A Round-up of 2021 …  or Poetry, in Spite of Everything

Continuing ‘a mission, against the odds’ might sound like an over-statement in the context of writing poetry, publishing and getting published, during a pandemic, but for many writers and publishers, it has been nothing short of heroic. Vanishing opportunities for meeting with kindred spirits, performing work and maintaining a ‘platform’ have, of course, been mitigated by the ‘mushrooming of Zoom’ – thanks to which, poetry readings, ‘open-mic’ opportunities, workshopping, mentoring and book launches have all continued to happen. These have in many cases provided national and international ‘stages’ in contrast to the pre-pandemic local poetry venues many poets loyally attended every month. Poetry podcasts, streamed events and spots on digital radio have also been growth areas. 

All very positive, but perhaps the bigger impact of the pandemic on the ‘poetry mission’ has been ‘mindset’ rather than ‘opportunity’. The lockdowns, with the isolation and loneliness for many, had a depressing impact for some, reducing productivity and the inclination to do anything other than slump. Mercifully, I have not spent the last eighteen months alone, as some fellow writers … the heroes amongst us … have done. I don’t know how I would have fared without Mr. L. Thank you, my love.  

Post-lockdown, justifiable caution of face-to-face events continued for the more vulnerable poets among us, and for all of us, socialising in-person, after so long, was met with mixed emotions … pleasure and anxiety, to greater or lesser degrees. Let’s hope 2022 will be better for us all.

Looking back at previous end-of-year reviews, it is clear that my productivity was lower in 2021 than in preceding years – even lower than in 2020, when we had stricter lockdowns, and more fear and uncertainty generally.  However, there have been a lot of ‘poetry things’ to be thankful for in 2021 … and a lot of ‘poetry people’ to thank …

Dualities in 2021

First of all, a big thank you to Mark Davidson of Hedgehog Poetry Press for including my collection, ‘Dualities’ (published in late 2020) in the bumper Hedgehog Poetry ‘goodie box’ sent out to subscribers in the first quarter of 2021. I was thrilled that my book was in such great company, along with Dawn Gorman’s & Rosie Jackson’s ‘Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird’, Margaret Royall’s ‘Where Flora Sings’, Gaynor Kane’s & Karen Mooney’s ‘Penned In’, Patricia M Osborne’s ‘The Montefiore Bride’, Darren J Beaney’s ‘Honeydew’, Adele Cordner’s ’The Kitchen Sink Chronicles’, Damien B Donnelly’s ‘Considering Canvases With Boys’, and Jenna Please’s ‘The Underside of Things’.  

Next, I am indebted to Nigel Kent for the generous review of Dualities on his website in April 2021. This was preceded by an invitation for me to submit one of the poems in the book for Nigel’s ‘Drop-in’ feature. The two links are here:

I was very encouraged by comments received in 2021 from a former colleague who, having recently read Dualities, wrote: ‘Thoroughly enjoyed it. Some gorgeous imagery, delightful turns of phrase and the occasional construct I simply didn’t understand – which adds to the enjoyment. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing your talent!’ I was delighted that the imagery, turns of phrase … and the puzzles too … pleased this particular reader, whose judgement I very much respect.

Copies of ‘Dualities’ can be purchased from Hedgehog Poetry Press: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product-category/for-sale/hoglets/sharon-larkin/
or from my website https://sharonlarkinjones.com/shop

Poems in Magazines/e-zines and Anthologies

The year started well with Ink Sweat and Tears, taking my poem ‘Post-operative’ in January, thanks to the wonderful Helen Ivory. 

I wrote the poem ‘At the Foot of the Tree’ for Good Friday 2021, at the invitation of Elim Church, Cheltenham. Thanks to Bean Baker for creating the poetry film, with music, and uploading it to You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi3OUOR8LP8&t=38s and thanks to all the lovely feedback, especially from Sandra Kemp and Sheila Hurst in Cheltenham … and Elaine and Carri in Arizona!

Thanks to Visual Verse for taking three of my poems, in April, June and September 2021.

I was grateful to Veronica Aaronson for taking two of my poems for her anthology ‘Despite Knowing’ in support of a charity providing counselling for those in recovery from addictions. 

It had long been an ambition of mine to print-publish an anthology of poems celebrating fathers and fatherhood (see Good Dadhood, below). Now, thanks to Aurélien Thomas, I can let that ambition lapse because in 2021 he selected and edited  ‘To Dads – with Love’, illustrated/designed by JinQue RD and published by Ayo Gutierrez. I’m glad that some of my ‘Dad poems’ are in the book, along with poems by poet-friends Angela France, Michael Newman, Catherine Baker, Christine Griffin and Frances March … and many other poets, worldwide. I was pleased to be invited by Aurélien Thomas to write the foreword for the book. The resulting volume is a handsome one … available from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dads-Love-Aurelien-Thomas/dp/B096TN7NN7

I’m always pleased when my love of poetry and love of Wales and Welsh coalesce. Thanks to photographer Ieuan Morris for including part of a translation I did of the poem ‘Melin Trefin’ by William Williams Crwys in Ieaun’s splendid book ‘Photographing Pembrokeshire’ (published, September 2021) and thank you to Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest for supplying me with a signed copy of the book. Copies are available from the publisher y Lolfa https://www.ylolfa.com/products/9781784617547/photographing-pembrokeshire as well as Amazon.

Another Welsh opportunity came in September when I  was contacted by Ennyn, a community interest company based in Ceredigion, delivering bilingual educational art workshops in schools and communities. They commissioned a folk singer, Owen Shiers, to compose and sing a sung version of the poem ‘Y Border Bach’, another poem by William Williams Crwys, which I have translated and which Ennyn found on my website https://sharonlarkinjones.com/…/another-crwys-poem…/.  My translation is to appear on the Ennyn website, alongside a recording of the song. 

I’m hopeful that one of my poems shortlisted for Hedgehog Poetry’s  ‘Looking Out, Peering In’ competition, will be included in the anthology at some stage.

Readings given … and in prospect

February brought my first opportunity to read in 2021, thanks to Veronica Aaronson who invited my to share poems in two 10 minute slots, along with Frances Corkey-Thompson, at Poetry Teignmouth at the Mill, via Zoom, on 23 February. There was a lovely audience on-line, with wonderful sets from Frances and an excellent ‘open mic’. A big thank you to Veronica for making it all happen, expertly organizing and sensitively hosting such a welcome opportunity for poets to present their work to an audience during the lockdown. The first and last poems I read were the first and last in my Dualities – Two Old Sticks and Firewords – seemed to go down best at the event. And one of the additional benefits of Zoom is that comments in chat are quick to copy before shut-down, so that responses to individual poems can be captured … valuable feedback!

I was again grateful to Veronica Aaronson for including me in the zoom launch event for the anthology’ Despite Knowing’ (see above) which took place in October. I was glad to read one of my poems from the book, in excellent company alongside a large contingent of contributing poets, including poet-friends Stella Wulf, Marc Woodward, Oz Hardwick, Vivienne Tregenza, Rachael Clyne, Kevin Reid, Hannah Stone and Jenny Robb. 

Now I am looking forward to attending a live launch event for ‘Despite Knowing’ at the Pavilions in Teignmouth in May 2022, Covid permitting. Thanks again to Veronica Aaronson for this invitation.


Another opportunity to share a poem or two on Zoom came thanks to Josephine Lay, at a reading for International Women’s Day on 8 March, joining with 17 other women poets, sharing one of our own poems, and one by another poet. I was pleased to share one by Christina Thatcher, whose work I very much enjoy. 

Two opportunities came to read on The Poetry Place, West Wilts Radio, thanks to Dawn Gorman. The first of these was an ‘open mic’ opportunity in August, when I shared three short poems on the programme at which Penelope Shuttle and June Hall were the guest poets. The second, exciting, opportunity came in November when I was a guest poem on The Poetry Place with David Cooke, with another great band of poets at the ‘open mic’. Thanks again to Dawn Gorman for The – wonderful – Poetry Place on West Wilts Radio


Publishing

I opened the Good Dadhood on-line poetry project for submissions on 1 April, publishing poems at the rate of twice a week until Father’s Day in mid-June, I’m proud of what Good Dadhood has become over its three ‘editions’ (2017, 2020. 2021) and the response from poets has been uplifting … in terms of the quantity and quality of poems submitted, often accompanied by photographs of or with Dads. It has been so good to have an opportunity to celebrate fathers and fatherhood in this way. You can read the poems and see the photos here: https://wordpress.com/home/gooddadhood.com  Thanks to the following poets for their contributions in 2021: Angie Holden, Sarah J Bryson, Suzanne Iuppa and Val Ormrod, Mark Connors, Ben Banyard, Zoë Siobhan Howarth-Lowe, Helen Kay, David Callin, Rodney Wood, Neil Elder, Janet Dean, Hannah Mackay, Carmina Masoliver, Hilary Robinson, Maggie Mackay,Kate Jenkinson, Finola Scott,George Colkitto, Catherine Baker,Peter Raynard, Rachael Clyne, Tom Kelly, Susan Castillo, Greg Freeman, Louise Warren, Jenni Wyn Hyatt.

My biggest publication project of the year came in the last quarter of 2021, with ‘Inspired by Music’, a new anthology from Cheltenham Poetry Society and Gloucestershire Stanza, which I  published through Eithon Bridge Publications in November.  Produced in just 12 weeks from the submission deadline to collecting the books from the printer, the anthology features 57 poems by 17 poets, with 25 carefully selected images to accompany the words. It was good to gather together with a dozen of the contributing poets at Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham in early December, to collect copies, catch-up, and have an outdoor Covid-safe celebratory coffee together. Thanks to all the poets: Kathryn Alderman, David Ashbee, Catherine Baker, Annie Ellis, David Gale, Gill Garrett, Robin Gilbert, Chris Hemingway, Sharon Larkin, Iris Anne Lewis, Michael Newman, Stuart Nunn, Gillian Ridley-Wells, Belinda Rimmer, Sheila Spence, Roger Turner, Judith van Dijkhuizen; an especial thanks to Roger Turner for co-selecting/co-editing and to Stroudprint for first-rate printing services. Thanks to Mr L who helped enormously with proof-reading. Thanks to Oz Hardwick, Mark Connors and Mark Blayney for providing endorsements for the book. Further information and ordering info are here: https://eithonbridge.com/anthologies/

We still haven’t officially launched ‘Inspired by Music’ … or, indeed. our previous anthology ‘Poetry from Gloucestershire’, the launch for which had to be cancelled in early 2020 because of the pandemic.  I hope we will have opportunities to read from both books during the coming year.  We are open to offers!

Workshops attended

Thanks for Mark Connors (again) and Gill Lambert for their great Wednesday Wordship workshops on Zoom which I joined in the last quarter of 2021. 

And thanks to Angela France for her excellent workshops I attended while they were on Zoom in 2021 with other members of the Women Aloud group: Penny Howarth, Judith van Dijkhuizen, Frankie March, Gill Garrett, Christine Griffin and Catherine Baker. 

Thanks to so many poets for their poetry friendship, especially local friends Belinda Rimmer, Catherine Baker and Gill Wyatt.

Looking ahead

Thanks to Sarah L Dixon for the invitation to be part of her Quiet Compere event in August 2022, 

and, again, thanks to Veronica Aaronson for the possibility of reading a poem at the live launch of ‘Despite Knowing’ in Teignmouth in May.  

As ever, I am open to other reading opportunities!

Y Border Bach – Another Crwys Poem Translated

 

A few years ago, I was approached by fellow poet Chris Hemingway about a poem by William Williams Crwys  that he had found on an information board at a ruined mill at Trefin in Pembrokeshire,  I translated the poem here  and several interesting spin-offs happened subsequently, including my trip to Trefin, visit to the mill and chapel, having my translation of Melin Trefin included in a tapestry at the chapel and a magazine, and being contacted by a descendant of Crwys, resident in the southern hemisphere, and consequently locating out-of-print books containing further poems by this well-loved Welsh poet.

It’s funny how these out-of-the-blue events develop a life of their own, and all seem to connect up in some mysterious way.

A few days ago, in early August  2020, I was contacted by someone whose father, soon to be celebrating his 90 birthday, has an interest in another poem by Crwys – Y Border Bach.  I quickly located the text … and not so quickly … attempted a translation.

As with all translations of poetry, a literal rendition of the original language sacrifices the poetic language of the original. Rhymes, assonance, alliteration and …. in translating Welsh specifically, cynghanedd … are inevitably lost. However, if one strives towards preserving these elements in any translation, liberties have to be taken with the meaning, and the poet’s apparent intent. Compromise is therefore necessary.

I have made some decisions which stray a little from a literal translation in order to achieve a ‘feel’ for the original intent, as I perceive it. I believe Crwys wished the simplicity of the modest flower border in this poem to ‘stand for’ Wales, and Mam – the central figure, and ‘planter of the plant’ in any Welsh home – along with her neighbours, to represent the people of Wales.  ‘Plant’ is the Welsh word for ‘children’.

With such a reading, it is possible to infer something about the showier blooms in the mansion gardens, and their ‘pedigrees’, as well as seeing the dandelion colonising the garden – as an upstart interloper.

As Crwys was a minister of religion as well as a poet – or rather a bard and an eisteddfodwr – other assumptions can be made.  Particularly, the Old Man referred to in the poem, as well as being the common name for a specific garden plant, is more than likely a reference to God … especially as this ‘Sage’ is seen as standing over and caring for the other ‘plants’ in the border  … ie the people of Cymru, and the speakers of the Iaith y Nefoedd (the ‘language of Heaven’).

As a lover of simple wild flowers rather than brightly coloured, highly bred garden flowers, I can relate to this poem. My Welsh father was of similar mind … “y pethau bychain” … the little things … were important to him, as was his garden, and always a preference for the unpretentious.

Here is the poem, followed by the translation. While I have learnt Welsh to an advanced level as an adult, I am, naturally and in all humility as a non-native speaker of Cymraeg, open to correction,  So if Welsh is your mamiaith, please do comment in kindly manner if you detect error in my translation, or misinterpretation of the sense and intent of the poet.  Thank you.

 

Y Border Bach

 

Gydag ymyl troetffordd gul
A rannai’r ardd yn ddwy,
‘Roedd gan fy mam ei border bach
O flodau perta’r plwy.

Gwreiddyn bach gan hwn a hon
Yn awr ac yn y man,
Fel yna’n ddigon syml y daeth
Yr Eden fach i’w rhan.

A, rywfodd, byddai lwc bob tro,
Ni wn i ddim paham,
Ond taerai ‘nhad na fethodd dim
A blannodd llaw fy mam.

Blodau syml pobol dlawd
Oeddynt, bron bob un,
A’r llysiau gwyrthiol berchid am
Eu lles yn fwy na’u llun.

Dacw nhw: y lili fach,
Mint a theim a mwsg,
Y safri fach a’r lafant pêr,
A llwyn o focs ynghwsg;

Dwy neu dair brlallen ffel,
A daffodil, bid siŵr,
A’r cyfan yn y border bach
Yng ngofal rhyw ‘hen ŵr’.

Dyna nhw’r gwerinaidd lu,
Heb un yn gwadu’i ach,
A gwelais wenyn gerddi’r plas
Ym mlodau’r border bach.

O bellter byd ‘rwy’n dod o hyd
I’w gweld dan haul a gwlith,
A briw i’m bron fu cael pwy ddydd
Heb gennad yn eu plith.

Hen estron gwyllt o ‘ddant y llew’,
A dirmyg lond ei wên.
Sut gwyddai’r hen doseddwr hy
Fod Mam yn mynd yn hen?

               gan William Williams Crwys

 

Translation:

The Small Border

 

Along the edge of a narrow path
that divided the garden in two
my mother had her little border,­
the prettiest flowers of the parish.

A little root of this and that,
here and there, now and again
and, in this way, a little Eden
came quite simply into being

somehow, by chance, every time.
I don’t know how, but Dad always
swore that nothing ever failed
when planted by the hand of Mam.

Yes, almost all the plants were
simple flowers of poor people
and miraculous vegetables, notable
for goodness rather than appearance.

Among them were snowdrops,
mint and thyme and moschatel,
winter savory, sweet lavender,
and a vigorous bush of box.

Two or three primroses
and daffodils were sure to be
– all the plants of the small border
in the care of some ‘old man’.

They were a host of common folk.
None of them in that small border
could claim the pedigrees of those
blooming in the mansion’s gardens.

With a stab to the chest one day,
I came across an old alien, wild,
without precedent in the border –
a dandelion blown in from a distance,

smiling an insolent smile
in sun and dew, and­ I wondered
how that old coloniser knew
that Mam was growing old.

Notes:

  • Moschatel is Adoxa moschatellina, also known as muskroot or townhall clock.
  • Old man is a common name for Artemisia abrotanum, also known as sagewood.

    ………….
    Translated from the Welsh by Sharon Larkin, 3-5 August 2020