Little did I know, when applying for the Ulysses Shelter programme in October 2019, that a pandemic would arrive to wreak havoc and disrupt every aspect of life, affecting travel as much as anything. In March 2020, I was at my first residency on the Croatian island of Mljet, when a hasty departure became necessary due to the closing of international borders, and the start of the first lockdown.
In August 2021, twelve months later than intended, I land at Thessaloniki to complete the second of my residencies in Lárisa. The pandemic has not disappeared (indeed, numbers are rising everywhere) but things have relaxed, for a while at least.
I got to spend the first week of the residency by the sea at Velika, a coastal village where the temperature was gentler than the high temperatures of 35-40 Celsius experienced in the city. I was staying with a fellow Ulysses Shelter resident, a poet from Slovenia called Uroš Prah. I spent the week finishing my second collection of poetry, Merch y Llyn, and it was lovely to have the peace and quiet to really ruminate on the poems, and examine the structure of the volume, as well as regularly popping down to the sea.
photo : Elan Grug Muse
After a quiet week in Velika, it was time to return to Lárisa. A small city of around 200,000 people, Lárisa is the main city of the Thessaly province and home to Thraka press. Thanos and Marija, from Thraka were our hosts throughout the residency, and they are the organisers of the Thessalian Poetry Festival, a huge festival which is held over 5 days, in Thessaly’s main cities: Lárisa, Volos, Trikala and Karditsa.
As part of the festival, I had the opportunity to read my work in Makrinitsa, Trikala, and in the closing ceremony in Lárisa. The festival included tens of local poets from the different communities of Thessaly; poets who had travelled from other parts of Greece, such as Athens, and a handful of international poets, from Slovenia, Spain, Croatia, Bosnia and of course Wales. It was a pleasure to discover the work of other poets like Uroš Prah, Ana Svetel, Denis Škofič, Thanos Gogos a Marija Dejanović, and to discuss the situation of poetry in the different languages over little glasses of tsiperou or a pint of Fix.
I want to thank the staff of Literature Across Frontiers and Wales Literature Exchange, Sandorf and Thraka from the bottom of my heart for working together to provide these fantastic experiences, which have substantially enriched my work and my contacts over the period of the residency.