I was once rejected by a small poetry magazine called 'Bogg'. It was one of my lowest points. At the time I had Peter Finch's excellent directory of poetry mag's and sent stuff everywhere, being bold enough to try the prestigious 'Stand' and a host of obscure journals.
Nowadays, I tend to send poetry to places which have a history of accepting my work. There are so many great little mag's around, like Preston's 'Penniless Press' and Swansea's 'The Seventh Quarry'. I like to subscribe to them all, but can only afford some. 'Dream Catcher' from Lincolnshire is a superb production, looking and reading like an anthology rather than magazine and Merryn Williams' 'the Interpreter's House' is always such an exciting, eclectic read.
Last week I actually tried a new one, Scotland's 'Quantam Leap' and was amazed to get such a light s.a.e. in reply. The editor Alan Carter even asked for more poems! This was in stark contrast to the 'New Welsh Review', which I haven't been in for many years, one story under the previous regime I think; though I was a r egular when Robin Reeves was editor. The NWR guarantees infuriating rejections and almost every group of poems are really admired by the editor, but not 'quite right for the magazine'! This suggests there is a house style to the NWR and it is narrow rather than eclectic in approach.
I once gave the worst interview of my life when I applied for the job of editor of that magazine. I was vague and bumbling and I wouldn't have given me the job of cleaning the Academi's stairs, never mind editor. I regret not getting it, but I have been delighted over the years to change and develop 'Red Poets' along with co-editor Marc Jones.
Vic Golightly was temporary editor of the NWR and produced magazines even more leftward-leaning than Reeves had done. It was odds-on he'd never be appointed fulltime. Yet, when I think of the many writers who have read at our monthly Open Mic. sessions in Merthyr the vast majority are not only commited leftists, but bring these ideals into their work in a more than peripheral way : from Mab Jones to Emily Hinshelwood and from Steve Griffiths to David Greenslade these writers are everywhere. Yet the NWR fails to reflect this and in doing so, ignores a substantial amount of Welsh Writing in English. Then again, maybe I'm just pissed off with their
This week saw the launch of Red Poets' website ( www.RedPoets.org) at the Riverside Tavern in Newport. After early competition with the jukebox (the latter was winning), it was a lively evening. A few Newport poets joined in on the Open Mic. and bemoaned the lack of a scene there. It was good to join up with other red poets after a long time and to welcome Jackie Cornwall, who read with us for the first time.
Wales boasts some of the very best little mag's , from 'Roundyhouse' to 'Square', whose editor Nick Fisk was there reading and plugging his mag. At least these are willing to take risks and the NWR, for all its grants, seems stuffy by comparison.
Here's a recent one that would surely have been rejected by 'Bogg' -
POT-HOLES UBER ALLES
In Germany they have the right idea,
personalised pot-holes filled in
and with your name engraved on them,
there's even a song paying homage.
But here, there are so many
they're turning into an infection.
Cavers no longer need to venture
up mountains to pursue their vocation.
We are more likely to turn them
into landfill sites or dig them up
for opencast coal, or to use them
for dumping unwanted furniture in.
Still, drivers dodge in and out
to avoid axles breaking or tyres blowing
and it's great training for downhill slalom
(if only it was done behind a wheel).
Soon pot-holes will be more like black holes :
cyclists, hedgehogs and pedestrians
will disappear , never to return.
Pot-holes uber alles, our new anthem.
When the PCS were on strike last week I was immensely proud of the Labour and Plaid Cymru AM's, all of whom refused to cross the picket lines at the Senedd. A number joined those pickets outside the building and politicians like Plaid's Leanne Wood were vociferous in their support for the striking civil servants. Coverage from the London-based media was typically negligible : it probably needs another bull on the rampage in Tenby for Wyre Davies to get air time there!
For anyone who still doubts any claims of a pale pink ditch (though not 'clear red water') this was the answer. Can you imagine a similar scenario at Westminster? Can you envisage a day when the Government refuses to function because of their outright support for many of the poorest workers in our society whose jobs and redundancy rights are seriously threatened? Brown and his hatchetmen are far more likely to appease the bankers.
While the Senedd was closed for business, Tory and Lib Dem AM's acted like 'scabs', crossing the picket lines and decrying the actions of the Coalition. For all the posturing from Cable and Clegg (who sound like a failed 70's folk-rock duo) at their Conference, the present situation brought out the true nature of their position. You'd expect Tories to behave in such a way, but Lib Dem's exposed the fact they are a middle-class party, which has no place for working-class solidarity and extra-parliamentary action.
These vicious cuts - designed to solve a public debt crisis brought on by banks de-regulated under Thatcher and Blair - will be fought and , hopefully defeated by precisely the very means the Lib Dem's so readily reject. As with past struggles like the anti-poll tax movement, they have no solution and no involvement. Even in the mass movement against the war in Iraq, they shifted their position without any heed to idealism : from outright opposition to 'support for the boys'.
Everyone I've talked to in the public services refers to the distinct possibility of impending cuts ( and this before an election). Teachers talk about the possibility of compulsory redundancies and certainly, many who leave the profession are not being replaced. The Schools' Library Service - which performs such a great job connecting young people to writers, books and reading - is also under threat of the axe.
The stark reality of the recession was again brought home to me last weekend, when I visited Caergybi (Holyhead) at the northern tip of Cymru.
When I say that this town made even Merthyr seem quite well off, I'm not exaggerating.
Holyhead is a town devastated by the economic situation in every way : it seems like Depression not recession has hit it. Numerous shops were empty and many buildings were either falling into dilapidation or were derelict. There was an atmosphere of hopelessness on an incongruously bright day which intimated Spring.
It was the first thing the taxi-driver talked to me about, without any prompting. He was deeply saddened by the town's plight and told me of the many employers who'd left, including Anglesey Aluminium quite recently. I could understand why a new nuclear power station was seen as essential, even though I wished for so many other alternatives.
It's a place which deserves them. It would be wonderful if people stopped here en route to or from Ireland to savour the town, like the port of Roscoff in Brittany. I dream of a haven for sustainable industries, local crafts and galleries where the spirit of the arts centre at Ucheldre permeates the town. We desperately need a Senedd with enough economic powers to carry out these.
THE TOWN OF LEAVING
In the town of leaving
trawlers are flying white flags,
anticipating their owners.
The young skateboarders
yell and roll down the high street
towards the ferry port and another nation.
In the town of leaving
shops hang onto their signs,
their windows bricks or roller-blinds.
Jets from a Camp nearby
tattoo the sky, making lines
like borders as they fly.
In the town of leaving
the road terminates at a promenade
with no beach, sea with no stirring.
Paint from buildings is flaking and blowing
away across the island grasslands :
salt-winds lick walls and ceilings.
In the town of leaving
visitors step from boat to train
oblivious to the last person, frantically waving.
In the European Parliament the other week Nigel Farage of UKIP launched a scathing personal attack on President of the EU Herman van Rompuy, as well as totally denigrating his nation, Belgium.
He compared the man's charisma to a 'damp rag' and his appearance to that of a 'low grade bank clerk'. He questioned whether anyone in Europe had actually heard of the man. Apart from being exremely petty, I wonder how many people have heard of Farage. A vox pop in Merthyr would probably lead to confusions with the Severn Barrage. The demeaning of Belgium as a 'non-country' was even more baffling given that they produce the best beer in Europe (not to mention waffles and chocolate!), and have produced many great artists including surrealist painter Magritte and brilliant singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.
Farage's own simile was a cliche, while van Rompuy is a prolific writer of
haiku and a number are worthy attempts at a difficult form. I imagine Farage's stabs at Oriental culture would be limited to harpooning sushi!
While I have much sympathy with van Rompuy , I have none at all with his ridiculously high salary and the edifice he represents. With the recession, the EU has been duly exposed as what many on the Left always believed it was : a capitalist institution of the more powerful nation-states.
The so-called free movement of labour - which is carefully restricted in certain countries - has merely meant an opportunity to exploit cheap labour across the borders. Workers are driven according to economic situations in given countries, exploited fully by employers if they are legally living there, or by unscrupulous agencies if they are not.
Moreover, the facade of unity in the EU has completely broken down. The example of Greece, with its centre-left Government is a warning to all.
In Greece's dire situation of recession and debt, the powerful nation-states which control the monetary union are acting like the IMF and making dictatorial demands on that country. Wide-ranging cuts must be made in public services, so loans can be re-paid. Where is the EU's commitment to the people of Greece and their already low-paid public service workers who perform so many invaluable jobs? The true nature of this monetarist club has been revealed and its priorities clearly shown.
Plaid Cymru's volte face on S. Ireland shows changing perceptions. Their prominent spokespeople used to laud the 'Tiger' economy,seeing it as a model Wales should aspire to. Now, the South is seen as a warning of what can happen to a free enterprise economy dependent on EU grants and outside investment. But - because they are a mixed economy party and not socialists - their conclusions are never based on the true nature of the EU itself and its constant efforts to bolster capitalism, ignoring the plight of the most vulnerable in society. Let's hope the Unions in Greece don't give up their fight.
I've visited many countries in Europe and lived and worked in Germany for a year. Even after visiting Japan and gaining some Oriental perspective, I don't know what it is to be 'European'. In Germany, the arrogance of the nation-state was akin to that of France and Britain, treating their Gastarbeiter with utter disdain (the clue's in the word 'Guest-workers').
The places I've felt a kindred spirit have undoubtedly been Ireland and Brittany. The importance of literature to the Irish people was immediately apparent when I had poems published in the 'Irish Press', a daily paper based in Dublin and there's nothing to beat music sessions in pubs where musicians join in and singers get up from the audience to deliver the most moving ballads.Brittany, with its Fest Noz and many folk festivals combining traditional music and dance, also seems to have that Celtic spirit emanating from the emotions.
I also felt that here too were nations struggling against the odds to keep and further their identities. In Breizh (Brittany) against a French state which refuses to see Brezhoneg (Breton) as an official language and in Ireland where the struggle for a united country still goes on.
These are haiku I wrote about our stay with a native Breton-speaker last summer. I saw a number of the 'Skol Diwan' ( Infant and Primary schools), which existed despite getting no funding from the French Government.
Pyramid sandcastles :
scooped, sculpted and symmetrical.
Next day untraceable.
Calm resting harbour ;
one bay where the waves stampede :
this moody coastline.
Brown fold of galette,
sweet drawn lace of the crepe :
window of palate.
Seaweed clawed in clumps
by the large metallic crabs :
medicine for land.
twitchers on the low cliff path :
Skol Diwan, house-schools,
the language like tough marram :
sand always moving.
Dance of finger-link,
festival of village field :
head drum and belly bagpipe.
Homes shuttered up,
owners south for the summer,
yet swallows are here.
Fields of rye, church spires :
sudden city-blocks stacked up,
end of road war-ships.
Beggars on the streets,
city once war-flattened :
caps, deserted nests.
One year ago, St. David's Day and an afternoon out down the Bay. We were picking up on the tail-end of the annual procession. A young woman was desperately trying to get a dragon's head on assisted by her father, near the large security barriers designed to stop the Super Furry Animals and their tank painted in CCFC colours from invading the Senedd.
We expected something to happen. The parade dispersed into the crowd : there were quite a few St. David flags which I mistakenly attributed to Bluebird fans. A couple of politicians gave very tedious speeches from the steps of the Assembly and then everybody looked around for an event. The only thing happening was a Breton dance group who didn't have the full accompaniment and were nowhere near as good as the many we'd witnessed in Llydaw itself.
For the many atheists, humanists, agnostics and non-Christians in Cymru it must feel strange celebrating our national day (not even a public holiday) in recognition of a Christian saint. As an ardent atheist ( who had an intense flirtation with Zen Buddhism as a student) I cannot identify with this day at all.
What alternatives are there, however? An Owain Glyndwr Day? Though as a republican, I reject all princes, including our own. From a purely Merthyr and socialist perspective, I'd want a national day which commemorated the Merthyr Rising of 1831. Not a Dic Penderyn tribute, but a genuine celebration ( like May Day used to be) of the Welsh people's ability to resist oppression and, what's more, raise the red flag for the first time. However, other places like Newport and their Chartist uprising, would have equal claims.
There's no easy solution, but perhaps March 1st could be re-named Cymru Day and those who wish to identify with the Christian side of it can do so, while others can dress as dragons and listen to one of the very best albums of the last decade 'Dark Days/ Light Years' and read the works of our National Poet, Gillian Clarke.
How much better it is to have a National Poet rather than Poet Laureate, who must ( even if not her poems) be necessarily deferential to the monarchy. I heard that Gillian Clarke has refused Honours from Elizabeth Windsor and she has gone up even higher in my estimation as a result of this. Clarke has produced many excellent poems in her role and though her political views are equally sound, I believe she is somewhat confused.
In the Academi's latest newsletter she writes about the possibility of the Tories gaining power in the next General Election, describing them as 'those who fought against' the very existence of the Senedd.
As someone who took part fully in both 'Yes' campaigns for a National Assembly, I find this comment astounding. Despite it being Labour Party policy in '79, the most vociferous politicians opposing it came from that party, in particular the likes of Neil Kinnock. As a referendum on law-making powers comes closer, it is significant that the leading 'No' campaigners are Labour activists like Rachel Banner of True Wales.
It may well be that the Tories gaining power in Westminster will be the best scenario for Wales. Any clear red water ( well, very pale pink anyway) could well become a ruddy moat and the Tories this side of it could have to decide between Welsh policies based more on fairness and co-operation and a British Government intent on decimating public services. I hope I'm right. I hope that, given a likely Tory victory, the coalition in the Senedd will seriously resist such cuts and , in fact, lead the resistance.
At any rate, the Labour Party in Westminster in the shape of Murphy and Hain, have maintained their scepticism towards devolution and clung to their ever-decreasing powers like beseiged barons. Neil Kinnock could even emerge again as champion of the 'No' campaign : True Wales are certainly flirting with him.
In the following sonnet - written aeons ago - I depicted the events when Lizzy Windsor opened our National Assembly and the whole of Cardiff Bay was turned into a police state for a day...........
It was the Senedd's opening day
a bloated brown rat crossed my path
from dockland huddles to apartment Bay,
yellow security fence-posts were a stark
signal in the distance and rooftop marksmen
brought back Belfast, where even hospitals
were transformed into military garrisons ;
republican banners were sails blown full.
A suspect package, people tipped onto quayside
and a slightly dark, moustachioed man
was surrounded, ambushed and turned inside
and out by policemen sniffing an explosion.
The building, a glass shelter and cellar,
waiting for the first cracks to appear.