Sam Burson, Western Mail, March 11th, 2006:
The return of a curious girl
She was praised by Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot and Robert Graves as a wonderful poet. So why did writer Lynette Roberts lose her love affair with literature?
THE gravestone in the small village of Llanybri, Carmarthenshire, is one not enough people will visit. It is a certainly a modest shrine compared to the Dylan Thomas Boathouse. Just 10 miles away in Laugharne, thousands arrive each year in appreciation of one of the most famous of famous Welsh poets.
But many spending time in Dylan's former haven will never have heard of Lynette Roberts, (whose wedding Dylan Thomas attended as best man), and will never appreciate her vastly underestimated role as another of Wales' most important poets.
Indeed, the work of the Argentine-born writer was highly praised by TS Eliot and Robert Graves.
It was Eliot, a friend and editor at Faber and Faber, who encouraged her poetic ambitions, and published her two books of verse in 1944 and 1951. He said of the first, 'She has, first, an unusual gift for observation and evocation of scenery and place, whether it is in Wales or her native South America; second, a gift for verse construction, influenced by the Welsh tradition, which is evident in her freer verse as well as in stricter forms; and third, an original idiom and tone of speech.'
Meanwhile Graves, for whom she worked as a researcher for The White Goddess, once wrote, 'Lynette Roberts is one of the few true poets now writing. Her best is the best.'
But despite such praise and talent, her critical success was, for many, frustratingly short lived.
Because by her early 40s, she had written her last poem.
She became a Jehovah's Witness, lost all interest in literature, and, by the time of her death in 1995 at a nursing home in Ferryside, had been out of print for nearly 50 years.
Suffering from schizophrenia, she was committed to a Carmarthenshire mental hospital four times. And until recently, just a small number of poets and critics were aware of her.
However Lynette's work is now enjoying a new surge of interest.
A new edition of her poems, including her two published books and several dozen unpublished works, appeared from Carcanet last year, edited and with an introduction by poet and critic Patrick McGuinness.
Her prose, including a war diary, an autobiography and uncollected or unpublished articles and memoirs, is due to appear, also from Carcanet, next year. The republication is being seen as a major addition to the understanding of the British modernist tradition, and of Welsh poetry's contribution to it. It is also something which has pleased her daughter Angharad Rhys.
But Angharad, who works as a writer in London, wants to ensure her mother is remembered for more than just her poetry.
She said, "The poems were written at a very sad time in her life, but what most people don't under-stand is that she was a very cheerful and positive person. People get put into slots and I don't want people feeling that she was a depressed individual. The people who have met her all remember she was good fun. Even when I was pushing her around in a wheelchair, she wa still pinching people's bums, and pretending it wasn't her.'
Angharad said of her mother's abrupt cessation of writing, 'If you're published by TS Eliot it's wonderful, but it's always a struggle, because you're thinking about the next thing to publish. Later she had some stuff rejected from magazines, and she had always been interested in lots of different things anyway.'
As well as being a keen and talented painter, Lynette was not without her grand ideas. Angharad recalled of her time in Kent, 'In the '50s she wanted to start an underground art gallery in caves, where there would be a sculptor working. Unfortunately as one was chiselling the walls into shape, the cave collapsed around the sculptor's ears. He was OK in the end, but that was the end of that idea.'
Angharad, 60, and her brother Prydein, 59, were the result of Lynette's marriage to Keidrych Rhys. She married the flamboyant magazine editor after breaking off an engagement to Merlin Minshall, a racing driver and real-life spy, who was said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond.
The couple lived in Llanybri throughout the war, where Lynette wrote her poetry, but she was often unhappy with the role of housewife, and the marriage had broken up to 1948.
She moved to London, but suffered a mental breakdown in 1956 after a string of failed projects. She returned to Llanybri in 1970, and eventually to Towy Haven Residential Home, in Ferryside, in 1989.
In December 1994, Lynette fell and broke her hip while dancing, and later had a heart attack in hospital.
She died of heart failure on September, 26, 1995, at Towy Haven, and was buried in Llanybri.
Dylan Thomas once remembered Lynette as, 'A curious girl, a poet, as they say, in her own right with all the symptoms of hysteria.'