Wednesday, 08 November 2023 16:45

Yer Ower Voices! - Groundbreaking, funny and insightful

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Yer Ower Voices! - Groundbreaking, funny and insightful

Yer Ower Voices! (Culture Matters) £12 , ISBN 978 1 912710 54 6  Editor: Mike Jenkins

Dialect poems in Welsh and English from Cymru is the subtitle of this exciting book. What it means by that is dialects of Welsh English and dialects of Welsh language mainly, and hybrid dialects of Welsh and English blended. The book is divided by geographical regional dialects, so we have Swansea, The Valleys Cardiff/ Newport, North & West Wales etcetera, and the dialects even within these areas are diverse but with a certain commonality of thought.

This is by all accounts the first anthology of its kind ever published. The book was inspired by a Radio 4 programme which the editor felt, fell short in its portrayal of dialect poetry as frivolous and merely fit for humourous verse. So the redoubtable Mike Jenkins set forth on his mission to find dialect poetry that represented what the radio programme only touched on. That is, poetry which expressed so much more, about the lives of working class people in particular, political situations which totally devalue them and the ways in which  the ever-changing language of the streets express these themes and how humour, especially satire, can have very serious overtones.

The book represents a wide range of differing dialects, inclusion of the Guyanese Creole/ English poem by Maggie Harris (Cwmpengraig, place of stones) opens up a conversation on the suppression of dialect through oppression and enslavement. A Welsh translation is added by Menna Elfyn.  It makes for fascinating  and vital reading.

The poems' subject matter here is more or less focused on the everyday lives of working class people, their contradictions and problems. The opportunity for people who do not relate to poetry in the mainstream is afforded by a speaking of the language that they can recognise and so be given a licence to write themselves.

The various dialects of ‘Welsh English’ and dialects of the Welsh Language represented here are fabulously diverse in their presentation. Some like the Swansea (Swonzee) dialect of David Hughes are not too difficult to comprehend once your ear has acclimatised to the voice, you can hear the Welsh accent coming through.

No domine fewnruls/ But I noticed larse time upper crem/I’m getting much closer twer front seats. (Fewnruls / Funerals).

In the more challenging phonetic representations of dialect with Stephen Knight in the poem In This Dream Of Swansea you almost have to forget you are speaking English and just read the words out loud to prise open their meaning, but the effort is worth it.

Eye m’honour — buss Ohm/ inner paw rinn reign/ nigh muddlinin Shad doze… (I’m on a bus home in the pouring rain nearly muddlin (lost) in shadows)

As the poet Gemma June Howells tells us in the introduction to her poems in south Walian valleys dialect: “With any poem you have to read it several times to understand it… Just because someone can’t instantly recognise the syntax, they write it off, but what you’re actually doing is writing o! the voice from where it comes.” Poetry to this poet is “about getting to the heart of what it means to be alive and reflecting who we are in the context of the universality of the human condition.”

Wha’ yew doo-in sittin exams?/ Yew carn av thah where/ wee-yuh frum./ See ’em by there?/ — Pushin prams/ Tha’s where yew-uh frum (from the poem Head Hunted).

The book is groundbreaking in that it’s the first of its kind and it is also funny, insightful and packed with genuine Welsh voices that have struggled to be heard. 

Yer Ower Voices! Dialect poems in Welsh and English from Cymru, edited by Mike Jenkins, 148pps., £12, is available here.

Read 551 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 November 2023 17:02
Jack Caradoc

Jack Caradoc is the editor of Dreich.