All 64 entries tagged Wales

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June 01, 2011

Being an Immigrant During World War Two

Wars are not only fought along battlelines, but also at home. And while cultural and political tensions are played out on the field of war, they also show themselves in the towns and cities that soldiers are fighting to protect.

One sad story of the home front was told to me by my Welsh grandmother, Norma Roach. it told the tale a family of Italian immigrants, who during World War Two, lived in Maesteg, a small coal town in South Wales. Italians from the Apennine Mountains migrated to the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and many of them settled in Wales. The Welsh Valley people became used to Italian cafés and ice-cream parlours.

One such Italian family was the Bellis, who set up an Italian café in Maesteg, the town where my Welsh family lived for hundreds of years. They were well liked in town, but during World War Two, a policy of internment was brought in for immigrants from Italy, Germany and other enemy countries. After Mussolini declared war in 1940, the British government saw Italian immigrants as enemy aiens and potential spies. To control this unknown quantity, the government decided to send these immigrants to Canada where they could do less harm.

This meant, however, breaking up families. The older Bellis who were Italian citizens were rounded up and put on a boat to Canada – the SS Arandora Star, while members of the Belli family who were born in Wales had to stay behind.

The ironic thing was that the Bellis journeying to Canada on the Arandora Star never completed their journey. It was sunk in the Atlantic by a German submarine. There were over 1200 German and Italian internees on board, and over 800 people died including the Bellis.


Leadership Underground: My Grandfather's Story

Writing about web page http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story

[This entry originally appeared on Red Room: http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story]

When I think about leadership, I will always remember family stories told to me about my Welsh grandfather. Graham Roach was a miner who worked his way up to be the pit’s safety officer, a job which often involved dealing with painful and disfiguring injuries. People are often aware of mining disasters, but often, they are not so conscious of the accidents that happen regularly, every week even. How, for example, my grandfather watched a slice of stone fall down and cut off the four fingers of a man who had been resting his hand on the seam. The stories of these eponymous accidents and how my grandfather dealt with them, were passed along the family grapevine. My grandfather told my uncle who in turn told my mother who in turn told me.

One famous story tells how my grandfather himself was injured. The night was when a conveyor belt snapped and wrapped itself round the leg of my grandfather and another man.

The first man was screaming: ‘For the love of God, get it off me, boys.’

My grandfather, never one to waste words, simply said: ‘Me too, boys.’

He was always a man of few words, and the story made us all laugh, even though it meant hours of agony for my grandfather. The first man was weeping and wailing and calling out for a doctor. My grandfather simply repeated: ‘Me too.’

On another shift, my grandfather was underground when the mine flooded. Down one tunnel, some of the machinery had been swallowed up by the water. At the end of the tunnel was a long black pool. Taking off his boots, my grandfather readied himself. Now he dived into the water-filled shaft meeting the water’s cold slap. He dived down feeling his way along the side of the shaft in the dark. His hand blundered on something metallic and sharp. He came up with the drill and worked all night in his wet clothes.

It doesn’t surprise me that during World War Two, my grandfather had one of the most dangerous jobs in the airforce as a rear gunner. In the airforce and in his job at the mine, he always seemed to be the one to take on the difficult task, the thing that no one else wanted to do. He is altogether the kind of leader that I admire. Not a showy or conspicuous man, but nevertheless a man who knows how to act in a crisis. A man who doesn’t make a fuss when something goes wrong, but simply waits in silence for help to come. A man who does unpleasant tasks, not relishing them, but knowing that they have to be done and that he must lead by example.

My grandfather: Graham Roach

March 01, 2011

Happy St David's Day!

Happy St David’s Day! St David’s in Pembrokeshire, West Wales is one of my favourite places in the world, and I’m thinking of it today when I am so far away across the Atlantic.

St David

January 12, 2011

Unravelling the title poem of The Secret.

Some students at Cardiff High School are currently reading my first collection The Secret and their teacher, Samantha Williams, has asked me if I could talk a bit more about my use of intertextuality in the title poem of The Secret published in 2007.

...

The Secret

A peculiar symptom in those poisoned by Belladonna is the complete loss of voice.
— Medical Dictionary

Dyma’r Wyddfa a’i chriw; dyma lymder, a moelni’r tir.
They said: Why do you want to go to that place? There is nothing
to see. And I said: But I like its name. It means “snow” and “death”.
It has something to do with the colours of red and green. So,

they were talking about the war, the table still uncleared
in front of them. Centuries of hate divide the Severn channel
from the Welsh. Far away, dark before the shining exit gates,
some place was waiting, its features unrecognizable.

I was born in the place on a slope few see that falls westwardly
like the feel of a pulse in the dark when I stay up all night.
Its name – how impossible! A piece of grass on the tongue
kidneys slipped from silk or striding the night for speckled eggs.

_But me your work is not the best for–nor your love the best,
nor able to commend the kind of work for love’s sake._
I am a settler East of the River, but back I have come
wintering in a dark without window at the heart of the house.

...

‘The Secret’ was essentially a poem about Wales, based on T.H. Parry Williams’s poem ‘Hon’. ‘The Secret’ begins with a line from ‘Hon’ written in Cymraeg, the Welsh language; it personifies Mount Snowden (Yr Wyddfa), but compares the mountain’s power with the poverty and bareness of the land below. Parry Williams asks whether it matters that he was born in Wales. Isn’t it just accident or chance that causes one to be born in a particular place? Why does it matter? Why feel any affiliation to that place?

‘The Secret’ is not only an exploration of feelings about place, however. It’s also a manifesto that refers to a number of poets who were important for my poetics when I was writing this poem.

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Jon Ash
When I was writing this poem, I was very influenced by Jon Ash, an expatriate British poet and writer. Ash lives in Istanbul in Turkey, a city where I spent a formative summer as a student. He is a surreal, idiosyncratic and witty writer, and in ‘The Secret’, I refer to his book The Anatolikon, a book exploring place and history (see this review).

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Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is an American poet who tends to write about what it is to be black and female. When I was a teenager, she really influenced me, simply because she had such a powerful voice. She wasn’t passive but active, not meek but angry and defiant. In ‘The Secret’, I reference her poem ‘London’, in which she describes how

...


Centuries of hate divide St. George’s
channel and the Gaels

...

I remember liking the idea in this poem that the English channel is a site of contest between the English and their others: the foreigners in Europe. I related this idea to the Welsh and English and the Severn Channel between them, but I thought too, that for certain kinds of nationalists, it isn’t enough merely to be on the right side of the border. Just living near the border can make you suspect or not Welsh enough. Consequently, the Welsh are not only divided from the English but recoil from the border itself in ‘The Secret’.

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Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry is simply some of the most beautiful to ever have been translated into the English language. He was originally from Prague and he led a tumultuous life. Following the philosophies of the German dramatist Henrich von Kleist, Rilke believed that there were three ways of being in the world: superconsciousness (gods, angels, higher powers), having no sense of consciousness (e.g. inanimate objects, animals), or being self-conscious (human beings). Being self-conscious was the most difficult, according to Rilke, because it meant always having doubts and anxieties about one’s life.

In ‘The Secret’, I refer to Rilke’s poem ‘Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes’, which tells the story of Orpheus’s journey into the underworld to save his lost love Eurydice. You can read the story from Greek myth here if you don’t know it. The key moment of the story is when, in order for Eurydice to follow Orpheus out of the underworld, Orpheus is instructed that he must never look back. He has to trust that Eurydice is behind him following. Orpheus can’t resist the temptation to look back, however, and when he does, Eurydice disappears. In his version of the tale, Rilke lingers on this moment:

...


And when suddenly
the god stopped her and, with anguish in his cry,
uttered the words: ‘He has turned round’ –
she comprehended nothing and said softly: ‘Who?’

But far off, darkly before the bright exit,
stood someone or other, whose features
were unrecognisable. Who stood and saw
how on the strip of path between meadows,
with mournful look, the god of messages
turned, silently, to follow the figure
already walking back by that same path,
her steps confined by the long grave-cloths,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.

(Read the full poem at this link ).

...

I reference this moment in ‘The Secret’, but instead of a person being unreachable, a place is out of reach.

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Thomas Hardy
The novels and poetry of Thomas Hardy have been a huge influence on me. I studied The Return of the Native as a school student, and went on to read Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure, as well as Hardy’s poems. Hardy is wonderful at writing about losses and disappointments. He also gives place, landscape and nature a huge significance, so that the background of the heroes and heroines is like a character itself. ‘The Secret’ references his moving poem, ‘I Found Her Out There’:

...


I found her out there
On a slope few see,
That falls westwardly
To the salt-edged air,
Where the ocean breaks
On the purple strand,
And the hurricane shakes
The solid land.

...

The poem was written for Hardy’s wife, Emma, after she had died. It is a moving poem, which the place described again becomes a larger-than-life character witnessing the sombre reflections.

By referencing Hardy, I am admitting my indebtedness to him, but I am also identifying the narrator as one of Hardy’s women. In his novels, Hardy’s female characters (e.g. Tess, Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native, Bathsheba Everdine in Far from the Madding Crowd) are often temperamental, capricious, and emotional. The narrator of ‘The Secret’ is one of Hardy’s women speaking back.

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John Burnside
Burnside is a Scottish poet and novelist and I admire his work very much for its intricate description of place and feeling. I reference his poem ‘The Myth of the Twin’, in which he describes how, at night, he has the feeling that someone is awake in his grandfather’s house. The poem is dream-like and surreal like a waking nightmare, and he describes at one point ‘a feel of a pulse in the dark’: someone or something is out there in the darkness. I used this line to describe the narrator’s quest to discover home or place: a sense that something is there waiting if only she could find it.

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Marina Tsvetaeva
I have written about the Russian poet Tsvetaeva quite a bit on this blog (see here ), because I admire her work greatly. Tsvetaeva lived through some tumultuous times in Russia in the early twentieth century, but she produced some beautiful love poems including a favourite of mine: the sequence ‘Poem for Blok’, a tribute to the other great Russian poet, Alexander Blok. In the first poem of this sequence, Tsvetaeva tries to define Blok’s name using a display of startling images:

...


A bird in the hand is your name,
An icicle on the tongue is your name,
One movement of your lips is your name,
Five letters is your name.
A ball caught in the flight it is,
A silver tambourine between the lips,
(Read the full poem here at this link)

...

I similarly try to define the name of my home country.

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Gillian Clarke
The image of kidneys in ‘The Secret’ is a reference to the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. Clarke often writes about the harshness of farm life in Wales: the slaughtering of animals and the cycles of life. She has been a huge influence on my writing, simply because she writes so clearly and so powerfully about what it is to be a woman and Welsh.

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David Morley
David Morley was my tutor at Warwick University and supervised my PhD on Welsh women’s poetry. He is also an acute and sensitive observer of nature and place, and though he is a poet, he began life as a zoologist. The reference to searching for speckled eggs is from Morley’s poetry, especially the way that he negotiates the relationship between the life processes of nature and the needs of human beings.

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Elizabeth Barrett-Browning
During the period when I was writing this poem, I had been reading poems by the nineteenth-century English poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. The nineteenth century was by no means easy for women in terms of gaining the same opportunities as male writers, but there is some incredible poetry by women like Barett-Browning and Christina Rossetti.

‘The Secret’ refers to Barrett-Browning’s novel-in-verse, Aurora Leigh, which tells of the trials and tribulations of a young woman who wants to be a poet. A key moment is when Aurora rejects a marriage proposal from her suitor Romney; he wants her to give up her poetry and go with him to be a missionary. Aurora refuses and pities women who give up their work for love:

...


I do not blame such women, though, for love,
They pick much oakum; earth’s fanatics make
Too frequently heaven’s saints. But me your work
Is not the best for,-nor your love the best,
Nor able to commend the kind of work
For love’s sake merely. Ah, you force me, sir,
To be over-bold in speaking of myself,-
I, too, have my vocation,-work to do

(Read the full poem on Google Books )


...

-

Li Po
Referencing the Chinese “wandering poet” Li Po seemed important for this poem about seeking home and belonging. The line about being a settler east of the river refers to his poems, but it was also appropriate because at that time I was living east of the Severn in England.

-

Sylvia Plath
The final line is a reference to Plath’s poem ‘Wintering’ (read it here ).


December 17, 2010

The Blue Pearl

Photograph Credit: The Blue Pearl by Byron Edwards

The Blue Pearl, Maesteg

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Sometimes moments of clarity appear in the unlikeliest of places. The last time I was back in Wales, I spent as much time as I could with my grandparents in Maesteg. My grandparents have lived in the old coal town all their lives. My grandfather was the safety officer at the local mine, and my grandmother ran the sweet stall for many years in Maesteg Market. Their jobs tell you all you need to know. (My grandfather is the most careful and cautious man I have ever met, and my grandmother is all about the sweet indulgences of life, especially food – she used to be nicknamed Norma “Two Sweets” – sweet here meaning dessert.)

A great deal has been said in the tabloids about the Maesteg and Bridgend area, mainly because of the spate of teenage suicides that have occurred here in recent years. Many wild theories were touted to explain why this kept happening, but the truth is that when the mines closed in the 1980s, the livelihood of the coal towns disappeared and opportunities for young people have closed down considerably.

What the British media cannot understand, however, is the real communities at the heart of these towns. Yes, there is unemployment. Yes, there is desperation. Yes, the towns can be run down. But there is still a very strong community there.

Take for example, Bryony Gordon’s article for The Telegraph:

Under a sky that is an unappealing mix of muddy brown, tinged with grey, an old man treads carefully past the charity shops along Nolton Street, in the centre of Bridgend. A couple of gloomy-faced teenagers, in Reebok Classics and hooded tops, hang out in front of the cut-price fashion stores, but otherwise the place is deserted. It is 9am and a thick mist swathes parts of this small town on the edge of the South Wales valleys, reducing visibility to a few feet. It is a ghost town in more ways than you could imagine.


This is such overblown writing, and it paints a ridiculous picture of Bridgend. I have been to Bridgend hundreds of time, and while it is not a heaving metropolis, I have managed to avoid encountering the dangers of “smackheads” or “being knifed” as described by Gordon. It’s the same old story – people coming in from London and writing about Wales through the tint of their snobbery and incomprehension.

When I read Gordon’s article, I immediately thought of a beautiful moment of clarity had during my visit to Maesteg last September. Battling the rain on Maesteg high street, I suddenly came upon the Blue Pearl fish and chip shop, pouring out light onto the grey street. At that moment, it looked almost heavenly and I laughed to myself at how such a mundane moment could be so beautiful. The Blue Pearl has hardly changed at all in the many years that it’s been here. It’s seen the mines come and go, and it watches now as we drift into recession again.

December 08, 2010

Letter to Leighton Andrews about HEFCW Withdrawal of Funding for books on Welsh culture and in Cymra

Follow-up to Catastrophic Cuts to the University of Wales Press. from The Midnight Heart

Dear Leighton Andrews,

I am writing to you to express my concern at the HEFCW withdrawal of funding for University of Wales Press (UWP). The proposed changes which deny funding to books in the Welsh language and discussion of Welsh culture are, at best, misguided. I hope that you will read my reasons for thinking so and consider them carefully.

It is naïve to think that these kinds of projects can survive in the narrow world of academic publishing without support. The truth is that, if the funding is withdrawn, the books that would have been published by UWP will appear instead with lesser publishing houses, and fewer quality publications will mean less funding for Welsh academics. This is not to do with the projects’ merits, but, if we are honest, in the publishing houses beyond Wales, there is still a dubious suspicion that writing about Wales is too myopic, provincial or narrow to merit publication.

I hope that I do not have to convince you or HEFCW of why such writing is important and significant. Numerous Welsh critics and cultural commentators have described how the act of foregrounding and championing Welsh culture is a crucial task. I would emphasize too that though the readership of these books is limited, UWP is recognized internationally. I am currently living in the United States and imagine my pleasure when I found on the shelves of my local university library, Pennsylvania State, so many of the publications on Welsh writing in English produced by UWP: books like Katie Gramich’s Twentieth Century Women’s Writing in Wales, Diane Green’s Emyr Humphries, Harri Garod Roberts’ Embodying Identity and Matthew Jarvis’ Welsh Environments in Contemporary Poetry. These books and more are all here in the Penn State Library being read by American students and scholars, ordered by librarians who know that UWP though is funded, it produces quality.

I am a scholar of literature, as well as a poet, and, naturally, I write about Welsh literature. Although I studied at an English university for my BA, MA and PhD (Warwick University), I am from Wales originally and I always had a strong interest in writing about Welsh literature and culture. When I came to decide what topic to choose for my PhD thesis, groundbreaking works on Welsh writing in English published by University of Wales Press inspired me to write about poetry by women in Wales. Books like Stephen Knight’s One Hundred Years of Fiction and Kirsti Bohata’s Postcolonialism Revisited suggested to me as a young scholar that there was at least one publisher that appreciated accounts of Welsh writing. Had these books not existed, had this space for publication not been available, I am not sure that I would have spent three years and a PhD on a topic that would never be published. Considering today’s tough job market and the requirement for publishing work, it would not be a wise decision to write a PhD on Welsh culture at an English university—- that is if the changes that you propose go through.

This brings me to another point. Your plan is to pass on the funds that would have gone to the University of Wales Press to the universities in Wales to distribute where they see fit. This plan, however, makes some huge assumptions about who is producing academic commentaries on Welsh writing in English. I was a PhD student at Warwick University, where I had a funding package, and I now am affiliated to the University of Northampton. Someone like me will be excluded from publishing, because the funds available will be a closed shop with access only for those who have a job in Wales. Again, I would point out, that in the current job climate, it is unrealistic to imagine that every scholar working on Welsh culture will be able to find a job in Wales. I would add too that these funding arrangements are effectively excluding students and scholars who attend universities or find jobs outside Wales. This is the exact opposite of how things should be, because such students and scholars are taking the study of Welsh culture beyond the borders of Wales and emphasizing that Welsh culture is an object worthy of study in any university.

This will be the state of academics working on Welsh writing in English, but the cutting of funding for books in Cymraeg, the Welsh language, is just as bad, and it seems to break the very terms of HEFCW’s own Welsh language scheme. This scheme describes how HEFCW will “assess the linguistic consequences of any new or revised policies and initiatives when formulating them” and it explains that HEFCW will “ensure that new or revised policies and initiatives will promote and facilitate the use of Welsh wherever possible”.

I cannot tell you how short-sighted these cuts really are. As a possible future author of books that would normally be funded through this grant, it is true that my concern is personal. My objections, however, go beyond personal concerns. What you are effectively doing is putting books on Welsh writing in English in a ghetto, where the arbiters of quality research are university officials rather than experts in the field. Those students at an English university and those scholars who find jobs in scant supply in Wales will be excluded from producing quality monographs on Welsh writing in English. You are crushing the hopes of young scholars, and seriously damaging the study of Welsh literature as a serious topic equivalent to English literature. You have to ask the question, why would anyone be so foolhardy as to work in a research area where their enquiries would never be published?

I know that HEFCW only have the best interests of Welsh academia at heart and that this idea was probably supposed to improve that environment. I would, however, ask that you seriously consider the concerns of myself and other academics. There are serious implications to these cuts which can only be detrimental to Welsh scholarship. Please value the contributions that Welsh academics make to this area. The books may not make a huge amount of profit, they may not have as high a profile as some research, but they are fundamental to imagining a Welsh literature to challenge any on a world stage, to imagining a Welsh culture that is rich, multiple and vivid.

Please consider my views on this matter. I would be grateful if you would do me the courtesy of sharing this letter with the full HEFCW Council.

Sincerely,

Dr. Zoë Brigley Thompson

University of Northampton


Catastrophic Cuts to the University of Wales Press.

There has some awful news recently about the University of Wales Press, which is facing some detrimental cuts. Basically the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has announced that no longer will it fund publication in the Welsh language or about Welsh culture. This policy seems at best, a mistake, and at worst, racist.

Here is what the scholar Kirsti Bohata says about it:

Without a viable source of funding for academic publishing in Wales, ‘Welsh Studies’ – that is scholarship about Wales – and scholarship in the Welsh language will be in an untenable position. It will be unable to perform in the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) and unable to take its place on an international platform. In order to understand its culture, interrogate its past and build a meaningful future, Wales needs its researchers and teachers. Without a means to circulate research, scholarship and teaching will fade and die.

Welsh scholars, however, have set up a facebook group with information to protest against the cuts. Here is what it advises:


WRITE TO HEFCW AND THE WELSH ASSEMBLY
The key issues involved in this issue are outlined below and we hope that as many people as possible will call for a reversal of HEFCW’s decision.
We suggest that you write to the following (contact details are given at the end of this document).
• Mr Roger Thomas, Chair of HEFCW Council
• Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of HEFCW
• Leighton Andrews, Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Assembly Government
• Your constituency AM
• Your list AM
• Your MP
• A list of Council Members of HEFCW is given in a separate doc, do write to any you know personally.

We suggest that your letters to HEFCW ask that the full Council be shown your correspondence.

The group also lists issues of importance that you might find useful in writing your letter.

1. The grant money that used to go straight to the press will now be in the hands of university bureaucrats

The HEFCW Publications Grant has funded about 15 titles a year since 1999. It served (in HEFCW’s own words) “to boost research in Wales; to boost the standing of higher education and of higher education institutions in Wales; to fulfil the Council’s objectives in relation to Welsh language and culture, particularly in relation to scholarship in these areas” (from ‘Criteria for the use of the HEFCW Grant’). From now on, however, HEFCW proposes that these funds will be distributed to individual universities, which can then allocate funding for such publications “if they consider that publication of the kind hitherto supported by the HEFCW Publication Fund is an academic priority for them” (from HEFCW letter to UWP).

2. Why the new funding structure won’t work

In the short term, with the REF just around the corner, individual universities might allocate some funds towards Welsh publications. However, there seems little chance that this will be sustained. In the longer term, this money (which is not ringfenced) is likely to be used for other purposes. Welsh scholarship will be seriously damaged as a consequence.
bq. The new funding system replaces the block grant paid directly to UWP with a piecemeal system. This will leave UWP with considerably reduced editorial control, as it will increasingly have to make decisions based on funding attached to titles rather than on their intrinsic quality. This will undermine the planning and sustainability of key series.

Funds may not be allocated to the universities which are producing the best Welsh scholarship in any one year. Moreover, significant work in the field by scholars not based at Welsh universities will not be funded.

This is not to mention the fact that – shock horror – universities outside of Wales might have scholars who are writing about Welsh literature or even working in the Welsh language.

3. Why the withdrawal of direct grants to UWP is a disaster for Welsh scholarship

Welsh scholarship – both work in the Welsh language and work about Wales – will have no specialist University Press. As a result, very little scholarly research on Welsh subjects will be published.

Younger scholars, those based outside Wales and others not directly employed by universities wishing to invest in REF publications will not be able to publish crucial research.

A lack of research publications will be seen as a sign of academic weakness and will undermine scholarship in a diverse range of Welsh studies.

4. Why can’t UWP publish academic titles without a grant?

It is not economically viable. HEFCW recognises this under the new system when it suggests that individual Universities can provide publishing subsidies from the redistributed funds.

5. Why can’t academics publish elsewhere?

Publishers outside Wales tend to lack the interest or necessary expertise in Wales-related fields. As such, they are unlikely to accept Welsh-language material or books primarily exploring the history and culture of Wales.

These were the conditions which prompted the creation of the HEFCW grant in 1999 and the situation has not improved.

Contact Details

Mr Roger Thomas, Chair of HEFCW Council
Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of HEFCW
Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
Linden Court, Ilex Close
Llanishen,
Cardiff, CF14 5DZ

Leighton Andrews AM,
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff
CF99 1NA
Email: leighton.andrews@wales.gov.uk


November 11, 2010

Singing Isaiah: A Family Lullaby in Wales.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to sing to me a lullaby, which her mother (my Welsh grandmother) used to sing to her. The words went:


O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My Heav’n, my home forever more!

I never knew where the lullaby had come from, though I had an idea that it was something to do with the Irish immigrants in our family who came to South Wales at the end of the nineteenth century looking for work in the ironworks and the mines. My great-grandfather, my grandmother’s father, was Irish.

I was thinking about this lullaby the other day, and I was doing some research. To my surprise, I discovered that the lullaby was part of Isaiah 62.4, It just shows how ignorant I am of the Bible. I am not sure whether my mother and grandmother know this, but I will ask them when I next ring home.

When I read the full scripture though, what struck me was how beautiful it was, how right it was too for the Irish immigrants, even if that is not where the lullaby tradition in my family came from. It’s a little like hiraeth too, that longing for homes that have disappeared, friends who passed on and loved ones lost to us. Even as you read the lines (which I quote in full below), it is obvious that the joys described will only be experienced in restfulness and peace after death. I think I had a sense of this even as a child.


I’ve reached the land of corn and wine,
And all its riches freely mine;
Here shines undimmed one blissful day,
For all my night has passed away.

Refrain
O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My Heav’n, my home forever more!

A sweet perfume upon the breeze,
Is borne from ever vernal trees,
And flow’rs, that never fading grow
Where streams of life forever flow.

Refrain

The zephyrs seem to float to me,
Sweet sounds to Heaven’s melody,
As angels with the white robed throng
Join in the sweet redemption song.

Refrain


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This entry is also posted on Americymru: http://americymru.ning.com/profiles/blogs/singing-isaiah-a-family?xg_source=activity#ixzz150mWN1EB

April 10, 2010

A Note on Proest.

What is proest?

Proest is a technique used in Welsh poetry. It’s a kind of half-rhyme in which the end consonant is the same, but the vowel is different though of a similar length, for example the English word ‘cap’ makes a proest with the Cymraeg (Welsh) word twp ( meaning ‘stupid’). I take this example from Mererid Hopwood’s Singing in Chains: Listening to Welsh Verse, in which there is a longer explanation of proest.

(See: Mererid Hopwood, Singing in Chains: Listening to Welsh Verse (Llandysul, Carmarthenshire: Gomer, 2004), 67).

There’s more on this blog about Welsh poetry in the series of entries on “The Measures of Welsh Poetry”: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/entry/the_measures_of/ .


January 19, 2010

The American Diaries of Iorthryn Gwynedd: A Fascinating Discovery in Swansea University Library

Writing about web page http://voyager.swan.ac.uk/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=4676&recCount=10&recPointer=2&bibId=337344

Back in Wales over Christmas, I had a brief opportunity to have a look in Swansea University Library. I was searching for books on the Welsh in the United States and what I found that was of particular interest was a set of diaries written up by typewriter. The first page explains that they were completed on the ship ‘New World’ on the Atlantic Ocean , June 10th 1852.

Iorthryn Gwynedd

An introduction by Clare Taylor explains the significance of the diaries: ‘“Iorthryn Gwynedd”, the Rev R.D. Thomas, was to make other visits to America and to settle there, but this little diary of his first visit to America from 1851 to 1852, still remains a vivid travel account of a tour of Welsh settlements in the mid nineteenth century’ (1973: 1) Discovered among the papers of Samuel and John Roberts, the diary was translated from Cymraeg (Welsh) by a Mrs T.I. Ellis and typed by a Mrs. Gillian Glover.

The diary itself is very factual and includes all kinds of interesting material such as:
  • the wages of Welsh-American labourers,
  • the distances and fares of rail road journeys,
  • the exchange rates presented to immigrants at the New York exchange offices,
  • the value of American money in other currencies,
  • maps of towns and villages,
  • details of land “bought” from the Native Americans in Oregon for settlers (some among them Welsh),
  • a newspaper clipping about lows in temperature across the Eastern United States,
  • a note about tragic deaths in Brooklyn when a frozen river collapsed (1852),
  • and a letter from home included in the diary, a friend asks Iorthryn, ‘Why did you leave Wales to come to this barren country?’(!).

...

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