Sometimes poems hit you full flat in the face on a very ordinary day when you're least expecting it. Sounds like an accident, but it isn't. It's what James Joyce called 'an epiphany' , using a typically religious term for his 'priest of the imagination'. It's the kind of revelation akin to Zen enlightenment , when a clock (in Joyce's case) or a mountain (in the Zen analogy) is suddenly viewed afresh, as if for the first time.
Of course, you've seen it there before. You've probably gazed upon it and passed it casually noting its existence. It's a lightning flash of recognition, like love at first sight.
It might not be love which is the inspiration though; it could be a complexity of emotions. I knew, for instance, when I went with my friend and collaborator, Merthyr artist Gus Payne, to take photos close to Ffos-y-fran, that it would make an impact on me.
I had never seen that giant opencast coal 'mine' from the moorland above the Bogey Road, towards Bedlinog, only from the town or slip-road. The change in perspective was utterly startling! The impression on me was far greater than I expected.
From there, you can view the 'mine' totally exposed to the naked eye (or
lens) : the sheer size of the cavernous crater being dug out was shocking. All the more so when you think it could last for another decade at least. And then what? Another landfill?
The equally huge waste-heaps were a disturbing throw-back to Merthyr of old. When I came here over 30 years ago, the town was literally surrounded by the detritus of heavy industry, the waste of coal and lime. It was like being inside a volcanic caldera, albeit an extinct industrial one.
Here before our eyes were both the past and future: hollow and heap of a present scene. Despite the greening of the Valleys, it represents the way we're still exploited today. Would it be tolerated for one second in leafy suburbs of Cardiff , 30 metres away from housing and a brandnew school?
Coal itself should be generally left underground, but this particular coal (high in pollution) supplies Aberthaw power station and so provides our energy. We must look to alternatives sooner not later. Build all houses energy-efficient and provide generous grants for everyone, including the provision of solar panels. Tidal and river power should be utilised far more and all energy companies should be owned by either co-operatives or the Welsh government.
The vision I had was a frightening one. The road itself runs on the very rim of the opencast; something you don't notice at all when close by. The housing seems perched above the opencast and road, but ready at any moment, to tumble into the black depths, to disappear forever.
My observation of Mormons in Heolgerrig as I walked up the hill the other day seems slight in comparison. Nevertheless, it was an epiphany as they zoomed past me on bikes, pedalling missionaries -
MORMONS ON A MISSION
Ey, ave yew seen em
Mormons on a mission,
ridin down the ill
with rucksacks fulla scripture?
They're freewheelin fast,
but they got theyer elmets on
jest in case the Lord
ave got it in f'r them.
Ey ave yew seen em
name-badges like executives,
the on'y cyclists with suits on,
Yanks ev'ryone one.
Theyer eyes straight a'ead
an ready f'r convertin,
shirts white as virgins
(the on'y ones in town!).
Ey ave yew seen em,
come in pairs like window salesmen :
get yewr soul sealed with double glazin,
a tidee conservatree in eaven.