May 15, 2006

Abstract for a Paper for an Anthology entitled The Politics of British Literary Collections

Creating a Canon of Welsh-Language Poetry: Problems of Translation, Gender and Welsh Dissent

Welsh Map

This paper focuses on The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry , edited by Menna Elfyn and John Rowlands. The anthology features twentieth century Welsh–language poetry in translation and I focus on the decisions made by the editors to create a poetic canon for Wales. The paper questions whether Wales’ literary and cultural identity is anchored by this anthology or if it is divisive in its creation of a ghetto for ‘Welsh–language’ literature. I explore the case of Twm Morys who refused inclusion stating that if non–Welsh speaking readers wish to ‘join in, well they can bloody well learn the language’. In comparison to Morys’ view, I study the editors’ focus on communicating with an international audience.

Translation is a key issue in this anthology and I discuss the editors’ inclusion of contemporary Welsh–language and Anglo–Welsh poets as translators. I question whether a cohesive community of writers is being represented in this editorial decision. The methods of translation are analysed with reference to key poems such as T.H. Parry William’s ‘Hon’ and Gwenallt’s ‘Rhydcymerau’ and I discuss the significance of the editors’ decision not to incorporate the Welsh originals alongside the translations.

Finally, I focus on the editors’ choice of poets in relation to gender. I study specific poems that subvert the Welsh patriarchal tradition; Elin Llwyd–Morgan’s ‘Jezebel’ is discussed in relation to Welsh male poets’ anxiety about the female. I assess the anthology’s representation of male and female poets and I argue that the high proportion of male poets over their female counterparts is yet another divisive factor to exacerbate the tensions in Welsh literature. The oppositions of Welsh versus English, Anglo–Welsh versus Welsh–language and male versus female all inhabit this anthology in pervading forms.

Problems to tackle here
1. Issues concerning linguistic purity.
2. The choice of translators as constructing a group or network of writers that are committed to maintaining the Welsh language.
3. The problem of gender and the role of the 'Welshman'.
4. Outward looking or introspective practices?

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