Stephanie Green: Sean Borodale, Gillian Clarke's StAnza Lecture, and Liz Lochhead

Friday 8 March 2013

Poet Stephanie Green on some of yesterday's StAnza events: Sean Borodale, The StAnza Lecture, and Poetry Centre Stage with Gillian Clarke and Liz Lochhead - the national poets of Wales and Scotland.

After the Balmungo workshop with Sean Borodale, it was a great pleasure to hear him reading his Bee Journal poems: with their acute observation and unusual word juxtapositions, chromatic fields, voicing a 'landscape' indeed. As Simon Armitage has said "honey itself in poetic form"! Sean was incidentally sitting in a bardic-type chair - which I'm sure, if he was Welsh, he'd be awarded at the Eisteddfod.

Gillian Clarke (Credit: Stephanie Green)

And as one of the strands of this year's StAnza is Welsh poetry I couldn't miss the StAnza Lecture given by Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales. As you might expect, was about Welsh language and poetry but Welsh has more to do with Scotland than you might think. Did you know, we share a language and a poem, Y Gododdin? Composed in Brythonic (which became Cymraeg (i.e. the Welsh language), it was spoken in Scotland up to the Middle Ages, (except for the Highlands) and all down the west coast of Britain - the train route Gillian had taken in fact to Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North). Y Gododdin is the earliest British poem written down, (composed between the 7-9th centuries and written down in the 13th Century, ) and the first by a named poet, Aneirin, about a battle fought in Caetraeth (modern Cattrick, Yorkshire) where soldiers had issued out of Edinburgh.

But the lecture (which kept breaking into a poetry recital, since, as she said, she is a poet, not an academic) was also about "childish matters": the song and mystery of nursery rhymes and their connection with our first experience of language and the roots of poetry. "If there is no music we won't remember it. If we don't remember it, is it a poem?"

Gillian elucidated for us the arcane art of cynghanedd, a system of alliteration and rhyme - the first time a list of rules has been made to sound fun. (If you want the geeky details, have a look at Literature Wales website.) But as Gillian said, "Never let a rule or form kill a poem. Always use your ear." Quoting snippets of poetry she illustrated the beautiful sound patterns which also influenced Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Carol Ann Duffy. I think a lot of the audience will be going off muttering consonantal patterns – watch out for a revival of alliteration in English poetry.

Liz Lochhead (Credit: Stephanie Green)

And later at the Centre Stage readings, we heard more of Gillian's poetry, appreciating the sound patterns as well as the glorious physical detail of her obsession with the 'glamour' of snow. She read with the equally superb, Liz Lochhead, Scotland's Makar, whose dramatic monologues with their many voices and incisive edge made this an inspired pairing. It was a treat to hear two of my most favourite poets - both National Poets and both delighting us with their cadences, Gillian's lilting Welsh and dramatic articulation of Liz's Scots.

Tipyn Bach (A Little Bit) of Welsh:

I have decided to give you a Welsh (Cymraeg) Lesson a day, in honour of the slew of poets from Wales at StAnza this year.

Lesson One: Shw mae (pron shoo my) = How are you? This is what they say in South Wales, where Gillian Clarke comes from. So make sure you try it out on her when you get your copy of Ice signed.

Look out for more posts from Stephanie as the week progresses!