Welsh Poetry Walks the Met Gala Red Carpet

Published Tue 7 May 2024 - By Literature Wales
Welsh Poetry Walks the Met Gala Red Carpet

An excerpt from Alex Wharton’s poem, ‘The Gardener’, was part of the fashion world’s biggest, most glamorous night out, as it walked the Met Gala Red Carpet courtesy of Lewis Hamilton’s custom Burberry garments.

The Met Gala is an annual fundraising event held for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. This year’s theme was ‘The Garden of Time’, and Hamilton’s look was inspired by John Ystumllyn, an 18th century gardener. He is the first Black person in North Wales whose life was well recorded.

Not much is known about his early life, but it is thought that he was a victim of the Atlantic Slave Trade – abducted from his home as a child, and taken to the Wynn family’s Ystumllyn Estate in Criccieth, North Wales. According to the Cadw website: “Here he was taught English and Welsh, and learned horticulture, showing great talent in the estate gardens.

He began a romance with, and finally eloped with and married, the local maid Margaret Gruffydd with whom he had seven children. They continued to work on estates in and around the area eventually being given a cottage and garden in recognition of service.”

In 2021, John Ystumllyn was honoured with a rose named after him by the Harkness Rose Company, and during this year’s Met Gala, this important figure in Black history was once again under the spotlight.

On Hamilton’s social media, he said he was “inspired by the legacy of John Ystumllyn and the beauty of his work”. Hamilton brought his inspiration to his stylist, Eric McNeal, and Burberry’s creative director, Daniel Lee, who went on to create the ensemble. Hamilton’s look included an embroidered jacket, and sticked onto its lining is an excerpt of Alex Wharton’s poem, ‘The Gardener’.

‘The Gardener’ was written as part of Cadw’s Creative Responses project. Literature Wales supported this project by collaborating to commission Alex Wharton to research and write about a number of notable Black individuals. Using poetry, song, and film, Alex has conveyed the stories of prominent figures in the world of entertainment, sport and academia. He has created tributes to people including Iris de Freitas, Clive Sullivan and Betty Campbell.

The project was devised in response to a report by the Welsh Government which found that the commemoration of black individuals and an official, civic celebration of their place in Welsh history is negligible. The creative work that Alex Wharton has composed shines a light on some of the fascinating stories of Black and Ethnic Minority people and their lives in Wales.

Alex Wharton is an award-winning writer and performer of poetry for adults and children. He is the current Children’s Laureate Wales, and will be in post until 2025, travelling across Wales with the aim of inspiring and empowering children and young people through literature.

Alex Wharton said: “I’m so grateful to Sir Lewis Hamilton for sharing my words at the Met Gala yesterday evening, and the beautiful story of John Ystumllyn. I think Sir Lewis Hamilton looked impeccable! Such a royal and rich aesthetic, with a natural, artful and historical twist. It’s a wonderful celebration!

It’s a spiritual connection, how stories find us. I was thrilled to learn my poem resonated and further inspired the design team and Lewis Hamilton personally. A huge honour. Diolch yn fawr.”