26 letters in the alphabet. 4 countries (currently) in the UK. 26 Treasures: The Book, a pan-national poetry anthology, has 10 days to get 151 supporters. Without these, Unbound, its crowd-sourced publisher, will not proceed. Poetry by numbers this is not. It does however represent lyrics in which figures figure. It was the brainchild of business writer John Simmons. 26 authors were asked to write 62 words about pieces from national collections. From an embyonic London Design Festival exhibition at the V&A the project grew to encompass the National Library of Wales, the Ulster Museum in Belfast and the National Museum of Scotland.
As ever, the Welsh contingent provides double for your money, since translations of originals in both Welsh and English are included (I declare an interest since my translation is among them). And since we are talking numbers, how fitting that this book’s pearl is the current winner of Translators House Wales’ challenge, ‘Hen Arian Papur’ by Hywel Meilyr Griffiths. The original, ‘Old Paper Money’, by Lin Sagovsky and Hywel’s translation are the best and most topical of Wales’ contribution. They were inspired by Aberystwyth and Tregaron ‘Black Sheep’ Bank notes on which the number of sheep penned in the fold, as it were, denoted their value. Lin Sagovsky imagines bankers in a desperate, pun-crazy rebranding exercise prior to liquidation (in 1815): ‘Take a gambol! / The bank that likes to say flock. / Tup quality from your local baa. / Sheep like Dolly like lolly. / Folding. We are.’ (And in Hywel’s final line, ‘Aeth yr hwch drwy’r siop.’)
Apart from the obvious choice of Gillian Clarke, the lineup of writers for the original English poems in the Wales section has omissions, resulting in evidence of the occasional ‘outsider’ eye. But compensations are made in the translators list, for example Paul Henry, whose ‘Lineage’ betters Annes Glyn’s original ‘Llinach’ based on a family tree from Adam to Edward IV: ‘From King Primate to refugee / I scratched the parched earth for water, / food, unstitching my lineage / from the cracked plains, / believing in it. // Here, read this… read my dead palm.’ The same can be said for Rhys Iorwerth’s fine interpretation of Elen Lewis’ ‘Megan Eats Grapes’, based on a film of Lloyd George meeting Hitler. However, Elin ap Hywel’s translation ‘Storybook’ is just as perfect as its original, Mererid Hopwood, ‘Llyfr Mawr y Plant’, and Elin shows her credentials by being brave enough to adapt the title to its new audience.
26 Treasures: The Book offers Welsh greats alongside huge names such as Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Andrew Motion and Maura Dooley. Pledge £10 to Unbound by 1 March to make it happen.
This is a version of Gwen Davies' Western Mail Insider column published on Saturday 18 February 2012.
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