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February’s poet, Giles L. Turnbull, shares his approach to writing poetry

‘Poems themselves like to have a little time for their words to get to know each other — gossip and squabble, fall out and flirt.’

  1. Pay Attention

I used to love catching sight of things happening in the peripheries of my vision. A person precariously swaying towards the traffic on a busy street, as if being propelled from behind by an unseen force, or a small mouse scurrying alongside the rails as an Underground train pulled into Blackfriars station could easily find their way into a poem. Now that I’ve been blind for nine years I try to pay attention to ideas triggered by my other senses. I get more inspired by news from the peripheries rather than the headlines.


  1. Be Sensible

Thirty years of sighted life means I have many visual images stored in my brain. I remember what different colours look like and I can still imagine buildings that I’ve never before seen if I can find a description of the architectural style or the colours and material of the bricks and how the roof is tiled. When I look back over old poems I realise that other senses took a back seat compared to visual images. Nowadays I always take a step back from any poem I am writing and make sure that other senses are not overlooked — I want to let the reader smell the smoking jacket hanging on the banister or hear the sofa springs creak as a person plonks his derriere down, not just what colours the jacket and sofa are.


  1. Breathe

I generally find that I write better poems when I remember to breathe. I’m a firm believer that a poem also needs to have space to breathe. I like to let the poem sit and simmer for a few days giving it chance for its flavours to develop. When you make a cup of tea in a teapot you let your tea brew, and if you’re barbecuing steak you may well let it rest in a marinade to tenderise and let the flavours infuse before cooking. When I finish a draft of a poem I will leave it for a couple of days before coming back to it with rested eyes. Poems themselves like to have a little time for their words to get to know each other — gossip and squabble, fall out and flirt. I like to let the words have that breathing space to loosen up before coming back to me with their own ideas.


Giles L. Turnbull - author photo_GTB (Claire McNamee, Lumb Bank Nov 2016)Giles L. Turnbull is a blind poet. He spent the first half of his life in North Yorkshire before moving to South Wales to study chemistry at Swansea University. He has lived in South Wales ever since, apart from a 5-year sojourn Stateside and two years in London. His debut pamphlet, Dressing Up, is published by Cinnamon Press.


Giles’s article ‘Embracing the Visual’ – a focus on poetry and disability can be found in Poetry Wales Summer issue 2016, 52.1

‘Many Forms Bleed’ – Nia Davies on how she writes a poem

January’s poet, and editor of Poetry Wales, kicks us off on a new series of monthly features where we ask a poet to impart their knowledge and experience of writing a poem. How do they do it? What approach do they take? What gets them writing? Each poem is as unique as its author, and so is the writing process, so we bring to you a monthly instalment and a very unique insight into some of Poetry Wales’s poets.

Here is Nia’s succinct (and poetic) approach:

1. Fill up to overflowing on language then breathe out

2. Process, interrogate, translate, listen

3. Eat many forms. Destroy many forms. Remember that many forms bleed

57bf5a4d6af37Her forthcoming collection: All Fours is due out with Bloodaxe in June 2017

Bodies. Rhythms. Motion. Sounds. All fours is a debut collection of poetry from Nia Davies, a book of rituals in language that stalk the space between what is uttered and what is meant. These poems are haunted by the strange traces of the longest words in the world and folk-mythic figures such as Sinbad, Eurydice, Mossy Coat, Pan and Baba Yaga. They pose riddles with multiple or mysterious answers.

A swerving sweary jump into a terrain that is both comically musical and perplexedly political,All fours speaks of the (mis)adventures of sex and human communication, a life full-to-bursting with burning questions.

Nia Davies writes rich and adventurous poems. Her work feels borderless, influenced by experimental American and eastern European poetries. In the event that an “I” surfaces in her work, it is defiantly plastic and multivalent.’ – Dai George


Editorial: Winter 2016

How do you fuck up a system from within? asks Aase Berg. The hacker and the parasite are metaphors she uses at length in her new collection  Hackers, extracts of which are translated from Swedish by Johannes Görannson in this issue. The hacker and the parasite enter the host culture and wreak havoc from the inside. In her poems the ‘hostess animal’ may be the female body as a space vulnerable to invasion, or that could be reversed – we could, she suggests, hack oppressive structures such as patriarchy out from the inside by using the very language and narratives of those structures. Seeking out and refashioning language she has found on the dark web or in business manuals, Berg’s poetry is full of dystopian scenes, forcings-together of words and strange – often gross – alien creatures. She forges new words into being and makes fierce entries into the ‘world male’, exploding black and white binaries into new complexity. Her new language feels completely necessary at a time when the predominant narratives of our media and politics are oppressively nativist and regressive, xenophobic, dangerously inward looking. The feeling of this state is captured (and challenged) for me in this issue by Nat Raha, in texts written in 2015, prior to Theresa May’s premiership:

Raha quote 2


Post- 23rd June 2016 the language world of Britain appears broken and out of kilter, with slogans and headlines no longer bothering with any modicum of sensitivity or fact. It has of course always been the case, and poetry knows this, that the language of ‘fact’ is never stable or ‘truthful’; words always have other meanings, right? But then two slogans now come to the fore of my news-addled memory:  We send the EU £350M a week, let’s fund our NHS instead and … My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.

There is an extreme turn in public discourse and we swim in its bodily fluids. Words like  NHS, freedom, Britain are quickly appropriated for their positive meanings or turned against us in hate-inciting or misleading contortions. Political canvassers tell that they read headlines online from the extreme-right wing press in the morning and hear the exact same language from people on the doorsteps in the afternoon. We are now hearing politicians repeating the racist and regressive rhetoric back at their conferences in order to secure power. We may not be passive swimmers in the language body, the ‘world animal’, as Berg puts it, but we humans do latch on to some narratives over others, we do have a tendency to repeat. Repeat.

But how can poets become like parasites in the body of hegemonic language when we are humans, part of the  world animal itself? Hackers may appear to be anonymous but behind their masks they are organisms formed  in the world animal. Likewise poets are not separate from the oppressive language body they may seek to shift and contort, they may easily repeat what the world gives them. As in many of the arts now, poetry culture is suffused with privilege of one kind or another. The ubiquity of this privilege, where increasingly those with some helping hand already in place are most often the ones who find the time to write and read, perpetuates inequality further as it creates an increasingly homogenous cultural landscape.

But that’s not to say that poetry is now devoid of working class voices or poets who do not come from typical British privilege. Kate Potts’s essay on the treatment of class in poetry in the UK explores this issue in depth. But it is also notable that the two pieces on recent developments in Welsh language poetry by Llyr Gwyn Lewis and Elan Grug Muse – commissioned by myself and Eurig Salisbury to give some insight on the recent scene for readers of English – mention social class as a defining recent change in the art in Welsh.

I hope to support poets who destabilise the language of the oppressive system from within, and that I, along with others, will also destabilise my own language, to decolonise, deprivilege and decouple words from their violent structures, to re- or de-appropriate and hack until, in Nat Raha’s words ‘division mutually breached’, or we have ‘the negation of england as an island’, or we have fucked the bad system up. In Aase Berg’s words:

‘The parasitical yes eats from within. Twist the hoof back and forth. The thud
of the fifth heart, the three-wheeler, the wood horse!’

Find out more about the issue here.

PW 52.2 Cover_pw cover.qxd

Editor Blog: Heaney’s HomePlace

In Bellaghy in County Derry a new centre, HomePlace, dedicated to the late poet Seamus Heaney has been built, and opened earlier this month. That such a home place for poetry be built in 2016, that it should be erected here in a quiet village known more for its past than its present or future, that it be supported so keenly by local community and council makes me very hopeful. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening weekend of HomePlace for a festival of poetry, music and talks dedicated to the life and work of Heaney.

There was one particularly special moment. It was not just special because we had to get up very early on a Sunday morning and make our way in the cold to a muddy spot overlooking Church Island in Lough Beg – a feature in the landscape where Heaney imagined so many of his poems. The poem being featured, Mycenae Lookout, is actually set in Ancient Greece and it was a juxtaposition between ‘home’ and ‘away’ that helped make the event special. But it wasn’t just because of this or the gift of whiskey in plastic cups. It was probably Fiona Shaw performing Heaney’s words from in hay cart in a field steeped in mist.

The view behind her was obscured so she was eerily foregrounded and we were thus completely present with her and the poem. ‘Mycenae Lookout’ speaks from the perspective of a watchman at the house of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. He speaks of the queen’s command, of being the ‘blind spot her farsightedness relied on’ and he senses terror and violence far off beyond what he can actually see with his eyes. Shaw embodied his words in her voice and movement and the moment felt extremely vivid in its ‘nowness’, but also ancient. And because the poem speaks of a prophecy of a violent future event, we were also in a future – a past-future.img_6362

The watchman speaks of the mist rising from the fields – and it was, slowly but surely rising as dawn broke. The watchman thinks he sees Troy’s battlefields, ‘clouds bloodshot with the red of victory fires’ and indeed a small fire burned in the far bog.

The watchman’s troubled ‘farsightedness’ is a prophecy he is cursed with, stuck between the plotting sexed-up Clytemnestra and the distant Agamemnon’s extreme violence. ‘My sentry work was fate, a home to go to,’ he envisions, ‘What was to come out of that ten years’ wait that was the war / Flawed the black mirror of my frozen stare.’

He sees the future in the present, his fate is a home to go to. So we were here, we were there and we were also in Shaw’s voice and in Heaney’s words and at his home. The past and the present and the future collapsed in this moment.

There is a future for poetry that is both a homecoming and an adventure. In this way HomePlace is both a return and a setting out. HomePlace gives hope that such a homecoming will this time not be bloody. However Heaney was not shortsighted as to the challenges faced or the violence experienced in far, or not so far, places. ‘Mycenae Lookout’ is an uncanny poem and this was an uncanny moment of hope and sympathy with victims of violence, past, present and future.

Find out more about HomePlace at



Blog: Disability, Infirmity, Audience – Steve Griffiths


by Steve Griffiths


My seventh collection, ‘Late Love Poems‘, was published by Cinnamon Press this year.  It was preceded by a week-by-week uploading to YouTube of thirty short films of performances of poems from the book, filmed in a range of settings and styles by Eamon Bourke of Park6Productions and funded by Arts Council England.

Audiences online were not great, but not bad.  However, a group of the films were markedly less viewed.  They were concerned with sickness and encroaching disability. They were poems and films of lament, defiance and celebration, and form a significant but unexpected part of the book. Feedback from those who did view them was positive.

They were integral to a book of poems of rediscovered love, and took a long look at some of the ways our lives can be derailed, the challenge of that, and the ways you can be sustained in adversity as a couple by previously unsuspected resources. There is loss, anger, plenty of that, and a surprising amount of laughter.  Love’s taken to a new, darker place and comes back changed.

Understandably, online many viewers are expecting, enticed by the word ‘love’, to sign up for a simple celebration – for the films to be an easy, unquestioning, perhaps sentimental and/or sexy ride. A mirror of wish fulfilment. But stuff happens, complexity happens: we deal with it. Celebration of what we are and what we have, and have had, is not easily won in what is sometimes a ruined landscape. ‘The Harrowing of the Squamous Cell Carcinoma’ was the least viewed film in the YouTube series. It’s an intimidating title for a poem of affirmation and laughter; and it’s filmed in a deliberately idyllic setting.

Here are links to five of the films in this terrain:

A strong supporter of the film project, Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press, commented that we underestimated the obstacle of the culture of social media being ‘predominantly used by younger audiences, who most definitely won’t want to know about old people finding love’.

The thin audience made me think about the difference between the medium of the poem on the page, and that of the lined face filmed in closeup delivering the poem.   The physical exposure casts a particular light on the words.   This both opens up and closes down possibilities.   It confronts the reader / viewer with vistas for further interpretation, but it also defines in a way that may be limiting, particularly to the reader’s imaginative response to the printed page. In some cases, the poet’s appearance may bring a deep shift of focus, towards the poet and away from the mutuality of the love poem.

The theme of age – of love not in the first flush of youth – is explored extensively in the poems, and often mocked affectionately, as is the poet’s remembered youth. But we discovered what a risky undertaking it was to find a balance in film between on one hand ‘exhibiting’ the poet and potentially undermining poems which have nothing to do with age, and on the other directly confronting themes of age, illness and indeed mortality that are an essential part of the fabric of many of the poems.   Ageism plays its part in the audience response to this exploration. This is not new: it is a part of the egotism of youth. We who are old were not innocent of it once. The films provoke thought in this respect – and perhaps dismissal – far more than the poems.

Sometimes this resulted in interesting collisions.   ‘A pair for bodies‘ is a poem in two parts – two related films – which muse on the theme of mature love: the surprise of it, the tenderness of an intimacy of bodies that have got miles on the clock. There’s humour, as there is in all bodies but especially mature ones. Eamon Bourke’s film approaches this with sensitivity while acknowledging a reality that’s brutal as well as beautiful: the poet, the subject of the camera, is not young and it shows. The second part acknowledges and celebrates the idea of wear and tear, a quality of light on the surface of old stone that derives somehow from long existence – and the intimation of a wearing out, contemplated both directly and affectionately.   The film takes this cue with a slow, eloquent visual metaphor out of Selinunte, an ancient Greek settlement on the coast of Sicily.

We found that my ‘surface’ had more life in close-up, in a way that added dimensions to the delivery of the poem. But the scale and variety of the 30 poems and films offered an opportunity to convey many faces (as well as none), the many surface dimensions of a personality, just as the face is shaped by many events.   It was an antidote to vanity and to defensiveness. The poems are already a study of how we see ourselves – in particular our consciousness of ourselves as we age, and the different kinds of beauty – or reality – in that.   At their best, the films added to this in a way that made me see my own face (and the undeniable mark of cancer on my head), though often painfully, in a more detached and painterly way. Through film, these surfaces offered perspectives that wove around the poems in ways I hadn’t expected. The poems swim on at their different depths.

Editorial: Summer 2016

Sharon Morris’s poems and photography in this issue bury deep into the Preseli hills. Here Morris uncovers signs of great significance in poems haunted in two languages by a mother and a culture past – a very ancient past. Preseli is particularly dense in Neolithic signs: the Bluestone quarry of Carn Meini that produced the stone transported to Salisbury Plain to make Stonehenge, the tomb of Pentre Ifan, tumuli, cairns, standing stones and circles, dolmens. They make a kind of obscure poetry – a language where the meaning is now ambiguous, uncertain. We don’t know very much about the meaning of these stones only that they were made and moved by humans, people with a shared culture important enough to be erected in a hefty material far more durable than paper or pixels.

Signs that point to more than one possible conclusion happen to be explored elsewhere in this issue. ‘Exit’ by Menna Elfyn connects a lifetime of possibilities of what the sign and the letter X may signal – X is ‘an alien letter’ to the poet growing up in Welsh, X is heaven, a ‘dazzling azimuth’. Later the departed leave through the side door of the crematorium, exiting forever. In SIGNS LIKE THESE , reviewed in these pages, David Greenslade understands the tricksy fun of the sign-as-poem. A sign in an unfamiliar language, an alien letter, or a sign that confuses, with no discernable meaning, these are the doubled-up pieces of language that poetry loves to deal with.

The multidirectional signalling of poem-as-sign or sign-as-poem is not only visual. This issue includes a focus on poetry and disability. The essays, reviews and poems here – by Cath Nichols, Giles Turnbull and Kobus Moolman – remind me that people experience the language-word by multiple perceptual routes and degrees and not everyone shares the same precise embodiment or perceptual dimension as I do. And no matter how disconnected I can feel doing the majority of my reading at a computer all day, their writing, together with Meirion Jordan’s in this issue, reminds me that all language is experienced in the body.

In one of Sharon Morris’s photographs a woman holds her hand over her face. She faces the camera square-on but obscures us from her expression. Does the hand hide or shield? The gestures of the body are also an ambiguous poetic language. But this language is temporary. Whether we leave through the sidedoor of the crematorium or are left ‘excarnate’ in the wild in a stone tomb, only our signs, marks left in the world, are left behind. And also our love. Sharon Morris:

We visit
the cul-de-sac
of bungalows
at Newport,
take a photo
with a mobile phone —
that’s all it takes
to enter through the eye
into the heart
yn ddistaw
and stay there
yn agos.



Summer 2016 is available here

Editor Blog: at Poetry International, Rotterdam

Arriving in Rotterdam for 2016’s Poetry International (7th – 10th June 2016) it felt refreshing, at first, to escape the shrill and anxiety-inducing debate on the UK’s future in or outside the European Union. Of course it’s what most people asked me about once there. But to enter poetry’s dimension for a few days was relief. Not because it transported me away from the conversation of political complexity, (there is no escape, we are all connected), but because it placed me more deeply within it.

Poetry realises language’s complexity. Speaking at the festival on the panel ‘Newspeak’ the Swedish poet Aase Berg described how in her upbringing language was used in a very simple fashion – black and white, good and bad. It was either us or them. Her rebellion was to invent new words, pushing them together, new language with new meanings. Her radical poetry now forces transformation out of the language of advertising, the internet and other sterile discourses.

The theme of the festival was Newspeak – a provocation under the name of the language in George Orwell’s 1984. The aim with Newspeak was that there would be no double meanings, no ambiguity where unorthodox thinking may develop. Of course the nature of language – formed in the mouths of humans who are infinitely shifty – dooms Newspeak to failure. Even Newspeak has a double meaning to me now: New-speak also now suggests News-speak, the language of the media.

In some ways the current use of language in the political-media sphere is a new Newspeak in that it simplifies and converts complexity to soundbites, tweets, slogans, rumour. In the EU referendum campaign, the complex interaction of bureaucracy and people that is the UK’s relationship with the EU and Europe was condensed into seemingly simple ideas like ‘economy’ or ‘immigration’. For the Leave campaign it was reduced to the idea of ‘control’.

Meanwhile poets like Aase Berg hack this language. She enters ‘perverted, simplified’ discourses such as those available on the dark web, in the how-to-get-rich or self-help books. She listens to the language therein, refashioning the words for her own strange and sometimes dystopian poetry. She is interested in the metaphor of hacking as a way of taking down capitalist patriarchy from the inside like a parasite.

In the same talk on Newspeak, Canadian poet Lisa Robertson noted the recent change of words in France where ‘strike’ has been replaced by ‘social movement’ in the media. What does this do? What meanings does this change or erase and what new connotations does that shift bring, how does it suit the agenda of those using it? Another contributor to the same discussion, young Dutch poet Maarten van der Graaff, spoke about getting ‘dirty’ down at the level of language’s multiplicity. He interrogated the hidden hierarchy in the hyphen in ‘Judeo-Christian’, whereby Jewish culture is secondary to the Christian and other cultures – Muslim, secular etc – are excluded altogether.


The poets here were paying close attention to the language of Newspeak. This is the work of the listening poet. The discussion made me think again about the often-simplified key words in the EU debate – ‘control’, ‘country’, ‘future’, ‘migrant’. ‘Control’ was supposed to stand for democracy, something we all want more of – a say in the future of our communities. But what has been promised – a British exit from the European Union – is not going to bring people democratic control to their lives, it will not give individuals agency under global capitalism. And ‘control’ of course also suggests enforcement, policed borders, state violence…

In language everything is connected to everything else – this is why doublethink was probably never going to be eradicated from the Newspeak dictionary despite the best efforts of the characters in 1984. Words cannot be cut loose from other words, neither can people, neither can countries. The isles that make up Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Island are connected. The seas are being crossed continually, dangerously. We cannot cut ourselves loose from other cultures, cannot say ‘here we are on our own, this is Britain and it means just this one thing alone: Britain’. We cannot deny the other meanings and contradictions. Everything is connected.

Solipsism, newspeak and an illusion of simple nationalistic ‘control’ will not save us from the violence of capital, climate change and war. Or to put it as Abdel-Ilah Salhi the Moroccan poet at the festival in his poem ‘Running in the opposite direction of beer’:

‘Astray like dogs. We opposed all directions and lost more awareness.’


‘Stupidity is not enough excuse in the face of all of this crumbling.’


Nia Davies’s visit to Poetry International, Rotterdam, was part of the Literary Europe Live project from Literature Across Frontiers

Read more about poets on Poetry International website.

Poems by Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Göransson will appear in the Winter issue of Poetry Wales, later this year.


Editorial: Desire

From Poetry Wales Spring 2016, Volume 51 Issue 3

‘There is something very unsettling about unconscious desire’ said Tamara Dellutri to me when I discussed the topic of this issue with her. We learn desire in our earliest moments, when we learn to love, to be with and apart from someone else. So a manifestation of adult desire is in some obscure way an expression that takes us back to the love of our caregivers in the earliest part of our lives. Not a very sexy place to start from. It’s the one put-off in sex. Thinking of your parents. And the other horrifying thought: your parents in coitus. But in this taboo, the moment that made us.

And yet it is difficult to deny the importance of those earliest moments of life in the formation of ourselves as human beings. ‘Our first experiences of desire inevitably come from our mothers and caregivers, with whom our relationship with language is first kindled,’ Melissa Lee-Houghton points out in her essay on desire and poetry in this issue. So in amongst the formation of desire is also the beginning of language. Is this why poetry can unlock something secret about desire and why the poetry of desire can touch upon our most excruciating taboos?

Much of the work in this issue touches the skin of such uncomfortable zones. Chrissy Williams quotes Kim Gordon in her poem: “Remember mother? We were close … very very … close” and continues – ‘I allowed my lust to deprioritise her and I ask forgiveness. / I never wanted to be killed with kindness.’ Later Amy McCauley invokes Jokasta (perhaps the original fucker-mother):

If only you would touch me
like a / shriek / good
girl / thank /
fuck I’ve
got a heart / it’s here
somewhere / how it // feels

Good girl. Thank fuck I’ve got a heart . In the place we experience desire we find demanding paradoxes: we want to be good or bad so the other will desire us, we want to be wanted, and in wanting learn how others want to be wanted. It is the instance we learn to be good to others, in order that we may be good, thank fuck , to be as good as mother requested, even, to be just what mother is to father… Into this confusing territory go the poems of Williams and McCauley as well as Nicky Arscott, Malika Booker, Jasmine Donahaye and others in this issue. Poetry for dodgy desirous waters, the taboo-zone. The poetry here gestures to the real, the real sex, the fucking that goes beyond language. The realness of contact with another person or a confrontation with the physical reality of desire can be overpowering, dark. We see the girl on the body board in Nicky Arscott’s poem-comic, but we’re not sure if we should see her, possibly she is dead. We, the narrator and reader, look anyway. Unconscious desire is at odds with our normal grammar and syntax. This is possibly the reason human beings don’t often start complex discussions before orgasm.

I would say that poetry – especially the poetry in these pages – somehow arches towards that Real. It gets some of the way there, touches its flesh briefly. The inexpressible and obscured place can be gestured towards unconsciously and the language that materialises – the non- or beyond-sense – may sound like, or is in fact poetry. This, as Tamara Dellutri explains in her piece in this issue, is the material the psychoanalyst deals with. And the analyst is very like the poet, charting through the slips  of the tongue, the language beyond language, expressions of desire and jouissance  beyond sense, beyond communication.

In curating this issue I was interested in the paradoxes writing desire entails. Writers who are not classic heterosexual ‘cis’, male, straight, white etc, have had their desires dismissed or demonised many times over; often as too bodily and physical, all hormones, no rationalism, no reality . These desires have also been shamed and prepresumed, packaged and marketed back at us.

So there is a huge power dynamic stacked against the desire that is not the desire of the dominant gaze. ‘A cry from the ovaries’ is how George Barker dismissed Elizabeth Smart’s poetry written out of passionate love of him. In her essay ‘Erotic tendencies’ Lee-Houghton explores this poetry and that of the desiring confessional mode – a mode often dismissed, probably as it is seen as pertaining to women. Lee-Houghton also calls for more interesting poetry of desire from men. I have to say this issue does not include very many cries from the testicles though they are there if you look hard. I approached women writers for the most part because they were the ones I wanted to hear from most keenly. I was interested in the undertold poetry of desire.

Desire is also an urge to the future. Fantasy, for example, is a testing of the ‘what do I want’? ‘What would it be like if I wanted XYZ?’ Writing desire is a kind of futurism; it is speculation, it brings about the future and calls it forth. It is the opposite of the death drive, the repetitive deadening reflex of destructive  compulsive want, of jouissance  as described by Lacan and as illuminated by Dellutri in this issue. Poetry is a forcing, Lacan wrote, a bursting through barriers, a creation of a new language of desire, a new path out of the old.

So I would request that before you dismiss this poetry as a cry from the sex-organs also remember that it is a cry for the future. For what we might want, for the relationships, the communities of relationships and societies we want to live in.

Alice Entwistle: Can we talk about Wales, rather than Welshness? What is Wales for you? Somewhere – anywhere – where Welshness can be found? Or is it perhaps imaginary?’

Menna Elfyn: ‘It’s imaginary. It’s a desire.’

Cambrofuturism/Cymruddyfodoliaeth – what future do we desire for Wales or for any community of the future? That is a theme for a future issue.

Nia Davies

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