Some Fathers by Peter Gruffydd

They borrowed ten bob, sloped off
to the pub or club, grew potatoes,
caulis, leeks in dead-straight lines,
remembered, I mean, were in, the Second
World War, cracked jokes, jokes about Hitler,
Goebbels, Stalin, even Churchill,
did odd things, odd things, look after
old ladies in their rich incontinence,
or drew cartoons, sketched for small mags,
cartoons, sketched, drew, small mags.

They seemed to have lots of patience,
except when opening time loomed
over some petty duty, like work.
Mine had a second childhood, a red
scooter which he regularly came off,
half-pissed back from a country pub,
mistook a bush for a turning home.
He carried on until Mother nagged
him into giving-up his latecome
burn-ups, so went sketching no more.

I’m a father now, think my sons could
sometime achieve this state, make tea
like tar, maybe keep allotments, worry
about their kids, trudge to some bloody
boring jobs to feed the family’s faces,
swear with cronies, be hurt when kids
call them old fart, stupid sod, or worse,
wonder where they too went wrong,

Pray there’s no war to haunt their nights,
make them keep graveyard horrors at bay,
with favourite ales, quips and long tales,
Nuclear families, bowed with labels, stagger
on, sperm-count falling day by day,
Still I remember those fathers, leaning on
sticks, pint in hand, know they had a sense
of what it’s all about, a cod-code to keep
and a smile for outrageous stupidity
because it was to be expected.

by Peter Gruffydd

Further information: There is a PDF help-sheet discussing the poem line by line produced by Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW. The following is the biography provided at the start of that document.

Peter Gruffydd was born in Liverpool in 1935. He first moved to Wales at the age of five, following his evacuation in early 1941 (due to the Second World War). Having already learned Welsh, he then began studying English at Bangor University. His time living in Wales was brief, and he has spent most of his life in England, living in Liverpool, the West Midlands, and Bristol. Gruffydd was a member of Plaid Cymru and a Welsh nationalist (his movement into Welsh politics mirrors that of the Welsh intellectual Saunders Lewis, an ardent nationalist who was born in Liverpool). Gruffydd’s nationalist politics is evident in some of his poetry, such as ‘The Small Nation’, which Matthew Jarvis suggests ‘is substantially a lament for a Wales that the poem’s speaker sees as having lost courage’, and which foresees ‘The slow funeral of a small nation’.

Before he became known by the surname with which he appears in the Poetry 1900-2000 anthology, Gruffydd published under the name Peter M. Griffith (the English-spelling, but pronounced in a similar same way). In 1993, Gruffydd became a founder member of the Welsh Branch of PEN International (now Wales PEN Cymru), an organisation which advocates on behalf of writers across the world.

Although his poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, Gruffydd has one solitary collection to his name, 1972’s The Shivering Seed. His earliest significant poetry publication was in Triad, with two other notable Welsh ‘Second Flowering’ poets, Harri Webb and Meic Stephens.

Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW

Маяковский в 1913 году (Mayakovsky in the Year 1913) by Anna Akhmatova

Although I didn’t know your days of glory

I was present at your tempestuous dawn

and today I’ll take a small step back in history

to remember, as I’m entitled to, times gone.

With every line, your words increased in power!

Unheard of voices gathering in swarms!

Those were no idle hands that threw up such towering

and menacing new forms!

Everything you touched suddenly seemed

somehow altered, different from before,

and whatever you destroyed, remained

that way, and in every syllable the roar

of judgement. Often dissatisfied, alone,

driven on by an impatient fate,

you knew how fast the time was nearing when

you’d leap, excited, joyful, to the fight.

We could hear, as we listened to you read,

the reverberating thunder of the waters

and the downpour squinted angrily as you slid

into your wild confrontations with the city.

Your name, in those days unfamiliar, flashed

like streaks of lightning through the stuffy hall.

It’s with us still today, remembered, cherished

throughout the land, a thundering battle call.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

translated by Peter Oram

The poem recited by the actress Vera Voronkova (Вера Воронкова)

Additional information: The subject of this poem is the poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Beneath is the original, Russian, version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Маяковский в 1913 году

.

Я тебя в твоей не знала славе,

Помню только бурный твой расцвет,

Но, быть может, я сегодня вправе

Вспомнить день тех отдаленных лет.

Как в стихах твоих крепчали звуки,

Новые роились голоса…

Не ленились молодые руки,

Грозные ты возводил леса.

Все, чего касался ты, казалось

Не таким, как было до тех пор,

То, что разрушал ты,- разрушалось,

В каждом слове бился приговор.

Одинок и часто недоволен,

С нетерпеньем торопил судьбу,

Знал, что скоро выйдешь весел, волен

На свою великую борьбу.

И уже отзывный гул прилива

Слышался, когда ты нам читал,

Дождь косил свои глаза гневливо,

С городом ты в буйный спор вступал.

И еще не слышанное имя

Молнией влетело в душный зал,

Чтобы ныне, всей страной хранимо,

Зазвучать, как боевой сигнал.

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler

Additional information: A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of the city’s strength and determination.