Friars, Glynllifon and the Halfway

A flickering of sunlight …

Friars, Glynllifon and the Halfway

The past is a foreign country
So they say.
A flickering of sunlight on the other side of the Strait,
where the grass was greener, the scene was cooler,
and the lads more knowing.

Flying back from the past – do I need to quarantine?
Will the symptoms pass?
Or persist?
I take my place in the queue.
Will I be next?

 

This poem was prompted by the death of a man the same age as me whom I hadn’t seen for thirty-five years. As is the way when you’re a teenager, I knew who he was from afar, but I didn’t really know him.

Written in August 2020, the constraints and consequences of the covid-19 pandemic have been uppermost in my thoughts for months.

The photo is of Wil Jones ©Gary Stubbs 1980, used with permission.
Words ©Susan Walton 2020.

Tŷ Newydd haikus

chill spring whispering
and warmed spirits flourishing –
back to the real world

gwanwyn yn sibrwd
ac awenau ni’n symud –
’nôl i’r byd go iawn

In March 2020 I was on a course at Tŷ Newydd as part of being mentored as an emerging literary translator. In the conservatory there is a corkboard where people are invited to offer their reaction to the place, or the course they’re attending, in the form of a haiku or a piece of flash fiction. These are the poems I pinned up.

A typical haiku is a three-line observation about a fleeting moment, following the form and style of the Japanese haiku. Traditional haiku often consist of 17 elements, interpreted as ‘syllables’ in a pattern of 5–7–5, and often involving nature by way of a seasonal reference. 

The essence of haiku is ‘cutting’, often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a ‘cutting word’ – a kind of verbal punctuation mark. I’ve used dashes to indicate the cut instead.

Image and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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.

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.

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.