This year, the Chair will be presented for a poem in more than one of the traditional poetic measures of no more than 250 lines. The subject is Arwr or Arwres (Hero or Heroine), a particularly poignant subject this year, as we commemorate the First World War at the Eisteddfod.
The Hero was the title of the poem for the Chair competition a century ago at the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair in Birkenhead, when Ellis Humphrey Evans, Hedd Wyn, won the Chair. The young soldier-poet had been killed in action weeks before the ceremony, and a black shroud was placed on the Chair in his honour. In 2017, the National Eisteddfod remembers the young poet’s sacrifice and the loss of a generation of young men to Wales.
Over the past few years, the Snowdonia National Park Authority has been restoring Yr Ysgwrn, the home of Hedd Wyn, and with the work now complete, the Authority has donated this year’s Eisteddfod Chair. In the centenary year of the Black Chair, the original chair has been restored to its former glory, and can now be seen at the young poet’s home in Trawsfynydd.
And there is another important link between Hedd Wyn and the Anglesey National Eisteddfod Chair this year, as the 2017 Chair has been partly crafted from ash and oak wood sawn from trees growing in the grounds of Yr Ysgwrn; trees which would have been growing there during Hedd Wyn’s lifetime. The Chair’s creator, Rhodri Owen, explains, “The idea of reincarnation and moving forward is central to the concept of this year’s Chair. But the link with the past is also very important, and I considered the shapes of the tools and implements used daily in rural life a century ago when working on the design.
“The two back legs rise towards the ‘moon’, in the shape of scythes, with the bottom of the back in the shape of two marking irons, which would have been used to mark the turf before chopping the peat in agricultural areas. The two back to back shapes, creating one waving iron, which would cut the turf after the marking, point towards the underworld, representing darkness and death, while the top of the Chair and the Nod Cyfrin represent light and a new life.
“I’ve also considered the fact that this year’s Eisteddfod is held in Anglesey, so the Celtic link is obvious, as are the Celtic ideals of reincarnation and moving from the dark to the light, depicted in the design. The seeds of life rise as the darkness surrenders to the light and the hope of a new, peaceful life in a time of political uncertainty worldwide and a crisis of Welsh identity.
“The Park Authority and I wanted the Chair to convey its own message, and I hope I have achieved this, emphasising the need for the Welsh nation to confidently step forward to a new, better and peaceful future.”
The Chair has been created by hand in Rhodri Owen’s workshop in Ysbyty Ifan.
This year’s financial prize is donated by John and Gaynor Walter-Jones in memory of the Rev and Mrs H Walter Jones, and the adjudicators are Peredur Lynch, Huw Meirion Edwards and Emyr Lewis.