Gruffudd Eifion Owen wins the Cardiff National Eisteddfod Chair

10 August 2018

Having won the stool at Monday evening’s Siwper Stomp on the Pavilion stage, and the Stomp Werin in Tŷ Gwerin last night, Gruffudd Eifion Owen added a Chair to his collection on Friday afternoon, winning in the final main ceremony of the Cardiff National Eisteddfod week.

32 year old Gruffudd Eifion Owen, wins the Chair for a poem on one or more of the traditional poetic measures, of no more than 250 lines on the theme of ‘Porth’ (Gateway or Entrance).  The adjudicators were Ceri Wyn Jones, Emyr Davies and Rhys Iorwerth.  Delivering the adjudication on behalf of his fellow judges, Ceri Wyn Jones said, “This year’s theme was ‘Gateway’ and among those gateways, we read about the slaves’ gateway in Calabar, the Brexit gateway in Caernarfon, the gateway in the Bay and Cardiff Castle, and the gateway to the digital world.  And a few gateways that I – or my fellow judges – managed to grasp!

Turning to the work of Hal Robson-Kanu, he said, “This poem took our breath away – not because it’s refined or rich, not because it’s extremely elaborate and multi-layered – but because it is so trenchant in the way it deals with experiences which are a way of life for the digital generation.  And by doing this, he studies the way in which we choose to live our lives, and that meaning – or lack of meaning – has worried poets for generations of course.

“But his greatest triumph may be the fact he has done this in such an accessible way, thanks to his fast-moving colloquial style and a wide range of keys, where brand names and swear words are as natural and common to him as strict metre poems.  And as writing poetry comes so easily to him, he hits the target every time, changing his style without affecting the story.

“This year’s competition was very close, with gŵr dienw’s poem also excellent, according to Ceri Wyn Jones, “Gŵr dienw has the intelligence, the orientation and the poetic achievements – but, according to Rhys Iorwerth, Hal Robson-Kanu ‘appeals most to my emotions and makes me think about the meaning of our modern lives’.  If gŵr dienw’s work is sure to excite those readers who are fans of the eisteddfod ‘awdl’, then Hal Robson-Kanu’s work has the potential to excite readers who have never read – or enjoyed – an eisteddfod ‘awdl’ before.

“But it was not those things which sealed it this year.  The truth is that that one of these two amazing poems thrilled us more than the other.  And on the basis of that thrill, the three of us, independently of each other are in total agreement, that this year’s Chair should be presented to Hal Robson, Hal Robson-Kanu.”

Originally from Pwllheli, Gruffudd attended cynganeddu lessons with Ifan Prys and Meirion MacIntyre Huws as a teenager.  This is the first time he has competed for the National Eisteddfod, but not the first time he has been honoured on the stage at the Donald Gordon Theatre, having won the Drama Medal at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff in 2009.

He was also among the performers at Monday night’s Siwper Stomp, appearing with his fellow poets in Bragdy’r Beirdd.  He is a keen competitor, and feels that having the opportunity to regularly perform his poetry in front of an audience has been a great help to him as he develops his poetic skills.

He works for the BBC as one of the editors of popular drama series, Pobol y Cwm, and works with two of the other winners of the week, Catrin Dafydd, who won the Crown on Monday afternoon and Rhydian Gwyn Lewis who came top in the Drama Medal competition yesterday.  Gruffudd is currently away from work enjoying time with his young son, Dyfed Arthur, but will be returning to the cobbles of Cwmderi in September.

He is a member of the Llŷn and Eifionydd ‘ymryson’ team and the Ffoaduriaid ‘talwrn’ team.  He published his first collection of poems, Hel Llus yn y Glaw, in 2015, reaching the shortlist in the poetry category of the Welsh Book of the Year competition in 2016.

He is very grateful to his former teachers and lecturers, his family and friends for all their encouragement, patience and support over the years, and in particular to Gwennan, Casia and Llŷr, the other members of the Ffoaduriaid ‘talwrn’ team.

The Chair is sponsored by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales to celebrate the 70th anniversary of St Fagans National Museum of History.  The financial prize was donated by Gaynor and John Walter Jones in memory of their daughter, Beca. 

The Museum was keen to see a connection with St Fagans in the design, and this was the challenge for sculptor Chris Williams, who lives in Pentre and works in Ynyshir, Rhondda.  He was inspired by the form of the stick chairs in the Museum collection, in particular one chair that was made in Trealaw, only a few miles from Chris’s workshop.

Chris chose to make the chair seat and back from elm, and ash for the legs and arms. The seat and back is lightly engraved with a traditional wool pattern that is based on a carthen in the collection of St Fagans, woven at Esgair Moel Woollen Mill, one of the first buildings to have been re-erected at St Fagans in 1952.

Chris has successfully combined traditional elements with new technology within his design. Many of the pieces were created by hand using traditional tools while the pattern on the seat and back were engraved using a laser-cutting machine.

Elements of the chair were made at St Fagans National Museum of History in a purpose built building, Gweithdy. This is a brand new sustainable building celebrating the skills of makers past and present where visitors of all ages can experience traditional craft skills first-hand. At Gweithdy, Chris demonstrated and shared the process of making the chair with visitors – a first in the history of making the National Eisteddfod chair.

The Cyfansoddiadau a Beirniadaethau, which includes the full adjudication for this competition and the winners of all the other composition winners at this year’s Eisteddfod will be published at the end of the ceremony.

The Cardiff National Eisteddfod is held in Cardiff Bay until 11 August.  For more information go online, www.eisteddfod.wales.