She is variously described as a snake, a zipper, a ribbon, a scar, a Welsh version of Route 66. Memories, myths and moments of love and heartbreak are woven into a collection of poems celebrating a subject unusual – the A470 road which connects North and South Wales.
Although the subject may seem unpromising, the collection A470: Poems for the Road / Cerddi’r Ffordd, has proven popular with critics and readers alike and has already been reprinted twice since its launch on St. David in March.
Sian Northeywho co-edited the volume, had the idea of asking people to write – in Welsh or English – a poem about the road, which stretches 186 miles from Cardiff in the south to Llandudno in the north, crossing towns, villages, mountains and valleys.
The selected poems were translated and printed side by side in both languages. Hundreds of people sent in contributions – around a third in Welsh – to the publisher, Arachne’s Pressand 51 were chosen.
Northey said the A470 was a good subject because most Welsh people had some sort of opinion – good or bad – of the road. “People who travel it regularly tend to curse it, while those who use it less often have more loving feelings,” she said.
His own poem, Rhyw Bedair Awr (About Four Hours), suggests that the road – with “every turn/the occasional red kite” – transforms the traveler into another person.
Northey said it was important that the book be bilingual. “The literary scene in Wales tends to be divided between the Welsh language and English. It’s good when they can be together.
Editors and publishers were delighted with the variety of poems. There are many descriptions of mountains and rivers, references to the seaside, slate quarries, raptors and fighter jet flyovers. A poem recalls how the children used to have Welsh people beaten by the headmaster’s cane.
Tribute is paid to a small chef on board at Builth Wells, to the Llandudno goats who took over during the first lockdown, and – in one called Llawlyfr Mam i Pit Stops Cymru (Mam’s Guide to Welsh Pit Stops) – the best places for a toilet break.
Stephen Payne, poet and scholar, submitted a poem about the museum in Pontypridd, a few yards down the road. For him, the road means trips to the Brecon Beacons and the Hay festival, a feeling of getting away from it all. He said he passed through “remarkable and unspoilt” country, connecting north and south in a way the winding railway could not. “It’s a good image for Wales as a unit,” he said.
Appropriately, the volume has been on the road, with poets reading their work across the country, including at the prestigious National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Storyville Books in Pontypridd hosted a reading of some of the poems, where Jeff Baxter, co-owner of the shop, said they clearly captured the imagination. “The event was great fun, with an obvious emotional charge and a real flow between poets and audience, especially moving naturally between English and Welsh, the two languages of Wales.
“Everyone who has lived along the road has such vivid memories and emotions attached to the road. If you live near the Valleys section of South Wales, for example, you can hear the road in the background almost constantly, always present. For me personally, that means I’m almost home when I turn off the M4 on the A470. »