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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 14:18 GMT
Poet gets 75,000 for sea odyssey
Poet Gwyneth Lewis
Gwyneth Lewis: fascinated by travel and ships
Bilingual Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis is to receive a 75,000 grant to research and make an inspirational sea voyage.

The lottery-funded National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) is awarding the money to allow Lewis to travel by yacht to the ports that are linked historically to her native Cardiff.

Lewis, who jokes that she has always wanted to run away to sea, told BBC News Online: "It's a crucial amount of money because it's the difference between me and the wolf.

I get seasick, but I'm getting over it

Gwyneth Lewis

Sea legs

"It is the difference between making the most of this voyage as an artistic and educational tool and doing the whole thing skimpily."

The poet, who writes in both Welsh, her first language and in English, will spend two years improving her language skills further and researching Cardiff's sea links.

"Cardiff was a huge coal exporting port and I want to look at the connections with the old imperial ports around the world," she explained.

"Wherever Cardiff exported coal we imported people."

And it is the roots of Cardiff's immigrant communities - Yemeni, Somali, Greek and Argentinian to name but a few - that Lewis will explore on her trip.

Learning to sail is also crucial, as Lewis admits to not being the world's greatest sailor.

"I get seasick, but I'm getting over it," she said.

"I hope to get my sea legs so I'll be able to work on the voyage."

Nesta is saying go as wide as posible, explore as wide as you can and I find that stance alone exciting

Gwyneth Lewis
In her defence she points to the fact that where she is learning is one of the most difficult patches of sea around.

"The person teaching us to sail jokes that the hardest bit of sailing around the world is the stretch from Cardiff to Lizard."

Anorak poem

Since the two year dry land research section only begins in July, Lewis has time to get up to speed.

At any rate, she will not be sailing singlehanded as her husband, Leighton Denver Davies, will be with her.

Lewis's work is highly praised and has won many awards including the Forward Prize for best first collection, a Gregory Award and a Poetry Book Society recommendation.

Travel and journeys both real and imagined have long been a preoccupation of hers.

Her second English collection Zero Gravity was inspired by the mission her astronaut cousin Joe Tanner made in the Space Shuttle to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in 1997.

While he was in space her sister-in-law was dying of cancer and she was struck by the similarities in their journeys.

"I didn't want to write a space anorak poem, but wanted to look at the journeys we all have to make," she said.

And this grant is an opportunity to work on her interest in journeys.

"Nesta is saying go as wide as posible, explore as wide as you can and I find that stance alone exciting."

From Zero Gravity by Gwyneth Lewis:

The second time the comet swung by the knife went deeper. It hissed through the sky,

phosphorus on water. It marked a now, an only-coming-once, a this-ness we knew

we'd keep forgetting. Its vapour trails mimicked our voyage along ourselves,

our fire with each other, the endless cold which surrounds that burning. Don't be fooled

by fireworks. It's no accident that leave fails but still tries to rhyme with love.

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