Hay’s a strange place. Hugely influential public figures can be seen on the stage, in the bookshop; you might, if lucky, get the opportunity to speak with a favourite author, academic, a musician who has sound-tracked your life. I’ve had some ‘wow’ moments, but this year, it’s the unexpected things, the unexpected people who have had the biggest impact on me.
Take, for instance, one of my fellow Writers at Work, Rhys Milsom; he read a poem from his collection detailing his struggle with post-partum depression after the birth of his daughter. I’d not realised that this illness affected fathers too.
Another group of people who have made art and sense from their suffering were the refugee and asylum-seeking women living in Newport. They shared harrowing accounts of endless miles endured to escape torture and conflict. Their poetry and prose was alert, profound. I felt enriched and grateful for their words and their contribution to the festival, to Wales itself.
Aicha stepped to the podium, her words rang around the tent: ‘Here I feel like I will be protected and my voice will be heard and my choice will be respected.’ Many people, so moved by what these women said, rose to their feet, asked what they could do to help the Red Cross. Peter Florence had the best suggestion; though it’s helpful to donate money, or old stuff, he said, ‘invite someone for a meal to your house, reach out, talk to one another.’ Let’s.
Clare E Potter is a part of the Hay Writers at Work programme, which is a long-term development programme for selected new Welsh writers.