Boxing Day afternoon, 2018

Porthmadog 0
Bangor City 2

I’ve been to only two football games in my life: Manchester City v Queen’s Park Rangers sometime in the 1970s, and the final of the Inter-Quarries Cup in Blaenau Ffestiniog in the early 2000s. The former I was taken to by a friend’s family, along with all their kids; the latter I attended because I fancied one of the players in the – as it turned out – winning team.

On Boxing Day 2018 the team of my adopted home town were playing at home against the team from the mini-city where I did a lot of my growing up. Boxing Day being part of that midwinter/solstice/Saturnalia period when the world is a bit upside down, I decided to go on a whim. Loyalties on both sides, shall we say.

I was pleased to see there were quite a lot of women among the crowd, and even some quite small children. One little lad had a great time throughout the game, running up and down the concrete path behind supporters crowded next to the railing surrounding the pitch, pushing a toy pram with a baby doll in it while being chased by about four or five siblings, cousins or playmates of a similar age, all laughing wildly.

Knowing that some Bangor City supporters are boycotting home games because of the revelations of financial mismanagement by Bangor’s owners, when I bumped into a Bangor supporter I know slightly I asked him for his take on the boycott. Two reasons not to boycott, he said: one was that attending Bangor matches is one of the things three generations of his family do together – it’s part of their family glue. His other reason is that a true supporter supports their team through the bad times as well as the good. Pondering on this, I found myself a vantage point, within a miasma of vinegar coming from the refreshments hatch and next to a friend who is a long-time Porthmadog supporter. The game started.

It took me a few minutes to make a mental model in my head of what I was looking at. The goal nearest me was being defended by Porthmadog, which was why most of the Bangor supporters – once they’d filed out of the club’s bar into the foggy dampness – were crowded round that end. OK, got that. Still, for someone whose full knowledge of the rules of football is ‘the team that scores the most goals wins’, it was quite a mental challenge trying to follow what was going on up and down the field. Play appeared to be suspended suddenly and randomly.

Not long after starting to study all this, in a series of movements that seemed to have been choreographed, Bangor scored. I was watching something tenuous but possible if there are no false moves. It was like seeing a child climbing a tree, and praying that a thin branch doesn’t give way, and it doesn’t, and the next one doesn’t, and the child doesn’t lose their balance, or their grip, and you hold your breath, and the goal is attained.

I clapped, realised I was making no sound, removed my gloves, and clapped again. It had truly been a thing of beauty. Play went on: up and down, up and back and across. A player near us, Bangor’s number 10, seemed to always be in the right place at the right time and just a touch faster and smarter on the turn than the Porthmadog players in his vicinity. My Porthmadog-supporting friend chatted off and on to me and to the chap at his other elbow. I knew my boyfriend had played for Porthmadog in the 1970s, but my friend told me what sort of a player he’d been: like Bangor’s 10, he’d been ‘fast and tricky’. That figures, I thought: now that his legs are too old for the game, he has the same way with words.

Back on the field, the poor Bangor goalkeeper was injured and taken off before half time. When there is no injury involved, how does the referee know that a team wants to make a substitution? Telepathy?

Half time: time for a cup of something warming. Porthmadog’s club refreshments provided us with good-quality hot chocolate and nice tea; you can decide its strength and the amount of milk yourself. No putting-a-standard-amount-of-milk-straight-in-on-top-of-the-teabag here – oh, no! And milk from the local creamery to boot. Top brownie points on the hot beverages front, Port!

Right, now my brain has to do a complete 180˚ mental flip. We’re watching the Bangor goal, and the keen supporters have changed ends too. Every time the Bangor goalkeeper goes in to kick the ball from a stationary position to re-start play, the Porthmadog supporters behind him give a sort of oral drum roll, with a perfectly-timed crash on a real drum, or a shout,  right as the kick is taken. Very jolly and theatrical; I wonder if it’s just a Porthmadog thing, or whether other groups of supporters do the same.

As the cliffs of Creigiau Dre fade into foggy darkness, and the players start to have multiple shadows in the floodlights, Bangor score again. There’s not much time left for Porthmadog, and their players start to look weary. Another Bangor substitute starts to come on, then turns back, tugging at his wedding ring. Having handed it to someone in the little, low hut from which he’d just emerged, he runs on. It’s almost over. People turn to leave before the end: it’s too late for Porthmadog to draw now, they think. Before they started to trickle into the dusk, there were as many spectators at the game as there are words in this post: nine hundred and something.

©Susan Walton 2018

If you’d like to read proper blog posts about being a Bangor City supporter – a ‘Comrade’ – go to John Dexter Jones’ blog

 

 

Part of the Canu Llywarch Hen saga

… ni chiliodd
… he stood firm

Gwên, with legs like steel, kept watch last night
Beside Rhyd Forlas:
As he is a son to me, he stood firm.

This is an adaptation into English of a paraphrasing of the original old Welsh into modern Welsh:

Gwên, bras ei forddwyd, a wyliodd neithiwr
Ar ochor Rhyd Forlas:
Gan ei fod yn fab i mi, ni chiliodd.

Modern Welsh adaptation ©Gwyn Thomas, reproduced with the permission of the author’s estate
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2018

And here is the old Welsh:

Gwen vordwyt tylluras a wylyas neithwyr
Ygoror Ryt Uorlas.
Kan bu mab ymi ny thechas.

This is one, tiny part of Canu Llywarch Hen (the Songs of Llywarch Hen). The core of this collection is thought to have been written in the 9th or 10th centuries.

Rhyd Forlas means ‘the ford on the Morlas [brook]’. In this part of the saga, Llywarch Hen sends his son, Gwên, to guard the ford, a vulnerable point on Wales’ border with England. Gwên dies in the subsequent battle, the last of Llywarch Hen’s twenty-five sons to die fighting.

The ford can still be seen today (Ordnance Survey grid reference SJ311383), and it is still on the border. Visiting it brings to mind R. S. Thomas’ lines: ‘To live in Wales is to be conscious / At dusk of the spilled blood’.

Behold Creation

A choed y maes sydd eto, oll fel yn curo dwylo
And trees extend their branches, invite us to their dances

Behold Creation

Sweet turtle dove is singing and all the world rejoicing
In jubilation
And trees extend their branches, invite us to their dances
In exultation
Pure kin – all blooming fur and fin.

The host sings praises, earth harmonises
Exulted chorus, all glowing from within
Their brilliant anthem to him wakes hills and valleys green.

In time, great saviour of the world
Took his dominion, to show compassion
To tainted children born from her hidden sin
Long live the grace of Jesus, his whole dominion cries.

Gwêl yr Adeilad

Mae’r dirtir bêr yn canu a’r byd yn gorfoleddu
Mewn gwir fyw lwyddiant
A choed y maes sydd eto, oll fel yn curo dwylo
Mewn clôd a moliant
Câr gwyn a gwridog fawl am hyn.

Llu’r nêf a’i moliant, a’r llawr cyd-ganant
Hwy’n un enynant, pob un a’i dant yn dynn
A’i tanllyd anthem iddo nes deffro bro a bryn.

Mewn pryd, iachawdwr mawr y byd
Daeth ar ei orsedd, i rhoi drugaredd
I blant y llygredd, fu mhwll ei camwell cudd
Teirnasa dirion Iesu, yw gwaedd ei deulu gyd.

English adaptaion ©Susan Walton 2018

My adaptation of this traditional plygain carol, ‘Gwêl yr Adeilad’, was commissioned by the Welsh harpist Bethan Nia. You can hear her singing the original here.

These extracts from Welsh Folk Customs* explain the plygain:

“In many parts of Wales … Christmas meant rising early (or staying up overnight) to attend the plygain service at the parish church.

Plygain, and its earlier forms pylgain and pylgaint, are derived from the Latin pulli cantus: ‘cock’s crow’

Seen against its historical background the plygain is a survival of a pre-reformation Christmas service modified to suit the new Protestant conditions

The carols sung at the plygain were written in the traditional metres and set to old airs ”.

 

*Owen, Trefor M., Welsh Folk Customs (Cardiff, 1978)

 

Blaen Pennant

… ‘Hen Flaen’ he said, pointing.
And three generations dropped away.

Blaen Pennant

And now that I was finally here,
I stood at the doorway.
And all that was left was the doorway:
Made of stronger wood than the door, perhaps.

Sheep wandered in and out
And foxgloves rose in place of flames.
The bed where Hen Flaen* collapsed, drunk,
Had fallen with the wormy joists,
Heaped and tangled with the roof’s blue slates.

And now I was finally here, my features fitted:
While holding wide the gate at the lower farm,
An old man looked past my dreads, my t-shirt and my modern shoes –
‘Hen Flaen’ he said, pointing.
And three generations dropped away.

©Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This is the most original piece I wrote on the course, the starting point being the line ‘I stood at the doorway’, provided by another attendee. The poem describes an actual event. Someone I know went looking for the ruin of the farm where his mother was born, and was recognised as a descendant of ‘Hen Flaen’ on physical appearance alone.

*‘Flaen’ is the mutated form of ‘Blaen’; ‘hen’ = ‘old’.
Country people in Wales are often nicknamed after their farms.

After Prufrock and after T. S.

… But will the risk be worth the gain,
Among the cups of porcelain?

After Prufrock and after T. S.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Ill blend in, my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest; I hope I will blend in.

Ill listen, Ill record, Ill keep an eye. Ill spy.
Although my breasts are slightly breasting,
The collar mounting to the chin, the necktie, should disguise.
This is where the men collect, this is where the deals are done.
Although the marmalade and tea are grand,
The bottom line is whats at hand.
Lord So-and-sos son can tip the wink,
And so it goes, and so they think.

But will the risk be worth the gain,
Among the cups of porcelain?

©Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem incorporates snippets of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The course attendees were given different snippets at random by the tutors. You can hear ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ being read in its entirety by its author, T. S. Eliot (1888–1965), here. It was intriguing find the Eliot rhythms and patterns persisted through something I’d made up on the spot.

Tonight

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche …
Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how? …

Tonight

Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?

In commonplace cliché, like
‘My heart is aching/breaking/longing’.

The night wind howls around the heavens.

Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?
Remembering the moments when she loved me.

On nights like these we lay together.
Under infinite heavens we’d kiss.

At times I loved her too, how could I not?
Those night-dark, constant eyes.

Tonight I can write of my sadness, but how?
Realising she is lost to me. Realising she is gone.

The night presses in on me.
My verse distils a few drops onto my soul.

Why care now that my love fell short?
Our stars shine on, but she is gone.

That is all. Far off there is music. Far off.
My soul stirs – she should be here!

As if to call her, I turn my head.
I silently wish, but she is gone.

The moonlight, the night, the trees, the stars.
They’re all the same, but we are not.

I no longer love her, I realise, but, God, how I did.
My voice sought out the wind to touch her ear.

She loves once more, as she did before.
With her voice, her air, her limbs, her infinite eyes.

I say I no longer love her, but perhaps I do.
The explosion is brief, the half-life too long.

Remembering nights like these when we lay together,
my poor soul thirsts, it is still scabbed.

But this will be the last time I will pick at my scab,
and the last time I’ll write of you.

©Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This adaptation was based on an existing, literal translation into English of the original Spanish poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–73), supplied by the course tutors. The original is from a collection called Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperadacan published in 1924, and can be read in the original Spanish here.

To live in Welshpool

after R. S.

To live in Welshpool

To live in Welshpool in the 80s
when the Smithfield was central
(where Tescos now is)
was to be woken on Mondays a touch before dawn
by heaving lorries and braying beasts.

That was the only day
to hear Welsh on the streets.
Not much food there, then, for the learner – me.

I heard of a family of native Welsh speakers,
and cornered their tastiest son.
While stripping his sunburn in my single room
I learned more, and more, and mwy.

©Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem took R. S. Thomas’ ‘Welsh Landscape’ as its starting point; you can hear R. S. himself reading ‘Welsh Landscape’ here.

 

Mortality

after W. S. Merwin

Mortality

With every year that passes
I know my time is shorter.
I know the final breath will slip,
And one day the fight will slide.

The awkward will be ordered.
The world’s horror will subside.
My wife’s unending goodness understood.

I ponder these things, and give thanks.
Although not really comprehending,
Or knowing what’s to come.
All I know is days of rain have ceased
And birds are singing, bright and clear.

©Susan Walton 2017

This poem was written on a course at Tŷ Newydd that covered a range of ways in which existing works of art can give rise to new poems. This poem was created from the anonymised information content of an existing, published poem: ‘For the Anniversary of My Death’ by W. S. Merwin, which can be read here. Another attendee had already stripped away the original poem’s vocabulary and form, presenting it to me as prose.

To read more about the whole course, see Tŷ Newydd’s  blog.

The grave of Hedd Wyn, under snow

Mor frau dros yr erwau hyn – yw’r heddwch …
So frail over lonely leys – lies the peace …

The grave of Hedd Wyn, under snow

So frail over lonely leys – lies the peace
Descending down this day,
Even so, snow fell slowly,
Peace held sway… it was holy.

Bedd Hedd Wyn, o dan eira

Mor frau dros yr erwau hyn – yw’r heddwch
Sydd ar heddiw’n disgyn,
Er hynny, fesul gronyn,
Roedd yno hedd… roedd yn wyn.

©Tudur Dylan Jones, reproduced with the author’s permission
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2014

Visiting the Yr Ysgwrn, the home of Ellis Evans (Hedd Wyn), I was moved by this poem. Before Yr Ysgwrn’s re-vamp, this poem was displayed above the fireplace in the same room as his famous Black Chair. A chair is the most prestigious prize for poetry at Wales’ eisteddfodau, and the so-called Black Chair was awarded posthumously to Ellis Evans at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Evans, who had been killed at Passchendaele some weeks before the Eisteddfod. His grave is in the Artillery Wood Cemetery, Boezinge, Belgium. If you are eligible to use the BBC’s iPlayer app, you can listen to a half-hour Radio Four programme about Hedd Wyn here.

This poem appears in a volume of poetry (Canrif yn Cofio – Hedd Wyn 1917–2017, edited by Ifor ap Glyn) that collects together poems that  are responses to the Hedd Wyn story. It appears under the title ‘I deulu’r Ysgwrn’ in the book.

Hedd Wyn’s name means ‘blessed peace’ (hedd = peace; [g]wyn = blessed/holy/white). Tudur Dylan Jones’ poem in the original Welsh contains a pun on the words ‘hedd’ and ‘wyn’, and so in one way the poem can be about no one else. However, to me it is about all the World War I soldiers who lie under blanketing snow, far from their homes. The photograph accompanying the poem is of my Great Uncle Jack who, like Ellis Evans, never came back.

The Man on the Horizon

… A sacrifice is vital;
And for that, Wales, keep looking to
The man on the horizon.

The Man on the Horizon

Not all that’s fragile is feeble,
As man exists, not every mote is dust.
And for this, Wales, behold
The man on the horizon;
Incisive his mind,
Infinite his idiot faith.

On his face the print of a dream,
In his voice a holy depth.
But for his learning and modest coming
He would be ignored,
Like that earlier Supreme Being
Who was crucified for them.

He bravely loves a land
And a people cast aside.
He shaped his heart to them
And a cell was their thanks.
For a genuine Welsh act
Persecution came, not praise.

Indifferent Wales, the day will come
When you will see your shame.
A parliament’s not won with words
A sacrifice is vital;
And for that, Wales, keep looking to
The man on the horizon.

‘Y Gŵr Sydd ar y Gorwel’ ©Gerallt Lloyd Owen 1972 from Cerddi’r Cywilydd, Gwasg Gwynedd
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2011, published online with the permission of Gerallt Lloyd Owen

Translating ‘Y Gŵr Sydd ar y Gorwel’ by Gerallt Lloyd Owen was sparked by a conversation about the arrest of a pub landlord in a village near mine for brandishing a gun after he had told customers to order their drinks in English, not Welsh.

The following day I was taken aback to hear that a young, Welsh (and Welsh-speaking) acquaintance had declared that locals shouldn’t get so het-up about the use of Welsh. It was apparent that he was too young to be aware of the civil-rights struggles of the ’60s and ’70s that resulted in the Wales of today, where Welsh has an equal legal status with English. If a young man in one of the Welshest parts of Wales is blissfully ignorant of the battles others had fought for rights he enjoys, how many other, non-Welsh speakers are?

Gerallt Lloyd Owen died in 2014. His obituary in the Telegraph is here, and in the Independent here.