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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Mymryn Rhyddid by Gruffudd Owen

30 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Mymryn Rhyddid by Gruffudd Owen is published by Cyhoeddiadau Barddas

Ant Evans

Mymryn Rhyddid (A Scrap of Freedom) is Gruffudd Owen’s second volume of poetry, following on from Hel Llus yn y Glaw (Collecting Bilberries in the Rain), which, coincidently, was on the Book of the Year shortlist in 2016.

In Mymryn Rhyddid, the poet takes the reader on a journey which explores identity, language, being a father, being a Welshman and family. The poems are split between Owen’s upbringing in Pwllheli, the “God shaped hole” which is a legacy of that upbringing, and his life in Cardiff.

To begin with, Owen talks a bit about the changes which have occurred since Hel Llus yn y Glaw was published in 2015; changes which we’ve all lived through (Brexit, the Trump years and Covid).

Personal changes

In addition, he mentions more personal changes; becoming a father twice over, the realisation that his eldest son was autistic and that life would be different to that which he and his wife had imagined. As he tells the reader “Dyma gyfrol am newid, cariad, caethiwed a mymryn rhyddid.” “Here’s a volume about change, love, restriction, and a scrap of freedom.”

The initial poem “Mae’n anodd…” (It’s difficult…) outlines for the reader the guilt Owen feels at his “braint annheilwng” “unearned privilege”, which is outlined, with no punches pulled, from the get go to the reader:

“Wrth i mi dicio bocsys mewn holiadur BBC

Gesh i olwg reit anghynnes ar bwy’n union ydw i.

Dwi’n ddyn gwyn dosbarth canol, canol oed ac (eitha) stret.

Pan mae’n dod at leisiau amgen, tydw i ddim yn enghraifft gret.”

“As I ticked boxes in a BBC questionnaire

I had an uncomfortable look at who exactly I am.

 I’m a white, middle class, middle aged (quite) straight man.

When it comes to underrepresented voices, I’m not a great example.”

Owen then goes on to mention:

“Mae popeth o fy mhlaid i, dwi’n drymlwythod dan bob braint;

tasa ‘nheidiau yn fy ngweld i, ‘sa’r craduriaid yn cael haint!

Dwi’n futwr afocado, dwi’n canu mewn sawl cor,

a dwi’n poeni mai fi ‘di tarddiad lot o’r plastig sy’n y mor.”

“Everything’s to my advantage, I’m burdened with every privilege;

if my grandfathers could see me, the poor things would be in spasms of pain!

 I’m an avocado eater, I sing in several choirs,

and I worry that I’m the source of a lot of the plastic in the sea.”

Drawing to the poem’s conclusion, he writes;

“Ac mi ddywedaf wrth fy ngwraig (tra bod honno’n gwagio’r bin),

Mae mor anodd bod yn Gymro dosbarth canol, stret a gwyn.”

“And I tell my wife (whilst she’s emptying the bin)

It’s so difficult being a middle class, straight, white Welshman”

The difficulty here of course not being a middle class, straight, white Welshman. But rather, the accompanying guilt at the awareness of those privileges and the associated better hand dealt to him in life.

Middle class problem

The second poem “Argyfwng y diffyg wylys” (the aubergine shortage emergency) sees Owen confronted with another arguably middle class problem. As an aside, this reviewer must admit to having been quite ignorant of the existence of a Welsh word for the vegetable in question. Every day’s a school day!

“Wylys, wylys, fe wylwn

ddagrau prudd oherwydd hwn.

Yn sein o’r oes anwar hon

gwgais ar silffoedd gweigion.

‘Fy majic! Fy imoji

awgrymog, godidog i.

Fy mamoth piws, fy maeth per;

ti, mor handi, yw ‘mhrinder’.

Er ei chwennych, trychineb

oedd Tesco a Waitrose heb

un wylys, i’w anwylo.

Yna’n stond, cwestiynais, do;

Yw f’aubergine lythineb

Yn iach? Oni fywiwn heb

gyson fewnforio’n farus?

Ai lled fy mhlaned yw ‘mhlys

sinigaidd? … ond ces neges…

…mae’n iawn…mae rhai’n M&S.”

“Aubergine, aubergine, I wept

melancholy tears because of this.

An omen of this uncivilised age

I scowled at empty shelves.

‘My magic! My gloriously

suggestive emoji.

My purple mammoth, my sweet tasting sustenance;

it is you, so useful, that I lack.’

Despite this desire, tragedy

Tesco and Waitrose didn’t have

A single aubergine to caress.

Then suddenly I questioned, I did;

Is my voracity for aubergines

Healthy? Surely I’ll survive without

Frequently importing greedily?

Is the width of my world my cynical

lust? …but I got a message…

…it’s ok…there are some in M&S.”

The first thing I (and I suspect anyone familiar with the poetry of the late Gerallt Lloyd Owen) noticed was that the above seems to be a pastiche of “Fy Ngwlad” “My Country”, suggested in that poem’s opening:

“Wylit, wylit, Lywelyn,

Wylit waed pe gwelit hyn.

Ein calon gan estron ŵr,

Ein coron gan goncwerwr…”

“You would weep, you would weep, Llywelyn,

You would weep blood if you could see this.

Our heart possessed by a foreign man,

Our crown by a conqueror…”

The contrast here between an aubergine shortage and the loss of Welsh sovereignty following the conquest of Wales by Edward I, admittedly gave this reviewer a much needed chuckle at the time of reading Argyfwng y diffyg wylys the first time round.

As a contrast to the humour displayed above though, the reader gets a glimpse of Owen’s frustration at well meaning, but tactless observations and questions regarding his autistic son in “Rhestr o bethau dwi ‘di blino’u clywad” “A list of things I’m tired of hearing”

“Ond ti’n gallu gweld bod o’n dallt bob dim…”

“Mae o’n bownd o siarad rhywbryd…”

“Ella y bydd o’n dda iawn am neud symiau…”

“Fedra i weld yn ei lygaid bod o’n dallt bob dim…”

“Fedri di’m cymharu plant efo’i gilydd…”

“Mi ddaw yn ei amser ei hun…”

“’Dan ni gyd ‘chydig bach yn awtistig.”

“Ond mae o medru cyfathrebu rhywfaint?”

“Ond rydach chi yn ei ddallt o’n iawn?”

“Mond bod o’n hapus sy’n bwysig ‘de?”

“Mae plant i gyd yn gneud twrw.”

“’Sa chdi’m yn ei newid o am y byd, na f’sat?”

“Mae o’n berffaith fel y mae o tydi?”

“Ti’m yn garu fo dim llai, nag w’t Gruff…?”

“But you can see that he understands everything…”

“He’s bound to speak at some point…”

“He might be very good at doing sums…”

“I can see in his eyes that he understands everything…”

“You can’t compare children to one another…”

“He’ll get there in his own time…”

“We’re all a little bit autistic.”

“But he can communicate somewhat?”

“But you understand him fine?”

“His happiness is all that’s important, isn’t it?”

“All children cause a commotion.”

“You wouldn’t change him for the world, would you?”

“He’s perfect as he is, isn’t he?”

“You don’t love him any less, do you Gruff…?”

I can’t begin to imagine just how tiring hearing the above, especially if on a regular basis, really is. I may revisit this list again in future to remind myself, as I’m certain I’ve put my foot in it with parents of autistic children in the past.

Without a doubt, the main appeal in Mymryn Rhyddid is the variety of subjects Gruffudd Owen writes about, not to mention the variation in tone, from amusing to serious and everything in between.

Mymryn Rhyddid by Gruffudd Owen is published by Cyhoeddiadau Barddas. It is available from all good bookshops.

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