Event 3

The Meic Stephens Lecture: Kieron Smith on John Ormond

Friday 14 February 2020

Location: Marble Hall


John Ormond’s Organic Mosaic: Poetry, Documentary, Nation (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2019): In a uniquely dualistic creative career spanning five decades, John Ormond made major contributions to both English-language poetry and documentary filmmaking. Born in Swansea, he learned to ‘think in terms of pictures’ while working as a journalist in London, where he secured a job at the celebrated photojournalist magazine Picture Post. Employed later by the BBC in Cardiff during the early days of television, Ormond went on to become a pioneer in documentary film. This book is the first in-depth examination of the fascinating correspondences between Ormond’s twin creative channels; viewing his work against the backdrop of a changing Wales, it constitutes an important case study in the history of documentary filmmaking, in the history of British television, and in the cultural history of Wales. In this talk, Smith will speak of Ormond’s legacy and show short film clips of Ormond’s work.  

With reception.

£5, or £3 with concession

John Ormond: 1923 – 1990

John Ormond was born at Dunvant, and educated at University College, Swansea. After an early career as a print journalist he became an outstanding documentary film maker at BBC  Wales in Cardiff, working with the fledgling news-service. In 1957 he became head of the BBC Welsh Film Unit where in due course he began his first documentaries. The success of Borrowed Pasture (1960), his portrait of two Polish exiles struggling to eke out a living on a derelict farm in Carmarthenshire, immediately established him as a film-maker. It is still regarded as a classic of its time. In 1961, he was appointed as a director and producer of documentary films, which would included studies of Ceri Richards, Kyffin Williams, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis and R. S. Thomas.

Ormond ‘returned’ to poetry in the mid-1960s, publishing in the periodical,  Poetry Wales. His first major volume, Requiem and Celebration, was published in 1969. His reputation was enhanced in 1973 by the appearance of Definition of a Waterfall and his inclusion in Penguin Modern Poets. His Collected Poems, edited by Rian Evans, with an Introduction by Patrick McGuinness appeared from Seren in 2015. John Ormond’s Organic Mosaic is the new book by scholar Kieron Smith who features in this year’s festival.

Meic Stephens: 1938-2018 

Meic Stephens was one of the most productive and influential figures in Welsh writing in English. After a few years teaching in Ebbw Vale, and one as a journalist in Cardiff, in 1967 he joined the newly designated  Welsh Arts Council, which he served as literature director for 23 years. He had no background in arts administration, but in the early 1960s, while still teaching, he had established his own publishing imprint, the Triskel Press, and in 1965 launched Poetry Wales magazine.  

Under his editorship Poetry Wales was committed to the causes of Welsh nationhood, the Welsh language and building bridges between what were then known as Anglo-Welsh writers and those who wrote in the senior language of Wales. It became the principal vehicle of “the second flowering” of Welsh writing in English (the first having been in the 1930s). Among the new voices it introduced in the late 1960s and 70s were Gillian Clarke and Robert Minhinnick; it also resuscitated lapsed talents such as those of John Ormond, Leslie Norris and Harri Webb, bringing them to impressive maturity. 

Authors and Artists

Kieron Smith

Dr Kieron Smith completed his PhD on the poetry and films of John Ormond at CREW (Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales), Swansea University. This research was adapted into a monograph, titled John Ormond’s Organic Mosaic: Poetry, Documentary, Nation (University of Wales Press, 2019). 

Following his PhD, he worked on the Literary Atlas project at Cardiff University, which created an innovative website mapping English-language novels in Wales (www.literaryatlas.wales).

He has published widely on the findings of this project. He has recently, in collaboration with Dr Rhian Barfoot, edited a new collection of essays on Dylan Thomas, titled New Theoretical Perspectives on Dylan Thomas: ‘a writer of words, and nothing else’? (University of Wales Press, 2020). He currently holds an Honorary Research Fellowship at Swansea University.

Sponsors and Support

This lecture is sponsored by the Rhys Davies Trust in honour of  Meic Stephens (1938-2018), a considerable figure in 20 and 21st century Welsh letters. Supported by Llenyddiaeth Cymru / Literature Wales

Supported by the Learned Society of Wales. 

Supported by University of Wales Press.