The Houses Along the Wall

Karen Hayes

A Pembrokeshire Poetry Cycle

Sample Passages

  • Wax Ty Rees Parrog stores

    How many candles burned
    In lighthouse miniature,
    When one flame at the window
    Was enough to tell a fisherman how far
    He was from home. How far
    From the wrecking rim of the bay,
    How far from a bowl of broth
    And the warming body locked around
    His own, when you are cold and can only
    Be warmed from inside.

    How many candles flickered
    On that out-breath of relief:
    He’s home, or dread: He’s home,
    Or disbelief: He’s not.
    The nine moons’ turning darkness leave
    A rocking cradle or an empty bed.
    The fish pour from the nets,
    Coal tipped in the scuttle for another week,
    A step down to the stores for a slab of bacon on tick
    And a pack of thin, white tapers.

    How many candles shone
    On nights identically black,
    Each blessed in its paper wrapper,
    Each hope confessed again.
    And how many ears at the flaring pane
    Awaiting the crunch of keel
    And scrape of oars and the hefted nets and pots.
    How that little light picks out a cigarette,
    The glisten of spit on shingle, toe and heel,
    Wet boots upon the beach.

Sample Information


Karen Hayes created this cycle of poems as a fictional social landscape inspired by a row of houses along the coastal wall at the Parrog, near the small town of Newport in Pembrokeshire.

Each house appears in the poem with its actual name, whether in Welsh or English, but its history and inhabitants have been fictionalised and the details in the poems, although sometimes corresponding to a particular photograph or phrase, are entirely imaginary.

What triggered Karen to write the poems were the little pieces of pottery which constantly wash up onto the beach at Newport Sands. The beach underneath the wall, the Traeth Mawr of the opening poem, is noteable for the shards of broken crockery that appear with each high tide.

Karen could not stop thinking about the households who had originally drunk tea from the shattered cups and saucers and eaten their dinners off the dislocated plates. During holidays when her children were still small it was considered a great treat to rush out onto the mud after each high tide and search for new fragments which were hoarded, washed, stored and carried home in buckets and water bottles.

The poems also serve to preserve the original houses along the wall in our memory as the author realised that increasingly tourism saved the area from falling into complete disrepair but also drove away the local population.

The poems chart the simultaneous decay and preservation of a way of life through a mixture of snippets of conversation overheard in shops, fragments of local myths and legends which occur in photos and journals in the houses, conversations in local pubs about incomers and economic exiles, the poignant story of the disappearance and presumed murder of Suzy Lamplugh and, above all the way that her own children all grew up together across almost twenty summers.

 This is the place where limits overrun,
  Where earth and water inundate,
  Where river and sea embrace and separate,
  And then embrace again.

Powerful and moving these poems celebrate the history of the quintessential Welsh sea front at the Parrog.

In His Cups and The Last House on the River were set to music and performed by Roddy Williams at the Wigmore Hall for its At Lunch season in 2014, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and The Belgians won our Foreign Voices poetry competition in 2017.

The Poems

In His Cups
The Last House on the River
The Wedding Breakfast
The Kayaks
The Ferry Man
The Belgians
Fire on the Mountain
The Misses
Four Floors for Suzy
The Smell of Time
The Runt of the Litter

The Houses Along the Wall – A Pembrokeshire Poetry Cycle was published on 20 September 2018.

We celebrated the launch with a party on Sunday 7 October in the Commodore’s Lounge of the Newport Boat Club.

For more information and advance review copies please contact the publisher: +44 (0) 77 926 11 929.

ISBN: 9781907320781
Number of pages: 50
Price: £0


‘This is a collection to treasure and savour; a sequence about a beloved family holiday destination that sees beyond and beneath the rose-tinted view of the tourist, as it catalogues the “smell of time’s accumulated seasons … the tang and singe of driftwood”.’ – Greg Freeman on WriteOutLoud

‘One poem imagines the missing estate agent Suzy Lamplugh playing hide and seek with children in one of the houses, giving the collection a contemporary edge. There’s much to savour here and the aim of preserving the character and houses is achieved.’ – Emma Lee on her blog

‘Hayes moves the reader along the wall with a confident voice and considered imagistic poems that do not fail to seep into the reader’s memory on reading. An accomplished collection and thoroughly recommended read.’ – Literature Works