One of the events during the Hay Festival this year was a session to remember the Armistice of 1918. Poets from countries involved in the Great War were invited to choose a poem or other inspiration from that time and respond by composing their own poem.
Representing Wales was Owen Sheers, who chose one of Wilfred Owen’s poems, and wrote his own poem in English, and Mererid Hopwood, who recalled Hedd Wyn’s story for the audience, before reading her own poem in Welsh. Her poem echoed the words ‘Gwae fi…’- Woe is me… which appear in the original poem which won Hedd Wyn the Chair , known as Y Gadair Ddu, the black chair, as it was draped in black, the poet having been killed in the last days of the war. That chair is now to be seen in Hedd Wyn’s home, Yr Ysgwrn, near Trawsfynydd.
Tishan Doshi from India was inspired by a letter written by a soldier who had left India to fight in Belgium, and who never returned. Ylrich Almut Sandig from Austria and Evelyn Shlag from Germany both wrote in German, and it was interesting to hear the original poems and their own poems read in English by a talented translator who maintained the poetic nature of the contributions.
The last poet was the famous Margaret Atwood, novelist and poet, from Canada. She recited from memory ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ remembering her grandfather reciting this to her daily, and she also responded with her own poem.
The poems will be published in the near future by the Hay Festival, and the event was sponsored by The Imperial War Museum.
Mererid Hopwood also participated in another event, a conversation with other Welsh poets about the effect of the Great War on Welsh people. She brought with her ‘The King’s Penny’ or ‘Great Penny, given to her great-great-grandmother as ‘payment’ for the loss of her son in the last days of the war.