A&H Digital Winter Commission 2022: Hanan Issa
New writing from Welsh-Iraqi poet, filmmaker, and artist, Hanan Issa; commissioned by Arts&Heritage to mark Winter 2022.
Arts&Heritage (A&H) is delighted that Hanan Issa, National Poet of Wales has developed a new prose poem for the A&H Digital Winter Commission 2022. Hanan Issa is a Welsh-Iraqi poet, filmmaker, and artist. Her publications include her poetry collection My Body Can House Two Hearts and Welsh Plural: Essays on the Future of Wales. Issa is the 2022 Hay International Fellow.
Hanan Issa’s writing for A&H reflects on the our shifting seasons – a long autumn finally leading to the frost of full winter; nature’s cyclical withdrawal and what we do to keep the darkness at bay. The artist also reads her work in an accompanying audio recording and has contributed to a Q&A on her extensive writing and editing with A&H Director of Projects Marie-Anne McQuay.
Hanan Issa is a Welsh-Iraqi poet, filmmaker, and artist. Her publications include her poetry collection My Body Can House Two Hearts and Welsh Plural: Essays on the Future of Wales. Her winning monologue With Her Back Straight was performed at the Bush Theatre as part of the Hijabi Monologues. She is part of the writers’ room for Channel 4’s award-winning series We Are Lady Parts. Hanan is co-founder of the Where I’m Coming From open mic series. She was the recipient of the 2020 Ffilm Cymru/ BBC Wales commission for her short film The Golden Apple. She is the current National Poet of Wales and 2022 Hay International Fellow.
Kohenoor Kamal is a Bengali-British Illustrator whose work is influenced by her cultural upbringing using bright and bold colour palettes. Her bright and colourful works have been seen in the likes of Tate Collective, The Guardian, In Good Company and Fuse Magazine. Incorporating her unique perspective of the world drawing on her personal experiences as a Bangladeshi- British designer have enabled her to break traditional design rules in a way that is unique to herself and has provided her with the unique style she has today.
Grug Muse is a poet, essayist, and editor. Her second volume of poetry, merch y llyn, (Cyhoeddiadau’r Stamp, 2021), came first in the Welsh Book of the Year poetry category. She is also co-editor of Welsh (plural) (Repeater, 2022). Grug performs her work regularly, and has appeared in many literary festivals, locally and internationally. She is one of the founders and editors of Cyhoeddiadau’r Stamp (a small independent press), and in 2021, she co-founded the poetry journal Ffosfforws with Iestyn Tyne. Grug was a writer at work in the Hay Festival 2018-19 and won the Pen Cymru Her Gyfieithu translation prize in 2020. She has just completed a PhD on Welsh travel literature about Latin America at Swansea University, funded by the AHRC CDT for Celtic Studies.
Interview between Hanan Issa, National Poet of Wales and Marie-Anne McQuay, Director of Projects Arts & Heritage December 2022, discussing the A&H 2022 Winter Commission.
Marie-Anne McQuay: I wanted to ask what are the Winter rituals you’ve carried with you or adopted over time?
Hanan Issa: Thanks for this challenging commission Marie-Anne!
I enjoyed taking time to think about this question – I don’t often stop to think about what I’m doing day to day but it’s true there are definitely rituals of winter.
Fireworks night is a big deal in our house – we love to have all of our family over for the big display. My husband and I each have our little traditions we like to do with our son Yousuf – together we make toffee apples and a big flask of hot chocolate then build a nice, cosy fire in the garden pit.
We set off the fireworks, then sit around the fire telling funny stories until we run out of kindling.
MMc: The verse poem captures the kind of things we do to stay well in Winter as daylight diminishes but I also think your writing captures the shift in the seasons that means Winter for many months can feel like a long autumn. How else are you addressing the climate crisis in your works? [link to Climate Change poem?]
HI: It’s a scary time with so much uncertainty. I saw an article about the temperature dropping this week and, I’ll be honest, it terrifies me to think of how many people will suffer. It seems such a meagre contribution but writing Global Warming and linking info for people to seek help was an attempt at not giving in to apathy. There’s a lot of anger, rightfully so, at how our government mismanaged the pandemic as well as the ongoing energy crisis and I’m loathe to absolve politicians of their responsibility by emphasising community but its a delicate balance – continuing to lobby/ pressure those in power into helping those most affected whilst also reaching out to support on a local level.
MMc: As well as writing and making films you edit and create platforms for others, can you tell me more about your latest co-edited project Welsh (Plural): Essays on the Future of Wales?
HI: Of course – I’ll never stop talking about this book!
The book emerged from conversations between us editors while at the Hay Festival. We soon realised that each of us had experienced a different perception of Welshness – speaking Welsh, being mixed race, living outside of Wales, in the north/south etc. This led to conversations with other people and it became apparent that there existed what I now like to call a ‘spectrum of Welsh experience’. The writers we approached all brought some new facet of experience to the conversation but what struck us most was how every single writer had felt, at some point, not Welsh enough. We hope the book sparks provocative conversations surrounding Welshness and reimagining what the future of Wales could look like. Personally, I hope it starts more nuanced conversations around the concept of belonging in general.
MMc: Finally, in one sentence, what has this year been like as National Poet of Wales?
HI: It’s been an intense, exciting ride and I can’t wait to see what my second year in post looks like!
Hanan Issa reads the A&H Winter Commission; recorded in Cardiff, November 2022.
With thanks to Nick Davies of Meteor Sound.