A poet returned to a dementia care centre to say a big thank you to the residents who inspired him to write the powerful piece which won a major prize at this year’s National Eisteddfod.
Gwion Hallam, whose day job is a television producer, worked on an eight-week community project for Literature Wales which saw him visiting dementia homes.
He spent most of the time talking to residents at Bryn Seiont Newydd, the dementia centre of excellence in Caernarfon run by the award-winning Pendine Park organisation.
Gwion spoke to them about a range of topics, from the stories of their lives to their own enduring love of poetry, and he drew on their rich reminiscences to pen a poem entitled Through a Mirror which was adjudged the best in the Crown Competition at the National Eisteddfod at Bodedern, Angelsey.
He was so delighted for the help they gave him that he returned to the home to say thanks to the residents and to proudly show them the glittering silver crown which was his prize.
Gwion, who is originally from Ammanford but now living in Y Felinheli, Gwynedd, had been writing poetry for many years.
He published poems for children and his novel for teenagers, Creadyn, won him the Tir na n-og Prize in 2006.
In 2003 he came close to winning the Eisteddfod crown in Montgomeryshire but composed little poetry after his first child was born.
Then he joined the project with Literature Wales and began his regular visits to Bryn Seiont Newydd.
Gwion, 44, said: “The idea was to come in and talk to residents on an individual basis, which I did for a couple of hours over an eight-week period earlier this year.
“I talked to them in the Welsh language about their own memories of their lives and childhoods and how they got their names. I also spoke to them about their own interest in poetry.
“I discovered that one of the residents had written his own poetry. It’s called Remembering Poetry and I particularly liked the line he used which describes how he loves poetry because it’s always the same, even if you can’t remember other things when you get older.
“I also spoke to Elwyn about the famous North Wales poet Hedd Wynn, who was killed in the First World War.”
Gwion, who works for TV production company Darlun and has been filming in Conwy, Lampeter and South Korea in recent months, added: “It was a privilege working with dementia patients. Getting to know them and hearing the rhymes of their lives was enough to encourage me to write
“From what they told me, I created a fictional character called Lili who herself lives in a dementia home.
“My poem is about her meeting with poet and telling her story. It’s called Through the Mirror as it’s about using dementia as a mirror.
“With National Eisteddfod poetry entries it’s traditional to have a nom de plume, and I decided to use a compendium of the names of some of the people I met at the home, which was elwyn/annie/janet/jiws.
“It was marvellous to win the crown, so I came back to the home to meet all the residents again and say thank you for the help and inspiration they gave me. It was lovely to see them again.”
The resident whose own poem helped to inspire Gwion was 93-year-old Elwyn Hughes, a former postman from Rhostryfan near Caernarfon.
Gwion said: “He was very helpful and I really liked the fact he had written his own poems. Apart from discussing the work of Hedd Wynn, we also discussed a poem which was written in his memory after he was killed in 1917 by R Williams Parry.”
Another resident who Gwion enjoyed meeting again was 88-year-old Janet Jones Evans from Aberdaron on the Llyn Peninsula.
She said: “When he came for the sessions I really enjoyed talking to him about my childhood in Aberdaron and how, when I was a Sunday school teacher, used to love handing out sweets to the children. It was very nice to see him again and to look at the crown he won at the Eisteddfod.”
Also glad to see the poet again was 69-year-old Iwan Lloyd Williams – known to everyone by his nickname of Jiws – from Llanberis.
“I spoke to Gwion about my nickname which in Welsh comes from real name. I enjoyed telling him about that and other things and it was good to see him again and the crown he won.”
Iwan’s son, 44-year-old Marc Lloyd Williams, who was also on hand for the visit, said: “It’s fantastic to see someone like Gwion working with people like my dad who have dementia.
“It’s also great to see somewhere like Bryn Seiont Newydd where they do such interesting things for the residents. Knowing that puts your mind at ease about the kind of care they are getting.”
The home’s musician in residence Nia Davies-Williams, who helped arrange the sessions with Gwion, said: “We were delighted to get involved with the Literature Wales project as part of our programme to enrich the lives of our residents.
“He visited us on eight occasions and spoke to a number of the residents about their lives and lots of other things, which brought back some pleasant memories for them.
“I think everyone who was involved enjoyed it very much and it was marvellous that what he learned from them inspired him to write his marvellous poem and win the Eisteddfod prize.
“It was also great to see him come back to the home to see everyone again and let them have a look at the lovely crown he won.”
Pendine Park proprietor Mario Kreft MBE said: “We were thrilled to hear of Gwion’s success at the National Eisteddfod, particularly because the arts in all its forms is central to daily life for all our residents and staff as a means of enriching lives across the generations.
“Gwion’s prize-winning Pryddest is a wonderful example of how older people can also inspire and raise awareness about the value of the arts in all aspects of life.”