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The Year of the Poet

Published 18 December 2017 - By Literature Wales
© Rhys Llwyd

It is just over a year since Ifor ap Glyn was announced as National Poet of Wales, following in the footsteps of Gillian Clarke who held the position from 2008-2016. On Wednesday 2 August, S4C will broadcast Ifor ap Glyn: Blwyddyn y Bardd – a documentary featuring just some of the highlights from Ifor’s first year as National Poet. 

The role of National Poet of Wales was established by Literature Wales in 2005. In May 2016 Ifor ap Glyn became the fourth poet to hold the position, following in the footsteps of Gwyneth Lewis, the late Gwyn Thomas and Gillian Clarke. The National Poet of Wales is a cultural ambassador role which honours some of the most innovative and highly regarded writers. The National Poet represents the best writing from Wales on the national and international stage, leading campaigns within Wales and appearing at events and festivals worldwide to raise the profile of writing and writers from Wales. They will also write poems in response to national events but has the freedom to choose their own subjects too.

This cross section of themes and inspiration will be seen in the programme Ifor ap Glyn: Blwyddyn y Bardd, as Ifor travels from the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye to the Durga Puja Festival Bengali near Caerphilly. The programme follows Ifor from the foot of Big Ben in London, his birth city, to the cosy ‘Alex’ pub near his present home in Caernarfon. Many of the poems composed during his first year in the role will be presented in the documentary.

Ifor, who is also a producer and director of television company Cwmni Da in Caernarfon, said: “It’s been an interesting year and I’m glad that the muse hasn’t run dry – that was one of my biggest fears before accepting the post – ‘what if I can’t think of anything to say?”

“But of course there are some topics that are easier than others to write about. One of the hardest was ‘Llythyr Mamgu‘ that was commissioned to mark the Aberfan disaster.”

Ifor was five years old when the disaster happened and his main memory of the event was seeing his mother crying in front of the TV and not being able to understand what was wrong. Although half a century has passed since then, he is aware of how difficult it is to discuss Aberfan to this day: “I owe much of what I wrote to the experiences of those who were there – especially to the author of ‘Aberfan’ Gaynor Madgwick, who shared her own painful memories and those of others, with respect and sensitivity,”

One of the highlights from Ifor’s first year as National Poet was when his poem ‘Terasau‘ was projected on to Big Ben in London on Remembrance Sunday. The poem was inspired by a visit to the military cemeteries of the Somme, which resulted in the four national poets of Britain being asked to write a poem to remember those killed in the war.

For Ifor this was a touching occasion on many levels:

“Seeing my mother tongue in such a prominent place in the city where I grew up was a very special moment. And I like to think this was an acknowledgement not only for the Welsh language, but also to the hundreds and thousands of us across the UK who have grown up with a language other than English as their mother tongue,”

Ifor has been writing in the Welsh language during his period as National Poet of Wales but is keen to promote relations with all parts of Wales and with poets from other cultures. During the programme, he will meet with the Chinese poet Yang Lian and they will be translating each other’s work. He also visits Brussels to remember Hedd Wyn, and nearer home, Blackwood to take part in the Velvet Coalmine Festival, and to discuss translation with the local poet clare e. potter. Clare has translated several of Ifor’s poems into English.

But his ‘normal’ life as a poet continues alongside his national duties, and we see him with his friends from ‘Talwrn Caernarfon’ discussing ideas in the pub for the next round of the popular radio poetry contest ‘Talwrn y Beirdd’ as they prepare to compete against the Llew Du team from Aberystwyth.

“I am delighted that Literature Wales has asked me to take on the role, it has enabled several opportunities to raise the profile of Welsh beyond Offa’s Dyke – but it is equally important to extend the boundaries of our poetry and promoting Welsh back home. I’m really enjoying the work – even when deadlines are pressing!”

To find out more about the National Poet of Wales project and to read some of Ifor’s commissioned poems, click here.

 

Ifor ap Glyn: Blwyddyn y Bardd
Wednesday 2 August, 9.30 pm, S4C   

English and Welsh subtitles available
Available to watch on demand at s4c.cymru, BBC iPlayer and other platforms
A Cwmni Da production for S4C