic one of his rise from clerk to shop owner, and of his ultimate downfall. - Publishers Weekly

By the time he came to write this novel, Evans had already viciously attacked his own people in the short story collections My People, Capel Sion and My Neighbours as well as the play Taffy. While this novel is hardly flattering to the Welsh, it is the drapery trade that is the focus of his bitter satire here. Evans worked as a draper’s assistant in both South Wales and in London before turning to journalism. The early chapters are set in Wales and beautifully poke fun at the foibles of the Welsh. Their colourful use of Anglo-Welsh and the biblical turn of phrase make for wonderful reading. But Amos, the Caradoc Evans character and hero of the novel, aspires to London but The big London drapers are like God: they call many but choose few. He works his way up through the Welsh system before finally getting a”crib” in London. read more here
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Caradoc Evans, Wasps (1934)

Another vicious satire on his fellow Welsh. Set in the village of Red Ford, Evans pillories the local inhabitants. His compatriots were the clay-cold men and fever-eyed women of the gentry and many of them were the unsound children of unions between cousins and some of more abominable unions. The women were faithless and those who loved not one another made love-toys of chauffeur-gardeners and handymen and clergymen but they … chose no lover from the lowly ranks of chapellers; the men were faithful because they were weaklings and because they drank themselves into silliness… And that’s just the gentry, who come off marginally better than the rest in Evans’ demonology. Rhys Pugh is the local vicar. The other main characters are Bill Blake, a petty thief, and Dan Kingdom, a local farmer. David George – same surname as the Welsh Prime Minister, Lloyd George, as Evans reminds us more than once – is one of the local gentry who helps the local farmers with their legal troubles, while his sister, Bella, is shacked up with the local politician. These, and the rest of the cast of characters, are mercilessly satirised as avaricious, greedy, selfish, hypocritical and immoral. It’s not surprising that Evans was not welcomed at home.- The Modern Novel
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Caradoc Evans, This Way to Heaven, 1934.

The heroes, if that is the right word, of this novel are Jasper Sowell and Ben Tugard but they are clearly based on Evans’ own experience in the world of commerce, as Evans again viciously satirises the greedy and hypocritical bosses, this time represented by Peter Grinley, the employer of Sowell and Tugard, and Simon Moreland, the banker. Jasper is caught stealing from his employer but, after serving time in jail, is re-employed by Grinley, while Ben is fired by Moreland. The pair then drift through life, making money in often dubious ways, practicing hypocrisy in religion (Only atheists read the Bible Grinley says) and love. They set up in business but are unable to make a success of it. Every man aspires to heaven by another man’s labour Evans remarks and this is the story of these four men who try to do this, heaven, of course, being wealth rather than religion. The rest of the book is the ups and downs of these four men and the men and women they associate with. Evans, as usual, does not pull his punches one bit, damning his fellow countrymen and -women for their greed, their hypocrisy, their pettiness, their scheming. He has not a good word to say about the Welsh.

Caradoc EvansImage result for caradoc evans Wasps
We are one hundred years on from the publication of Caradoc Evans’ short story collection, My People, a book carrying the status of being the opening chapter in the tradition now known as Welsh Writing in English. It is time to look again, to reassess the controversy the book kindled in Wales, a controversy never resolved. Was it a good book, or an unforgiveable insult to the Welsh people? It definitively represents what subsequent contributors to the tradition saw themselves getting away from.
When I was asked to discuss Caradoc Evans on a radio programme, broadcast on 7 January 2015, I reread this author and tried to view him anew. I had prejudice to overcome. While I hate to think of the past as baggage, I had to try and ignore certain memories.
My maternal grandmother, just four years younger than Caradoc Evans, felt scandalised by him, and I have happy childhood memories of my quiet mamgu and Aunty Mary her sister, of holidays in Bow Street in a cottage hardly big enough to accommodate visitors. This was a Cardiganshire community very like the one Caradoc Evans wrote about. In one household I saw poverty not encountered in our home town of Llanelli but my relatives’ home was a friendly part of a warm community in a place that seemed to change little. This was the end of the forties. My mother, who’d been taught by the Welsh nationalist Ambrose Bebb at Bangor Normal College, hated Caradoc Evans with a vengeance. My father, whose roots were in industrial Llanelli, did not react as strongly but regarded the author with contempt.
Flicking through John Harris’ introduction to the 1987 Seren edition of My People, I read, ‘The question of the veracity of My People, of the lit- eral truth of key incidents, is a minefield.’ Harris suggests that there were models for some of the characters; for instance some farmer really had locked a mad wife away in an upper room. Harris writes that Caradoc Evans ‘insisted on the truth of his writing, both its deeper assumptions and most of its surface detail’ (my italics). Presumably this is why the Globe magazine saw the collection as having ‘no small ethnological value’. When its author later wrote that so far as he knew none of the incidents he’d related had ever happened, he still meant they easily could have. He saw himself as a kind of social realist and never shifted from maintaining that the people in the book were the people of Cardiganshire. On its first appearance the book’s front cover made this declaration in bold print: ‘The justification for the author’s realistic pictures of peasant life, as he knows it, is the obvious sincerity of his aim, which is to portray that he may make ashamed.’ No wonder my mamgu felt scandalised.
However, I resolved that I would now try to reread the book from something more like the social and historical remove of John Harris, remembering too what literary critics term 'the intentional fallacy': the mistake of judging a work of art by the assumed intentions of its author’.
In Caradoc Evans’ bizarre, insulting but powerful language I read about a wife replaced by another woman, labelled mad and locked in a loft, exercised in the fields once a week wearing a halter. In the course of his work, a father several times passes by his daughter, drowned in a ditch, before throwing her in his cart and driving home singing a hymn about death. A drunk is sent home by revellers in the skin of a newly flayed horse, at the sight of which his daughter, whom he has raped, is frightened into madness. So he drives her before him at the end of a rope, walking her twenty-three miles to Carmarthen asylum (about the right distance from the author’s home village of Rhydlewis). In the book’s most famous story, an exploited, poverty-stricken old woman is reduced to eating roasted rats. In another, a minister’s family deliberately scares a young woman into a miscarriage in the dark of night to avoid scandal. A young man drives a pocketknife through a theological student’s skull. All this and more in one small parish, perpetrated by characters making constant references to the Bible under the rule of a merciless chapel.
The publisher marketed the book a second time along with its successor, Capel Sion, as if together they made a complete sociological study of the Welsh peasantry. Caradoc Evans’ horror-comic world opened up an enormous gulf of contradiction between the rural Cardiganshire of his remembered childhood and mine. What I knew about my mamgu’s quite happy early life did not concur at all with the religious terrorism under which Caradoc Evans’ characters made each other suffer.
When preparing for the radio programme, I found that the article that came closest to addressing the book’s portrayal of religion was ‘ My People and the Revenge of the Novel’, by M Wynn Thomas ( New Welsh Review 1, 1988). He is a native Welsh speaker of roughly my age brought up within a few miles of me in the industrial south and subject to similar cultural influences. His article presents My People as Caradoc Evans’ revenge for the humiliations to which the author’s family were subjected by the local community. Then he compares the book with the idyllic, autobiographical novel, Hen Dŷ Ffarm, by DJ Williams. Interestingly, he does not see the two accounts as in dispute but as a matching pair, looking at the same thing but reflecting back two opposites, one a utopia, the other a dystopia. Both authors left rural Wales to work in the south and returned, one with a new hate and the other with a new love. In other words, both saw what was there. If Thomas was right then Caradoc Evans was more than a disturbed and talented liar.
Before considering what M Wynn Thomas says on the question of religion, there's a psychological article worth looking at which scrutinises those humiliations he refers to. In ‘The Fury Never Left Him’, Barbara Prys Williams offers a Freudian analysis of the ‘quite extraordinary charge of anger and contempt that pervades this sequence of deeply felt narratives of victimisation’ ( New Welsh Review 31, 1995–96).
We read how Caradoc Evans’ father, William, an auctioneer, undertook the sale of a farm whose tenant had been evicted for not voting according to the wishes of his Tory landlord. An article by WJ Rees records that seventeen tenants were evicted for voting Liberal in 1868 and many more had their rents raised for not turning out ('Inequalities: Caradoc Evans and DJ Williams', Planet 81, 1990). Both the local community where they lived near Llandysul and his mother’s family reacted against William Evans’ action. His mother was cut out of her wealthy father’s will. When, later widowed, she returned to her native village of Rhydlewis, she had to scrape a living out of ten acres of hillside called Lanlas (like Caradoc Evans’ protagonist in ‘The Woman Who Sowed Iniquity’). William Evans was also, for some later social or domestic transgression, forced to ride y ceffyl pren, a frightening and embarrassing mode of village discipline in which the offender was carried tied to a wooden frame to be laughed at and abused along the way. Barbara Prys Williams suggests that a child of less than three witnessing this, at his ‘Oedipal stage’, could easily become the repressed adult who wrote cathartically about public anger and dangerous males, and who courted vilification throughout his life.
M Wynn Thomas’ article focusses on the period’s Nonconformity. I myself remember the sense of being in the hold of an outside power, and I came in at the tail end of the chapel’s control. But my own mild and not entirely negative recollections certainly enable me to understand Caradoc Evans’ attack. It is interesting that in a story called ‘The Word’, in his second book, Capel Sion, Dafydd Lanlas (as Caradoc Evans was known in Rhydlewis) is held up by name for censure from the pulpit for jeering at Sion. Caradoc Evans felt that an evil spell maintained by the preachers and politicians of liberal Nonconformity controlled what he portrayed as an ignorant and superstitious peasantry (one which had impoverished and punished his family). M Wynn Thomas points out that what the author felt so personally was substantiated by others, that Nonconformist theology in relation to Welsh society was in fact much debated in Welsh periodicals of the period. Had My People been written in Welsh, his satire would have been recognised and would have met with nothing like the same opprobrium. Had it found a publisher it would have been a positive contribution.
But he wrote not in Welsh but in a mocking version of English, and that’s why I can’t help coming back to what Professor Wynn Thomas scarcely touches upon: the author’s unceasing insistence that he was writing truthfully about people like my relatives. He told one reporter that he hadn’t the imagination to invent what he’d written. ‘They’re my relatives,’ he told Arthur Machen in the Evening News. He presents them as scarcely human. Could there be something that made south Cardiganshire that different?
Like M Wynn Thomas, WJ Rees (in the article previously mentioned) makes the comparison with Hen Dŷ Ffarm. DJ Williams describes a scattered but neighbourly Welsh community located in Rhydcymerau, just some twenty-five miles from Rhydlewis. WJ Rees uses official figures to show how the agricultural depression of the period afflicted south Cardiganshire much more than north Carmarthenshire. However, while it is true that deprivation has an adverse effect on human relationships and behaviour, this hardly explains the difference between a warm community and Caradoc Evans’ creatures of Gothic horror. Rees concedes that many have concluded the author’s motives were personal.
He notes that one of the biggest differences between the two books is that women were equals in DJ Williams’ account but are virtually slaves in Caradoc Evans’. Sex being sinful, an exploited servant girl is a temptress and her unwanted pregnancy her own fault. A woman who stands up for herself, as in ‘The Woman Who Sowed Iniquity’, is despised and punished, even though she is a victim who does nothing wrong beyond refusing to be pushed around by her brother. (There are parallels with events in the author’s family in this story.) In Caradoc Evans’ fiction, a future wife bargained (dishonestly) into marriage on market day is of secondary significance to the acquisition of a ‘heifer without a blemish’. In DJ Williams’ account, marriage is a union bringing delicate new relationships between two families. All relationships are calculating and hypocritical in Caradoc Evans.
Harris reveals that Caradoc Evans’ glorified spleen, seeing it as a creative force. ‘Fury never leaves us,’ he writes. ‘Love falls at the first stumbling block.’ He found love ‘as insipid as milk and less interesting than a billiard ball.’ Milk means nourishment for most people, as does love, but this extraordinary remark was not made facetiously. It is borne out by ten books and a vitriolic play called Taffy – an entire oeuvre fuelled by fury against his own people. D Tecwyn Lloyd quotes a play performed in 1647, which uses a linguistic mockery not dissimilar to that of Caradoc Evans’. He makes it plain how the author contributed to a long English tradition of mocking the Welsh in that particular way.
More than anything else, it is this language that wounds. It’s a derisive parody of Welsh syntax and word order united with biblical phraseology, an argot that retains the Bible’s authoritative tone despite its mocking mistranslations of William Morgan’s Bible. ‘White robes’ is rendered as ‘white shirts’, and ‘Almighty’ becomes ‘Big Man’ or ‘Great Male’. ‘Blessed Jesus’ becomes ‘little white Jesus’, and so on. ‘Dear, dear, has not the little Big Man said, “Ye are of more value than many sparrows.”’ It may seem like mockery at its most puerile, but the truth is that these stories are gripping. They are powerful on a scale not encountered elsewhere. Whatever Caradoc Evans’ intentions, the characters act as universal archetypes in dark moral parables, and this complicates and cloaks the question of ‘truth’, shifting the fictive territory towards allegorical fantasy.
According to his own account, Caradoc Evans picked up his Welsh Bible one day – the very copy given him as a boy by his chapel when he left Rhydlewis to work for a Carmarthen draper – and he read Genesis Chapter 18 seven times. On putting down the Book he vowed to write My People. What he’d read was the chapter in which Abraham pleads with God to show mercy to any good people there may be found in Sodom. As I remember, the only good person God found there was a man called Lot. That was one more than Caradoc Evans had Saint David find in all Cardiganshire and all the Welsh of London, in ‘Saint David and the Prophets’, found in his third collection, My Neighbours.
My People was followed by the almost as powerful Capel Sion (1916) and then the weaker My Neighbours (1920). The last mentioned was an attack on the London Welsh as led by a preacher-politician who seems almost definitely to be Lloyd George, the prime minister of the day. Lloyd George called Caradoc Evans a ‘renegade’. Weaker again was the novel, Nothing to Pay (1930), a further attack on the London Welsh. After the first two books, Caradoc Evans was capable only of weaker versions of the same thing. His method of travesty was unsuited to any other theme and too self-enclosed to develop into anything different.
I understand his attack on Nonconformity and I understand too that Nonconformity fostered a pastoral myth about the purity of rural Wales vis-à-vis the developed, industrial south. I know that this myth has been part of my own thinking and remembering. Caradoc Evans satirised this myth in tales that make the hairs on your arms stand up, such is the intensity of his concentrated, claustrophobic vision of evil. You gape at characters locked into themselves with all good expelled: the inhabitants of a hell made to sound like Wales. Such evil expressed with such strong biblical overtones makes these tales more disturbing than those of Edgar Allan Poe, which have no moral context. I have to concede to John Harris’ view that ‘Anglo-Welsh literature could not have wished for a more impressive beginning.’
If the works referred only to the unreal hell Caradoc Evans calls Sion, then Frank Kermode would be right and the author’s intentions would count for nothing, the work for everything. But how can I forget that ‘Sion’ is Hawen Independent Chapel in Rhydlewis, still conducting services, attended by people not that far removed from his slandered originals? This makes for an altogether more complicated and confused response. In Art and Illusion, the art historian Ernst Gombrich presents an irresolvable drawing. You look at it one way and it’s a duck, another way and it’s a rabbit, but you cannot see it as both at once. To me, My People and Capel Sion are outstandingly powerful works, but they are also a venomous, hardly justified revenge on his own people by one who was a renegade, who did lie about it being true and was a suitable case for treatment. The dilemma is that the aesthetic response and the social response not only don’t merge but are incompatible. As a reader of Welsh, I see the linguistic distortion designed to insult and misrepresent. As a reader trained in Eng Lit I see an immensely powerful Gothic fantasy with a moral dimension.
There is no resolution to the dilemma. It is a matter of which response is stronger in you personally when all is considered. To me, the collection is about people who are still here, though they are sparse now in the distressingly anglicised villages of Ceredigion. While I was engaged with rereading Caradoc Evans, my wife and I drove out to the Miners Arms in Pontrhydygroes for Sunday lunch. We ate with the gladdening sound of local Welsh in our ears. Can I take pleasure in such company and at the same time in he who ridicules these people?
Even though we are well into a new century and I understand Caradoc Evans better than before, I still will not forgive him. In his own country (the only place he is remembered) he will for as long as Welsh is spoken be viewed with an old Welsh proverb in mind: Cas gŵr na charo’r wlad a’i maco (hateful the man who does not love the land that bred him).
Yet he chose to live and end his days here, and it was with mixed feelings that I chose to visit his grave in the small Cardiganshire village of New Cross. - Huw Lawrence

Image result for caradoc evans Wasps
Caradoc Evans

Image result for Caradoc Evans, This Way to Heaven

Caradoc Evans (1878-1945) was a controversial author, most famous for his stories in My People, copies of which were publicly burned in Cardiff. Stylistically inventive, the stories unflinchingly (and unflatteringly) criticised Edwardian Welsh society. The Western Mail called it “the literature of the sewer”. English reviewers claimed it was “a book of great literary merit” and “a triumph of art”. The response defined the rest of Evans’ literary career.
In Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden John Harris has written the definitive biography of Evans. He investigates what lay behind the writing, and its impact on Wales and beyond. Evans is also revealed as a polemicist on issues like the rights of workers, the conduct of the Great War, and the status of women. A leading London journalist, Evans had a popular weekly column in which he responded to readers’ views in trenchant fashion. As Harris argues, challenging convention was his life’s work.
As well as exploring this controversy, Harris shows that Evans was a political radical, a mover within London literary circles, a popular journalist and something of a philanderer. For the first time Evans’ relationship with his second wife, Marguerite Barclay, is given in some detail. She was the exotic and hugely dramatic novelist and theatre person, the self-styled Countess Barcynska, who had a profound effect on Evans.
Extensively researched and brilliantly written, Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden is a revelatory and necessary insight into the man, his country and his times.

This study, the result of a lifetime's dedicated research work, is a pleasure to read. The author, Dr John Harris, previously a lecturer in bibliographical studies at Aberystwyth University, became strongly attracted by Caradoc Evans, hitherto a rather neglected figure, after he migrated to live in west Wales. He has already published a number of scholarly articles about Evans and has republished several of his fictional works accompanied by new, authoritative introductions and footnote references. He also acted as consultant to a theatre production of Caradoc Evans's first major work My People (2015).
'We can't know too much about Caradoc' was the much-needed prompt which Dr Harris required from Professor Gwyn Jones, doyen of Anglo-Welsh studies for a number of decades. And it was Jones who allowed Harris to quarry at his own home the most substantial archive of Caradoc Evans's papers, now part of the massive Gwyn Jones Papers in the custody of the National Library. And it is these precious correspondence and papers, buttressed by a formidable amount of secondary reading and further research, which forms the backbone of the present study.
Caradoc Evans (1878–1945) was a controversial novelist, journalist and playwright whose work outraged his fellow Welshmen, offended the sensibilities of the age and challenged the political and religious consensus of the first half of the twentieth century. His early corpus of short stories during the Great War was condemned as 'a farrago of filth and debased verbal coinage' by outraged reviewers. Harris portrays vividly Evans’s upbringing at Rhydlewis in rural Cardiganshire. Straightened family circumstances compelled the youth to migrate to London in 1893 where he scraped an existence which he loathed as a draper's assistant, was duly sacked from a succession of lowly positions, attended a number of evening classes, and made his earliest forays into fee-paying journalistic work with an occasional literary output too. It was indeed Fleet Street-based journalism which was to prove Evans's saviour.
By the 1920s he had certainly won his spurs as a respected literary editor and had begun to publish works of fiction too. Due attention is given by Harris to Evans's divisive furiously assailed first major work, a collection of short stories entitled My People (1915), widely regarded today as the first genuinely Anglo-Welsh publication. Other works of fiction flowed from Evans's pen, among them Capel Sion (1916) and My Neighbours (1919). His Taffy: a Play of Welsh Village Life (1924) soon served to make Caradoc Evans, we are told, 'the best-hated man in Wales' by 1925. All these works are discussed fully here together with fascinating details of the rapid development of Evans's career as a literary editor in the 1920s, and by 1930 he had placed a first novel with Faber.
We are kept informed, too, of Evans's bizarre personal and family life – his failed first marriage from 1907, his refuge in excessive alcohol, and the invasive influence of Marguerite Barclay, the exotic woman and established writer of romantic fiction who became Evans's second wife, and who took him first to Gloucestershire and then to Aberystwyth, partly to reside near his ailing mother, and where the couple made a hugely costly foray into theatre work where they certainly burned their fingers badly.
Further moves followed in rapid succession to London, Broadstairs and then a return to Wales, to live at a house called Brynawelon at New Cross near Aberystwyth, where both husband and wife continued to devote themselves to their literary work despite the exigencies of another war which, in the opinion of Evans's wife, very sadly 'broke his health and his brain'. Here Caradoc's health deteriorated rapidly having contracted pneumonia and here he died of heart failure in the spring of 1945.
This fascinating volume is a long read requiring patience, interest and commitment. But it is undoubtedly the last word on Caradog Evans, written in a fluid prose style and supported by helpful endnote references, a detailed index and a good selection of photographs dating from successive periods in the author’s life. - J. Graham Jones

Andrea Abi-Karam - an arab-american genderqueer punk poet-performer cyborg, writing on the art of killing bros, the intricacies of cyborg bodies, trauma & delayed healing. A poetic critique of nationalism, patriarchy & gender embedded in an explosive & unapologetic trauma narrative


Andrea Abi-Karam, EXTRATRANSMISSION, Kelsey Street Press, 2019.

EXTRATRANSMISSION by Andrea Abi-Karam was selected by judge Bhanu Kapil as Winner of the 2017 Kelsey Street Press FIRSTS! Contest. EXTRATRANSMISSION is a poetic critique of nationalism, patriarchy & gender embedded in an explosive & unapologetic trauma narrative. It begins with an exhaustive loud, & unapologetic section on killing bros, the perpetrators of patriarchy, before entering a narrative of how traumatic brain injury occurs to bodies in modern warfare. The text labors over how memory constructs our identity, our constant experience, and how that can be destroyed in one of many empty military moments. The language pushes beyond conventional lyric and incorporates angry letters, prose pieces, a love poem, & intimate conversation while maintaining both an intense energy and constant movement. In resistance to how patriarchy and U.S. militarism produce the hypergendered subject, the text generates a genderqueer cyborg whose language comes together to form EXTRATRANSMISSION, a book that explicates how patriarchy, capitalism, & nationalism form the high rising global city that will tear your heart out.

Andrea Abi-Karam’s debut poetry collection, EXTRATRANSMISSION (Kelsey Street Press, 2019), takes on military exploitation of human and animal bodies, the scourge of bro culture, and the Uber-fication of urban space. Their forceful, often capslocked lines pursue a “poetry of directness” in opposition to the pervasive, unrippling “language of avoidance” that smooths over everyday potentials for confrontation.
The book’s opening section, KILL BRO / KILL COP, breaks into a torrent of directives to “kill the sociality that makes queers feel excluded and that makes the orgy feel dangerous for our bodies” and “kill all the power dynamics in the white room,” dispelling any notion that coexistence with power could be sufficient. There are juicy fantasies of retaliatory violence (think eardrums and “thick wet silence”), and the imperative to “kill the bro in your head.” Even in the imaginative space of slicing off non-tipping tech bros’ fingers with their platinum credit cards, these poems recognize that reconditioning ourselves after a lifetime under whitecisheteropatriarchy is an ongoing project.
Likewise, excising abuse and trauma from the mind-body isn’t an instant fix. Abi-Karam uses repetition and polyvocality to move between contexts of contested embodiment. For one, when asking what an Oakland trans punk and a brain-damaged U.S. soldier home from deployment in an unnamed desert have in common, they answer by way of the cyborg.
For the soldier, who integrates with a personal digital assistant to access her memories, being cyborg is an adaptation to the state of unresolvable injury. Hers is a vulnerability of the body in service of violent nationalism:
                                                                           every body  is consumable. every  american  body is consumable.  there’s a whole country  back home to manufacture  more willing bodies  for the volunteer based army. a  country that  sometimes agrees  to relax its borders  in ex-change for the combat ready body. for the soft skin that caves in from every bit of shrapnel. for the soft skull that splits on impact. for the soft brain that bounces back and forth inside the skull. for the soft brain that tears & swells. for the soft brain that after the tears & swells still turns the body back on. still serves.
Later, a stream of error messages repeating “IS THIS WHAT U SIGNED UP FOR?” adds to this emphasis on bodily service. In constructions like this, Abi-Karam gets at the problem of individual agency in global conflict and imperialism through the figure of a soldier whose body and brain have been transformed and traumatized by her decision to enlist.
Agency and the primacy of the body have different troubles for the trans cyborg. The tech inside them feels invasive, but since they can’t remember its installation, it seems to have always been there.
                                                                                     THE INJURY
                                                                                     IT’S ALWAYS THE INJURY
For some of us, the injury might be having a body at all.
It’s not hard to see why the figure of the cyborg should resonate for many trans people. With its potentials for biohacking, cyborg embodiment offers control and self-determination we’ve never had. The cyborg collective also holds appeal as an outlet for the drive to escape the self when our own wrongly-situated, individualized positions are too much to stand.
In the FUSION section, Abi-Karam’s trans cyborg enacts these conflicting desires: to claim bodily autonomy, unplug and deintegrate, but also to lose their personhood. In a movement describing a wire-removal body mod, words jolt apart, “hap pen”ing, as the speaker becomes “one        malf(x)ing         cyborg         among         many.” This is a search for language that will change the way they inhabit their body and relate to others. As the soldier said of being mentally enmeshed with her PDA, “there is no pleasure in this language. in this flatness.” Pleasure comes instead from rupture:
Of Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, Jackie Orr writes,“The cyborg is an imploded object of ‘non-optional’ entanglements and architectured intimacy.” Removing the wet, glistening wires from your body doesn’t entirely disentangle you from that architecture, but it is an expression of personal purpose in structures that most often dictate how things are going to go for us and our bodies.
A cyborg, like any body, can be processed through the framework of assemblage, made up of parts that cohere variously, unfixed in their potentials and categorizations. Jasbir Puar (one of EXTRATRANSMISSION’s blurbers) explains that “societies of control apprehend and produce bodies as information,” but “assemblages do not privilege bodies as human, nor as residing within a human/animal binary.” Triangulating the body in machine, nature, and humanity, the assemblage positions us as inseparable from the technology we rely on, and just as animal as we are human.
Turning to the animal, Abi-Karam connects the soldier’s PTSD hypervigilance to horses sleeping upright, always ready to go. The non-profit therapy horse assigned to her is another of the book’s speakers. Looking at their human companion, they see that “we are haunted by the possibility of the future.” Both are stuck in a repeating but hardly remembered past, lives delineated by the expectations of others. Like the cyborgs, the horse wants to go “beyond this one type of experience / we always share together.” Here, change would mean leaving the confining world of federally-mediated recovery together.
It’s rarely simple to pick and go. After unplugging, one of the cyborgs comes to a building under construction, where they meet a wandering fawn. An inversion of the cyborg stripping their tech, the fawn marks a destabilizing shift from the natural to the unnatural, lost in a city of gentrification-in-progress. The fawn’s hooves splitting on pavement feel like a provocation—Abi-Karam asking, “You thought we could just go back to nature?”
To squat in the almost-unclaimed means inhabiting the impermanent, where “plastick” around buildings is transitional, protective but permeable. But when space becoming “something” means becoming Uber HQ, “downtown is totally fucked.” What do we do when our cities are becoming more unlivable by the minute? The unplugged cyborg is lying in the unfinished building with the worn-down fawn, imagining social, connective uses for the space. By the next day, it’s over. The fawn is gone, and “i am on the sidewalk looking up @ the whole nation looking down.” Having opened with bro-killings and ended with displacement, there’s something of a comedown, from the fervor of revenge fantasy to the sobering reality that, in making the world we need, we still have to head somewhere next. EXTRANSMISSION gives us tools, the orgy and the wirecutter, to take with us. - Charles Theonia 

I don’t know if Andrea Abi-Karam remembers meeting me, but I remember meeting them. It was four or five years ago in a faded blue punk house off Market Street in North Oakland, and I found myself working hard not to stare. We didn’t actually start hanging out until earlier this year, a few months before they moved from the Bay to Brooklyn to become the publicist for Nightboat Books, but I continue to feel that same attraction: this is a person I should be watching. It’s interesting that an artist whose work often touches on state surveillance has this effect on people. A magnetic performer and fiercely ambitious poet, the self-identified “Arab-American genderqueer punk poet-performer cyborg” published The Aftermath (Commune Editions) in 2016 and has two new books on the horizon, both of which were selected through contests held by small poetry presses. I interviewed them about their latest work, EXTRATRANSMISSION (Kelsey Street Press), a poetic critique of nationalism, patriarchy, and gender embedded in an explosive and unapologetic trauma narrative.
—Davey Davis

Davey DavisReading EXTRATRANSMISSION gave me this sense of urgency and claustrophobia, a feeling of being totally trapped, not just inside the body, but in all these different systems. I kept thinking that this text is about complete freedom and also about complete capture. Is this something you were thinking about while writing it?
Andrea Abi-Karam It’s amazing that you picked up on that tension because originally when I was conceptualizing the book project, I took more of a wide-angle lens. I thought, I’m going to write about global capitalism; I’m going to write about large cities in general and how they physically get developed. I threw that draft away because it wasn’t personal enough. It was too large and wide and I wasn’t implicating myself in it. I was having a hard time developing a strong sense of intimacy between the “I” and the reader, or the multiple “I’s.” I was sick of formalism and sick of academics writing books of poetry that only fifty people in the world can fully understand. I just started writing these kill bro vengeance poems. I think vengeance is a form of poetry that isn’t done enough and I encourage everyone to engage with vengeance poetics.
DD Is there an actual tradition of vengeance poetics that you’re drawing from?
AAK People do it but it’s not an accepted tradition or something you get taught in school. You get taught Language poetry, you get taught New Narrative, you get taught free verse, you get taught sonnets, you get taught triptychs, all these pretty standard forms.
DD Do you teach vengeance poetry?
AAKI taught a class on vengeance poetics at Barnard during the summer. It was actually incredible because it was a class of high school students and teenagers are just much more in touch with their feelings than programmed adults. They were really into it and the stuff they produced was incredible. I presented a timeline that I call “the Poetics of Terror” that started with Homer/Sappho and traced different aesthetic moments in poetry that were contextualized by their social-political moment. It was really special.
DDGoing back to the idea of implicating yourself in your poetry, the idea of vengeance poetry comes through in EXTRATRANSMISSION loud and clear with repeated invocations of “kill bro/kill cop.” It expresses this concerted, violent instinct against others, but there are also moments of recognition for the policing force that exists within yourself. What do you do to kill the bro in your own head? I ask because I appreciated the honesty and acknowledgment of socialization and normalization, that even if you’re queer or a dyke or genderqueer, you still have this script of objectifying other people and whole classes of people, because that’s what’s normalized.
AAK I think it’s something that I have thought more about since taking hormones and getting top surgery. I definitely don’t pass—also not the goal—but navigating that definitely feels more important and these days, I’m more conscientious of my actions and my actions in language. Part of being trans, being an ever-shifting subjectivity, is having an awareness of one’s changing positionality in the power relations of what David Wojanarowicz calls the “pre-invented world.”
Just because people have various constellations of structurally oppressed identities, doesn’t blanket excuse them from problematic relational behavior. The acknowledgement in the book is intended as an ongoing reminder to kill the bro in your own head.
DDA fundamental theme of EXTRATRANSMISSION is the cyborg, and it got me thinking about the history of monstrous robotics in literature (Mary Shelley, Ambrose Bierce); about the difference between mechanical and digital AI; the differences between guns, drones, IEDs, tanks, fists. Do you distinguish between the mechanical and the digital as organizing principles?
AAK EXTRATRANSMISSION is navigating these two forms, these two different types of cyborgs, simultaneously. One of the characters is an Iraq War veteran who has PTSD and no memory of family members or events. She uses a PDA or an iPhone or a computer as her external brain. She looks at photos before seeing family members to make sure she remembers their names. That character is responding to the tools of violence in war—explosions, improvised explosive devices, and so on. These are things that cause brain damage specifically. The military makes a type of weapon, and each war has a different signature weapon, and so each war also has a different signature injury that most people come away with when injured. With the war in Iraq (and the War on Terror in general), people come away with brain injuries, invisible injuries. The soldiers who survive come home and need to be cared for, and so the medical industrial complex responds, and in this case it responds by encouraging people to become cyborgs because they can’t function with what’s left of their body. So there’s all this stuff in the book about still having to navigate the same world with certain losses.
The theoretical underpinnings of the work are inspired by Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times by Jasbir Puar and Significant Injury: War, Medicine, and Empire in Claudia’s Case by Jennifer Terry. They both untangle the biopolitics underlying the War on Terror, the queer brown other, signature injuries, and how the US military industrial complex and medical industrial complex work synchronously to generate the cycle of: fight, become injured, undergo medical/technological adaptation, re-enter the workforce. I became obsessed with the subject of Terry’s piece, carrying her around in my waking moments. Each “I” arises out of a tension with a power structure—the female veteran with the signature injury (military-industrial complex), the trans punk against the bros (patriarchy), the cyborg (medical-industrial complex), the horse (Veteran Affairs non-profit), the fawn (wide angle lens out to global capitalism and all of its unrestrained tensions). And, of course, things overlap; the entanglements stretch across this web of power. Polyvocality is blurry and slippery when the “I’s” are in conversation with each other.
DD It’s kind of like the Argo metaphor. At what point of subtraction from the original do you stop being what you were originally? At what point are you a new person?
AAK Exactly.
DDAnd the same could be said about being alive and just having experiences. But the cyborg image takes that metaphor and makes it extremely real. Bits and pieces of your actual body. Accepting some moments, rejecting others.
AAK There’s struggle when one pulls the wires out. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. The section in the book called “Fusion” depicts the cyborg’s conflicted desires to plug in, connect, and also reject the adaptation and remove the wires from within. The processes of overcoming trauma and adapting to new forms of the self involves body horror.
DD Like resisting the changes within your body.
AAK Yes. At the same time, beneath the text is my “I.” I was (am always) transitioning when I was writing this book. I switched my pronouns while I was writing this book, and so actually now when I perform it and I use the “she” pronouns in it, it’s this weird dissonance that’s actually very intense to perform. My own transness has arrived out of a reliance on the medical-industrial complex, surgery, hormones, metal on skin, just as the veteran’s functioning relies on the medical-industrial complex to give her a Personal Data Assistant in order to navigate relationships and logistics. Part of the critique and struggle around accepting technology as an adaptation also comes from living in the Bay Area and seeing the rapid gentrification and displacement effects of Silicon Valley on the long-term residents.
DD I’m also looking at EXTRATRANSMISSION in the context of the constant sexual assault reportage. The rape culture discourse is such that no sexual assault is real or believable and everyone keeps getting re-traumatized by having to revisit it in this search for recognition or legitimacy. These poems are just as erotic as they are violent. The phrase “eroticized” or “erotic resistance” keeps coming up for me. An erotics of resistance.
AAKI intended for the transformation of the cyborg characters to feel like a kind of erotic experience. But it’s also very literally violent and uncomfortable. I had a conversation with the dancer & performance artist Gesel Mason earlier this summer about gesture. I want to work more in the performance side of bringing my poetry to the stage, but I don’t want to overburden it with too many actions. She said this thing that really stuck out to me. She was describing a performance she did and said she was crawling on the floor because that’s what her body needed to do and that was the only thing that made sense for the work. The gesture becomes a necessity.
It’s returning to the need to implicate myself in the text or make it work. The text isn’t about me, but it is. And there are four or five “I’s.” This text is very polyvocal. Everyone contains multitudes, especially textual subjectivities. This polyvocality is an attempt to move the text beyond singularity, toward an expansive collective experience. Each of the “I’s” occupies a different formal register at its formation and they also blur into each other, much like Fred Moten’s idea of “consent not to be a single being.” I was faced with the question of, How do I write about the violence of global capitalism, it’s hugeness, in a way that leaves an emotional impact on the reader? I was coming up with the problem of scale and emotional flatness. When you hear about the death of one person, it’s tragedy; when you hear war death counts in the thousands, hundreds of thousands, the largeness of those numbers eclipses what that fully means. The book asserts a collection of slippery “I’s” as a way to translate the scale of violence into intimate narratives.  
DD Why is it important that you implicate yourself?
AAK It’s important that I implicate myself in it; otherwise, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have a stake in it? Why bring it into the world? I see books as book projects because I’m not a lyric poet. I’m not working on a collection of poems; I work on projects. These projects try to tackle large political issues and bring themselves in conversation with other literature and art tackling the same issues. I have to be implicated in it because it’s necessary for the emotional register to work. - Davey Davis


Andrea Abi-Karam, The Aftermath, Commune Editions,  
available for download.

Andrea is a mixed race genderqueer punk poet writing on the art of killing bros, the intricacies of cyborg bodies, trauma & delayed healing. They recently completed the manuscript EXTRATRANSMISSION a book length piece against how patriarchy and US militarism produce the hypergendered subject. From 2012-2015 Andrea co-founded with Drea Marina, Words of Resistance a monthly radical queer open floor poetry night aimed at creating space for folks to share their work, especially if unpolished and messy. Andrea is both a writer, printer, & publisher whose founding small press project Mess Editions seeks to publish emerging writing from queers, people of color, and those involved in social movements yet uninvolved in poetry & art scenes.

Abi Karam will lead participants in poetic investigations of the visual work in Curious Poses, taking an interdisciplinary approach to constructing and deconstructing unconventional relationships with non-human bodies. Using poetic practices to untangle themes of disembodiment, power dynamics, and the self, we can explore such questions and concepts as similarly posed by John Zernan in Animal Dreams: “[D]o non-humans realize that they are ‘selves’? Do they have self-awareness such that they realize their mortality? Many posit an absence of self-reflection and make this supposed absence the primary dividing line between humans and all other animals.”

Andrea Abi-Karam is an arab-american genderqueer punk poet-performer cyborg, writing on the art of killing bros, the intricacies of cyborg bodies, trauma & delayed healing. Their chapbook,  THE AFTERMATH (Commune Editions, 2016), attempts to queer Fanon’s vision of how poetry fails to inspire revolution. Simone White selected Andrea’s second assemblage Villainy for forthcoming publication with Les Figues. They toured with Sister Spit March 2018 & are hype to live in New York. EXTRATRANSMISSION is their first book.


Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

Oleg Woolf, Bessarabian Stamps: Stories , Trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Phoneme Media, 2015. Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocod...