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Bleeps of Sheep and a Grandfather Tree - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Mariya Taher

NWR Issue 108

Bleeps of Sheep and a Grandfather Tree

I have to admit something, and I’m ashamed to do so, but I do believe in honesty, so here goes. I’m not sure if I ever knew Wales existed before I came here to attend the Dylan Thomas International Summer School. If I was ignorant of the Welsh countryside before this trip, I can now safely say, I’ll never make that mistake again.

I did, however, know Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night' but not ‘Under Milk Wood’. The residents of the latter, I discovered, having just visited New Quay, where Thomas lived for a brief time during WWII, were the inspiration for many of the radio play’s characters. Poet Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch gave our group a tour of the town, pointing out the places Dylan had been, reading his work out loud on spots he had been known to frequent, and indulging us in the tale of the infamous event in which Vera Killick’s husband Thomas, a Commando officer home on leave, took against the poet one night and fired a few shots at Majoda, the bungalow where Dylan lived.

The theme of the writing school, based at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David's Lampeter campus, focused on ‘the spirit of place’, and the programme promised that visitors would be ‘inspired, not only by the beauty of the Welsh countryside, but also by excursions to the sea and mountains, as well as to castles, cromlechs, and cathedrals.’ That promise was fulfilled.

The summer school provided us with the opportunity to visit Gregynog Hall in rural mid Wales, the former home of Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, who were art collectors and the wealthiest women in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. I stayed in a room there for two nights, enjoying tea time, the talk by Mary Oldham on the Gregynog Press (established in 1922 and the brainchild of the Davies sisters), the strolls through the grounds, and of course the rumors of haunted spirits running amongst our group.

More importantly, we were given time to reflect on our trips, the landscape, the many bleeps of sheep most of us were not accustomed to, and to write down these reflections through prompts given to us by our instructors, Menna Elfyn and Pamela Petro. The most memorable reflection time for me occurred after our group engaged in a morning walk through the town of Lampeter as part of an active observational prompt. I had connected with an old Welsh tree while on our walk, and having described it as grandfatherly, proceeded to write a short nonfiction piece connecting the tree with my feelings about the lack of grandparents I felt connected to as I grew up. The next day in our writing seminar, Pam gave us a lecture on ‘hiraeth’. I then realized I had ‘hiraeth’ for an idealised relationship with grandparents. Who knew but that I could only put a name to that experience once I came to Wales.

Mariya Taher is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Massachusetts, United States. She has contributed articles to Brown Girl magazine, Solstice literary magazine, The Express Tribune, The San Francisco Examiner, BayWoof and the Imagining Equality Project. Her short stories have appeared in Prism Review, Pulse Online Literary Journal, Blue Minaret and The Flexible Persona. @mariyataher83.

Photo of Gregynog Hall courtesy of the author


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