Our collaboration began a few years ago when we decided to interpret idioms in Welsh, certain familiar phrases and local place-names.
Our interpretations were arrived at individually and it was never a question of a joint approach, or illustrating each other's work. We did, however, agree to explore a number of common idioms such as 'dim gobaith caneri' itself ( ' no hope like a canary'), with its specifically Valleys mining connotations.
Others, like the name of the huge opencast coal site above the town, Ffo-y-fra('ditch of the crow' ) reflected our mutual concern for the future environment of Merthyr.
What is crucial, I feel, is that Gus ( who calls himself michael Gustavius Payne as an artist and on his website) and I share a great deal.
First and foremost, we are both learning Welsh, though he is well ahead in terms of fluency ! Furthermore, our political ideas are very similar : strongly leftwing, but with no party political allegiances.
Beyond this, we are both very much influenced by music. Gus once sang in a punk band and music has always played a major role in his life. For me, it's probably more inspirational than the written word, attested by my latest book of poems 'Moor Music'.
Another factor is that we're both vegetarians and passionate about animal rights. This is illustrated, I believe, by the animal imagery running through my prose-poems and micro-fiction and Gus's paintings.
Initially, we were both drawn to bird imagery : this is understandable, as many of the idioms centre round birds , like ' gwyn y gwel y fran ei chyw' ( 'the hen always sees her chicks as white').
Gus is a master of animal depiction and since then he has introduced monkeys and dogs into his work, as well as the ubiquitous lurking cat.
Dogs and cats figure more in my micro-fiction than the prose-poetry. in 'Allan o'r cwd' ( 'out of the bag' ) for instance, I use the historical setting of a travelling fair to show how easily people are enticed and duped.
It will be interesting to see how people who attend our exhibitions respond to our distinctive yet instinctively shared imagery and narratives.
For two of my poems ( only one of which appears in the free pamphlet) I have taken a different approach. 'The Canary-Child' and 'The Boy Balancing' (based on an earlier painting) are direct responses, products of close-watch. Both appear on his website.
I fopund that prose-poems lent themselves to this project. They are, after all, framed by their own shape, as are the pieces of micro-fiction. Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish between what is prose-poetry and micro-fiction, and that is as it should be.
I truly believe that Gus is one of Wales's greatest artists and I'm absolutely 'wrth fy modd' to be associated with his stunning paintings.
The following is one of the most recent prose-poems and also atypical with its Mabinogion connections...............
A FO BEN BID BONT
Once I waded the ocean, palming the wind and treading down tides.
A message under a starling's wing brought me.
I knew that man who had cut off their lips and tortured with such savagery.........but she had given nothing but gifts, my white crow: even the feathers of herself.
Once I had laid down my head in a river for my countrymen to traverse.
We hunted for her captors; terrified of me for all their fearsome ways.
Now my head's an empty viaduct, where ghosts of steam pass over a gravel path.
Yet she has been released at last, returned to this, her belonging.
And those over the sea, miraculously, can speak again, lips grown back!
One day, perhaps, my head will serve as a bridge for women and men to cross valleys, rivers, estuaries in search of the bird-woman rising up, knowing and beyond knowing.
a fo ben bid bont - to be a leader is to be a bridge