PictureMarina Towers Observatory, Swansea

      A week of mourning : two great men of the left and of peace have died, but I'm sure their impact will be lasting.
   One, Pete Seeger, the inspirational American folk-singer and campaigner has rightly had international coverage while the other - a key figure in Welsh literature - was Nigel Jenkins who died aged 64 from cancer.
   Though Nigel's death has hardly had a mention outside his beloved Cymru , I hope this will be rectified in years to come, as his work is fully acknowledged.
   We had so much in common, apart from the surname and the fact that many editors confused
us, so I did have poems taken just because they thought I was him!
   When we  both met the great Scots Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean many years ago I explained to him the difference between us - ' I am the Welsh Socialist Republican and he's the Welsh Republican Socialist!' I elucidated.
   We both played blues harp, though Nigel was much more professional, wearing his harmonica belt around his waist with many keys, while I stuck with the
trusted old E.
   We shared a love of John Cale's music, though Nigel's preceded mine and I recall his very interesting review of Cale's album 'Words For The Dying' in 'Arcade' magazine in the 90s. Only later did I manage to catch up with his comprehensive collection of Cale and, even then, he possessed 'La Naissance d'Amour' , an album I couldn't get hold of and which, according to Malcolm Lewis in 'Planet' (another Caleite) was one of his finest ever.
   Nigel was, like myself, an officianado of  'tidee beer', real ale that is. It's typical of him that one of his poems in 'Poems For A Welsh Republic' (which Red Poets brought out in Jubilee year) condemned Britain as 'a moribund weak beer monarchy'........even if it's less true today, with the proliferation of superb micro-breweries.
   Like him I had my own foray into journalism as pop/ rock correspondent for the early 'Wales On Sunday', a broadsheet he helped fashion with John Osmond. He was far more experienced in this field however and played a key role in the pioneering left nationalist magazine 'Radical Wales'. 
   We even met up at a job interview where we were both candidates (his last post as director of creative writing at Swansea Uni.). When they asked me about journalism I knew I didn't stand a chance but, meeting Nigel as I was leaving, I realised that he did. He went on to do a wonderful job, inspiring so many students.
   He was always an organiser and motivator and I remember him asking me to do a reading at a pub in Salubrious Passage ,off Wind Street 
. It was packed and buzzing and he had the excellent idea of inviting along Writers' Groups to perform their work, whilst also having a guest or two. It was this format that I used as a model for our successful Open Mic. nights in Merthyr, which have been going for over 5 years now.
   I agreed totally with his commitment to a poetry which could take on almost any form or style, from haiku to satire, and from free-form to rhyme.
   Some of his fascinating space poems can be found on the Marina Towers Observatory in Swansea Bay ( photo at the  start of this blog). If you are ever that way, it's so rewarding to go there and soar upwards with his imagination.
   As well as four poems in 'Poems For A Welsh Republic', he had three in the very first issue of what was then 'Red Poets' Society' and these can be read on our website   -    www.RedPoets.org
   We were both 'dysgwyr' and the importance of Cymraeg throughout his work is clear. In 'Hotel Gwales' for example, there are a number of translations from contemporary Welsh language poetry, including his friends Menna Elfyn and Iwan Llwyd. 

   He was a committed man of Swansea, a proud 'Jack', though we never discussed the footie. His views on sport (especially rugby) were quite cynical and he saw the donning of national identity for a day as rather pathetic. It was, to him, part of the shallowness of Welsh identity.
   Unlike myself, he was a party man , though never one to tow the Plaid Cymru line. As he was a local member I was so grateful for the tremendous support he gave to my daughter Bethan ( the AM for his constituency). He totally empathised with her politics and could fully understand the way she had been treated.
   He possessed the barbed wit of a Harri Webb, the lyricism of a Dylan and the gentleness of Vernon Watkins.
   His poem 'Advice To A Young Poet' is a must for all aspiring writers. It finishes with , ' but a poem's
ending is not its end'.
   The same could be said about a poet like Nigel.

                              TOWARDS   THE  UNKNOWN
                                 er cof am Nigel Jenkins

From the Rhondda we began
a hike towards the unknown.

We didn't grasp it at first,
only the aerial and ancient hill-fort.

We had a map and instructions
which became irrelevant up the steep track :

the footpaths were blown skyward
and landmarks obscured by the fog.

We trudged across the boggy moor
cursing our hearts which raised alarms.

Below was a thick forest of conifers
in orderly lines like Roman legions.

The mine at the valley's head,
black whiplash strokes on green.

We carried on walking into cloud
until even the reason was unseen.



David Lloyd
02/02/2014 19:52

A fine tribute Mike. Yes, Nigel "possessed the barbed wit of a Harri Webb, the lyricism of a Dylan and the gentleness of Vernon Watkins."

02/03/2014 02:39

A lovely tribute. The more I read about him from poets after his passing, the more I realise how under-appreciated he was-particularly outside Wales.


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