The Welsh education system is going through a serious crisis.....and I'm not talking about dropping down international league tables or declining results at GCSE and A Levels.
Focusing on schools , the damaging and aimless system is a direct result of Labour misrule from Cardiff.
Yet what have the opposition offered? Plaid Cymru have responded with a paucity of policies ranging from laptops for every teacher (we only ever got the cases for them!) and cutting summer holidays ; very unpopular with teaching unions and not necessarily beneficial to anyone. Tories are predictably reactionary , while even the Lib Dems did advocate smaller class sizes.
Former Education Minister Jane Davidson's prize policy of the Foundation Phase , which deploys many teaching assistants and involves a great deal of learning through play, is having disastrous consequences on early years literacy and numeracy.
I can foresee its impending demise, because many teachers feel it has swung too far the other way and neglected the basics, meaning that many more pupils are struggling with reading, writing and maths.
Pupils must now make the rapid and traumatic change from this to a tortuous testing regime.
In the last month pupils from Years 1-9 have undergone tests imposed by the Welsh Assembly Government and therefore one of the main policies of Huw Lewis, absentee AM for Merthyr and present Education Minister.
These have been carried out to report back to parents, to check on schools and , above all, to prepare pupils for the international PISA tests. Wales has been slipping down the league, so these are very much 'testing for tests'.
Ironically, this is at the very time when these tests have been criticised by numerous leading academics. Even in Shangai, which boasts the best results, they are questioning their validity.
For once a Head is talking sense and Robin Hughes (Sec. of their union , ASCL Cymru) has questioned whether they are genuine reflections of intelligence, because they 'squeeze out innovation, creativity and resilience.'
The experience of teachers in Wales reinforces this.
The recent WAG tests (modeled on PISA ones) showed no attempt at differentiation in terms of ability, yet any teacher practicing this in class would be castigated .
6 and 7 year olds are forced to do timed tests and are branded as failures from an early age. Even bright pupils have struggled with the reading matter and alien problem-solving (literally, in one case, with numerical problems involving aliens!).
The language test for this age group contained material about sea shanties! Even the dreaded SATs were more child-friendly.
Inevitably teachers are pressurised more and more into teaching towards these tests, thus wasting school time.
No opposition parties have raised concerns about a system which is becoming frighteningly Govian.
In the past I have put forward many proposals , often revolutionary. However, I believe the ten points of this manifesto are achievable and even a reformist party could adopt the majority of them.
1. Reduce all class sizes to 20. This is an absolute necessity and would lead to a dramatic improvement. Any teacher will tell you that more pupils can be given individual attention and behavioural problems are much easier to deal with.
2. All schools to be run as democracies, rather than dictatorships by Heads. Pupils and teachers to have the greater say in their running. Boards of Governors to consist of parents, teachers, pupils and locally elected representatives.
3 Introduction of choice in school clothing. Give pupils the right not to wear uniform if they want. For the sake of comfort, needless disciplinary time-wasting and expense, the abandonment of militaristic uniform makes sense, in line with most of Europe.
4. No Pass and Fail in exams, only degrees of achievement (originally the GCSE was intended to do this). Gradual return to the ascendency of coursework, with all of it done in school to avoid plagiarism (research done at home). This would give all pupils an incentive: at present far too many are failed at GCSE.
5. A Welsh national curriculum, but with the rest balanced between the global and local. To use literature as an example, the focus would be on Welsh writers in both languages, but there would be opportunities to study the likes of Brecht or Angelou and to research local writers.
6. Teachers rewarded for remaining in the classroom ; the opposite of the present situation , whereby progress is seen as leaving the classroom and becoming a 'manager'. With schools becoming democracies rather than being modeled on businesses, there would be less time in the classroom and more opportunities for staff to contribute to executive decision-making.
But the actual teaching would be paramount.
7. All inspections to be done internally or - in cases of concern - carried out by advisers. These advisers would be experienced teachers given sabbaticals to help any teachers through their problems, probation etc, produce resources, run useful courses and give exemplar lessons. Finance saved by the abolition of inspections could go towards the reduction of class sizes.
8 The Foundation Phase replaced by a combination of learning through play and determined focus on literacy and numeracy. Those who continue who need the latter should receive help in both until they can access the rest of the curriculum. In other words, there's no point in a broad curriculum without being able to read, write and cope with the maths.
9. Creation of a fully comprehensive system by abolishing private schools. Education is a right not privilege and nobody should be able to buy their way into the upper echelons of society. This could be done by withdrawing charitable status from these institutions and stopping the Armed Forces from subsidising them ( when members are abroad they can send their children to them).
10. Investment in new technology a priority. The finance could come from a more balanced pay structure, with Heads etc virtually superfluous. Tablets for all pupils should be the aim and some schools do already deploy this system. Education does seem to lag behind the changes in society and this would make schools more appealing to young people.
Giving 16 year olds the right to vote might well alter the priorities of our political parties, but I also think that politics should be studied in school , perhaps as part of PSE. Young people need to be aware of the various political philosophies on offer and make their own choices.
Comparisons with Gove's iniquitous regime in England mustn't lull us into complacency. By stealth, we are in danger of heading the same way.
TESTING FOR TESTS
We're being tested again
so we can all do better
at the other, bigger tests.
These are the Welsh ones,
but they want us to do well
in something called PIZZA.
I can't wait for that :
mine's a pepperoni and sweetcorn
with thick crust and double cheese on top.
We're learning all the right tricks,
past papers and I'm only ten :
I'll pass them with garlic bread!
My Bamps says he did the 11 plus
and they were like performing seals ;
I imagine him flapping for sums.
My mam says - ' Don't take no notice!
It's on'y coz ee failed!'
But I think he talks sense.
Maybe they're offering us pizzas
because they want us to perform,
to leap through the hoops.
Sitting and sweating in the classroom,
letters and numbers like fleeing fish :
wish I could honk, wish I could swim.
Out back the moon is grazing
orange then milky-white light
we've fed it myths and legends,
centuries kept fenced in
lowing over darkening moorland,
scratching away dust against oaks
in craters of its eyes
we search for ourselves
we would fly and pick
like birds on its back
out there, the seldom moon,
hide glowing above grassy tide.
I've known Tim Richards for a long time.
It could've been longer, as we both attended Aberystwyth Uni. in the early 1970s. While I was heavily into left-wing politics there, Tim concentrated more on 3rd World First. I recall that group collecting money and leafleting on the streets (well, street) and I must have passed him many times.
We met up in the early 80s and the first encounter was amusing.
I'd expressed an interest in the Welsh Socialist Republicans and myself and my wife went to Tim's house in Abertridwr to meet up with him and a few others.
I didn't know at that time, but my colleague and namesake at Pen-y-dre (who later became a great friend) was a prominent local Labour member, who even appeared on a party political broadcast. I later found out the Staff nicknamed him 'Mister Average' as a consequence.
I had never had any time for the Labour Party : reformist, Unionist and, in the Valleys, as corrupt as the Masons.
The entire meeting consisted of Tim and the others quizzing me about Labour strategies and eying me rather suspiciously. I was totally baffled!
This could've put me off, but I knew that this was my politics and soon became inspired by many of those involved, especially Alun Roberts, Robert Griffiths and, of course, Tim Richards.
Tim was my political mentor in many ways : an idealist who always stresses the need for involvement in local communities ; he has even been arrested for his beliefs when he expressed strongly republican views. The trumped-up charges could never stick against Tim's intricate legal brain.
The anti-poll tax campaign symbolized Tim's ideas of putting direct action into process and he helped many people who had been forced into court simply because of their poverty and inability to pay that iniquitous tax.
In those days Tim was a script-writer, journalist for 'Y Faner Goch' (monthly paper of Cymru Goch) and pamphleteer extraordinaire.
Though he had written verse in school in Swansea, it wasn't until the birth of Red Poets' Society (as we were then) that he took to it with the same fervour and energy he had given to many campaigns.
He has since appeared in every single issue bar the first and issue 5 ( available on our website www.RedPoets.org) features four poets : Jazz, Alun Rees, Sian Roberts and himself.
'Subversive Lines' ( published by Red Poets, £5) is his first ever collection and brings together most of the poems which have been in the magazines, plus some new material.
It illustrates all his characteristic traits : it's full of humour, imaginative twists , passion and verbal Molotovs.
On the cover is his own photo taken in The Netherlands of a car with a tree and plants growing out of it. It represents his desire to see a better world and through his poetry and life, to change people's consciousness.
'Crime Lesson' epitomizes Tim's view on what crime really is : the greatest criminals being those profiteers in the City who steal millions with impunity.
'The Sheep of Wales' is a veggie rallying cry (even though Tim isn't one), where he imagines a militant army of sheep taking over. It's like 'Animal Farm' condensed, revisited and reborn.
'Drunk!' and 'Stoned!' are excellent performance pieces, as is the explosive 'Fuck Em'. In the former he envisages the puking piss-artist as ' a non-lethal organo-chemical weapon'.
'Capitalists' encapsulates in just five verses what many would take tomes to express, hitting us with the subversive last line - 'they know all about money but its worth.'
His invective against news broadcasts and the right-wing press are equally scathing and ,again, the final line of 'Daily Hate' is packed with wit as he sums up the paper's attitude to Europe and its loathing of 'the whole bloody continent!'.
His poem 'Red Poets' Society' ( a name he prefers to Red Poets) shows his self-deprecatory humour; poets might like to think of it as show biz , but ultimately it's a minority interest - 'We got our fans,both of them.'
Two poems attacking the monarchy combine lacerating wit and a quirky vision, with 'Aliens' depicting them from another galaxy.
A series of poems look closely at the absurdity of modern life, using hyperbole to great effect -
'If you are losing interest in life and despairing of my reply please press 10' ( 'Helpline').
Two poems share his deep involvement in the anti-nuclear power movement in Wales and 'Necklace' is most moving, with its description of the effects of radiation from Chernobyl.
'Landscape Photographs' shows another side of Tim, with his enthusiasm for photography; though he realises that no photo can possibly capture the beauty of the scene -
' The mountains rule me
allowing me to capture them
fleetingly, on their own terms
in a simple photograph.'
Please come along to the Imperial Hotel, Merthyr Tudful on June 5th (7. 30 pm ) for the launch of 'Subversive Lines' as part of the Merthyr Rising events.
I know Tim has been busy writing down his political memoirs and there are many wonderful stories.
The following poem is based on one of these.
What I don't explain is that we actually got the wrong place and the huge lime-burnt graffiti couldn't be seen from the Garden Festival site in Ebbw Vale in 1992!
3 A.M. ON MANMOEL MOUNTAIN
Slopping in muddy ditchwater
as a piss-the-bed
sweating steep rock faces
burning in the lime
maps upside down
tired inside out
trying to find contours
the fanatical driver
reversing towards dark heather
the perfect backdrop
for words in lime
it's all been planned
except the fog
thick as a hangover
after a Skull Attack night -
over the next ridge
headlines of hypothermia
songs of martyrs
3 men of Gwent
2 men of Merthyr
went over the mountains
for the burning of lime
a path of potholes
slopes like wet slides,
white of bird-shit
splashed and spotted,
rubber gloves and masks
to perform operations
hallucinating sheep into buckets,
arms drooping to housing estates
backs throbbing like headaches,
ceasing to care
whether it was FEE WALES
or FREE WAFFLES
while below the final rivets
the blow-lamps and drills
finish off the structures
of a 3D advertisement -
brushing away the fog
painting in the stars,
a 40 foot constellation
FREE WALES our exhibit
burnt with the lime.
Cardiff City fans protesting against the red
At the end of a season where our megalomaniac owner sacked an excellent head of recruitment and then a successful manager....
At the end of a season where we have plummeted from outside the relegation zone under Malky Mackay, to the bottom of the Premier under Ole Gunnar Solskaer....
At the end of a season where we have been divided as never before : between those who boycotted the club, those who only wore blue and the majority (at the season's beginning) who embraced the red....
At the end of such a disastrous season, how is a Bluebird fanatic like myself supposed to be optimistic?
If Solskaer remains (as seems likely) I have serious doubts whether we have any chance of promotion from the Championship, even with the hefty 'parachute' payment.
I don't need to dwell on all his faults, just read Brian Davies's fan's-eye view on Walesonline for a telling analysis.
To summarize, we've moved rapidly backwards and downwards under Ole with poor team selection, tactics, motivation and signings (with the possible exceptions of Daehli and Cala).
Yet, what has happened to our fans this season is remarkable : a total transformation!
Many Cardiff fans have become ardent supporters over recent years. Ninian Park used to average about 13,000, which leaves around 10,000 who have known nothing except success, or the near-thing.
These fans in particular, had bought completely Tan's red dream, their arguments being the same as Bellamy's when he joined us i.e. 'It doesn't matter if we play in pink, as long as we're successful!' (note : Bellers is a Liverpool fan!).
This season, relatively rapidly, as we dropped down the league and after Moody and Malky were jettisoned for no good reason other than the owner's arrogance, our fans have increasingly worn the blue and joined the protests.
Adversity, failure and a dictatorial regime has united us.
The club shop in Cardiff centre sells red produce and is invariably empty ,while shops under the stands sell almost entirely blue and retro scarves are very popular. On 19 minutes 27 seconds, every game they are raised to celebrate that important moment in our club's history.
Even a friend who was once a staunch defender of Tan, actually wore an old jacket with a Bluebirds crest to the last home game.
The CCFC Supporters' Trust has called for Vincent Tan to create a feel -good factor and change back to blue.
I doubt he will. Like getting rid of Solskaer, it would be an admission of defeat and he doesn't operate like that.
He's used to total adulation in Malaysia : witness his mass birthday party and the huge dragon cake the size of Kenwyne Jones's pay packet!
He's more likely to repeat his dictum - ' If you don't like what I'm doing, find another owner!'
Yet his mad plans go ahead, with a 5000-seater stand being built with prices similar to the Grandstand. Chances are it will be empty all next season.
It could be called the Etien Velikonja Stand in honour of the player Tan signed without Malky's knowledge and who has been a very expensive disaster.
The present unity among Bluebirds fans is the most positive aspect of the whole season ( along with Marshall's goalkeeping).
This was symbolized by the March for Blue before the Liverpool home game on March 22nd.
All the supporters' organisations helped to get people there and thousands turned up to parade from Canton to the stadium.
The mood was good-humoured and exhibited the best side of our fans. I couldn't help thinking how many of there had begun the season wearing red.
If fans are so fickle, what's to stop many changing back?
Surely, they can be bought off again by Tan's millions and a degree of success?
Well, I'd like to think there's no turning back. Tan and his entourage look lonely and isolated decked in red and the players must've felt very uneasy.
As to myself, like many others I shall keep on marching and campaigning for our true identity to be restored.
A football club is like a family and our family history has been despoiled. The Bluebird, in all its mystery, must fly again.
MARCHING FOR BLUE
'You shall not pass!'
he boomed, standing in front
of the car with inside adorned
in Liverpool regalia, the occupants
local yet red-shirted,
boy with GERRARD on his back.
'Support your local team!'
another shouted at them,
with even their reg. declaring LFC.
'You shall not pass!'
'Brian Blessed' my friend laughed
and all the way from the Admiral Napier
to our blue and white stadium
we chanted and halted the cars.
Not one red shirt to be seen
and even in the Executive windows
a scarf from the 60s hung
and our owner's 10 per cent
sounded like some politician
inventing stats to save his skin.
We were like a large family
brought together for a ceremony;
on historical 19 minutes 27 seconds
we raised our colours and sang,
after Ali had announced in welcome
ADAR GLEISION once again.
Up on the forestry track
where dogs are often walked
and you might see foxes crossing,
gave us a rhyme
her mam had handed down -
" The cuckoo comes in April
She sings her song in May
She changes her tune
In the month of June
And July she flies away"
She'd heard the call first time
this year early in April
from deep on the Waun -
without any prompting
she smiled and recited
to us like a rare song -
days later we heard the bird
but not a sight of it -
the woman's voice returning .
Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'
In the 'Guardian' recently, Simon Jenkins argued eloquently and forcefully that the commemoration of World War 1 is a mistake.
He makes the point that there are other significant historical events which should have equal emphasis (such as the Peterloo Massacre) and I can see his reasoning.
Certainly, here in Cymru, events like the risings in Merthyr and Llanelli and the Chartist revolt in Newport need to be remembered and assessed in terms of contemporary relevance in particular.
In terms of Merthyr 1831, modern-day loan sharks are very similar to the 'truck shops' of that time and multi-national companies such as Miller Argent ( doing opencast mining) behave with the same greed and arrogance as the Ironmasters of the 19th century.
Jenkins makes a more pertinent point when he says that we should celebrate the best of humankind and not just the worst (which war demonstrates).
Thus, the Chartists, the founding of the Trade Unions and the fight for women's suffrage should have a much greater focus.
The only positivity regarding remembrance tends to be related to the monarchy ; suiting British establishment propaganda in much the same way as war acts as a unifying force for a 'Great' Britain which is gradually fracturing.
English Education Secretary Michael Gove and right-wing historians like Max Hastings would have us change the perspective of that war given in the likes of 'Blackadder Goes Forth' ; as an exercise in mass murder by imperial powers intent on an Arms Race.
To their credit, the BBC doesn't seem to be unduly influenced by this and , from what I've seen of their recent programmes, has shown commendable balance.
In the new drama series 'The Crimson Field', the sheer absurdity of World War 1 is often shown. Set in a field hospital, it poses questions through the lives of the main characters : nurses, doctors and casualties.
Though too many issues are dealt with in single programmes, the writers are clearly aware of the complexities.
Surgeons wine and dine while the soldiers are patched up and rapidly returned to the front. The alarming contrasts much like Sassoon's best satirical poems.
A once eager Irish soldier all too suddenly turns into a rebel when denied home leave and ends up 'doing a Yossarian' and appearing naked on parade decrying the British uniform. The background of Irish rebellion which led to the 1916 Uprising, is suggested if not developed.
A soldier accused of deliberately wounding himself in order to get back to 'Blighty' is shot as a deserter. This certainly happened in many cases. The way he is seen 'as a ghost' by others is an effective metaphor in what can be a rather heavy-handed drama.
It is hardly the anti-war bitterness of 'O What A Lovely War', nor is it part of Gove's revisionism. It raises vital issues and tries to give a background.
Two programmes on BBC 4 complemented this very well.
'War Requiem' used Benjamin's Britten's operatic settings of Wilfred Owen's great poems together with dramatised sequences. The elegaic tone was prevalent, though I felt it was too formal for verse which became more starkly realistic and horrific as the war went on.
The programme about Ivor Gurney was more contentious. Its presiding thesis was that Gurney - both in his life and art - thrived as a result of the war.
As a celebration of a poet and composer whose work is too often neglected , this programme was effective.
Overall, however, it was seriously flawed.
Gurney didn't actually seem that different from Rosenberg, Owen and Sassoon , who all produced their best work as a direct result of involvement in combat.
Saying Gurney needed the war is much like saying Heaney needed The Troubles : it doesn't make either conflict a necessity.
Gurney's poetry was unique : he cared so much for his native Gloucestershire and had that love of locality which neither Owen or Sassoon possessed.
His songs were truly remarkable : composing such haunting, ethereal music whilst in the trenches was a genuine act of genius.
He is a poet who deserves to be placed alongside the likes of David Jones, Hedd Wyn and Herbert Read and the fact that much of his best work was written during his many years in a mental institution after the war was astonishing.
In this year of commemorations, I have been conducting workshops with Merthyr Writers' Squad based on World War One.
It's very interesting to note that one Primary school are producing their own drama based on local history and these pupils knowledge of Merthyr's relationship with that war was a revelation.
In particular, they had researched our former MP Keir Hardie and his avowed pacifism.
To return to the Simon Jenkins article, at least this commemoration has led to these young people carrying out their own research and engaging with the past.
You never know, it could have a profound affect upon our future.
HANDS SOON HARDENED
Rows of shells, Five Nines.
Moustachioed men supervise.
The shine of lethal bombs
like boots of troops on parade.
Women workers wearing masks,
strange nurses tending weapons ;
wielding wooden mallets like clubs
to stopper the open tops ;
women in overalls with long hair
tied and wrapped in head scarves.
Rails of warfare, purposeful and direct
as slogans on recruitment posters.
Bullets the size of torsos,
churns of gunpowder not milk.
Soft hands soon hardened
by the solid press of iron.
Thoughts overseas to broken lines
and holes which cannot be plugged.
At a recent N.U.T. rally outside the Senedd in Cardiff only Plaid Cymru were represented of the main political parties (by a certain Bethan Jenkins A.M. ).
When she tweeted this fact, out from the building springs ex-Education Minister Leighton Andrews to interrupt Wales N.U.T. leader David Evans' speech.
He was initially jeered and then cheered as he pledged support for Comprehensive education. Compared to England's multi-tiered and semi-privatised system , Wales does appear egalitarian and fair, yet......to what extent?
There remains an overriding sense of failure, with many pupils not achieving the magic 'C' grade at GCSE. As I've blogged previously, only when schools are run democratically and the exam system abolished so pupils are rewarded for what they achieve throughout their school careers, can we even approach a fully comprehensive system.
Moreover, all public schools should be closed down.
'Public' schools are a misnomer : they aren't for the 'public', but are elitist.
The average annual fees for the likes of Howell's, Christ College and Llandovery range from £5000 - £8000.
The average wage in my home town of Merthyr Tudful is about £26000 per annum. In order to send little Callum or Caitlin to these places, parents would need to go without food or heat for a year.......not advisable!
Scholarships do exist ,but there are a limited number and all these institutions exist to make money, despite having charitable status.
A friend who used to work for the Charities Commission was always appalled by the fact that private schools were regarded thus.
Some deliberately fulfill community roles in order to feign this, but they are essentially places for the wealthy and privileged, often feeding the major universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
When we think about private schools we tend to envisage Eton and Harrow, yet there are many smaller ones, some of which depend heavily on the State for their very existence , as the children of the Armed Services board there (another State subsidy).
Many of these employ unqualified teachers and very dubious ones at that. I know because my father taught briefly in one in the Vale. He was a highly intelligent man with a serious mental illness, who should never have been allowed near school pupils. When dismissed for literally making them kiss his feet I wasn't surprised!
At University I had two close acquintances who attended private schools and took an extra year to try to get into Oxbridge. Both failed , and ended up at Aber . To their benefit, I'd argue.
Much has been made of the fact that many of the present Government attended the 'top' schools and that alone is proof of their shortcomings. However, they do produce a sense of entitlement, as well as a direct path to Oxbridge and many of the upper echelons of society.
Other factors emphasize the benefits of private education , including their outstanding facilities and small class sizes.
However, their serious faults are generally ignored.
Recalling those two students , there were common patterns of behaviour which could be ascribed to their education.
Both had an unhealthy obsession with porn, born out of all-male environments.
Both had peculiar relationships with parents based largely on financial obligations to them. Normal,loving relationships had been distorted and numbed by years of absence and replaced by the feeling of being an 'investment'.
Recently, State schools have been criticised for enabling parents to leave their children from 6 am - 6 pm, yet the private system goes way beyond this, allowing parents to abandon children at an early age and deprive them of family affection ( so much for the Tories mantra of the importance of 'the family').
Much has also been made of the way the present Government are totally divorced from most people and cannot comprehend how they live.
Private schools cater for one section of society only and inevitably cut them off from contact with people of all different classes. The schooling of the Government is one explanation of their ignorance and their ideologically-motivated cuts and austerity.
In short, we should stop lauding private education and examine the reality of a system which stunts and perverts the development of children.
It may bring them success in terms of money and status, but it doesn't make them successful, rounded human beings.
THE VALUE OF EDUCATION
He slept above those bodies ,
hooking them out
with a deft and practised stroke
to finger through at night
under the covers.
He was at ease at the crease
or setting field-placings,
a 'born captain'
his House Master had insisted.
He went sleep-walking
once standing semi-naked
in the landlady's bedroom
and even when she screamed,
He always told me -
'There's nothing wrong with my schooling,
my parents made an investment!'
He paid them back at the wicket,
or stuffy library not lingering long.
They rarely came to visit
but when they did, bought him
half the high street
of that small seaside town.
I knew he'd sleep-walk
into his father's profession
and his son would follow
into Prep and dormitories,
know the value of education
down to the nearest penny.
Mikecu for a christening
I have started doing haiku on wooden plaques.
These are called 'Mikecu'. This isn't a company name or a brand.
I'm not about to appear on 'Dragon's Den' asking them for a £100,000 investment for a 25% stake.
I couldn't bear Duncan Balletine's interrogation about my profit margins.
'What's your projected net profit for the first year of trading?'
'Errrrr....right! So you expect me to hand you 100 grand for no return?.....I am oot!'
So, I have begun by doing two for birthdays (one a 21st) and one for a Christening.
And no, it's not the pimping of a Red Poet because I have written haiku for years, just never on wood to be hung up (or used for the fire?).
They can be about almost anything (yes,even daffs and sheep!), but Nature and the seasons do remain primary themes.
I like their brevity : out-tweeting Twitter and their focus ( even after a few pints of Celt).
I have written a few yn Cymraeg, but mostly in English and ,unlike some other exponents, adhere strictly to the 5-7-5.
I believe there's something magical about those syllables, even though they may be more apt in Chinese or Japanese.
Some who have received one have never heard of the haiku form before.
In one case my wife sent a text saying 'Hope you enjoy the haiku' and the recipient was expecting a scarf!
I also like the challenge of writing to commission and trying not to fall into the deadly pit of cliches.
A haiku is not
a scarf, it's a paper snake ;
so wear the shed skin.
Cardiff Central station
I've become a professional complainer.
The more I use public transport, the more cause for complaint. Both Arriva Trains Wales and Stagecoach (the buses not the drama workshops!) have felt my ire of late.
The latter didn't give proper compensation despite the fact that the bus due to take us from Pontypridd to Merthyr late at night simply didn't appear.
I heard later that the driver's son had been taken ill ; but there should've been a replacement all the same.
The taxi home was extortionate, but as I failed to get a receipt, the only thing I received was a voucher for the price of the journey.
Arriva do generally respond with vouchers, yet often deny any wrong-doing.
Twice in a matter of weeks both myself and younger daughter were thrown off the train (along with all the other passengers) at Merthyr Vale, so it could make up the time. The train then proceeded on to Merthyr empty!
When confronted, Arriva denied this had even occurred , claiming they had electronic records to prove it. I had texts and calls from my distressed daughter to prove otherwise!
Should this happen again, I will refuse to alight. Haven't they got an obligation to passengers?
Actually, their only obligation seems to be to targets, like the rest of society from the police force to stressed-out teachers.
Customers seem superfluous, as we are expected to travel in ancient rolling stock which belongs in the Industrial and Maritime Museum.
We are expected to wait for some far-off electrification, as Westminster and Cardiff Bay hit responsibility back and fore in an endless match of political tennis.
I'm in danger of repeating myself, but none of the major political parties dare mention the 'n' word.
Even Plaid Cymru, who could afford to be adventurous, talk about 'not-for-profit' rather than nationalisation; not arguing for a Tren Cymru network owned by the people of Wales, or buses returned to Council control as Cardiff's is today.
Comedians used to mock British Rail, as did the right-wing press, yet companies like Arriva and Stagecoach get off very lightly.
Just as our first ever privatised train in Wales happened to be a bus, so that tradition is regularly maintained.
The two most popular destinations for commuters in Wales are places called 'Delayed' and 'Cancelled'.
I genuinely admire the small firm which provides our bus service in my area of Merthyr, as they offer an alternative to Stagecoach's monopoly.
You get to know the drivers and they know many customers by first names. They often stop outside people's houses and help the old and infirm with their bags.
They too can be erratic with their 'phantom' buses, yet give me them over the big, impersonal companies any day.
They're like the village pub ,however, with a 'For Sale' sign always looming above.
Stations can be places of intense observation and inspiration, though I sometimes wish I spent less time gazing up with anxious eyes at the screen, anticipating yet another cancellation.
BIRD-MAN ON THE PLATFORM
Striding up and down the platform
THIS TRAIN TERMINATES HERE
but it's going in his direction
his hands are pigeons taking off,
he keeps on preening himself
in every smutty window
jay tie and starling suit,
checks his mobile, wings clipped
underneath his dove-white shirt
his day's delayed upon the screen,
a hair slips out of place,
a seagull chasing crumbs of time
the next train promising :
a woman asks him a question
believing he's an official there
THIS TRAIN TERMINATES HERE
he's anxious about an appointment
with his former manager
he's preparing for an interview
at an office down the line :
the empty carriages are leaving
finger to ear like beak to a bin ;
in cages of closed-down waiting rooms
his reflection's always frowning.
Dylan Thomas' writing shed, currently on tour
I was standing on Tonypandy station the other day, when I had a revelation. It came from a piece of stenciled graffiti under the bridge.
I like to think I was possessed by the spirit of Rhondda writer Rachel Tresize (rhymes with 'Dylan Thomas Prize' ), except she's still very much alive.
Sometimes I see things that make my mind totally boggle and just wonder if anyone else has noticed them.
Often it's been in Merthyr precinct : two instances being the subject of the poem below and a man I would liken to 'Table Top Joe' in the Tom Waits song from his brilliant album 'Alice'. He was knee-high on the pavement near where Smith's used to be and seemed to have no body, like the character in the song. Everyone passed him by without a head-turn.
Recently I've been involved in writing workshops at Primary schools as part of Literature Wales' Developing Dylan project.
For the last two I used a power-point devised by myself and my clever but often plugged-into-her-i-pad daughter, based on 'The Hunchback In The Park'.
For the first one I kept strictly to the power-point provided by them and found it was inappropriate : far too difficult and ,moreover, contained no creative writing element!
Now I've realised there is flexibility I am delighted that poetry-writing plays an integral role in their response to one of Thomas's most accessible poems.
'Hunchback' has all his typical hyperboles and thrill with sounds, yet avoids the nostalgic sentimentality of 'Fern Hill' , or the image-tangled obscurity of poems like 'All All and All The Dry World's Lever'.
I am something of an exception when it comes to his work. 'Under Milk Wood' - for all its wonderful word-pictures and conjuring of atmosphere - seems full of stereotypes and caricatures. It's almost a comic book portrayal of Wales compared with his vivid , realistic stories like 'Peaches' and 'Extraordinary Little Cough'.
Like Sylvia Plath , I believe that Dylan has been famous, in the main, for the wrong work.
The Dylan Industry is up and running with Centenary Year and a full programme for the Festival in Swansea. Anyone who happened to meet him over a pint at Brown's is probably now embarking on a lecture tour.
His beloved shed ( well, a replica) is currently touring the country, minus empties and fag-ash and we're all Dylan's Disciples, leaving out the seedy bits.
I can't complain, as it gives me an opportunity to go to Primary schools and get them writing about interesting characters, hopefully avoiding Simon Cowell, David Beckham and Minnie Mouse in the process!
Some pupils have really taken to it, notably the young girl who, when I asked her class who was the most famous Welsh writer ever promptly replied 'You!' Full marks and an A*.
What I have realised is that less pupils are now writing poetry. After all, it can't be properly assessed, can it?
I pointed out that Dylan uses virtually no punctuation in 'Hunchback' and one horrified teacher said they could only write like that 'today' and at no other time.
While the Centenary is laudable, we mustn't marginalise the many other writers who deserve equal recognition, such as R.S. Thomas and Alun Lewis ; not to mention Welsh language poets like Gwenallt and Waldo Williams, who hardly get a look in.
Like many poets in Wales I was once greatly influenced by Dylan and then rebelled when I came to study American poetry (especially the Beats, Lowell, Stevens and Olson). Now I hope I can be more distanced and discerning.
His distinctive 'ham actor' intonation can carry me along on a huge wave, but also make me chuckle at its posh tone and bombast.
Both my late mother and sister were/are Dylanites (or should that be 'Dyldos'?). Maybe their hero-worship makes me overly critical?
Still, but for him I would never have been on that station platform.
AFRICAN WOMAN AT-A MARKIT
Seen er jest once,
thought I woz allucinatin
(too much medication)
the African woman
servin at-a stall
sellin cheese, bacon an pasties
all embalmed in plastic.
Not like she woz dressed
all bright an colourful
but, sat on er ead
as she served the people,
woz an ewge bag o stuff :
carrots, frewt an thin's,
without a pasty in sight.
All-a time she balanced
tha bag like a footie star
with a ball, so outa place
I wonder now if I dreamt it
on a drab, damp Merthyr day
an nobuddy s much as commented.