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   I went there with Leslie Norris in mind, especially his evocative poem 'An Evening by the Lake'.
   The writer returned to a place after 20 years away : the school he attended ; the park he knew so well . The man and his white dog leading him from memory to memory.
   Walking past the newly-built miniature railway track and along the lake path I suddenly spotted a man with a dog ahead. It was like the poem come to life, though the man looked nothing like Norris and the dog a different colour.
   Many writers belong in places and there are a number you could choose for one of Merthyr's greatest writers (in my opinion, the most outstanding).
   It is admirable that there's a room at the Central Library named after him, but (as I have argued previously) for each of our town's finest creative sons (Glyn Jones, Gwyn Alf Williams and so on) what is needed are viewing platforms.
   Here I found the perfect place for Norris : an old bandstand just by the lake and raised enough to enable you to gaze over and catch those dog-walkers, duck-feeders, cyclists and joggers; those baby-pushers and anglers for fish or a moment of light.
   Norris was a writer who - like James Joyce - seemed always to return ,imaginatively if not physically , to the area of his birth and youth. He  came back so often both in verse and prose to bring alive those characters of his childhood and teenager years, and to move so seamlessly from the urban world of Merthyr town to countryside surrounding. Like our famous engineers, he built a bridge between the two, out of craft and inspiration.
   In my mind, I transformed this purposeless plinth into a homage to the writer.
   Here would be an image or sculpture of the man ; here an account of his life and the role of the Castle School ; here the poem itself or at least part of it -
                     '......walked this lakeside drive four times
                      A day when a boy, going to school
                      In a comic Gothic castle, built
                      For a fat iron-master. It turns
                      A stolid, limestone gaze down at
                      Me now. '
   I only met him twice and , like fellow poet, critic and fiction-writer Glyn Jones, he was a most genial man. He was also a captivating reader of his work and enthralled pupils at the school where I taught, with poetry and tales which drew so readily from places they recognised.
  One such story was 'Snowdrops' (with its strong sense of Pant Cemetery), which I studied every single year with classes. Despite its focus on very young schoolchildren and the naivety of the narrator, they always identified closely with the grief of the teacher and, the more imaginative ones, with the symbolism of the flowers themselves.
   'Elegy for David Beynon' and 'The Ballad of Billy Rose' were also two poems I studied frequently with pupils.
   The tragedy and heroism of the teacher Beynon, who shielded his pupils as he died in the Aberfan disaster, never failed to move both myself and even the most cynical of youths.
  'Billy Rose' as well - with its similar imagery of the cruelty of 'coins' - was to me the consummate ballad , telling the story of a man brought down to selling matches outside a football ground, because he had been blinded in the ring ; an  appalling act witnessed by the narrator.
   Norris had been an amateur boxer, yet his boxing poems and stories are the most telling indictment of that sport's sheer brutality that I know of.
   Instead of a disused bandstand, that concrete platform in Cyfarthfa Park should be declared a 'Stanza-stand'.
   Sadly, Norris is no longer on the syllabus, as his wonderful selection 'Sliding' once was. His time may well come again (along with the likes of John Ormond ) when the education system is truly our own, not a version of England's: with 'Ol Shakey' still a tyrant, like his apocryphal Macbeth.
   I have a copy of Norris's 'Selected Poems' which he signed for me, so much care put into his handwriting: the calligraphed 'e' of his first name appears before the ornate capital 'L'.
   I can imagine him sitting at a wooden desk in the Castle with metal quill, practising it again and again.
   Merthyr - the town he never forgot - must now remember him.


                                  CYFARTHFA  MORNING

These things I saw
from a bench by the mock castle
where the cannons were stopped
and children clambered -

flames rising up high
from tall chimneys,
the furnace mouths
with giants' tongues
rolling out iron

a lake shaped like a fish
with ducks for scales
and tree-island eyes ;
a truant boy swimming out,
stones thrown by yelling pupils


a rugby player, Beynon,
arms muddied, strong-tackling,
blackened by pitch's dirt,
no sense of what was coming:
a landslide of bodies


a man with round owl face
and hair like a whisper,
thinking in memory-layers
as leaf-fall recalls paper on paper ,
veins pulsing with metres.    

 


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