On Monday August 1st 'Dim Gobaith Caneri' will be launched at 7 pm at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum, Merthyr Tudful. It's the first in a series of joint exhibitions of stunningly arresting paintings by Merthyr artist Gus Payne and text by myself ; it runs will the end of the month and free pamphlets of the prose-poems/ micro-fiction will be available for all.
   Our collaboration began a few years ago when we decided to interpret idioms in Welsh, certain familiar phrases and  local place-names.
   Our interpretations were arrived at individually and it was never a question of a joint approach, or illustrating each other's work. We did, however, agree to explore a number of common idioms such as 'dim gobaith caneri' itself ( ' no hope like a canary'), with its specifically Valleys mining connotations.
   Others, like the name of the huge opencast coal site above the town, Ffo-y-fra('ditch of the crow' ) reflected our mutual concern for the future environment of Merthyr.
   What is crucial, I feel, is that Gus ( who calls himself michael Gustavius Payne as an artist and on his website) and I share a great deal.
   First and foremost, we are both learning Welsh, though he is well ahead in terms of fluency ! Furthermore, our political ideas are very similar : strongly leftwing, but with no party political allegiances.
   Beyond this, we are both very much influenced by music. Gus once sang in a punk band and music has always played a major role in his life. For me, it's probably more inspirational than the written word, attested by my latest book of poems 'Moor Music'.
   Another factor is that we're both vegetarians and passionate about animal rights. This is illustrated, I believe, by the animal imagery running through my prose-poems and micro-fiction and Gus's paintings.
   Initially, we were both drawn to bird imagery : this is understandable, as many of the idioms centre round birds , like ' gwyn y gwel y fran ei chyw' ( 'the hen always sees her chicks as white').
   Gus is a master of animal depiction and since then he has introduced monkeys and dogs into his work, as well as the ubiquitous lurking cat.
   Dogs and cats figure more in my micro-fiction than the prose-poetry. in 'Allan o'r cwd' ( 'out of the bag' ) for instance, I use the historical setting of a travelling fair to show how easily people are enticed and duped.
   It will be interesting to see how people who attend our exhibitions respond to our distinctive yet instinctively shared imagery and narratives.
   For two of my poems ( only one of which appears in the free pamphlet) I have taken a different approach. 'The Canary-Child' and 'The Boy Balancing' (based on an earlier painting) are direct responses, products of close-watch. Both appear on his website.
   I fopund that prose-poems lent themselves to this project. They are, after all, framed by their own shape, as are the pieces of micro-fiction. Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish between what is prose-poetry and micro-fiction, and that is as it should be.
   I truly believe that Gus is one of Wales's greatest artists and I'm absolutely 'wrth fy modd' to be associated with his stunning paintings.
   The following is one of the most recent prose-poems and also atypical with its Mabinogion connections...............


                                        A FO BEN BID BONT

   Once I waded the ocean, palming the wind and treading down tides.

   A message under a starling's wing brought me.

   I knew that man who had cut off their lips and tortured with such savagery.........but she had given nothing but gifts, my white crow: even the feathers of herself.
   Once I had laid down my head in a river for my countrymen to traverse.
We hunted for her captors; terrified of me for all their fearsome ways.
   Now my head's an empty viaduct, where ghosts of steam pass over a gravel path.
   Yet she has been released at last, returned to this, her belonging.

   And those over the sea, miraculously, can speak again, lips grown back!

   One day, perhaps, my head will serve as  a bridge for women and men to cross valleys, rivers, estuaries in search of the bird-woman rising up, knowing and beyond knowing.

     a fo ben bid bont - to be a leader is to be a bridge 
 
 
   The pre-season can be almost as anxious a time for footie fans as the actual season. Just witness the debacles at Wrexham and Plymouth, where the former's future remains in limbo as fans seek to buy out the club in the form of a Supporters' Trust and the latter causes much consternation amongst fans because their club has been bought by one Peter Ridsdale ( who notoriously took Leeds to the brink and repeated it with Cardiff City later) for the sum of £1........and one of the players probably lent him that! 
   Whereas last summer saw very precarious times for Cardiff City, when threats of bankruptcy and even administration eventually subsided and a glut of loan-signings arrived; this summer has been different, though just as hectic.
   New manager Malky Mackay has had to re-build virtually the entire team. 12 players left : Bothroyd and Burke out of contract, Chopra sold to Ipswich and numerous loanees, including the dire Bywater and Samuel, inconsistent Olofinjana and brilliant Bellamy.
   I believe Mackay will be a successful manager given time, but there's no way a plethora of new players are going to instantly gel into a team. He will instill team spirit and discipline, both seriously lacking under Jones.
   As well as that, I expect a very different approach, with the team not reliant on playing long balls to Bothroyd when in doubt. With the real possibility of Kenny Miller and Robert Earnshaw up front, there's no chance of these tactics anyway!
   Last year Mackay's Watford were prone to defensive lapses (see our 4-2 victory at home), but could be a devastating attacking force deploying pass-and-move football ( see our 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road).
   Moreover, there are also opportunities for Plan B's and even Plan C's, unlike under Jones when we were lost without Jay Tweet ( the play-off Final v. Blackpool exemplifying this). Miller can operate as a lone striker and we have many promising midfielders like Gunnarsson, Cowie and Kiss who could make up a 5-man midfield. Joe Mason could step in and if we sign French striker Gestede then the days of SuperTub Parkin are numbered.
   Gestede could partner either Miller or Earnshaw as part of the classic Big Man-Little Man combo so beloved of Jones in his adherence to 4-4-2 whatever the circumstances.
   Fans frustrated or annoyed at pre-season results must remember we've had a lot of injuries and most players totally unfamiliar with each other. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say we will struggle to make an impact for the first two months as they adjust and familiarize.
   After that, I believe Miller will be one of the best signings ever for CCFC and Earnie will thrive. In the long term, youngsters Kiss and Mason will be revelations.
   Of course, there are still nagging doubts about both our keepers : fine shot-stoppers but suspect in the air and at left-back, because new signing Andrew Taylor is preferred as a winger and Naylor has been destroyed far too often in the past.
   At least MM is building a team for the future, with a combination of youth and experience and a new methodology which will require our defenders to change their games radically. He actually seems to have followed overseas players and Slovakian Under-21 captain Filip Kiss is one he has been observing for a year.
  I hope fans show patience. Ideally,we need an extra two weeks pre-season just for players to learn each others' names! If Bellamy can somehow thrash out a deal to leave Man. City and return where he wants to be, then our attack will be frightening.
   Imagine Bellers alongside Kenny and Earnie! Mind, we said that last season about Chops and Jay!

    My brother is a 'twitcher' who goes on holidays all over the world to spot birds and note rare species. For me , there are really only one set of birds worth seeing.........

                                               FOOTIE TWITCHER

Every day I study the table :
we do not move up or down,
we have never been this consistent;
it's like being a 'twitcher'
but watching cartoons of Adar Gleision.

0 points from 0 games played
and we are seventh, in alphabetical order.
My pinpoint binocular eye-balls
are focused on texts, websites
and messageboards for rumours.

It's as if I'm waiting for the birds
to return after a summer's migration
and it's an almost new flock this time ;
I'll have to learn their names.
White away plumage dangerously like the swan's.

In my head I learn the calls,
think up chants to fit them;
a homing pigeon called 'Earnie',
rare Slovakian breed named 'Kiss',
all part of the Bluebi
 
 
   Neighbours? Don't you love 'em! That strong sense of community in the Valleys ; the essence of 'chwarae teg'. Wel, joc mawr yw fe!
   We have had a nightmare month as a result of our neighbours, but it is nothing new.
   Many years ago I wrote the poem 'Once A Musical Nation' to satirize them. They objected to my wife's evening piano lessons and detested my son and daughter practising on cello, piano and violin. They decided to call in the Environmental Services department of our then Labour Council to measure sound levels. At one stage, they almost ran over my son, such was their fury!
   We received a letter from the Council warning us about 'Noise Pollution'. Beethoven, Bach, Faure, Elgar........all deemed as 'pollution' by our enlightened rulers!
   I complained to Liberty and to the Ombudsman. Our neighbours came round to talk directly to us and, to our utter amazement, the police arrived saying there had been reports of a 'disturbance'! At the time, the police seemed to respond with totally uncharacteristic haste. 
   Irony of ironies, my son later went on to play cello at a Charity Concert organised by the mother of the man next door. She gave him great praise. Noise pollution topped the bill and received loud applause.
   Fast forward some 15 years and the latest dispute is equally petty.
   We came home less than a month ago to a high bamboo fence , which they had erected in our garden, because they'd expected us to put up a high fence which had been in place before.
   My wife was livid that they'd done so without even asking and proceeded to take part of it down.
   They have been obsessed with a new fence they had put up and even told my 11 year-old to 'stop touching it!', when she was playing in the garden.
   We actually managed to come to an agreement and told them we'd pay for a lattice-fence to top theirs. They rejected it, there followed a heated discussion ,but eventually a compromise was agreed. Within minutes , the police arrived on the scene ready to charge us with 'criminal damage' and taking the viewpoint of our neighbours at every point made.
   Firstly, how can the police turn up so quickly over what is essentially a civil wrangle? Secondly, they must surely know someone, because it was soon obvious the officers weren't interested in our opinions at all, assuming the land was theirs and we had no right to remove their bamboo barrier.
   I have since learned that they did commit the civil offence of 'nuisance'. Had I known this at the time I would have argued our case more adamantly with the police.
   Twice after this they summoned the police, who reacted with ridiculous speed on both occasions. It seems our beloved neighbours were carrying out a systematic harrassment of us and lying to the police every time to bring them out. Yet, they were not challenged about wasting police time. One officer told me - 'It's very hard to prove.'  
   This is the reality of life in the Valleys. Sadly, the antithesis of solidarity and togetherness.
   Of course, there are great people around us and we have had neighbours in the past who have helped and supported us, as we have them. However, the actions of our neighbours leaves you with a bitter and cynical opinion of people generally.
   When Wordsworth referred to poetry as 'emotion recollected in tranquillity', I'm sure he didn't have this kind of poem in mind. It is a matter of revenge : poetry as missile not metaphor!



CRIMINAL FENCE


There are limits t bard language.
If I called ower neighbours BASTARDS
it’d an an insult t ev’ry child
ever born outa marriage.

There int words t describe ow I feel.
It should be summin like THATCHERS
or BLAIRS or maybe CAMERONS.
Wouldn wan t breathe theyer air.

It’s ard t bleeve, they called-a pleece
three times in a matter o weeks,
they lied through theyer razor teeth :
they must ave a bloody ot-line!

Domestics, drugs, robbrees an may’em
all goin on round town,
but they come in seconds
all coz of a fence.

We come ome an it woz there,
a Bamboo Curtain, over six foot,
builders done it while we woz out ;
my missis rippin, we took it down.

‘Criminal damage!’ sayz the officers,
‘we could arrest yew on the spot!’
So we paid ev’ry penny t them
CAMERONBLAIRTHATCHERS.

Thought we owned the fence-posts
an got a builder t remove em ;
agen the cops arrived like we wuz murderers,
talkin ‘theft’ arfta theyer lies on-a phone.

Third time it woz theyer builders
oo I tol wuz committin a civil offence;
when-a  las cop come, thought I’d carried out fantasies,
sleep-walked an throttled em in my sleep.

No, this wuz about ‘abusin the builders’.
If ‘abusin’ is such a crime,
they could arrest arf the population,
or make the whool countree a prison.

There are limits t bard language :
if I could really describe ower neighbours,
if I woz ever in-a dock
I think I’d call em VILE MURDOCHS!


  
 
 
   The rivers running through my life. The very first ones, Rheidol and Ystwyth and their meeting-point at Aberystwyth.   We would play for hours beside them on their gravelly beaches, skimming stones in competitions and even trying to catch fish with improvised rods made from sticks and string.

  Reaching the sea at Tanybwlch : storm-beach on whose huge boulders I'd leap playing 'Basques'.   I'd seen a film about the Basque people living in the mountains and always thought of them as agile mountain folk who could jump from rock to rock like mountain goats!

   Then on to Cambridge and the Cam a very different beast. Brown and slow and murky-mysterious and though I did swim in the designated area a few times, we mostly kept well away.

   It was for students and visitors to punt along, while we relished the outdoor pool adjacent to it. And its smaller sister, the Granta, was tea at Granchester with my mother busy quoting Rupert Brooke. But mostly it was swatting away pesky wasps. Now I think of Pink Floyd sampling its sounds and the fact that the great Syd Barrett could have passed close by, when I lived in that area.

   When we later moved into the countryside and further along the river, it became a place of contrasts : of lust and poetry. On the banks it was all kiss and touch with a local girl I'd met at a disco. But we were always open to prying eyes and one so-called friend would invariably sing -  'He was born with wandering hands!' at me in a Lee Marvin growl!

   Alone, I'd nestle in the long grass and delve into Eliot's 'Four Quartets', not caring a jot if I couldn't decipher them, letting the imagery seep into my subconscious. The river was usually sluggish here and one of its many tributaries passed through the house of the local Tory MP.

   Years later, when my wife and I lived in Rheinberg, W.Germany, the Rhine ran by the town, the most powerful river I'd ever encountered. We travelled north to see its many pleasure cruisers and south to see its weight of trade and vineyards high up on the hillsides.

   In the 70's the worst feature of the Rhine was its pollution and you could see why the Green Party soon became very popular there. There were jokes that you could light your cigarette on it and they were frighteningly close to the truth. Along one stretch were many channels designed to divert the chemical foam. This was the other side of W.Germany's prosperity : a total disregard for the environment.

   Born in the mountains, the level lands of northern Germany and East Anglia never felt like home. When we eventually settled in Merthyr, the Taf began to flow through my days. The many train journeys down to Cardiff would follow its course, past collieries at Abercynon and Merthyr Vale. There was the sheer force of its waters in flood , as well as its history like a black snake of liquid coal.

   During the 30 years and more we've lived here, the Taf has changed radically, becoming less prone to flooding and so much cleaner. Herons and kingfishers have returned in numbers and even cormorants at Radyr weir. Councils have become more fish-friendly, with most providing salmon-ladders for their long arduous journeys.

   It's a river of remarkable dichotomies from north to south. As a keen Geography  student at school I was always fascinated by their life-cycles and analogies with human growth. Considering the Taf Fechan at Pontsarn and the 'old age' river as it meanders towards Cardiff Bay brings back those lessons which caught my imagination then.




Journey of the Taf




It begins in the centre
of a mountain,
waters breaking.

Nobody can say
exactly where
I come from :
parents Earth and Water
and the midwife Air.
Soon Fire, the sun
and everything
I feed upon.

This place of summits
called a watershed :
tears as light
stings my eyes.

I am just a stream
a nant, a toddler
finding my way
downslope, over the edge
of my mother
and with my father's constant
push of rain.

One like many others
till I start to cut teeth,
to haul stones
to erode the bed
and banks into a gorge.

I'm moving quicker
with steeper gradient,
my veins pulse
with the thrust of water
like a salmon at the point
of a journey across the world.

Soldiers with back-packs
and booted outward-bounders.
fight against my movement,
believing it's a challenge.

The children who paddle
squeal, splash and fling
their stones, sound like
an echo in my bones.

The Sun, my teacher,
comes and goes
promising destinations
and then, dips down low;
so any season
I could be bellyfull
or parched to a trickle.

Sheep sip clear water
heads bowed as in prayer
to a lost mother ;
or they're dead weight,
blood mingling with light,
soon a veil of flies.

Winding and wending around
scarp and spur
I reach a sudden drop,
a ledge of resistant rock:
the descents of childhood
then youth when greys
and blues and browns
become a frothing white ;
into the devil's punchbowl
and a whirling might.
Here secret swimmers come
to shed their many skins
and exuberant leapers
plunge into a scream
and come out laughing.

I am joined by others.
by brothers and I'm 'Fawr'
to their 'Fechan',
they emerge on the scene
demanding confluences,
driving deep into chasms
before we're all lost
in a man-made lake :
they term it 'llyn'
but it is reservoir,
a store of water
we are schooled into
( even in most vivid reflections
we wear our grey uniforms ).

I straighten, I widen,
my girth held by bridges
and above are viaducts
which span into another age.
Rocky islets - trees and bushes
growing from them - bring doubts
as I begin to be fixed,
my route determined by walls
and a weir which parodies
the earlier waterfalls.

Now salmon struggle upstream,
as I welcome the many heron
whose measured wing-beats
are like the peace I strive for
and the returning colours
of the kingfishers diving
like winged rainbows.

All this, as I am dumping-place
for trolleys, cans and bottles
like some cess-pit of the past,
some cholera-infested slum.

My parents seem so far away :
mountains aloof, quarried or conifered
and clouds that drop their load
then move on. They call me Taff
but I much prefer my Welsh name
(it’s what I call myself
and sounds like a stone’s edge).

Sometimes I seem to slumber along
all controlled by sluice and gate ;
sometimes I’m far too busy
to notice those who gaze
like seagulls on the bars,
or those who cavort in heat ;
too busy with the flow, the downward trek.

I have too many shadows :
rail and trail, the once canal,
higher up the road obeys the curve.
Each shadow more purposeful
to traffic and trade;
I begin to wonder
why I move in such haste
and whether I will be
beyond it all, lost.

There are so many white weeds
hanging in the trees,
fluttering like flags of surrender
sometimes falling and filling
into tumours on my surface.

Just as cormorants are fishing
so I begin to sense the sea.
Silt accumulates in my bed,
slows me down after years
of scraping and scouring;
I begin to meander,
to waver across the floor,
the buildings start to ignore
my presence and there are outpourings
secretive and poisonous
which seep into my limbs.

Becoming sluggish, my murky waters
of blurred vision in the suburbs.
I try to remember stretching terraces
where the only vines were children
spreading tendrils of imagination.

The mud is gathering,
the flood-plain’s a resting-place
for birds on their journey south.
Anglers wade out to tempt
the fish with threaded flies.
I yawn into the city
past a parkland of lovers
and solitary office-workers,
I am broad and straight now
without the energy of gradient.

The grand stadium looms
as if it were a ship of state,
but finds no reflection.
I have almost forgotten
the distant mountains I came from,
the fact I am water at all.

‘Afon’ is a slow way of saying ,
it seems to suit me better
than the rip of ‘river’.
Already I can feel the saltiness
creep into my body
and seagulls’ mocking calls
hover then swoop all day.

At the Bay, I’m trained and tamed.
On calmer days feel stagnant;
when there’s a restless breeze
I begin to wave and voices
of my ancestors come back :
‘Once you were black, all thick
with dust like a collier’s throat.
Once this was flats of mud
where waders and dippers
would pick for worms.’

Now I am becalmed,
waiting for the gates to open,
where I will lose my name.
It is a different sun,
one that threatens to burn up,
to leave me dispersed
into the Channel and after.

A roof of slate, façade of glass,
the twirling pipes of a carousel
all bring back reminiscences
of pebbles carried, reflections borrowed,
stirrings under a waterfall.

It is night-time and the moon
is whole and crying out
like a barn-owl over moorland.
I must go and never know
what will become of me.





 
 
   I'm not going to tell anyone my greatest fear, but it's not the Bluebirds losing at Wembley to Swansea City.

   As a child , it was undoubtedly the dentist's surgery. Every visit there was horrific and I'm seemed to go far too often (no-one warned you about sweets then!). So much so, that one time I refused to open my mouth. They used to give tiny sweets to try to placate you, but nothing would unlock my jaw that time; until they brought in the 'heavy' in the form of a dentist straight out of the film 'Marathon Man', who yelled at me. My mouth shot open, but the phobia worsened.

   In those days there was no local anathesthetic and extraction by gas was even more akin to Medieval torture techniques. The building itself didn't help, as it was an ancient converted hotel on the front at Aberystwyth. There was an old-fashioned lift with an exposed shaft, modelled on the mining variety.

    The noise of drilling and stifled cries would echo down this shaft, reverberating through the rickety scaffolding of my young bones. Even before we reached the waiting-room I was a blubbering blob of sickly blancmange, with skin that could be easily punctured by any of the many weapons ready on the dentist's tray.

   Without painkillers, drilling into raw nerves was excrutiating agony. I would grip the chair, sweating and vowing one day to take revenge on the entire dental profession, who all seemed sadists.

   The gas attack was almost as unbearable. You were 'put under' for an extraction and came round , dazed and confused, standing over a sink with blood spewing from your mouth in an apparently unstoppable flow. Even years later in Merthyr, I believe I came close to death having swallowed too much novocaine.

   For many years now I've attended the same dentist, know him well and trust him. The fear has gone away and a visit to the hygienist is much worse, with all that scraping and scratching.

   I'm conscious that others aren't lucky enough to overcome phobias. My wife has a phobia of cats which prevents her from being in the same house as one. As a baby in Belfast, I'm sure a fierce feline jumped into her pram and scrabbed her tiny face.

   This was unfortunate one time when we decided to rescue an emaciated kitten on a journey past Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. My older daughter spotted the sad-looking creature by the roadside, nowhere near any habitation.

   I scooped it up and brought it into the car and my wife drove off. It then managed to break free from my clutches and my wife almost veered into a hedge in panic. She braked abruptly, saying something like - 'It's your choice, the cat or me!' Despite my daughter's pleas, we had to release the kitten down the road where there were houses.

   Several of my family have a fear of flying. I put this down to flights to and from Dublin on a cut-price airline overe a decade ago. I think the plane was operated by elastic bands and made of balsa wood, much like those many kits my brother made when I was young.

   These thoughts arose as a result of attending the Cwrs Haf in Glamorgan University last week. One inspirational tutor used toys and balls to get us using 'hwn' and 'hon'. One woman refused point-blank to handle a tennis-ball because her fear of it. I've heard of a fear of buttons and even pears, but not come across this........is it Henmanophobia?

   The next day we had a task where we had to use verbs like 'gwybod', 'dyfalu', 'credu' and 'meddwl' followed by 'taw' to explain various obscure phobias written in English on cards. I had 'hedonophobia' and managed to guess right. Obtuse ones like 'onomatophobia' emerged, and I wonder if there are others such as 'alliterophobia' and 'assonophobia'!

   In the end, most were probably coined by Thomas Hardy, who once came across a neologism which confounded him. He investigated it, only to find that he was quoted as the only source!


                                        INT GOIN OUT NO MORE!

I int goin out no more.
It int worth the risk.
This bloke ee got mugged in Merthyr
an it wuz on'y 8 in-a mornin!


I ewsed t travel t Cardiff on-a bus
till this driver on-a News
runs inta somebuddy's ouse,
loadsa passengers woz urt.


Int gonna visit my bro in London,
too many knifin's an yew bet
Al Quaeda will pull off a big one
now tha they ad Bin Laden.


Cancelled my oliday t Tenerife
arfta tha pooer woman got killed ,
ad er ead chopped off in a soopermarkit ;
ee come out carryin it like a shoppin bag!


Bin thinkin o all them Pit Bull attacks
an tha girl struck by lightnin........
mind, she woz in er own ome.
Think I'll jest stay in bed an moan.