I taught at Pen-y-dre High School on the Gurnos estate in Merthyr for some 20 years.
When I tell people I worked both there and at Radyr Comp. near Cardiff, they invariably comment on the stark contrast.
Yet certain aspects stand out and in terms of sheer creativity the Merthyr pupils definitely had the edge.
It's difficult to explain why, but there must've been a few factors including their depth of experience to draw upon, the way rebels tend to embrace poetry anyway with its flouting of rules and, quite simply, its brevity compared to prose.
Of course, there were outstanding poets at Radyr ( a number not academically gifted whatsoever), but people are often taken aback when I remark that the most fascinating writers came from the Gurnos itself.
A boy who struggled with his sexuality and wrote often pained poetry, a girl whose boyfriend was in jail on drugs charges and sixth-former inspired by Heller's 'Catch 22' spring to mind immediately.
I was delighted to get a job there and no doubts were raised when only two candidates had turned up for the post and both were appointed.
When I began there, the estate's main boast was that it was the 2nd largest Council estate in Europe and my friend Pete (a posh left-wing English teacher who wore Doc Martens to school when they were banned ) claimed it was designed as a huge 'labour reserve'.
Yet industries had declined or disappeared and it became synonymous with crime, deprivation and the need to survive whatever ( the cult of the 'hard man').
It's no surprise that Swansea Road's European Bantamweight champion Johnny Owen had a pub which took his nickname ( The Matchstick Man ) close to the school and is still commemorated in a mural by the shops.
Yet there are others who went on to achieve great things ( in some instances, continue to do so) who were brought up in the estate and should provide inspiration to those who feel they're destined for failure.
Wales football international Mark Pembridge was one of those.
He played 54 times for his country and at the very top level for a number of clubs, including Everton and Luton. He was a tenacious midfielder who also had a keen eye for goal.
He was in my registration class at Pen-y-dre and was a quiet, even unassuming, character.
When, years later, I spoke about him to Luton scout Cyril Beech (who also spotted John Hartson), he told me that what impressed him about Pembridge was, apart from great footballing ability, his attitude : a determination and single-mindedness.
Many equally talented youngsters at the school never made it. Some ended up on the dreaded 'pop'; though there were exceptions such as Jason Bowen and goalkeeper Mark Walton.
At that time the estate - both old and new sections - was large and characterless, the most exotic thing being the names of the streets, like Acacia and Honeysuckle.
This has changed somewhat, with the flats knocked down and more open space.
At its centre, the shops were left to rot and became a symbol of the decline and gathering-place for the Shop Boyz gang.
A lot of my poetry from that era ( especially the dialect stuff) draws inspiration from young people I knew ; their humour and desperation.
My fiction has been equalling influenced and the book of interlinked stories 'Wanting to Belong' is set in a school not unlike Pen-y-dre ; though all characters are fictional.
My one adult novel - savaged in one review and since 'disappeared' - called 'The Fugitive Three' is based in one house on the estate, the hospital and a derelict flat used as a squat.
For years Waterstone's in Cardiff had one copy on their shelves and I was tempted to buy it, just to stop it from fading to yellow!
My children's novel 'Barbsmashive' was better received and always interests pupils when I do workshops today.
It's about a boy called Marc who lives on the estate and one day comes upon a weird creature living in a lager can beneath a smelly old mattress.
I've returned to the estate since to work for the 3Gs community group and immediately relate to the 'Goj' greeting, so unique.
Like the rest of the shops, the 3Gs represent a kind of revival there, with their new office and many significant projects.
One of these is the online community paper North Merthyr Voice ( check it out) which enables young people to express their views about vital issues.
This sense of hope is reflected in a poem by Rhondda writer and artist Sion Tomos Owen -
' forging their own image
of fears and fire, friends and funerals,
in their own reflection,
a collection of everything
but inverted commas
placed round the necks of
the next '3G generation'.
Indeed, the Gurnos needs to boast more about its famous sons : ones who have passed through like actor Richard Harrington and broadcaster Owen Money, but above all those who were born and bred there and have gone on to great things.
I'm thinking especially of two creative artists I know and greatly admire : fiction-writer Des Barry and painter Gus Payne.
Let's celebrate the power of pen and brush, rather than brutality of the ring.
Des now lives in Tasmania and is working on a new novel set in New York. He has written short fiction which has been published in eminent journals like the New Yorker and three novels, including 'One Bloody Good Friday' set in his hometown.
Anyone who isn't familiar with Gus's work should check out his website www.guspayne.com and you'll be truly amazed at the variety and quality there.
Gus a a rarity nowadays, an artist who manages to convey important views about politics, ecology and nature without ever losing sight of humanity.
You can find a couple of his works in Cyfarthfa Museum, where he exhibits alongside others from The Welsh Group.
Like Des, he's a product of that upbringing : full of energy, compassion, yet fully aware of darkness always lurking.
Living on the edge of a volcano you become sickly with the constant stench of sulphur yet also, you can gaze down far below into the ever-present danger and witness the glaring, acidic beauty of that turquoise lake.
WHERE I COME FROM
Where I grew up, Plane Grove.
When I woz a kid
I thought it woz great,
all them other streets
named arfta trees an plants -
Marigold, Acacia an Oak,
but owers an aeroplane.
None of us seen many trees
or bushes or flowers -
no gardens ardly
jest loadsa grass
f'r-a dogs t shit on.
Where I come from, the Gurnos,
course we all take drugs,
get pissed all-a time,
think we're fuckin ard,
we all do time, get fat
an moan 'bout immigrants
takin work we don' want -
'cept I got out
wen t college, got a tidee job.
It's better now f definite,
murals an not graffiti,
glass an not bricked up -
an the plane's a tree
growin rapid t shelter and shield,
standin ewge an proud
like my parents ewsed t be.