26 Treasures

Curators at the National Library of Wales selected 26 different objects to reflect the diversity of their collections, from sound recordings to maps, medieval books to films, photographic albums to historic pamphlets. Writers (half writing in English, half in Welsh) then wrote 62 words exactly in response. The pieces were translated into Welsh and English and submitted to the Translation Challenge as part of the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham. A Bardic staff was awarded to the winner. You can see all the 26 sestudes, along with their translations in the Treasures section, and you can read some of the stories behind the finished pieces in the Creation Stories section.

Aeth cenaduron y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol ati i ddewis 26 gwrthrych er mwyn adlewyrchu  amrywiaeth eu casgliadau, o recordiadau sain i fapiau, o lyfrau canoloesol i ffilmiau, ac o albymau lluniau i bamffledi hanesyddol.  Bu’r awduron maes o law yn ysgrifennu union 62 gair o ymateb i un o’r gwrthrychau (gyda’u hanner yn ysgrifennu yn y Gymraeg, a’r hanner arall yn y Saesneg).

Cyfieithwyd y darnau i’r Gymraeg ac i’r Saesneg, ac fe’i cyflwynwyd i’r Her Gyfeithu fel rhan o’r Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yn Wrecsam.  Gwobrwywyd yr enillydd gyda Ffon Farddol.

Gallwch weld pob un o’r ‘sestudes’ yn ogystal â’r cyfieithiadau yn yr adran ‘Treasures’, a gallwch ddarllen rhai o’r straeon sy’n gefndir i’r gwaith gorffenedig yn adran y ‘Creation Stories”.


creation wales
Paul Murphy.jpg
Self portrait by Shani Rhys James, Paul Murphy

The journey started with a visit to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in West Wales. It was the spring of 2011. I had been invited by John Simmons, coordinator of 26 Treasures to be one of the 13 English speaking writers to be paired with an object. The task was to create a sestude of 62 words describing my response to the piece. There were another 13 Welsh speaking writers. All 26 pieces were to be translated from English into Welsh and vice versa.

The magnificent room in which we assembled for the "draw" was full of treasures: ancient books; parchment maps; line drawings; a floor to ceiling vivid, red, raw, painting that dominated the room through its size and intensity.

I got paired with the painting.

The painting turned out to be by an award winning contemporary Welsh artist, Shani Rhys James. I had not come across her before, my loss.

The work "Studio with Gloves" is a self portrait of the artist working in her studio. Two aspects of the painting struck me initially: the floor of the studio is covered in discarded white latex protective gloves; the artist is a small, hunched, haunted figure, a red raw object, only just in the frame, staring at the "camera" but with eyes averted, as if focused on something disturbing outside the frame of the canvas, that encloses her.

As I travelled back on the train to my home in NE Wales, I found myself fascinated by both aspects but dwelling on the gloves.

I acquired a very good introduction to her work, through Edward Lucie-Smith's "the black cot" a retrospective of her work. 

It described her paintings generally as "raw". It acknowledged that artists work with dangerous and toxic substances and suggested that the "gloves", prevalent in Rhys James' work, were representative of this danger and perhaps symbolic of fear in general. This enabled me to put the gloves to one side and fix on, what was for me, the key to the picture; the object to which Shani's staring eyes are drawn. 

Some of her work seemed to relate to childhood memories and there are recurring images of a child seemingly trapped in a cot with black railings on all sides, set against a stark black background. They spoke to me of sadness, isolation, pain and unrequited love.

This touched a chord in me with memories of some aspects of my own childhood

I finally wrote my sestude, by chance, on a family holiday on the south east coast of Ireland at a place where I had spent many holidays in childhood. We stayed at the same cottage as on those  far away holidays.  As I strode along by the sea in a wild Irish summer, I wrote and rewrote these 62 lines many times over. I felt a responsibility to the artist and I wanted to get it right. The tone of the piece was certainly set by the painting itself but I feel the setting in which I finally penned the lines had some impact too. I love this part of Ireland, it's a certain part of my life in time and space and memories of time spent there are both dark and light. Perhaps the ghostly images of discarded latex gloves on the studio floor were awakening some of the ghosts of my past.

The experience of writing a piece of only 62 words had an impact on me and helped me in coming to a decision to change my life and embark on a new career as an aspiring writer. I am now studying at University College Falmouth on the MA Professional Writing course.

My sestude, in essence a short piece of creative nonfiction, is an interpretation of one moment in a life. It is my take on someone else's piece of art. It may well, in the end, say much more about me, than about Shani Rhys James. Only she knows the truth.

I am writing a blog about my Second Chance in Life at Falmouth.

Paul Murphy – original in English
‘Treasure’ – Self-portrait, Siani Rhys James

Blood Cell
Sweet transient taste of innocence
so early imbibed
lingers but fleetingly

Light turns to shade
brilliance leaches away
Horizons shorten, perspectives distort
Falling, falling, falling from grace

Pitilessly the mind’s eye cuts
through layers of artifice
so contrived
worrying, distressing
raw ulcerous weeping sores below

Trapped and bereft
she silently screams
“out, out damn spot”
echoing soundlessly down all those
empty years.  

Geraint Løvgreen – translation into Welsh
‘Trysor’ – Hunan bortread Siani Rhys James

Cell Waed
Prin y pery
blas melys byrhoedlog diniweidrwydd
a sugnwyd mor fore

Try goleuni’n gysgod
pyla disgleirdeb
Byrha gorwelion, ystumia safbwyntiau
Wrth syrthio, syrthio, syrthio oddi wrth ras

Yn ddidostur treiddia llygad y meddwl
drwy haenau ffug
hynod ffals
gan boenydio, blino
briwiau diferol dolurus cignoeth islaw

Yn gaeth ac amddifad



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