Friday 26 November

Snow! Just a veil in Ceredigion as we set off for Carmarthen, a completely white world as I write at Blaen Cwrt on Friday morning. Serious snow, crisp and deep and even.

Though only November, it's very cold. For me and Menna Elfyn, sharing the stage tonight, it's just 10 days and 28 degrees Celsius between tropical Kerala and frozen Carmarthen.

There are similarities too. A warm, intelligent audience of readers and writers, a bilingual event, poetry and debate. This time it's in Trinity - now known as Trinity St David's. The Academi banner is resplendent, the bookstall set out, Menna there to welcome me. The room is soon buzzing with talk and arrivals.

In a way it's a homecoming, county of my father's and grandfather's birth. In nearby Llangynog, my great-grandfather and nine of his children are buried. The room fills, an audience of Trinity-St.D students, past students and staff, townspeople, and brave pilgrims from snowy Pembrokeshire and upland Carmarthenshire. Oh, and a very small dog in a handbag.

Later I meet people from my past: a teacher, a theatre student who 'did my poems' for her GCSE in Bath, and attended Poetry Live, people who've enjoyed courses at Ty Newydd. Poetry usually draws its audience from the wide stage of poetry. Afterwards people say: 'You won't remember me...' But I usually do.

Menna reads first, weaving between Welsh and English so the audience experience both the pleasures of meaning and sound, whether Welsh speaking or not. I read recent poems, most written to commission or at someone's request.

The audience questions the Muse versus the Commission. I say that there is usually a queue of ideas and an untapped oil-well of creative energy, so putting the two together will usually make a poem happen. Nobody knows where a poem comes from anyway.

Sometimes it's as if you dreamed it, and it has nothing at all to do with you. Or you research a subject and find a new field and a fresh vocabulary. A commission and a deadline make good discipline for a writer.

We discuss translation. I believe translation is very important to the culture of a multilingual world. Without it we would not share the Bible, the Koran, Chekhov, Pushkin, fairy stories and ancient mythologies, and the world would not have Shakespeare.

When you translate a poem you must make a new poem. You keep the meaning and lose the music, so you must make up for the loss by making a new music in the translation. It's better than nothing. Menna and I have translated many of each other's poems, so we know what is lost, what is gained. Someone once called it 'unfaithful beauty'.

I stroke the dog in the handbag, and we drive home to a very late supper of, not poetry (RS Thomas had Poetry for Supper) but ravioli and a mug of tea.

Gillian Clarke
National Poet of Wales

Gillian Clarke is blogging for the BBC during her seven-date poetry tour of Wales, which runs until 10 December 2010. For more information on the National Poet's tour of Wales visit the Academi website.

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