Llefaru Unigol (the process of remembering)

by Sophie McKeand


Whenever the great cultural juggernaut of Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru rolls into Y Gogs I sign up for the solo recital (llefaru unigol) competition in the Maes D: dysgu Cymraeg. The reason I do so is that, in addition to improving my Cymraeg, it offers a unique opportunity to fold open the creative process and map new terrain.

In 2015 I drove to Welshpool to recite Ty’r Ysgol by TH Parry-Williams. The standard of entry is exceptional, with competitors learning poems by heart, not by rote. It’s an important distinction. It’s the difference between inching through a poem’s undergrowth to grasp bough, barb and bracken, and memorising a photo of it.

At the beginning, it’s difficult to ascertain Ty’r Ysgol’s shape in the black thicket but I know she’s there. I start by clearing and hacking space: Mae’r cyrn yn mygu er pob awel groes. I turn. The language feels thick and green, swinging in veils. I hack. Turn. Hack. Repeat this process at least four times a day. After two days the pathway clears. I face forward: A rhywun yno weithiau’n’sgubo’r llawr/Ac agor y ffenestri. I repeat the process, beat y ffordd, stumble into craters that can take days to clamber out of (getting the right pronunciation for synhwyro rywsut was agonising), chant yn Gymraeg, forward and back, excavating sounds, shouting them to mountains or whispering a looped-line until I am hyper-sensitised to its airflow.

The line ar ol y chwalfa fawr is deeply satisfying to chant, especially in the woods. Meaning dissipates. The words undulate out of the mouth in a distinctly Gog fashion with no regard for the speaker’s intentions.

I pause at the word chwalfa: kh-oo-al-va.

Chwalfa: dispersal, upheaval. In this context it’s describing the collapse and dispersal of rural villages as people moved to the towns and cities during Parry-Williams’ time. Quizzing Dr Gwilym Morus via email I also learn that ‘Chwalfa is still used to describe what happens to a sheep carcass after the predators have been at it, like it’s just exploded over the hillside.’

The carcass remains in situ. I hack on.

It takes about four weeks to learn this relatively short poem by heart and by rote. The challenge is to walk with the former and not become lazy and distracted and topple into the latter. Mapping the poem again I discover a fork in the path. I’ve remembered a line wrong: it’s nes bod rhai/ Yn synnu’n gweld. I’ve been dropping the g in gweld, mutating where there is none. I place a way-marker, drag foliage across the errant route, stamp the true ground back and forth; chant.

That these events are important for the language and culture Cymraeg is a given. What I’m slowly realising is how much they also shape the poets who compete. This process is instilling in me a greater appreciation of the Eisteddfod. I’m handed a gift: a beautifully crafted poem to learn, and a stage on which to share my findings. Each time I do this I understand more about the language and myself as a poet. Mastering these words becomes a ceremonial gateway to a previously undiscovered world: I fold language, chant the terrain, pack my head with sounds and walk.

Eisteddfod 2015

Eisteddfod 2015