Best of 2021: A selection of cultural highlights from the last 12 months
Over the next week, the great and the good of Welsh culture – and some of the Nation.Cymru gang – will be sharing their cultural highlights of the last 12 months.
In a year when we’ve not been able to meet much in person, it’s been a joy to run a series of live online literary gatherings. Called the Season Salon, the idea was to mark the Celtic festivals of the year in good company. So many great writers and performers have taken part, and all eight of the Salons can be seen here.
Simon Moreton was one of the guests, talking about one of my books of the year: WHERE? – Life and Death in the Shropshire Hills. He comes from a background in zines, and WHERE? is a glorious, groundbreaking hybrid of the visual and the literary, and all rooted in one of my favourite parts of the world: the splendidly weird Clee Hills. Also worthy of mention, and also a guest on the Season Salon, Pamela Petro’s exuberant memoir The Long Field excavates with such precision so many aspects of hiraeth and Wales. It is a wonderful ride.
Only one theatre trip managed between lockdowns, but what a joy it was: Seiriol Davies’ bubbling brilliance at Theatr Clwyd in the summer. He is one of Wales’ most thrilling talents, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Inevitably, most of the cultural highlights of the year have been on screen. A bleak January Sunday, watching back-to-back episodes of Succession as the fire crackled and rain lashed the window, was possibly my happiest day of the year. And though I’ve not yet finished it, the brilliant Landscapers will last for me I’m sure, just as its writer-director Will Sharpe’s previous outings, Flowers and Giri/Haji did. He is a bloody genius.
Mike Parker is an author living in mid Wales. His last book On the Red Hill won the non-fiction Wales Book of the Year, and was runner-up for the Wainwright Prize for UK nature writing. He’s also the author of the bestselling Map Addict and the cult polemic about English attitudes to Wales, Neighbours From Hell? In 2021, Mike was awarded the Glyndwr Award for his outstanding contribution to the Arts in Wales.
A major poetry highlight of 2021 came in March when Marvin Thompson won the National Poetry Competition with his poem ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22)’ It is a tour de force of a poem and is available to read and listen to in Welsh on the Poetry Society website, translated by Grug Muse.
Taz Rahman’s YouTube channel ‘Just Another Poet’ is a recent discovery for me. It features interviews with poets such as Dyfan Lewis, Abeer Ameer and Jessica Mookherjee, a most entertaining watch.
The Red Sky Sessions run by Apples and Snakes were fantastic, free online poetry writing workshops with guest tutors such as Malika Booker, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Rachel Long and Bohdan Piasecki. Highly recommended for emerging writers, look out for them in the new year.
My poetry books of the year are ‘All the Men I Never Married’ by Kim Moore and ‘Karaoke King’ by Dai George.
Caroline Bracken is an award-winning writer and poet. She won the iYeats International Poetry Competition (2015) and the Writing.ie/Anam Cara International Poetry Competition (2013) and is a regular contributor to Nation.Cymru, writing our monthly poetry review.
Dr Sara Louise Wheeler
This year has been very positive and productive for me, in terms of building a career as a freelance creative. I began the year as ‘Poet of the Month’ for BBC Radio Cymru and Barddas poetry magazine – an assignment which proved so fruitful I published a bilingual poetry scrapbook. The poem I chose to feature in the magazine as part of my reflection on the month was ‘Cwilt clytwaith Goareig’ (A Goareig Patchwork Quilt), about my Goan-Welsh extended family; I am now writing more poems on this theme and shall be publishing the collection in the new year.
I judged a children’s poetry competition for Menter Iaith Fflint a Wrecsam to mark Saint David’s day, whilst also serving as an external examiner for a PhD thesis involving self-translation of poetry. I was part of a lovely poetry and art project at Glyndŵr University, which gave art students an opportunity to work with clients (poets) and resulted in my poems, and those of my fellow poets, appearing in lovely hand-stitched books. I was also commissioned to write a travelog article about Wrecsam for the new women’s magazine Cylchgrawn Cara and I spent a pleasant couple of weeks wandering around, gathering vital information – including the best places to eat!
I have been developing my trilingual, autobiographical bildungsroman opera-ballet ‘Y dywysoges arian’ (The Silver Princess), with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, about my experiences of living with Waardenburg Syndrome Type 1. This theatre project has now reached the exciting stage of development where it will be read through by actors in the new year.
I contributed a self-psychoanalysis chapter for a forthcoming edited book about the Alien franchise and experienced an epiphany whilst writing it, which has led me to work on another new collection of poetry. This bilingual collection, entitled ‘Confylsiwn/ Convulsion’ will be published in the new year. I had an exciting opportunity to contribute to the debate on the climate crisis in the form of a dystopian monolog ‘Y Siambr Bodhyfryd’ for BBC Radio Cymru. I also contributed to the inaugural issue of ‘Y Patriarchaeth’ magazine and a butterfly art project with Gŵyl y ferch.
Thanks to Zoom, I have been able to attend ‘cynghanedd’ poetry classes – which might otherwise have been difficult for me to access due to my progressive low-frequency hearing loss as well as geographical proximity. And, as the year draws to a close, I am enjoying being involved in three exciting ‘digital residencies’: Manifesto for Accessible Arts Festival, a project between artists from India and Wales; Ù Ơ – an exchange between emerging Vietnamese and Welsh women/ non-binary poets and artists; and the ‘Creativity is mistakes’ peer artists project, with Disability Arts Cymru. I am thus feeling incredibly blessed and am looking forward to another creative year ahead in 2022!
Dr Sara Louise Wheeler is a poet, writer, and artist, whose creative endeavours including making sense of her embodied experiences of Waardenburg Syndrome Type 1, and exploring the unique cultural space of borderland life. She writes the column ‘O’r Gororau’ (from the borders) for Barddas Welsh poetry magazine.”