Merthyr remains one of the few large towns in Wales without an arts centre. Aberdare has the Coliseum, Pontypridd the Muni and Blackwood the excellent Miners' Institute. Most of these were developed with finance from the Valleys' Live project in the past, while Merthyr's money went into Rhydycar Leisure Centre, with the last of the budget used on a free concert featuring local bands and the rock group Man.
There's always a feasibility study on-going and certainly there have been gradual developments, such as the much-improved theatre space at Merthyr College. However, despite our brandnew cinema complex, the arts remain low on the list of priorities, however much our valiant Arts Officer tries to push it to the fore.
The old Town Hall is one of the many historic buildings collapsing into dereliction which would make a suitable location for such a centre ; at best, along the lines of Chapter in Cardiff. While there seems little movement in this respect, the actual arts in Merthyr continue to flourish. As well as first class painters like Gus Payne, we have a number of promising singer-songwriters and bands like the Epaulettes and Oratorios, waiting to break through.
Two of our local poets, Roy Morgans and Dave Jones were featured in the recent anthology 'The Sounding Bowl' and both are regulars at our Open Mic. sessions at The Imp, where a different guest is featured every month.
An arts centre would provide a real focus to the various groups and bring together people working in different media. The town suffers from some of the worst poverty and sickness rates in the country and a centre would also be a focal point for workshops involving the disabled and unemployed, in the way that Bethesda Arts Centre ( run entirely by volunteers) did in the 80's.
Merthyr Tudful has always been an inspirational place, especially in terms of literature. 'Poetry Wales' magazine was founded here in the 60's by Meic Stephens, as was 'Red Poets' ( well, jointly, with Wrecsam) in the 90's.
An arts centre named after Glyn Jones or Leslie Norris would be apt indeed. We have spent a good deal in the past honouring our boxers, now the time has come to honour the town's great writers for once. All the better, if we save a crumbling building steeped in history in the process.
DIEGO MARADONA COME T MERTHYR
The day Maradona come t Merthyr with is air gone all grey an really short ; is beer gut woz even bigger.
The day Diego stands in-a Igh Street goin on bout-a play-offs an ow Cardiff blew it, soundin jest like ev'ryone else.
The day ee lifts is And o God an points down-a arcade t where a new shop ave opened, doubts ee've got any gold.
Slike some buildin society on'y with a name of a butcher; in is blue n white stripes, carn bleeve it's a pawnbroker!
With is face pale as lard, with is worn out trainers, numero 10 couldn elp wonderin if is shirt ud bring any money in.
I love reading my poetry to audiences, but it was a real challenge for me to do it and I still find it scarily thrilling.
Of course, it can be disillusioning reading to small audiences, yet sometimes these can be more receptive.
I first read in this context at university, taking part in benefits for the miners' strike of the early 70's. It was a case of getting up and doing a few and trying not to get too 'stocious' (great Belfast word for 'drunk') before reading. Not that most of the crowd would've noticed, the state they were in.
Here I first encountered performance poetry, when one sound poet finished his short set by spitting blood, courtesy of a capsule in his mouth. I didn't know poets did things like that. Tony Harrison's risque poems on sexual positions was the most avant garde I'd witnessed till then.
For someone who grew up in England (after early years in Aberystwyth ) without the benefit of Eisteddfodau to give confidence on stage, I was never encouraged to perform during my whole time at Secondary school. It was a massive step from being an avid spectator at many readings, to actually taking part.
I had confidence in my work (even when it was pap) and our small poetry group at Aber Uni. did help a lot to give an opportunity to read and discuss. It seems amazing that in that group was David Jones ( whose pen-name is David Annwn) and also David Lloyd, both of whom are now published poets of some renown.
Since, I 've read at many different places. One of the most memorable was at Hay, reading 'Seeking Victor Jara' into a megaphone just as President Clinton's helicopter flew overhead. Then there was Giro Cafe in Belfast and a besuited Michael Longley (representing the Arts Council) sat in a venue full of alternative people, the air thick with wacky-backy.
Some of the most satisfying readings have been to local writers' groups. In Neath years ago I didn't tone down my work to a mostly elderly audience and when one woman approached me after, I feared the worst. 'You were great', she said,' I could hear every word so clearly. Some of our speakers.......you can't make out what they're saying!'
Recently, I read at Dowlais Library to Aberdare Poetry Society, a thriving and highly organised group ; there was also an open mic. and it was a very well-attended and entertaining afternoon. Everyone was so full of enthusiasm.
To read poetry on the streets I would need that megaphone and the solidarity of a few mates like Jazz and Tim Richards. I'll never forget Penywaun's finest (i.e. Jazz) treating the whole of Merthyr precinct to his ear-blasting rendition of 'Giro City' while he ascended the escalator and held the megaphone like some threatening cannon over the railings overlooking the shops.
At the punkfest in Merthyr last year I ended up 'doing a Jazz' myself. I was so pissed off by the mistreatment of the Red Poets, that I ended my act by spontaneously knocking the whole mic. and stand off the stage! Planning it wouldn't have been the same.
However, I can't imagine doing what this poet did -
Summer has visited London. We're walking city-speed hundreds of air-miles away past al fresco cafes.
A couple clutch half-empty wine glasses as they stroll, nosing the air and tasting the clamourous cheer.
A Polish man rants at a window at a bar full of drinkers nestling their tulip glasses, laughing round, ignoring him.
In the midst of Friday's seekers a tall poet is busking, no-one listens, the cap at his feet is empty : voice bridging a persistent river.
Footie and poetry go together in a way that no middle-class Middle England middle-of-the-road affair between the Tories and Lib Dem's could possibly imagine.
In Wales, Dannie Abse has written a well-known poem called 'The game' which summons up the atmosphere of Ninian Park and also the fans' viewpoint of Good playing against Evil. Roger McGough has a great poem in the children's anthology 'You Tell Me' which describes a very peculiar fan who supports both Liverpool and Everton and when it comes to sex is understandably 'bi-sexual'.
McGough is actually an Everton fan and he appears in one of the anthologies put together by Charlton fan Ted Smith-Orr entitled 'Football: Pure Poetry'. I was amazed to find in them poems by the likes of Seamus Heaney,declaring himself another Everton supporter. Ian McMillan (once poet-in-residence at Barnsley FC) is represented and the late,great Adrian Mitchell comes out for 'Liverpool, Scotland and South Africa'. Even players get a look in , as there's a poem by ex-England striker John Fashanu.
Cardiff City have possibly got more 'poetry fans' than any other team and I say this with no little bias and pride. From Cardiff itself there are Dannie Abse, Herb Williams (also Aberystwyth Town) , Ifor Thomas, Duncan Bush, Lloyd Robson and Nick Fisk. From the Valleys, myself and Kevin Mills.
Poetry is everywhere in football and some of the time it's on the field. If the team are a series of stanzas, then scoring a goal is the dramatic high-point.
With metaphors like this I could be a football manager who tries to get away from the usual cliches of 'At the end of the day.....' and 'We'll take one game at a time....' In fact, CCFC's manager Dave Jones has begun a whole series of metaphors as we head for Wembley this Saturday. After the first leg we had opened the door and were 'taking a peek'. Now we've slammed the door behind us. It remains to be seen whether we're inside or out!
If managers use extended metaphors, then fans apply poetic skills to chants from the terraces. These usually involve a lot of swearing and one famous CCFC chant about Peter Thorne and his 'magic hat' delighted the player but also, as he was a devout Christian, shocked him.
Sometimes the simplest of rhymes can be the most effective and can arise spontaneously from the occasion. Responding to Arsenal fans reserve in an FA Cup tie a few years back, Bluebirds' fans started chanting - 'Highbury is a library, Highbury is a library.......Na na na, na na na...' There is less invention nowadays, though the latest about winger Chris Burke is an exception.
There's also a vital history involved as I discovered recently, thanks to Merthyr actor Jonathan Owen. Jonathan is set to record the whole song from which our chant 'With my little pick 'n' shovel' comes, along with former Catatonia star Owen Powell, drummer Stuart Cable and Super Furries guitarist Guto Pryce. Apparently, the song dates back to the 1926 General Strike and was a rallying cry for the miners at that time.
The fact that we still sing it from the stands at the CCFC Stadium is quite astonishing and illustrates the strong link between the Valleys and Cardiff. Cardiff City have never been just a Cardiff football club and support from the Valleys is as crucial today as it has always been.
I have become a genuinely obsessive 'Twitter-twat' (even Tories can talk sense sometimes). I enjoy sharing my words of profound banality with others and the haiku-like restriction of 140 letters.
Not that I've mastered a great deal. I don't seem to have many followers and have a long way to go before I become a quasi-religious cult and lead them all to salvation on the Blessed Waun ( pronounced 'wine', but no relation).
I began in a surrealist political mode, but have rapidly lapsed into political commentary and ecstatic reactions to the Championship play-offs. Pretty soon, I will be commenting on my struggles with flatulence and the woodlice in our bathroom, judging by the prevailing subject-matter.
In search of enlightenment on Twitterdom , I decided to 'follow' a few of my musical heroes (all sounds a bit too much like stalking). The ridiculously under-rated and amazingly talented singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore was having serious problems unblocking her toilet. Where was her guitarist partner Nigel Stonier with his plunger?
More disconcerting, the completely unique American singer-songwriter (see a pattern here?) Sufjan Stevens appeared to be tweeting only the opening lines of his songs! I thought he'd got a form of cyber-dementia, till I discovered that Sufjan's site was actually controlled by his fans.
Trying to catch up with legendary.......you got it......singer-song-writer Tom Waits proved more fruitful however. The tweet from Tom made welcome reading, when he said - ' I never get on the radio. Marcel Marceau has more air time.' Typically witty.
Yet I quickly found out the power of the ubiquitous tweet. I read comments on the election eagerly and one struck me - 'The electorate have spoken and they have said.........'Erm...' When Ian Hislop repeated this word-for-word on last Friday night's 'Have I Got News For You' as if it was his own invention, I soon realised there was no copywright on these twitterings.
My older daughter warned me not to use Twitter to be poetic, yet I follow a number of observations about low-flying clouds and birds singing to annoy insomniacs. Friends would probably argue that I've twittered for far too long anyway and ex-colleagues would merely state - 'Haven't you got anything better to do?'
Well, sometimes things are beyond a tweet,especially the cockerel up the hill -
Election? What election? In Merthyr (and it must be the same in most constituencies not considered marginals) there's a distinct lack of any political activity at all. From observation alone, the For Sale party are way ahead and they're not shifting.
Sure, we get the usual load of leaflets through the post, same as ever except the BNP are standing for the first time and promise to 'bring back the cat' and the gallows as public entertainment, the new 3D cinema being too expensive for our impoverished citizens.
They will duly chase the Muslims out of town (haven't noticed any), close down the mosque and make it into a British Cultural Centre (worship the Queen and learn chunks of Ol' Shakey..........sounds like one of Cameron's DIY schools!). No, we haven't got a mosque either and the only Fundamentalists happen to be the Protestant Christian variety, one of whose churches is the Rev. Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterians and likely to be as ardently Brit as the BNP claim to be, with their Union Jack logo.
There are a few Labour posters (re-elect Dai Havard) in predictable houses. Opposite me is the house of one Labour loyalist plastered in them. He used to berate our Labour Council for its total inaction on opencast mining, but now accompanies the said Havard on his brief tour of my village.Havard, locally known as the 'MP for Kabul', looks incongruous in suit, we're so used to seeing him in a flak jacket.
After 13 years of Labour misrule as far as the economy is concerned especially, Merthyr has altered. We are noticeably greener except for the massive opencast coal site of Ffos-y-fran right above town. It dominates the landscape as it does our hearing : when the wind's easterly or it's still, the noise from its continuous working is a slow,grinding rumble and I live a mile and a half away! What must it be like to live nearer?
Most importantly, we have lost most of our manufacturing base and the town centre is closing down or derelict. We no longer make things, but buy and sell things made elsewhere ( mostly China and Korea). And it's not just Hoover we've lost. I can recall a time when we'd buy clothes at two factory shops in the borough and toys at a facory in Abercanaid which replaced the well-established Triang one.
We need industries, both nationalised and co-operative, which use the skills of local people to produce goods that we need. Why not furniture from our many trees? Why not hydro-electric machinery to harness the power of rivers and reservoirs nearby? Why not develop the opportunities for numerous footpaths and cycle paths on land threatened with opencast and through disused railway tunnels in the mountains? Our history should be of continual interest, not just confined to one or two days in a year.
Naturally, all this requires investment and the reality is the very opposite: scathingly vicious cuts whoever is elected on May 6th.
One answer could be a series of co-operative banks, extensions of already existing Credit Unions. Each local co-op bank would need initial support from the Senedd, but could eventually help sustain the various manufacturing cooperatives in the area, be they furniture, hydro power or sustainable tourism.
It is ultimately sad to see towns like Merthyr and Rhymney feeling completely disenfranchised. One Liberal Democrat placard in a large house with a drive with three cars and one Plaid window doesn't exacty threaten Labour's hegemony. We have been taken for granted for too long.
Most people here would argue - 'What's the point?' and who can blame them? If PR is delivered with a single transferable vote system or list like the Assembly elections, then it will go some way to involving more people in democracy.
But it is never enough. Ultimately,people have to feel that politics can actually change their lives for the better and it may well be extra-parliamentary action which does this , through the Trade Unions, but also through other movements more likely to empower the dispossessed. Whether such movements exist at present is another matter.
At a time when politicians are getting a lot of stick, here's praise for one ( mind, she is my daughter Bethan !) -
You're the politician I could never become: giving speeches off the cuff, devoted to your party like a second family, while I'm on the outside raising a fist and chanting.
Not that we didn't get things done: defeated the poll tax by civil disobedience, mobilised thousands into doing something by simply doing nothing, till the bailiffs came knocking; defeated the opencast when many in my village declared - 'You'll never win!'
But you - on radio,tv, committee meetings and in the Senedd's chamber, leafletting on streets, addressing campaigns - are what a politician should be. Those Visteon pensioners even called you their 'Joanna Lumley' and how funny comparing you with such a toff luvvie.
I recall pushing you in a buggy miles over the mountain in tamping rain to Bevan's Stones to protest against unemployment in Thatcher's days; a speech by Dafydd El (then darling of the Left) ; now Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas sits and presides so haughtily.
That Assembly is and is not your workplace: factories, doorsteps and schools are the places where you thrive with a vision of possibilities beyond walls' slogans, on a skyline within reach for everyone.