Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Menna Elfyn's latest collection in Welsh and English is full of murmurings, such as the need ‘to walk the earth as if there’s a baby sleeping next door’. Murmur is a poetry of meditation, from the reverberations of dead poets to murmurs of the heart which force the poet to dwell on the irregular beat of the poet’s lot.
Distant sounds too are heard from captivity in a sequence of poems about the last princess of Wales, Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Owain Glyndwr, who was incarcerated with her children in the Tower of London for over two years until their mysterious death. Fittingly enough, mur-mur in Welsh also means wall-wall, so the book's leitmotif is one that stresses the distance between words and worlds – and the way poetry is a language beyond language which we can sometimes only grasp through sound.
Menna Elfyn is the best-known, most travelled and most translated of all Welsh-language poets. The extraordinary international range of her subjects, breathtaking inventiveness and generosity of vision place her among Europe’s leading poets. Murmur was her first new book since Perfect Blemish: New & Selected Poems / Perffaith Nam: Dau Ddetholiad & Cherddi Newydd 1995-2007, and includes translations of poems by Welsh folk hero and poet of peace Waldo Williams (1904-71) which challenge the notion of the Celtic melancholy and testify to a ‘hesitant hope’. Her own poems have facing English translations by leading Welsh poets: Elin ap Hywel, Joseph P. Clancy, Gillian Clarke, Damian Walford Davies and Paul Henry.
'Menna Elfyn is a major figure in contemporary Welsh poetry, writing exclusively in Welsh. A true internationalist, her work has been translated into over eighteen languages. Her most recent bilingual collections in Welsh and English are published by Bloodaxe. Elfyn writes about the intimate and every day, the natural world and about women’s experiences, always able to transform her awareness of the small, and the beautiful, to the affective and often, then, the political. Her voice is challenging and compassionate by turn, unafraid of joy, and full of the energies of community, offering through the power of language, truth, consolation, and possibility.' - Deryn Rees-Jones, Co-Judge of the Society of Authors' Cholmondeley Awards 2022
'Menna Elfyn is the firebird of the Welsh language, bright, indomitably modern and as undestructible as the phoenix. She gives hope to all writers in lesser spoken languages that great things can rise from the ashes' – Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
'Elfyn is a poet of healing…both compassionate and celebratory. Like a soul doctor she questions and probes, like St Teresa she endures the darkness, but in the end she sings a song which affirms that flawed humanity is indeed perfectible’ – Katie Gramich, Planet
'Liberation and enclosure are powerful themes in Menna Elfyn's work. She is a political poet, writing with passion of the Welsh language and identity for which she campaigns. But she makes her claims with realism…a restless, intensely responsive imagination’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer
Menna Elfyn: 'Handkerchief Kiss'
Menna Elfyn reads her poem 'Handkerchief Kiss' / 'Cusan Hances' in English and Welsh from Perffaith Nam / Perfect Blemish: New & Selected Poems 1995-2007 (Bloodaxe Books, 2007). The English translation of this poem is by Joseph P. Clancy. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley, which includes four poems from Perffaith Nam / Perfect Blemish read by Menna Elfyn in Welsh and English.
Bilingual Welsh–English edition