December 1282

… the heavens abort the stars

December 1282

Today (11 December) is the anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last viable Prince of Wales.
Yesterday we had a violent storm. Tomorrow we have a potentially cataclysmic political event.

How was it that day?
Was it like yesterday:
driving rain, trees slashing, that brook flooding?
Were you soaked through as you fell in the mud?
Did rain soak your skin as much as the blood?

Or was the day sparkling bright, cold and calm,
each emerging star like a pinprick?
As you realised your fate, did you glance
from the corner of your eye and note
a startled wren fleeing for cover?

You, too, were contrived into battle
at the bitterest time of year.
Betrayed too, perhaps, by your allies;
and afterwards the sea would reclaim the land,
the heavens abort the stars,
and we would be left to linger.

The last three lines of my poem sample Llywelyn’s elegy, by court poet Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch. In that original lament the lines – in old Welsh – are:

Pony welwch chwi’r syr wedyr syrthiaw?

Och yt attat ti Duw na daw mor tros dir!
Pas beth yn gedir y ohiriaw?

which roughly translate as: See you not the fallen stars? … Why, God, does the sea not come over the land! / Why are we left to linger?

The image is the UK Met Office rainfall radar for 15.45 GMT – at about dusk – on 10 December 2019. Words ©Susan Walton 2019.

untitled haikus

small full point looms large
large white circle harvest moon
lingers unnoticed

atalnod llawn llwm
lloer llawn gynhaeaf ni byth
dy weld ti’n iawn

 
During September’s full moon I was at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ annual conference in the middle of brightly street-lit Birmingham. Two colleagues who produce The Editing Podcast set a haiku-writing competition for delegates. These were my efforts. They are my first attempts at haiku. The Welsh version is not a translation of the English, but it conveys the same idea.
 

Image by Bo Hansen of Bandshoot. Words ©Susan Walton 2019.

Dig deeper

after Samira Negrouche

1.
Seduced to a new place
which distorted vision
and altered behaviour.

2.
Go back into the past,
examine what’s under the scab.

3.
Return, do it again,
dig deeper.

4.
Don’t say,
turn things over in
silence.

5.
There’s no hurrah because
you’re inside the
process;
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

1.

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
silent

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

2.

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
unmended
memory

3.

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

4.

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

5.

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

1.

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
silence

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

2.

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

3.

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

4.

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

5.

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 .

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.

Image and words ©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’.

Image ©Susan Walton 2018.

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, or see her perform it in this Facebook video.

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)

 

Image ©Susan Walton 2018.

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.
 

Image ©estate of Ken Walton 2017.

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.