April 30, 2008

Pen Name Post Script

After all that talk below about pen names, I couldn't help thinking of a wonderful tradition of pen names dating back to...well, at least the Victorian era, when it was reinvented: the Welsh tradition of the Eisteddfod (history here). This annual event--which would have made the perfect subject for a National Poetry Month post, if I hadn't been god-awfully busy--allegedly dates back to at least the Renaissance if not the Middle Ages. Traditionally, an Eisteddfod was a literary competition for bards. Today, the National Eisteddfod is much more of an inclusive event, with musical performances, choir and literary competitions, displays of local artwork, numerous booths offering wares for sale...but the highlight is still the Chairing of the Bard--the winner of the competition for strict-meter poetry. The competitors submit their entries under a pen name, and when the winner is selected, their pen name is announced to the crowd and the winner stands up and reveals him- or herself. They receive a full-sized, artisan-carved wooden chair as a prize, awarded by the Gorsedd of Bards. Similarly, a Crowning takes place for the winner of the free-verse competition.

This picture shows an American version of the Eisteddfod, with the Gorsedd of Bards (aka the teaching staff in bedsheets) of Cymdeithas Madog's annual Welsh language course marching out into the crowd. The prize there is a miniature version of a real Eisteddfod chair which the winner gets to take home for a year; winning names are engraved onto a plaque on the back side. I had the honor (and surprise) of winning the mini-Eisteddfod one year for a short story I wrote in Welsh (you can read the translation here, as well as view my pen name). I still find it strange that I can win a major prize for writing something not in my first language--in fact, in a language I'm arguably still struggling with--but I feel like I can't get very far writing in my first language...oh well. I still have a piece out there with an agent looking at it, so my fingers are crossed.

More about the Eisteddfod on Poetry Friday--I'll feature a Welsh poet and winner of the BIG Eisteddfod!

3 comments:

TadMack said...

Though I know I am seriously slaying the Welsh (I-sto-fod? Ice-ted-fod?) pronunciation, I'm so impressed with this -- WAY COOL, a.fortis. This is a properly splended end to National Poetry Month that included crown sonnets and haiku and all manner of other poetry goodness.

I *WANT* a chair, however. No American contest ever gives you anything useful. Okay, except money...

Sara said...

Too cool. Can't wait to read more on Poetry Friday. What did you do with your mini-chair for the year you had it?

a. fortis said...

I placed it in a prominent location on top of my desk, which is an old rolltop made of a similar shade of wood. :) So every day when I'd come in to work on the computer I could see it there encouraging me!