Happy New Year! С новым годом! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Website Update 2023

As per annual tradition it is time to bring out the Mari Lwyd to bemuse people with a Welsh custom and to produce a New Year’s Day ramble post on numerous minor topics I didn’t mention throughout the year.

It’s a day early this time as I don’t want to break the routine of uploading a poem every Sunday. I know some follow the view you shouldn’t congratulate before an event but are people going to want to look at this post or at a poem for the week after New Year’s Day? Would people even read this on New Year’s Day? I’m sure you have better things to do on the day and would prefer another poem when you come look on here.

2022: The ‘2016: part 6’ or ‘2020: part 2’ of years

So, what can be said after the year we have just had? You might have noticed a lot of this year’s poetry on the blog had a certain theme. I’ve nearly run out of any modern Welsh poetry on that specific subject but on the Russian side I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Olga ‘the voice of the Leningrad Blockade’ Bergholz, who has some of her lines carved onto monuments, is the obvious example but the silver age poets (and the bronze age and later ones too in fairness) all wrote numerous pieces reflecting on the theme. Honestly, it feels like it’s more exceptional for a Russian poet not to have at least a few poems on the topic in one way or another.

Remember when everyone said 2016 was a really bad year because of all the celebrity deaths? Those seem like halcyon days now. This year has been nothing if not overflowing with death, loss and heartbreak.

Recommendations Welcome

I have numerous books by Welsh authors and a few collections by various Welsh poets but keep forgetting to look through them to mix it up a bit. If there are any names or collections you would like to recommend please leave a comment.

On the Russian side of things you are also welcome to offer suggestions but I have been a bit more proactive on that front usually though I should try and post a few more poems by poets I don’t see currently being published or can find little information about. That way others can at least come here for a few breadcrumbs gathered from long out of print books featuring their work translated into English. It’s always a bit awkward to see multiple collections published in Russian then when I look for the English translations there are only ‘selected works’ editions or the rare piece in an anthology. Nikolai Gogol comes to mind albeit as an author of short stories. There was a two volume set of his works published in the 90s with one being, functionally, of his ‘Ukrainian Tales‘ and the other his ‘Peterburg Tales‘. You always see the latter satirical stories in publication (e.g. The Nose) but I can’t recall seeing many of the former (Viy in particular you would expect to be Gogol‘s equivilant of Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Tell-Tale Heart or one of his other widely celebrated and reproduced works).

Sometimes when I’ve gone looking for supporting biographical information about poets who are lesser known in English it has been surprisingly difficult to find much. If I have learned anything over recent years it’s that people like to maintain websites so you can locate the graves of Russian poets if, for some reason, you want to visit them. Saying that I have been to Dylan Thomas‘ modest grave so I am hardly one to talk.

The State of the Arts in Wales

There was going to be a long ramble about the state of the Arts in Wales right now (more so literature than performance arts which are as vitalised as ever it seems, at the grass roots level, though venues hosting them definitely have been hit hard). I decided to omit it as it was turning into an essay. If anyone wants my views of the Welsh arts I can comment on them in future. The short version is ‘there is investment in new blood but not much promotion or celebration of them outside Wales unless they fit a certain mould it seems’.

There is a Внутри Лапенко Party Game!

I discovered there is a board game based on the comedy series Внутри Лапенко (i.e. Inside Lapenko) but the game is quoted in the marketing material to only last 15-30 minutes which is incredibly short. Here is the advert.

Настольная игра = Board game

Cowbridge’s Annual Reindeer Parade

Usually there is a reindeer parade through the town of Cowbridge, near Cardiff, for Christmas but they couldn’t raise the funds this year. Usually there is charity fund raising, Father Christmas in his grotto (the town hall) and the local farmers use their tractors and trailers (with people in festive costume sat in them) to take part in the parade alongside the emergency services. Usually there are some Welsh celebrities too like H from Steps dressed as elves. I suppose it’s kinder to the animals not to put them through it but at the same time it’s the only time certain animal care centres get a chance to publically raise funding.

I wonder if the local authorities will take the opportunity now, as many have through the ‘reset’ caused by the lockdowns, to not do certain things that they had always wanted to cut from their budgets.

I’m not one for this time of year anyway if I’m honest. I usually had to work through it alone in the office with only Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day off while colleagues had over a fortnight off to spend with their families. So, it passed for me with no more impact than a Bank Holiday those years. It doesn’t mean I don’t try every year to get into the spirit but I just end up spending it on my own ultimately.

Cardiff Has Changed (Again)

I went to Cardiff recently. An arts supply shop that had been in the Castle Arcade filled with boutique shops, for as long as I can remember, was gone. The New York Deli owned and run by a former Cardiff Devils ice hockey player was also gone it seemed but I looked online and perhaps I am mixing up the Castle Arcade and Duke Street Arcade. A cheese seller and other shops have also gone.

That is the price of convenient purchasing online and a sign of how organisations like Amazon capitalised on everyone being housebound, during various lockdowns, to further increase their already near monopoly level of market dominance.

Thought Crimes and Shikata Ga Nai

It seems we live in an era where negating people’s views or experiences is the default. Don’t say it. Don’t even think it. There is no need for policing when you can have citizens regulate and inform on themselves and each other.

I’ve developed a vehement hatred recently of the phrases ‘it is what it is‘ and ‘it can’t be helped‘ as I heard them almost non-stop this year like it was state enforced propaganda. I have heard them used occasionally before, of course, but when you begin to notice multiple people using the exact same phrase constantly you have to wonder what induced it. I half expect to see home decor, with the phrases emblazoned on them, being sold in shops soon.

The Japanese have a term ‘shikata ga nai‘ (仕方がない) which means something along these lines. It is often used in business as a way of not outright saying a definitive no to something or to avoid taking action on a troublesome issue. You are meant to understand it is a hard no but observe the etiquette of not forcing the other person to admit it. A consequence of their cultural ‘society’s needs before the individual’s’ ethos historically which makes Japanese an incredibly contextual language despite what a translation at face value might suggest.

I won’t go into the negative consequences of this attitude in Japan as it’s a very long topic and better explained by others but you already can imagine where it is used to ignore certain behaviours rather than address and resolve them. Be it in the workplace (people dying from overwork), in how women are treated (sexual harrassment and the necessity of ‘women only’ carriages on trains) and letting certain people in society fall between the cracks for not being able to conform no matter how hard they might try (the homeless, poor, ill and disabled despite how they try to maintain the focus on their world leading treatment of the elderly as a distraction).

So, for us, ‘it is what it is‘ and ‘it can’t be helped‘ are the first step towards sharing the inherent underlying apathetic sentiment of ‘be silent and stop being a trouble maker – accept your problems are yours and yours alone‘. I noticed people with that attitude a decade ago but they were considered to be anti-socially stoic (to put it politely) and yet it’s being normalised nowadays somehow. Then again I can see the argument that society got soft over the past few decades and it’s toughening up again but that’s just this attitude in action really.

Some say these phrases to mean ‘don’t worry yourself about it’ but in reality it comes across just as much as ‘don’t bother me with it’ and if we are honest it is used with the latter intention more often than not.

I’ve forgotten the Russian phrase I came across but I think it was something to do with a prisoner in a gulag speaking to another about how he was going to escape. A prison guard overheard them and asks ‘and where would you go? You’re stuck in the Soviet Union with the rest of us’. Perhaps it was a prevailing sentiment though I’m sure there was an exact term to describe it.

Double speak, to enforce conformity, is becoming commonplace and people are either expected to fully endorse certain views or decry others in order to keep their position in society or else risk denouncement for breaking rank.

In conclusion, if somewhat out of leftfield for those not familiar with the social norms of the Soviet era, it’s hard not to identify with the concerns expressed by writers of the Soviet era and what they bore witness to when you start to see not just parallels but, in modern societal attitudes globally, direct similarities to some of the Kafkaesque practices they saw happening around them by people trying to survive.

I am reminded of a song Скованные одной цепью (‘Chained’ / ‘Shackled [together] by a single chain’) by the band Наутилус Помпилиус (Nautilus Pompilius).

An English translation of the lyrics is provided hardburned onto the video. The animation is taken from the ‘Cannon Fodder’ section of Katsuhiro Otomo’s ‘Memories’ anthology film

The Actual Blog Update

What are my intentions for the blog this year? To continuing as usual. That’s it basically.

Every year I say I will add reviews or reading recommendations but that didn’t happen last year. If I do add any it’ll be on a Saturday so they get buried under a poem the following day.

What were all these sections about? Nothing really. I told you at the start these were just some rambling comments on random topics. Mostly things I’ve noticed but didn’t have time to discuss in depth or probably wouldn’t be of much interest except for a select few. I really liked that art supplies shop in Cardiff so it really was a shock it was gone.

Thanks for all the support of the blog this year! Whether you subscribed to or followed the blog, linked to or liked a post, left a comment or just read some posts.

Happy New Year! С новым годом! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!


Blog Update 2020

Usually I post these updates on 1st January but there was a delay this year.

Last year I posted once a week instead of every day as I had in 2018. The result? The same number of readers but less viewing of multiple pages per visitor. Translation: regular readers were not ‘catching up on previous posts’ when checking in once or twice a week while there were the usual ‘looking for one thing then leaving’ types too but in lower numbers. Another thing I did was that, in contrast to 2018, I limited posts to once a week to see what the downturn would be. Fortunately it seems those who follow the blog have stuck with it which is nice to learn.

This year, if the regular readers don’t mind, I will be posting reviews of various films and such alongside the poems. The poems will remain being posted on Sunday 8:30AM BST barring any issues so that’s isn’t’ changing. I just never felt there was a good time to post the reviews without posting multiple times a day during 2018 and then I became overly busy in 2019 so I couldn’t do the long form reviews I’ve done previously.

The reviews I’ve done in the past tend to include long synopses but they never felt satisfying. The reviews I will be posting will be much briefer and likely only a few paragraphs in length compared to past efforts. I won’t include header images as I am always a bit concerned about the upload limit we have for file storage like that (hence why many previous images have likely been on the smaller side).

Along side those I hope to write some vignettes too. Short stories and the such. I got into watching a series called Yamishibai which comprises of 5 minute long Japanese ghost stories. It’s quite enjoyable and available for free in high quality on the Crunchyroll website. So I might type things like that too to experiment with some styles of short writing exercises.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Blog Update: Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Happy New Year! С новым годом! 2019

For over a year I’ve updated this blog daily and seen a surge in the number of visitors and views for which I’m deeply grateful. However, as I’m sure you’ve already realised before I even finish this sentence, such a frequent rate of uploading can’t be maintained.

I’m not stopping the blog but just altering to a more manageable frequency of posting. There will definitely be one poetry entry per week with the possibility of additional posts if there’s an opportunity. On the bright side this gives me time to post longer poems as you’ll have noticed that, more often than not, there’s a limit to the length of those featured so far.

It’ll also give me a chance to post the reviews and other such articles that I keep drafting but putting to rot in a folder. There are a number of events dating back years now that should have been posted at the time but I can now look at them with hindsight and better assess their impact.

So yes, in brief, there will less frequent uploads but there’ll be more variety. It’ll only be reduced down from daily to weekly posts which is surely still reasonable as I am just one person and you’ve multi-person teams who barely upload something once a week (if that).

Most likely it’ll be more reviews and such coming alongside a weekly poem. I’ll try to remember to alternate between Welsh and Russian poems but I might throw in some others from different sources too.

There are over 800 posts on the blog so you’re welcome to delve into the archives in the meantime and comment on anything if you’ve any views or questions you would like to express.

So what’s with the title image?

Have you heard of the following Welsh traditions?

The Mari Lwyd is a wassailing folk custom in South Wales conducted around this time of year. The tradition entails the use of an eponymous hobby horse which is made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by an individual hidden under a sackcloth. It represents a regional variation of a “hooded animal” tradition that appears in various forms throughout Great Britain.

Also recently there was Plygain: a traditional Welsh Christmas service which takes place in a church between three and six o’clock in the morning, traditionally on Christmas morning.

On a sidenote I’ve gotten into Folk Horror recently and attended Snowcat Cinema’s evening of BBC Ghost Stories at Penarth Pier a few weeks ago so look forward to a few posts about that topic too.

I hope you have a nice New Year’s Day and if you’ve any suggestions for the blog such as Russian films to review, Folk Horror stories to read, films/TV episodes to watch or anything about Wales you’d like to hear about then please comment below as everyone is welcome.