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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Y Traeth o Dan y Stryd by Hywel Griffiths

04 Jul 2024 7 minute read
Y Traeth o Dan y Stryd by Hywel Griffiths is published by Cyhoeddiadau Barddas

Y Traeth o Dan y Stryd by Hywel Griffiths is one of the three shortlisted books in the poetry category for this year’s Welsh language Wales Book of the Year Award.

Ant Evans

Referencing one of the most popular slogans during the Parisian protests of 1968 “Beneath the paving stones lies the beach” Y Traeth o Dan y Stryd (the beach beneath the street) sees the reader accompany crowned and chaired poet Hywel Griffiths, looking at where and how it’s possible to find time to look for the (metaphorical as well as physical) beach, in amongst the rush and responsibilities of daily life, political storms (both on and offline) and where climate change is threatening beaches in Wales and beyond?

This is very much a golden thread running through this volume. Life’s a beach, but you have to find it first.

We begin with “Arfogi” (To Arm). The English translations included throughout this review are those of the reviewer


“Te diogel wrth benelin,

Tap i’r ap, a sgrolio’r sgrin

Yn bored…”

Tea securely near my elbow,

A tap to the app and scrolling the screen

Feeling bored…

As is so often the case with social media however, things soon liven up, with Griffiths drawing comparisons between Twitter and the 1405 Battle of Pwll Melyn, near Usk, which saw an English victory over the forces of Glyndwr: 

“troediaf Bwll Melyn Trydar” “I step into Twitter’s Pwll Melyn”. 

There then follows a comparison between the internet and the Battle of Orewyn Bridge, which saw the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 and the end of Welsh sovereignty:

“A’r we yn Bont Orewyn,

Yn y feed mae gwaywffyn:”

With the web like Pont Orewyn,

In the feed there are spears:

The above comparisons set the tone for the first half of the poem at least, these online confrontations can be disheartening to say the least. However, the tides soon turn, thanks to a “darian o likes drwy ein loes” “shield of likes through our anguish”.

By the end however, it’s discovered that “Te oer. Mi wna’i bot arall.” “Tea’s cold. I’ll make another pot. 

Without a doubt, it’s far too easy for time to fly by as we get distracted by social media. And the passage of time is most certainly a frequent fixture in this volume. Another example of this can be seen in “Continue watching”, its English title grabbing my attention immediately:

Continue watching

“Mae’r nosweithiau’n gwibio heibio

fel rhifynnau cyfresi Netflix,

a does dim yn haws na disgwyl 

i’r Drefn ein clymu

i’r rhifyn nesa

yn y credits agoriodol.

Noson ar ol noson,

rhifyn ar ol rhifyn,

hyd nes bod box-sets y blynyddoedd

yn pentyrru’n rhesi,

cyn inni sylweddoli na allwn

wylio eto o’r cychwyn.

Weithiau mae gwrthryfela

mor syml

a diffodd y teledu

Cyn i’r rhifyn nesa gydio,

a chanfod eto beth elli di ei wneud

gydag amser.”

The evenings fly by

like the episodes of Netflix series’, 

and there’s nothing easier than waiting 

for the Order to bind us

to the next episode

in the opening credits .

Night after night,

episode after episode,

until the box-sets of years 

accumulate in rows,

before we realise that we can’t

watch again from the beginning. 

Sometimes rebellion is

as easy

as turning the television off

Before the next episode takes hold

And find again what you can do

with time.

I think it’s a fair assumption that this reviewer hasn’t been the only one to find himself in a similar situation where Netflix is concerned. Especially during the pandemic’s lockdowns. 

“Llangollen” is a further example of poetry whose focus is the passage of time, thanks to Griffith’s memory. However, as is pointed out to the reader, though the years may pass, some things, like youths diving into pools, remain constant:


“Mi groesais i’r bont hon yn blentyn bach,

fy mrawd a mi a Mam a Nhad,

gan ddwyn, dros ysgwydd, gip

ar fechgyn yn neidio oddi arni

a phlymio i’r pwll,

i droedfedd sgwar, ddiogel, ddofn

rhwng craig a chraig,

oedd yn fesur o’u hieunctid,

a’u chwerthin a’u sgrechian yn atsain

o’r bwau.

Heddiw mae’r bechgyn a’r merched

yn dal i neidio

a nofio

a chanwio

a chysgodi yn yr haf

ar y geulan o dan y dail,

neu’n gorwedd ar Gerrig y Llan

yn ffrydio cerddoriaeth,

ac yn dod i adnabod dwr

fesul penwythnos

dod i gael eu bedyddio yn nyfroedd y dduwies

hyd nes eu bod yn gwybod go iawn

lle yn union i neidio, nofio a chanwio.

Ac eleni mi ddes i’n ol

i’w canol

a’u gwylio eto, dros ysgwydd,

a cheisio peidio a mesur y blynnyddoedd a aeth o dan y bont.”

I crossed this bridge as a small child,

my brother and me and Mam and my Father,

and caught, over my shoulder, a glimpse

of boys jumping off

and diving into the pool

To a safe, deep, square foot

between rock and rock,

which was a measure of their youth,

and their laughter and screams echoing

from the arch.

Today the boys and girls

are still jumping

and swimming

and canoeing

and sheltering in the summer

on the bank beneath the leaves,

or lying on Cerrig y Llan

streaming music,

and getting to know water

weekend by weekend

coming to be baptised in the waters of the goddess

until they really know

where exactly to jump, swim and canoe.

And this year I came back 

amongst them

and watched them again, over my shoulder,

and tried not to measure the years which had gone under the bridge.”

Streaming music aside, both past and present events depicted above are identical, which, this reviewer supposes, says a lot about human nature, especially during the summer.

I think it’s also a safe assumption that many of us, once getting to a certain age, would rather not consider how many years have gone under the bridge, as it were.


Do I have a favourite poem in this volume?

As difficult a decision as it is, seeing as I’ve enjoyed each of them for various reasons, I’d have to say it’s probably one I’ve already mentioned in this review.

That being ‘Continue watching’, in all probability because it was the first of many in this volume which made me stop and reflect on when I was doing much the same a few years ago. 

This is an excellent collection of poems which you could just as easily read in one sitting or take your time over.

Considering many of the poems here deal with the passage of time, perhaps it would be advisable to take your time with them and avoid rushing, if at all possible.

Whichever way anyone chooses to read them, I’d certainly recommend you do.

Y Traeth o Dan y Stryd by Hywel Griffiths is published by Barddas. It is available from all good bookshops.

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