R S THOMAS AT EGLWYSFACH

R S Thomas
©John Hedgecoe

OPEN POETRY COMPETITION
WINNERS OF THE EGLWYSFACH R S THOMAS
OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2021

We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Eglwysfach R S Thomas Open Poetry Competition. Poets were invited to write one or two poems in response to chosen passages from the poetry of R S Thomas. This year’s 69 entries were judged by Gillian Clarke (former National Poet of Wales, 2008–2016) and Professor Tony Brown of Bangor University. The winners are: Ceri Creffield for ‘RS Thomas Comes for Tea’ (first prize), Helen Cook for ‘Coupled’ (second prize), with Mair De-Gare Pitt and Catherine Baker for ‘Lost and Found’ and ‘Cosy Cottage’ (jointly commended).

We are also pleased to announce that a full R S Thomas Literary Festival is planned for16—18 September 2022. Arrangements are well advanced, and the programme will be confirmed in the new year. Speakers will include the Right Reverend Lord Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.  

The winning poems are:

FIRST PRIZE

RS Thomas Comes for Tea
Sitting in the chill parlour
with its stiff upholstery
and its unbreathed air, he
hears the quick tread on the flags
stifled suddenly on carpet.
She comes, the farmer’s wife,
serving doily smiles with her
Sunday English, each word
unwrapped like an awkward gift.
Her eyes say: “We honour you
with our best china cups with
handles too small for fingers
that help birth lambs and dock swedes
on a frosty morning.”  He
hears the unseen kettle sing
in the kitchen, warm with Welsh,
language flying like sparks up
the chimney, and dreams of the
worn settle, sheepdog snoozing,
and the warmth of belonging.
Ceri Creffield

Inspired by:
I can’t speak my own
Language – Iesu,
All those good words;
And I outside them.

Welsh’, Collected Poems 129

 

SECOND PRIZE

Coupled
Welsh damp burning his hip, he leaves the barn
a ragged dog at heel, crosses a dung slippery yard
to the cegin where his wife curses the coal scuttle,
the contrary range, the west wind that brought rain
to baptise the sheets blowing out on the line.
His pockets and cuffs bring in early Spring air
spilling into the clock ticking pool of light.
Over the sink he rids his hands of
the stink of sheep, the bend of this back
tells how his day has been.
The fleece of their labour is a blinding siôl
combed through with bed, toil and touch,
a life woven together, as tangled as
snagged burrs on barbed wire.
And she fears, how more than once
he has measured with a look, the length
of rope between barn beam and stool.
And he grieves for her dirt laced palms,
her kitchen scissors shaped hair,
her best coat hanging, as good as new.
But last night, pulling a lamb to life
in the after-birth strewn shed,
he glimpsed at the curve of her neck
the girl onto whose slim pale finger
he once placed a fine gold band.
And she looked up at him, found
still
her heart in the ploughed field of his face.
Helen Cook

Inspired by:
I am the farmer, stripped of love What God was there made himself felt, And thought and grace by the land’s hardness; Not listened to, in clean colours But what I am saying over the fields’ That brought a moistening of the eye, Desolate acres, rough with dew, In movement of the wind over grass.  Is, Listen, listen.  I am a man like you.
‘The Hill Farmer Speaks’ Collected Poems 31

 

COMMENDED:

Lost and Found
He spoke only Welsh until school, my dad.
His mam and dad, Welsh-speakers from the West
(she from a line of schoolteachers,
he from a line of blacksmiths)
both wanted their bright boy to succeed.
English it is, then, if you want to swim with the tide.
English it is.
The Welsh words faded, whispering,
drifting into the oncoming deluge,
back to childhood, to chapel, to Sunday school,
as Dad surged forward into his life.
Top Scholarship boy, his photo in the Merthyr Express.
Grammar School.
English grammar.
A few word-islands still floated on the flood:
da iawn; diolch yn fawr; nos da.
Language lost for him, for me
until my children went to swim
yn y dŵr, yn yr afon, yn y môr,
to dive to the drowned wreck and salvage
trysor.
Language found.
Mair De-Gare Pitt

Inspired by:

I can’t speak my own
Language – Iesu,
All those good words;
And I outside them.

Welsh’, Collected Poems 129

COMMENDED:

Cosy Cottage
A small place, it was, hunkered down by a mean
old stream, where the otters came to steal fish.
The soil salty, bearing little but spuds and a couple
of skinny milking cows, sheep never thrived.
William Lloyd, Wil Rhosdwarch, born
in this loved, sour house, lived a shabby life,
the earth floor flattened slick by his feet.
He wore boots indoors, no woman to take a pride.
There had been a girl but he was shy beyond.
Anyway, he didn’t like the way she pushed
at him, her body boned and stiff.
From the field you could see Carn Llidi
on light days, rising puce, blue and feeble yellow,
colours his mam knitted into a Fair Isle pullover,
by now coiling loose, drooping loops about his shirt.
Ulcers on his legs bled into rolled-over wellingtons
but that was a secret.  His longing was secret too,
how he wanted to go to America, see the cowboys.
A sinewy scent of late autumn leaves and smoke
with spring onions swirled him.
In his happy last hospital days he believed
Withybush was Butlins.  His niece, from away,
gutted the house to sell for a holiday home.
Changed the old name of running consonants.
In the dresser, she found an infestation of
poems.  She couldn’t read them, not having
the language, so she burnt them,
I expect.
Catherine Baker

Inspired by:
“I am the farmer, stripped of love” ‘The Hill Farmer Speaks’ Collected Poems 31

All poems are printed with the kind permission of the authors.


I am the farmer, stripped of love 
And thought and grace by the land’s hardness;
But what I am saying over the fields’
Desolate acres, rough with dew,   
Is, Listen, listen.  I am a man like you. 
‘The Hill Farmer Speaks’  Collected Poems 31

…there is a presence 
whose language   
is not our language, but who has chosen,
with peculiar charity the feathered   
creatures to convey the austerity
of his thought in song. 
‘The Blackbird’ Uncollected Poems 160

I can’t speak my own
Language – Iesu,
All those good words;
And I outside them.
‘Welsh‘  Collected Poems 129


What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.
‘The Moor’ Collected Poems 166

When he came in, she was there.
When she looked at him,
he smiled.  There were lights
in time’s wave breaking
on an eternal shore.
‘He and She’ Collected Poems 459

The meaning is in the waiting.
‘Kneeling’ Collected Poems 199

 

A full R S Thomas Literary Festival is planned for 16-18 September 2022.

 

 

 

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