Tilla Brading: Pieces for Chris Torrance

Confluence and Divergence.

I have experienced both a confluence with the work of Chris Torrance, and a divergence from it.

 Our paths joined in the place that I grew up in and strongly identify with and which we share as a fundamental influence on our writing. It is the Ystradfellte landscape where Chris made his home. Our confluence is in the source of the river Nedd (Neath), its tributary river valleys and the hills from which they spring.

When he arrived in the valley, I was leaving home so a distance between us existed because I was unaware of his work until his Ystradfellte years.

It was not until we’d left the farm  and I’d moved away, that I became more involved in writing and small press publishing in the course of which I come across his work. Here was someone identifying with ‘my’ local references, landmarks, history, shop, neighbours, intrigues. At that time, my sense of inadequacy influenced the distance as it made me less able to approach someone of his reputation as a well-established talent with a relatively reclusive, individual, idiosyncratic lifestyle. I visited with friends but, though I went and still go regularly ‘home’, rarely called on him.  This was partly because he did not have a phone and asked for people to let him know before a visit while I rarely juggled plans ahead of my holiday to be so organised and write beforehand. More usually, I caught up with him at his performances and readings such as at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff or the Hen and Chickens, Abergavenny. Chris performed with musicians in Cabaret 246 and Heat Poets (with Chris Vine).

I see that themes which appear in my earlier responses to Chris’s work (‘River Nedd’ and ‘Tributary’) have lingered with me navigating other influences, to reappear in my later work; monoliths, circles (both of language and stone), local people, history and geology. I was already bound with the landscape and its references; he was discovering and absorbing them. His development of ‘open field’ writing encouraged my foray into experimenting more freely with form, cross reference and readings in different directions; both horizontally, in vertical columns or simultaneously with dual voices.

Additionally, there mingled as in alchemy, preoccupations of the place; the ancient natural and man-made landscape references; river Llia, Maen Llia, standing stones, plants, weather, the view towards Llandarcy (Swansea) Oil Refinery, the line of the Roman Road, (Sarn Helen).

Some of my writing weaves many of these influences and alludes to others such as Chris’s renowned long-running creative writing class which, as part of Cardiff University’s extra-mural programme, influenced many younger writers. One of these was Elisabeth Bletsoe whose early booklets we (Odyssey Poets, ed. Derrick Woolf) were privileged to publish. We all 3 visited Chris through his rickety gate one memorable day.

Perhaps my rationalism brought another difference in our philosophies. For instance, I am dubious that I could find an auroch’s bone but rather part of a cow carcass which has fallen or been chucked over the gully of the river to remain for future discovery. My pragmatism about the farmed, working landscape has a rootedness while Chris’s weather forecasts and ley lines spread to an often mystical, mythical, magical door to his imaginings.


Four Poems

Porth yr Ogof. Requiem for the Drowned Cavers

Portrait in Silent Water

River Nedd



Tilla Brading is a poet, performer and textual artist who has taught creative writing as well as working most of her life with students who have a variety of Learning Difficulties. From the experience of her up-bringing on a hill farm in Ystradfellte, Powys, using its people and situations, her work has evolved towards a freer exploration of language, semantics, performance and the visual. Starting points may be from texts, landscape, history, the news or anything that can weave, meld and fray into a termination if not a completion. She was joint editor of Odyssey Press / PQR (Poetry Quarterly Review) and assistant custodian of the cottage where Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey, Somerset. Her work which has included collaboration and improvisations has appeared in a variety of books, magazines, projects and on-line. Her most recent book is a collaboration with Frances Presley called ADADADA (Odyssey Poets 2022)

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