When, at the 2006 National Eisteddfod, I picked up a copy of Welsh Women’s Poetry 1461-2001 (edited by Katie Granich and Catherine Brennan and first published by Honno Press of Aberystwyth in 2003), I found I could not put it down. My copy suffered from the rain as I read it on my way to the public transport that would take me home.
There is a wealth of material. There is poetry in both English and Welsh, and the Welsh pieces are accompanied by translations, so it can be appreciated very widely.
Until the 21st century (arguably), literature has been dominated by men and women have largely been invisible (with a few exceptions, eg some great English female novelists).
My 2017 treat to myself is a new compendium of Welsh language poetry and prose, from the first millennium to the present day: The Old Red Tongue – An Anthology of Welsh Literature, edited by Gwyn Griffiths and Meic Stephens and published by Francis Boutle (London) – nearly a thousand pages, for £30.
Unlike the Honno anthology, very nearly all the originals are in Welsh, but like the Honno one, they are accompanied by English translations. This is excellent, as medieval Welsh is in places difficult to follow for the inexpert. (So too sometimes is dialect.)
Many of the translations have been made by the renowned Anthony Conran and Joseph P Clancy. Some pieces have been translated for the first time.
There is are useful introductions both to historical periods and also to individual writers.
I’ll take the liberty of quoting from the publisher’s blurb, which describes the volume as an “anthology of over 300 texts – poems, plays, memoirs, essays, extracts from novels and short stories, hymns, eulogies, elegies, medieval prose, political and theological commentaries – from nearly 200 writers”.
The book does what it says on the cover – the net is cast wide.
In the last hundred years or so, fortunately, women’s voices have come to be heard, whereas in earlier times men dominated. The female writers are: Gwerful Mechain, Ann Griffiths, Eluned Morgan, Kate Roberts, Marion Eames, Jane Edwards, Eigra Lewis Roberts, Nesta Wyn Jones, Manon Rhys, Menna Elfyn, Christine James, Angharad Tomos, Gwyneth Lewis, Sonia Edwards, Elin ap Hywel, Mererid Hopwood and Meleri Wyn James. (Still a small minority, but growing.)
There is an extensive bibliography at the end, useful for further reading.
I should add that The Old Red Tongue is one of a “lesser used languages of Europe” series, which includes anthologies of literature in Breton, Manx, Galician, Channel Islands Norman French, Esperanto, Maltese and Occitan. A worthy enterprise.
(One English language anthology is: Poetry 1900 – 2000 – one hundred poets from Wales, edited by Meic Stephens, first published by Parthian, Cardigan, in 2007.)
Here are feasts for those who love literature and for those who love Wales.