Yet, it was a pant-cacking experience stalling on that steepest of gradients as my wife was bravely teaching me to drive in the Valleys. Our Mini stopped and the handbrake duly failed to respond! My wife had to edge out of the passenger seat and slide her foot over onto the brake to stop us flying backwards in fast rewind towards the mean streets of Bargoed. I don't expect it helped at the time that I should've been wearing glasses for my myopia.
So, I have journeyed to Llanhilleth by bus and Toon-land by train to read poetry. The former was definitely the trickier journey, though it's only about 18 miles away as the crow flies. Unfortunately, I couldn't saddle up a crow! It was complicated by the fact that the place seemed to have many names, though I discovered 'Lan' to be most popular. I overheard the village of 'Swffryd' pronounced as 'Sovereign' and it was hard to imagine that here was the area of the Gwent dialect of Gwenhwyseg (now, sadly, expired).
Mostly from my new book 'Moor Music', I read to the local Writers' Group at the Top Hotel there, an event organised by the energetic and enthusiastic Meg Gurney. Seren's Poetry Editor Amy Wack kicked off the evening with a short talk about submitting poetry to publishers. I seemed to have broken every rule she set out, especially the ones on dashes and punctuation!
My train journey to the north-east of England was very fortuitous. If I had caught the train I was meant to catch I'd still be travelling! I left early and was lucky to get the one train which wasn't cancelled due to the theft of copper wire cabling.
I have to admit that the students at 9 a.m. were a lot more receptive than the audience at the hotel. I was very impressed. In my days, early lectures were skipped or snored through,but this lot were up for it (one mobile-fiddler apart).
As Peter Finch has said in his weekly column in the 'Western Mail' mag. , audience reactions can be inexplicably different. You can be equally motivated and desire to communicate, yet there is no telling why one lot are responsive and the other less. It could even have been the smell of steak lingering in the function room producing an unknown grimace on this veggie's features!
Certainly- though I admit bias - the ones at our monthly Open Mic. sessions at The Imp in Merthyr are almost always responsive. Last Thursday , our guest was Neath poet Phil Knight, one of the best performers in Wales and another who has yet to win the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry (like the amazing Chris Williams and Mike Church).
Phil, Chris and Mike are all poets who have read regularly with the Red Poets in the past and are very funny , but also thought-provoking. Phil has many humorous poems, but I especially like his two about the Martian coming to Neath, a perfect blend of satire and innocence. All three need to have far more recognition on the 'circuit'. A Hay or BayLit event which featured them would be a must to attend.
They have that uncanny ability to raise poetry to heights of hilarity, while rarely losing sight of its underlying messages. I believe comedy is much undervalued in verse, as if it were synonymous with frivolity rather than wit and satire. All too often what is praised is clever-clever irony, which is academically weighty.
The encounter in this poem is true to life (not always the case, of course) and had to be written in dialect.
IN-A BUS SHELTER
I woz goin f this job
over in Llan'illeth, see ;
somewhere on the Mexican border…..
well, a bit south o me.
They tol me all-a wrong bus numbers:
X18, E4, P45, UB40 an OMD,
Traveline Cymru up in a North Pole
an-a drivers didn know nothin.
At-a bus shelter I arst er.
She woz sittin an knittin
what looked like a jumper ;
glasses an bright red air.
‘Which is the one f Llan’illeth please?’
I sayz, careful not t gob over er.
‘Cardiff?’ she replies, in a voice deeper
an much oarser than mine.
She woz an ee , sittin there
in daytime with a shoppin bag,
as I repeated ‘Llan-hill-eth!’
(Ee or she woz a Cockney).
‘Well, you can go to Aberbeeg an walk!’
Ee chwtshed at a baby in a pushchair,
never stopped knittin till is bus come.
Fuckin ell, Ebbw Vale’s weirder ‘an Merthyr!