Dig deeper

after Samira Negrouche

Seduced to a new place
which distorted vision
and altered behaviour.

Go back into the past,
examine what’s under the scab.

Return, do it again,
dig deeper.

Don’t say,
turn things over in

There’s no hurrah because
you’re inside the
at the right time
movement starts
in unity.


This poem was inspired by ‘À cent quatre vingt degrés’ by Algerian poet Samira Negrouche. In working on that poem I heard resonances of Wales, a nation regarded by many as being under English and then British colonial rule since the 1500s. The recent spread of Cofiwch Dryweryn graffiti throughout Wales runs alongside the growing call for independence. If you wish to read more about Cofiwch Dryweryn, this book is an excellent place to start.

Image and words ©Susan Walton 2019.

One hundred and eighty degrees

… glissement de langage …
… language slips …

One hundred and eighty degrees


Succumbing to the west
those rails carry you
beyond the hour of meeting
of arrival

You timeshift to a place of remembrance
where actions become metaphor
and your language slips to

And through waiting eyes
you rediscover the mountain
you look out from the Tessala       place
vision dizzying


You discourse with the past
with what remains to be healed
of the mutilated oak

Hobbled movements
stuttering actions polish
its surface
to live

Fingers’ ridges
caress each wound
slowdive into


The sun’s last resting place
in the shadow of the wall
sees its morning appointment

Obsessively go back to the source
“worrying the carcase of an old song”
for what’s to come

Those same fingers
that claw their way
the rails that hurtle towards
the cornered earth
the line of fire
the wait that is too long


You neither cry nor cry out
you’re disciplined
doubt re-emerges


You don’t celebrate
that which happens
that which is coming
at the hour of destiny
it’s one hundred and eighty degrees
worked at together.


À cent quatre vingt degrés


Succomber à l’appel de l’ouest
à ces rails qui te portent
débordent l’heure
de la rencontre

Tu arrives dans le lieu du souvenir
où l’acte devient métaphore
glissement de langage

Par les yeux qui t’ont attendu
redécouvrir la montagne
par de-là le Tessala      point
de vue détourné


Tu parles au passé
de ce qu’il reste à colmater
sur le chêne que l’on maltraite

Gestes ancrés répétés
balbutiements de notes crochetées
sur la surface à polir
à vivre

Centres digitaux –
tu articules chaque courbure
et plonges lentement
dans la mémoire
qui ne se raccommode pas


À l’ombre du mur
dernière demeure du soleil
rendez-vous matinal

Poursuite      rituel
de l’histoire à venir
de la matrice retournée

Ce sont ces mêmes doigts
qui étreignent le chemin
les rails qui s’enflamment
le carré de terre
l’angle de tir
l’attente époumonée


Tu ne dis pas
l’ordre des choses
la résurgence du doute


Tu ne célèbres pas
ce qui passe
ce qui vient
tu entres dans le silence
à heure nommée
c’est à cent quatre vingt degrés
que tu te conjugues.

Sidi Bel Abbès – Alger, le 8 février 2010 In « Six arbres de fortune autour de ma baignoire »

Original poem, ‘À cent quatre vingt degrés’, ©Samira Negrouche 2010, reproduced with the author’s permission
English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2019

In advance of International Translation Day, which is 30 September, Wales Literature Exchange, Literature Across Frontiers and Wales PEN Cymru held a public talk in Aberystwyth by Syrian-Kurdish poet and translator Golan Haji and the Francophone Algerian writer and poet Samira Negrouche. I attended, and worked on this poem with Samira and tutor Zoë Skoulding in the translation workshop that followed the talk. 

The quote within my version is from ‘Welsh Landscape’ by R. S. Thomas; you can hear R. S. himself reading ‘Welsh Landscape’ here.

Samira’s explanation of the idea behind ‘One hundred and eighty degrees’ sparked this, another ‘poem after poem’ like the ones I’d written on the Tŷ Newydd course.

Image by Jori Samonen from Pixabay.

The Strike

Ffarwél i’r llwch ac i’r llechi …
Farewell to the dust and the rockface …

The Strike

There’s danger ’tween Padarn and Peris,
Y Gilfach is misted in sleet,
the men in the caban complain that
their children have nothing to eat.
“It’s time for us to down tools, lads,
and challenge the taskmaster’s rules!”

Farewell to the dust and the rockface,
farewell to the slate-cutting knife,
farewell to the foundry and smithy,
the noise and machinery and strife –
“Our union it stands strong and sure,
in our house we’ll shelter no bradwr!”

In Pencarnisiog the strike starts to bite;
when my husband hasn’t even a crust,
it’s back to the quarry he creeps, then,
before the big wheel starts to rust.
“Some day we’ll be rid of your slate dust,
some day that old Hwch will be flushed!”


Y Streic

Mae’n beryg rhwng Padarn a Pheris,
mae’n aeaf y Gilfach Ddu,
Mae’r hogia’n cwyno’n y caban
a’r gegin yn wag yn y ty:
“Mae’n bryd i ni roi’n harfau i lawr,
a herio’r mistar yn y plasdy mawr!”

Ffarwél i’r llwch ac i’r llechi,
ffarwél i’r hen gyllell fach,
Ffarwél i’r ffowndri a’r efail
a’r holl beiriannau a’u strach –
“Mae’n hundeb ni yn ddigon cry’,
ac ni fydd bradwr yn y ty!”

Ond mae’n gafael ym Mhencarnisiog
a’r un geiniog ym mhoced y gwr,
mae’n llusgo yn ôl am y chwarel
cyn bod rhwd ar yr olwyn ddwr:
“rhyw ddydd cawn wared ar dy lwch
a rhydd fydd cân yr hen afon Hwch!”

English adaptation ©Susan Walton 2019
The poem was written in 2005 by schoolchildren from years 3, 4, 5, and 6 at Ysgol Pencarnisiog with the help of poets Gwyneth Glyn and Iwan Llwyd. I came across the original poem on a BBC Cymru web page, which is no longer available, about the National Slate Museum at Llanberis.

While at college, the artist Anya Wigdel-Bowcott used the poem in a piece she produced as part of a project on Penrhyn Castle. Penrhyn Castle was the home of the owner of the Penrhyn Slate Quarry in Bethesda, scene in 1900–03 of one of the bitterest and, at the time, longest lock-outs in Britain. Striking quarrymen would place a card in their window saying Nid oes BRADWR yn y tŷ hwn (There is no TRAITOR in this house.)

Anya says: ‘With this piece, I firstly created an outline of a mountain using ink and then wrote the poem … over and over again to resemble the veins of a piece of slate.’ The photograph used on this page is by Anya, and you can see more photographs of this piece here .