Archive for October, 2016

Poem: Menna Elfyn, translated by Robert Minhinnick

English translation below by Robert Minhinnick





Yn blentyn, ni ddeallwn y llythyren X,
ai Crist yn cario ei groes ar oledd oedd?

Wedyn, ei weld fel llythyren ddieithr–
llifolau uwchben y gair lle cuddiai

nefoedd anwel a chartref Duw
lawr ar y lôn a wenai’n rasol at lewyrch sgrin.

A chyn i’r ffilm droi’n fendith, byddai rhai
yn ei gloywi hi, heb gilwg yn ôl .

A thra byddai rhai’n dewis y drws tenau–
ffoaduriaid ar wasgar heb wybod eu cyrchfan,

synhwyrwn mai’r X a rodd ganiatâd
i ni ddiflannu, rôl clecian ein seddau.


Alllanfa—cerais ei fod
yn pelydru gobaith , y dôr drwyadl

nes deall mai myfi oedd ceidwad
yr awyren, yn waredwr wrth ddrws

wedi holwyddoreg a own yn heini?
Estyn gweddi a wnes na ddoi’r alwad

na’r un ecsodus o’r ffurfafen,
a’m profi yn wrth-arwres.

Yr eicon coch, gwared y gwirion,
ofnusrwydd yn reddf sy’n X bob cam

yn groes ar dro, ac yno, dychmygwn
ing yn yr awyr, heb ddihangfa.


Nawr, yn y lle hwnnw sy’n X i bawb
Croes ymgroes i rywun, daw’r suon

Yn ôl im wrth wylio un yn ymadael
drwy’r porth ochr, yr allanfa

hwnnw lle nad oes dychwelyd.
Angau yw’r groes sy’n hongian

uwchben mor ddilychwin ei X,
wrth in ganu’n anfoddog am y sawl

a sleifiodd allan , a chyn in adael mae’n bygwth
glaw a ddaw i sisyrnu XXX yr holl ffordd adre.


Translated by Robert Minhinnick



When I was a child I never understood X.
Maybe X was Christ carrying his cross askew?

Then I thought X an alien letter *
and the Exit’s neon was hiding

heaven where God lived
down that beam of light that lit the screen.

But before any film finished some of us
scarpered without glancing back;

and while seeking light through a side door
others scattered like refugees,

sensing X permitted us
to tip our seats and escape.


That exit was a dazzling
azimuth, fateful door.

It was little me led the charge to deliverance.
We must be fit, I prayed, which is how

I thought God would wish to welcome us.
In every film (except the scary ones)

I was the saviour of an unruly tribe
and between myself and that mysterious door

glowed a red icon.
Anxiety’s the story of my life,

as yes, it was I urged exodus through perplexing
dark, dreading someone might smell fire.


Now, in the Crematorium’s surround-sound
all the Xs come whispering back

as we watch a loved one depart
through a side door, that exit

from which there’s no return.
Death is the cross that hangs above

and immaculate is its X
as we sing to the one who has just slipped out,

and then depart through threat of rain,
X scissoring us away.



*there is no x in the Welsh language


Menna Elfyn is the author of 13 poetry collections in Welsh by Gomer Press, and bilingual collections by Bloodaxe who will be publishing her next collection Bondo Feb, 2018.

Robert Minhinnick’s second novel, ‘Limestone Man’, appeared from Seren in 2015.

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.