In Parenthesis


Throughout February – April 2016 Young Writing Squad members in Caerphilly, Newport and Torfaen enjoyed a series of creative writing workshops with poet Rhian Edwards and composer Helen Woods as part of the WNO In Parenthesis community engagement project.

A new opera, In Parenthesis, has been commissioned to celebrate WNO’s 70th Birthday and also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

In Parenthesis is young British composer Iain Bell’s adaptation of the epic poem by London-Welsh poet and artist, David Jones. Performances will take place in summer 2016 (May-July) in Cardiff, Birmingham and Royal Opera House (London).

Workshops explored:  World War I and conflict;  family history and heritage;  history of poetry and music of the trenches (including the famous Welsh song Sosban Fach (‘Little Saucepan’); camaraderie of group/hymn singing in times of danger/despair and aural traditions of singing and Welsh identity from different parts of Wales (and London Welsh). The groups were involved in researching their family history (1914-18) and writing poetry, prose and song lyrics based on family members.

The mini-librettos created as part of the community engagement project will be sung by Welsh National Opera singers and performed at the National Museum Cardiff on 3 June 2016.

 Torfaen and Newport Writing Squads composite poem

The ring of a gunshot,

Echoed by another, another.

Watching in horror,

We coward in the bushes

As he ripped out the pin.

My ears ring with the cacophony

Of helpless screams, broken cries.

The enemy sprints towards me.

A duel of bayonets, the hiss of a blade,

An empty, bloody hole,

A statue remains.


Loneliness stalks me through the forest.

Thick canopy, no light seeping through.

The rain attaches itself, drenched, drowning.

Mud crawls up my limbs like a slow worm,

Burying my battered body, brittle, useless.

A metre feels like a mile.

My shoes falling to shreds.

I can smell the damp grass.

My coat as heavy as a corpse,

Heavy as a tank. My heart ripped,

A clean break. I hold my breath,

See its heat in the air.


My bloodshot eyes swell

With the salt of tears, all cried out.

Fog blurs my vision.

The metallic taste of blood.

The ground is smothered

In the lifeless and writhing.

Everything is spiralling

In this cobwebbed mind.

The pattering of rain,

the squelch of mud,

The only satisfaction,

An eerie silence curdling.


Smoke fills the air, burnt amber, charcoal grey.

As long as the sky remains suspended,

My sweet boy, Dear You, we share that at least.

I could sleep for the rest of my days

And wake to a bowl of something warm,

Where everything’s not broken,

Breaking or washing away,

A fire to dry my clothes, warm my bones,

Take me home.


I have begun to see you walking around,

My sweet boy, but when I try

To touch you, you disappear


Caerphilly Composite Poem

Silence turns into cackling laughter.

Thick smoke slithers through the sky

like a dragon’s tail.

Bare trees, fallen ferns

Burn in the distance

Twitching like spiders’ legs.


Tears dripping from his eye.

It may have been just rain.

Shards of water thundering down

Drip drop. Drip drop.

The smell of dirt and rotten wood.

Rain enters my wounds.


The dark fog chatters, collapsing rocks.

Pain burns through my stomach.

It looks like scrambled up letters.

The rain, the weighted blistering rain.


Enemy trenches only  a football field away.

My brothers in arms drop before my eyes.

Slaughtered, mowed down by the pounding machine guns.

I could feel my body getting heavier,

My eyes slowly closing.


I can’t sleep properly.

The long coat sucks in the rain.
It gets heavier and heavier.

I’m hoping I’m still alive.


Their undying cries for help.

A fellow soldier resting comfortably

Across a severed tree.