Review of 2016 – mentor, monitor, mantra

It has been a year of mountain climbing and a little valley exploring.  High peaks have included:

Taking over the chair of Cheltenham Arts Council from Karen Jones – a hard act to follow. But there is a  lovely, dedicated committee of people from across the wide spectrum of the arts in Cheltenham to keep me on track. I’m learning so much – thanks to these mentors – and ‘network like an over-excited millennial’ has quickly become my mantra in this new ‘job’.

Working with Roger Turner to establish Poetry Café – Refreshed at Smokey Joe’s, Cheltenham has been an ongoing pleasure. I have loved welcoming all the guest poets and open mic performers – from Glos, South Glos, Worcs, Somerset, Oxon, Berks, Herefords, Wilts, Avon and Dorset! ‘Refreshed’ has become known for its friendly, relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, and – of course – its exciting poetry. Monitoring the rise and rise of this monthly event has been a source of considerable satisfaction.  With thanks to Smokey Joe’s for such a great venue – and a menu that is definitely worth monitoring at regular intervals!

Publishing Cheltenham 300, the Cheltenham Poetry Society’s anthology of poems and photographs to mark the Tercentenary of the town as a spa, offered a rich learning experience for me personally. It all sprang from an inspiring Awayday idea, very image-focused from the start … and so it was inevitable that the ensuing book would combine two passions shared by a number of CPS members  – poetry and photography. The richness of this particular learning experience came from choosing poems from those submitted, collaborating with Roger Turner (trusted mentor) on editing, sequencing and taking/selecting images. Investigating sources for some of the images and pursuing copyright permissions were other opportunities to ‘learn stuff’ … as were working with the printer to optimise layout, with a couple of ‘back to the drawing board’ moments!  Chris Griffiths at Stroudprint has been a most patient mentor!  His experience and advice were invaluable. The book was published in November, and according to my monitoring – akin to that of a new parent – it is selling well, at the Suffolk Anthology Bookshop, thanks to Helene. Many copies are also being sold  by the contributing poets, and by mail order (via email  cheltenhampoetrysociety@gmail.com). We have two events/readings coming up early in 2017, when my mantra will no doubt be:  ‘the book will be on sale at the end of the reading’.

An enjoyable morning was spent in early December with Rona Laycock – accomplished writer and experienced mentor – in The Writer’s Room at Corinium Radio, Cirencester. I loved sharing four of my poems from the ‘I Walk on Fire’ event (held in Cheltenham in October – to celebrate Dylan Thomas) … so my Corinium Radio spot had a Welsh flavour, satisfying another of my passions. Monitoring the programme as it went out – worldwide – was a ‘hold your breath’ moment … but I didn’t actually hate the sound of my own voice … because I thought it sounded like someone else! Another mantra:  it’s never too late to try something new.

Nor is it ever too late to have another go at something done previously.   A few years ago I participated in judging the poetry entries for the Gloucestershire Writers Network competition – the first time I’d judged one.  Earlier this year, Stuart Nunn asked me to judge the poetry entries for the Chipping Sodbury competition.  This was an enjoyable experience, with some obvious front runners during preliminary readings.  It took several more readings to place them in order.  The winner took me by surprise.  As I read and reread it, I began to realise that there were rich literary threads and social commentary running right through it. They had not been obvious on a preliminary reading, but an outstanding image towards the end of the poem alerted me to the fact that something deeper was going on in this poem than was at first apparent.  I appreciated the fact that this poet didn’t go for an easy option. The poem offered the reader the satisfaction of teasing out the meaning just beneath the superficial. A worthy winner.  And another lesson learned in the satisfaction and rewards of inviting a reader to ‘go deeper’ … another mantra.

Submissions-wise, it has been my most productive year ever, with a record number of acceptances and few rejections – according to fastidious monitoring via Excel spreadsheet. Much of this success can be traced back to the 52 Project in 2014.  Surely Jo Bell remains all participating poets’ favourite mentor! Her mantra – cut the last two lines – remains valuable advice.

But the ‘mentor of the year award, 2016’ for me personally has to be Ann Drysdale.  I can’t thank her enough for her experience, wisdom and patience as we’ve worked on my manuscript.

Glancing ahead to 2017, I look forward to more learning experiences – with a Cinnamon Press residential led by Jan Fortune – another brilliant mentor and champion of new writing.  This opportunity to learn will take place early in the New Year (back to Wales again – excellent!). I’ll also be beginning another stint in the Chair of Cheltenham Poetry Society next year, with a new series of workshops running throughout 2017 based on Jo Bell’s 52 book. As a new venture for the Society, I’ll be monitoring the success of the workshops, and learning much by mentoring some of those who attend. If there’s one thing my year teaching Welsh to Adult beginners taught me, it is that tutors learn as much by teaching learners as learners learn from tutors! My all-time favourite mantra remains “Never stop learning” …

At the head of this end-of-year resumé, is a word cloud containing elements from the titles of the poems I hope to see ‘out there’ in 2017.  I’ll be monitoring their progress with the utmost interest!  “Go, words!”

A poem … and photos

I recently revisited Powys – land of my fathers – continuing my ‘pilgrimage’ to sites important to Welsh history.  Cilmeri and Abbey Cwm Hir – associated with Llewelyn ap Gruffudd – resulted in a file of photographs … and a poem, in the form of a bardic lament, albeit in English, in honour of Y Llyw Olaf.  I combined words and pictures here:

Trefin Mill – William Williams Crwys

I was recently prompted by musician and fellow-poet, Chris Hemingway, to find the text of a poem in Cymraeg by William Williams (1875 – 1968), bardic name Crwys, and to translate it into English. William Williams Crwys

Chris had become aware of the existence of the poem – Melin Trefin – on his visit to Trefin – roughly half way between St Davids and Fishguard on the north Pembrokeshire Coast.  He asked Facebook friends if anyone knew of a translation. That was all the prompting I needed. Trefin Mill

To my shame, I didn’t know the poem itself although I was acquainted with the name William Williams Crwys – an Archdruid (chief bard of the Gorsedd of Bards) and three-times winner of The Crown at the National Eisteddfod. One of the greats. Here is a picture of HM The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Crwys at the National Eisteddfod at Aberpennar (Mountain Ash) on 6 August 1947 Princess Elizabeth and Archdruid William Williams Crwys.

In fact, the poem is well loved by Cymry Cymraeg … and came 21st in a BBC Wales online poll of Welsh-speakers’ favourite poems in 2003.   I soon tracked the text down:

Melin Trefin

Nid yw’r Felin heno’n malu
Yn Nhrefin ym min y môr,
Trodd y merlyn olaf adref
Dan ei bwn o drothwy’r ddôr,
Ac mae’r rhod fu gynt yn chwyrnu
Ac yn rhygnu drwy y fro,
Er pan farw’r hen felinydd
Wedi rhoi ei holaf dro.

Rhed y ffrwd garedig eto
Gyda thalcen noeth y ty,
Ond ddaw ned i’r fal ai farlys,
A’r hen olwyn fawr ni thry,
Lle doi gwenith gwyn Llanrhiain
Derfyn haf yn llwythi cras,
Ni cheir mwy on tres o wymon
Gydag ambell frwynen las.

Segur faen sy’n gwylio’r fangre
Yn y curlaw mawr a’r gwynt,
Di-lythyren garreg goffa
O’r amseroedd difyr gynt,
Ond’ does yma neb yn malu,
Namyn amser swrth a’r hin
Wrthi’n chwalu ac yn malu,
Malu’r felin yn Nhrefin.

Here is my translation – aiming more to be faithful to the Cymraeg than to be a poetic rendering:

Trefin Mill

The mill is not grinding tonight
in Trefin at the edge of the sea.
The last pony, from beneath its burden,
turned from the threshold towards home
and the wheel that used to rumble
and grumble through the area
has, since the old miller died,
made its last turn.

The kindly stream still runs on
past the bare forehead of the house
but it no longer comes to mill the barley
and the big old wheel won’t turn again.
Where the wheat of Llanrhiain
lay at summer’s end
now there’s only a trace of seaweed
and a few green reeds.

The stone at rest that watches the place
in the thrashing rain and the wind
is a letterless memorial
to the jollity of former times.
Nobody is milling here now.
It is a time of dereliction
– the grinding down
of the mill at Trefin.

Notes:

It’s virtually impossible to render the musicality of the Welsh, with all the alliteration and rhyme … the cynghanedd or chiming harmonies for which poetry in Cymraeg is justly famous.

The phrase “mynd am dro” – literally to go for a turn, is the common idiomatic way of saying “to go for a walk”. So the Welsh for a wheel turning for the last time carries in it the idea of the miller making his last turn too ie going for his last walk, or even giving his last performance (as we call an act on stage a “turn”).

Thus the mill and the miller are one unit, and hence their fate is linked, and hence the mill personifies the miller. So, when the miller does his final “turn” so does the millwheel – and so does the pony that turns the grindstone. Pony and man slough off their “burden” and “go home”.

The millstream that powered the wheel is also personified. It is “kindly” – suggesting the miller was too. (I hesitated to use the word “grumbled” in association with the sound of the turning millwheel, because it was clearly out of character with the miller, but the Welsh has two chiming, onomatopoeic words and I needed something similar to accompany “rumbled”).

While the “kindly stream” no longer visits the mill (the millrace presumably dries up), the (main) stream still passes the “bare forehead” of the (mill)house … again allying building to miller and vice versa.

In the final stanza, there is a feeling that the mill begins to tumble down, on the death of the miller – to fall into ruin even as the miller’s remains are consigned to the earth. Grain is no longer being ground down; body and building are being broken down now.

The millstone bears no inscription but acts as a gravestone for mill and miller, exposed to the elements – the wind and the thrashing rain). As a translator, I was pleased to come up with a word to describe the rain beating down that sounds so much like “threshing”.

Alas, the closest I can come to emulating the cynghanedd is in the proximity of “letterless” and “jollity” with their repeated t and l sounds. Saying those two words with a lilting Welsh accent that gives a long stress to the first syllable, provides some impression of the satisfying effect a poet can achieve with the cynghanedd.

I found the exercise very enjoyable. Thanks Chris!