‘Advice on Adultery’ is from the sequence ‘Welsh Espionage’, in Gwyneth Lewis’s first English-language collection, Parables and Faxes (1995). The title seems to have a confessional ring, appearing to promise frank advice derived from lived experience, in the manner of an agony aunt or uncle. Importantly, however, Gwyneth Lewis has refuted the label of the ‘confessional’ writer. She is perhaps more interested in the processes by which we construct and ‘put on’ a sense of identity, through the language(s) we use.
We might also notice the title’s wittily (wickedly) double meaning: on the one hand, it appears to offer a moral warning about adultery, but read another way, it promises advice on how to commit adultery. The poem, of course, plays with both meanings, refusing to offer a single standpoint of moral authority.
‘Parables’; ‘Espionage’; these words resonate with the themes of doubleness and deception that permeate Lewis’s writing. The critic Alice Entwhistle sees treachery as a keynote of Lewis’s poetics, a motif that she connects to Lewis’s bilingualism. Lewis has explicitly figured her bilingualism in terms of betrayal, stating in an interview that it is ‘still regarded in some quarters as a betrayal of the Welsh language’. Significantly, she surmounted this problem by embracing a kind of ‘double life’, as a poet who writes in both languages. This poem, then, looks at how standards of behaviour and morality (particularly those relating to gender and sexuality) are constructed through language. It also explores the hazards, tensions, and pleasures that are generated when you move between different linguistic worlds.
The form of this poem is more complex than might initially appear. It is arranged, wittily enough given the subject matter, in six-line stanzas (sestets). Written mostly in free verse, it also makes use of iambic pentameter. Together with the regular use of enjambment, this serves to approximate the rhythms of the speaking voice. The influence of traditional Welsh strict-metre poetry can also be seen in the poem’s frequent use of alliteration and sound correspondences, which often link the first and second parts of the lines. The stanzas, too, are linked to each other by repetition: the final words of each line are the same in each stanza, although they are presented in a different order each time. In this way, the poem calls attention to its own craftsmanship and artifice – an artifice that mirrors the deception and play-acting of the characters in the text.
 Alice Entwhistle, Poetry, Geography, Gender: Women Re-writing Contemporary Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013), p. 96.
 Gwyneth Lewis, interview with Alice Entwhistle (unpublished, November 2006).