Wales / Cymru

Pentre Ifan cromlech in Newport (Trefdraeth), Pembrokeshire. Constructed around 5000 years ago.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

Cow on Coast Path.

Dylan Thomas’ grave, Laugharne.

This one is pretty apparent.

North Wales, near Beddgelert.

The road to Llandysul, early morning.

Welsh-pattern blankets at the National Wool Museum, Llandysul.

Sheep were here.

Climbing Carn Ingli—the Hill of Angels—in northern Pembrokeshire.

Big sky.

On top of Carn Ingli.

Ty Canol Woods, one of the only patches of primeval woodland in Britain.

Ffos y Ffyn, near Abereaeron.

Late sky, Ffos y Ffyn.

Wind-grown trees, Pembrokeshire coast.

Suicidal sheep, Rhossili Beach, Gower.

From the A487, between Aberaeron and Aberystwyth.

The view from Harlech Castle.

Harlech.

Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, on an evening bag at a shop in Aberystwyth.

Aberaeron Harbor.

Handsome sheep, Lampeter.

Nearing the top of Mt Snowdon.

The path from Llyn y Fan Fach, Brecon Beacons.

Carreg Cennan Castle.

Check out these living, breathing Welsh writers and poets. Menna Elfyn writes almost exclusively in Welsh, but her work is available in translation. The others write either in English or in both English and Welsh. Gwyneth Lewis, Wales’ first National Poet, translates herself.

 

Wales—better yet, Cymru; that’s its name in Welsh—needed its own page on my website. I’m not Welsh by birth or ancestry. I’m simply Welsh by choice.

I first went there to graduate school to study Word and Image theory on an MA program at St David’s University College—now the University of Wales, Trinity St David—in Lampeter, a small market town in West Wales. The course was good but Wales was better. This is what I wrote about my first encounter with the Welsh landscape in my upcoming book:

The first time in Lampeter that I walked past the edge of town, where the double yellow “no parking” lines ended and sheep pastures began, I found myself nodding, as if I were in agreement with the landscape. Its lucidity cut like a scalpel through mental images of all the other places I’d lived: New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington DC, Cape Cod, France. It sliced through their forests and highways and towns and cities and clutter, peeling them away, down to the mental bedrock beneath—a primary place of understanding where memory and concept conjoined. And that place looked like Wales. Why, I can’t tell you. It just did.”

I’ve never been the same since. Over the past 30+ years since I first set foot in Wales, I’ve:

• Written countless articles and essays about it (really, I’ve written so many I can’t remember them all);

• Been a guest-blogger on Visit Wales website, creating a 15-week series of blog entries on subjects from the National Poet to Coasteering;

• Have learned to speak Welsh on the Wlpan Course, an intensive Welsh-language boot camp, and written a book called Travels in an Old Tongue about attempting to practice my language skills on a 15-country tour around the world. Unfortunately, I need to take the Wlpan again;

• Led Smith College alumnae trips to Wales;

• Designed and led a Wayfarers Hiking trip in Pembrokeshire;

• Taught writing workshops at Ty Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre, in Llanystumdwy, on the Lleyn Peninsula, in North Wales;

• And co-founded the Dylan Thomas Summer School in Creative Writing with renowned Welsh poet Menna Elfyn. The DTSS runs in late May / early June each year.


The new big exciting thing is my forthcoming book, The Long Field: A Memoir of Wales and the Presence of Absence.The book is about hiraeth, a Welsh word that doesn’t translate into English. It’s only exact cognate is saudade, in Portuguese. Hiraeth and saudade refer to a deep—and deeply creative—longing for something or someone unattainable or irretrievable, existing only in the imagination beyond place or time. When our hearts alchemize the real into the ideal, yet fail to inform our souls and minds, we feel hiraeth. In old Welsh, the word hiraeth means “long field.” It’s what we seek in the past, yearn for in the future, and invent in the present to placate our long fields, both private and shared. I’ll post details about the book in coming months.

In Fall, 2016, Welsh poet Mab Jones produced and narrated a BBC Radio program on hiraeth for which she interviewed me and many others. It gives a great sense of the shifting nuances of the concept.

In addition to Menna Elfyn, check out these living, breathing Welsh writers and poets. Menna writes almost exclusively in Welsh, but her work is available in translation. The others write in English, or Welsh and English. In the case of Gwyneth Lewis, Wales first National Poet, in 2005, she translates herself.