Me on Jon Gower on Raymond Williams

The second talk I was invited to respond to at the Cabin of Curiosities was Jon Gower who spoke, as always, with eloquence and insight. I never fail to be inspired by this man who truly has a love of words and good writing. He read an excerpt by Raymond Williams where an old man on the stage at the local Eisteddfod introduces ‘Mary with her red hair, red to her shoulders’ and begins to recount her family line, ancestors who also found themselves on the stage. It made me think how different my own family experiences were in the small village of Cefn Fforest, my fore mothers all wives and daughters of miners.

 

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By Measuring the Distance

 

‘The only landscape I see in dreams is the Black Mountain village in which I was born.’                                                                                                                                      ~Raymond Williams

 

If anything has the spiritual uplift of Sufi singing[1], it is Jon Gower’s offering; his words swell and swarm and settle in the cabin where curious minds have come to learn of path-treading, love of land, and how extraordinary things happen when idea-sharing. I think of my inner landscape, the women who gather behind me, an endless thread—and my father who walks and understands what is meant by measuring distance and coming home.

 

I

You are Sarah of Annie with the 18 inch waist

who once threw a stale bread at the vicar,

raven-haired Sarah with the malachite eyes

who does not yet know how histories of hangings

and beatings line up with their collective nudge

to be heard in the DNA of you;

not Sarah of Welsh spoken

and Eisteddfod winning uncles, or political picnic speakers,

or of dry stone wallers, or the county’s best sheepdog breeder,

 

but Sarah of, Sarah of, Sarah of

 

with no idea why your neck hurts

and your temper burns and why you always break into song at night.

 

The only landscape you’ll see in dreams is the undulating black heaps

which seep their way in and cover you, smother you.

 

II

In the dayroom by the window, a town away, a time away,

 

The prettiest meadow I ever saw was on an old coal tip,

she keeps repeating

 

the meadow I saw,       the pretty of it,            the old coal I saw,

how pretty I was,        the old cold sore tip,     the coal

all over the meadow     spoiling pretty.            In her dreams

 

there are no oxeyes, yarrow, campion, no grasses

sending patterns of shivers at her feet. In her dreams

she hears her father speak over the spitting liver, she

fears the belt coming off and her back braces for its slap.

 

III

A dyna chi, fy nhad i, yn hapus gyda’ch milltir sgwâr,

yn fodlon teithio’n ddwfn yn lle yn llydan.

Dim angen i chi freuddwydio am eich tirwedd,

chi sy’n symud ar hyd ei chromliniau,

yn grwydro’r hen lwybrau claddu,

bob cam yn dod â chi’n agos at eich mam chi.

 

A’r bwys y giât mochyn, er ebychynod,

tra mae’r barcud coch yn gleidio dros eich tafod.

 

Yn eich cerdded ac ystyried, mae’r gorffenol

yn cwrdd â’r presennol, ac yr ydych chi

wedi mesur pob cam dwyfol

gyda chyffwrdd uniongyrchol.

 

Translation:

 

Here you are, my dear father, content

with your square mile, content

to travel deep, not wide.

No need to dream your landscape:

in daylight you move along its curves

wandering the old burial path, each step

brings you closer to your mother.

 

By the kissing gate, the gasp

as the red kite revisits the sky.

 

Through your walking and pausing, the past

meets the present, and you have measured

each divine step, with a true touch.

 

 

clare e. potter

 

 

 

 

(Travel deeper rather than wider in reference to artist Frank Auerbach)

[1] Jon Gower

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