You may, recently, have seen me asking certain questions on social media: questions about ‘poets of Cardiff’ – what this phrase means to people, and which writers people think of when we use this phrase.
That’s because I was asked, a short while ago, to curate poets and commission poems from them for a new project – Poetry in the Arcades – in which these new verses would be put on display in the classic old arcades of the city.
In the end, after much thought, I decided to go with a definition of ‘Cardiff poet’ as someone who ‘voices the city’ – not necessarily someone living here, or born here, although they might have been – but someone who already in their work regularly writes of and about the place.
After speaking in passing to poet Mamta Sagar, who was staying with poet Siân Melangell Dafydd in Cardiff, I decided, also, to choose poets who represented different generations of the city. Not necessarily in terms of age, but in terms of their writing, although these generally seemed to coincide. Mamta mentioned that she’d run a public poetry project in Bangalore along these lines, and this made good sense to me.
So, the poets I finally chose were: Peter Finch, Topher Mills, Hanan Issa, Joao Morais, as well as myself, who was commissioned by the project organisers.
This month, therefore, I’m pleased to announce that these ‘Arcade Poets’ will have their (our!) poems on display very shortly – by this coming Saturday, 16th November, in fact, which is also City of Arcades Day.
A further additional poet (Siân Melangedd Dafydd, mentioned above) will join us as the sixth Arcade Poet in December (the original sixth poet I asked was unable to take part, sadly), and her poem will be bilingual. My commissioning of the poets encouraged them to write in Welsh (as both Joao and Hanan do – Hanan, in fact, also writes in Arabic, and I added this potential into her commission, also) but, poetry being what it is, and very much about inspiration, both of them wrote their pieces in English in the end.
So, Siân has the very important task of both stepping in a little later than the others, and of creating a bilingual piece so that the language of our city’s Welsh speakers and Welsh learners is also rightly included. Good luck, Siân!
Poetry in the Arcades is a project that’s been created and coordinated by Mighty Atom, which is run by the creative powerhouse that is Dan Green.
He’s been working with For Cardiff on the project; For Cardiff are the organiser of City of Arcades Day. Poet Emily Cotterill, who also heads things here, has arranged our event on the 16th and will also be our wonderful host.
I hope you’ll join us this Saturday from 7pm for the celebration of the Poetry in the Arcades project, and to hear some of the Arcade Poets (Topher, Joao, Hanan, and myself, possibly also Siân) read our commissioned works and also some other pieces. It takes place in Waterloo Tea in Wyndham Arcade. Waterloo Tea hosted my first book launch, in Pen-y-lan, back in 2014, and will always hold a special place in my heart as a result. They also do the best tea in the city! (And amazing cakes…)
It’s needless to say that this is a really brilliant project, bringing poetry straight into the heart of the city – into its veins, its ventricles – and hopefully into the hearts of the people who stop for a little minute to take in these words and carry them, then, away home with them. The poems give us, in turn (as you will see when you read them!) a puzzle and some parlance; a roar and a reverie; a rhythmic, rhyming ode; and then there’s still one poem to come! But, they are all meant to uplift and inspire, and to reflect in an upbeat way upon the city, which is a really refreshing thing at this time when there’s so much strife in politics and other arenas. We can still appreciate what we’ve got right here, and these poems take pride in the capital, the arcades, and the power of words to communicate and to connect people.
So, please do join us this Saturday, for tea, words, and a look about to see the Arcade Poets and their poems in actions.
Look forward to meeting you there!
P.S. Poetry in the Arcades includes a competition element. Would you like to join us as the seventh Arcade Poet???? Then, see here for details. It’s free to enter. We can’t wait to welcome the magical Seventh to our group!!!
When you think of all the life that Earth has sustained – is sustaining – will sustain, across the whole of time; when you think of the near infinity of flora and fauna blooming and being upon, above, and within the Earth right at this moment; when your mind reaches up to the thin wing bones of a bird, let’s say the albatross, which are of a span so wide as to allow it to glide thousands of kilometres without pause; and then think down to the deepest dwelling creatures of the sea, as deep as we can ourselves fathom, to the monster-ish fang tooth fish and snails that resemble small ghosts; and then across into the dark innards of the Earth, its rich, black soil, to the myriad flatworms, roundworms, and ringed worms, drawing dirt into their bellies and transmuting them into their own existence: you know that even these creatures are a miracle, and more valuable than gold; that the Earth itself is everything, everything, it is Everything, and as such is precious beyond any words.
We often talk about the rainforest being destroyed, but did you know that Wales in fact possesses its own ‘rainforest’, a wonderfully rich, wildlife-sustaining series of habitats known as the wetlands? Right now some of the Welsh wetlands – specifically, the Gwent Levels – are under threat because ‘they’ want to build a relief road for the M4 through it. This area is home to the endangered water vole, the common crane (which has only recently returned to the area after 400 years away), the rare king diving beetle, and the scarce rootless duckweed. Grass snakes lie like lords in the long, feather grasses; birds of many description gather here to nest and feed. In order to save 10 minutes of commuting time, it is proposed that 125 hectares of this specially protected wildlife zone be destroyed or damaged, and the rest polluted by toxic vehicle fumes. Its water ways would be disrupted, also, which for the WET-lands means that a major element of its ongoing sustainability could be dangerously unbalanced.
In a small way I’m hoping to engage people with the #WelshWetlands via the #LiteratureMatters award I’ve just been granted by the Royal Society of Literature to create a number of podcasts (if you’d like to feature on one of these / collaborate, please get in touch!). I live directly opposite Cardiff Wetlands, which are incredibly beautiful and inspiring. But, more than this, they are often considered to be the lungs or lymphatic system of the Earth, and of cities in particular, as they tend to exist in close proximity to urban areas. So, on this Earth Day, I wanted to alert you to the fact that this particular set of lungs, the Gwent Levels, are in dire need of your help, RIGHT NOW. Please consider signing and sharing this petition, therefore:
Welsh Government can still be swayed and directed by us to make the right choice. Which, I strongly believe, would be a decision to put the Earth, which sustains all life, including our own, first.
The beauty of the wetlands is one thing… But, we should not forget that every bird out there right now possesses a tiny beating heart. Every single strand of grass is drinking water from the soil, thirsty as a child. Every leaf is proof of magic in action, an unconscious alchemy in which sunlight is transformed, moment after moment, into life.
The song of the coots is, as I type, swimming through my living room windows… It says to me, that they would like to live. Just as I, too, would like to live. And, as we would all like all of our children to live! And we need the Earth to live in order for us to make this our future.
I do not blog a lot, but when I do, it’s to impart unto you, gentle reader, either my own news or news which I believe is of great value, importance, significance, and excitement.
All these emotions, and more, for the following!
Two very fine writers (who happen to be women. Who happen to hark from Wales. Who also happen to be astounding performers of their poems. And who I happen to have the great pleasure of knowing) have celebrated, in the first case, news; and in the other, views, as follows:
First up: the bold, brilliant, and beautiful Rufus Mufasa has been announced by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales as their very first Poet in Residence!
Rufus will be in residency for a year, responding to the new Well-being of the Future Generations Act, promoting Wales as a pioneer in sustainable development, and bringing the work of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales vividly to life.
Secondly, but by no means secondly (I’m only writing this secondly because ‘news and views’ was a better rhyme for my post title, so I’m going with things in that order), the vibrant, vivacious, and very excellent clare e. potter had her documentary The Wall and The Mirror go out on BBC 2 television very recently.
This details the beautiful story of a Cefn Fforest barber who has been cutting hair for 67 years, and the stories of those who are remembered in a vast array of photographs adorning her shop walls.
Both Rufus and clare, as you may already know, are wonderful writers, with truly unique and original voices, visions, and minds. I really wanted to get this blog post out for International Women’s Day , therefore, but time and intention sadly didn’t match up, so here it is for you on a Sunday. Plus, although I feel that women’s voices are still often sidelined, and that would have been what I’d said in an IWD-related post, here are two women who are now in the centre, at the forefront, doing amazing work despite any challenges, and gaining popularity and support as a result of their talent and tenacity.
So, IWD aside, here are two humans who I heartily recommend you read, watch, and listen to. Follow them now!
And, as a little bonus, hear them read a poem collated by them from many entries to a competition myself and Literature Wales ran as part of International Dylan Thomas Day. I always thought these two writers were amazing, and wanted to involve them in some way when I coordinated this celebration… The ‘great poem’ they came up with, bringing so many hundreds of voices from around the world together, was truly remarkable. Because, they are truly remarkable, and because they are, inherently, steadfast supporters of other writers and communities.
“Well,” said Dee, hanging another bauble from the already festooned tree, “that’s all very well and good, but who d’ya think’s gonna get the blame?”
Di, from her chair, laughed. The chair was made of the finest bone, an assortment gathered and grouped together from all the animals of the world, and it shone brightly, almost gaudily, clicking a sort of rhythmic beat as its occupant wheezed and cackled. In Di’s equally bony, skin-wrinkled fingers was a tiny glass no bigger than a thimble, and in this was a bright jot of liquid.
“If we give up – really, if we quit – then it’ll be me that humans will pin it on. Y’know – the siiiiren.” At this, she sighed, as yet another bauble magically appeared in the never-empty box. On the floor was the baby, Dora. She looked to be about two years old, and was playing with a cardboard box, the exquisite glass ornament which it had contained pushed away to one side. Around her were a tide of presents, and amongst these were twelve stockings that seemed to have a life of their own, each one hopping here and there, back and forth, around and around. They stomped noisily, stopping sometimes to suck up a particular gift, before they continued their weird, wobbly stamp-dance.
At this, however, Dora stopped sucking at the box and gave Dee a look. Even some of the whomping stockings trembled.
“Who says they would?” she scoffed, an adult’s knowing tone emanating from her chubby toddler cheeks. She frowned then, pouting, her face puffing up like a pair of the tree baubles. “Some people always blame the baby.”
“And some the old woman,” added Di. She sipped at her drink, dropping the jot down her throat like she was packing it away rather than enjoying it; but, when she brought the glass back up again, it was refilled. Dee looked at her, shaking her beautiful head. Di raised the glass, grinning. “Want a sip?”
Sighing again, Dee signalled a sad no. “You know I can’t,” she said, and turned to string yet another bauble from a branch. This was the World Tree, and at the moment it resembled a stunning fir, thick with plush, juicy pine needles, and such a rich green that it looked good enough to eat (in fact, the baby had already tried this – as she did every year – but, like most infants, she preferred the beige, papery fayre she was currently consuming to anything that might offer even the remote possibility of nutrition).
“Well, I don’t think it’s fair,” said Dee at last. “To hell with it!” and she spun away from the tree and flung herself onto the sofa. This was as red as blood. Dee’s dress, too, was red-red velvet, and slinked around her voluptuous form like a swirl of something living, something foxy, vibrant, and sensual.
The baby stopped sucking. “Hell, you say…” The old woman took another swig of drink, and smiled. She knew what her sister would say next. This little interchange was so familiar. “Your daddy would love that!”
Di cackled again, leaning back in her ivory chair. Bone-throne. A fibula creaked as she creased herself, and her dark, amulet-eyes glistened blackly.
Dee put an arm behind her head, and rolled lazily around to look at Dora. “Hades has the space for it,” she said. “Hell is infinite. I don’t see why-”
“-because we do. We just do,” said Dora. “You know that.”
They went through this every year. It was part of Dee’s persona, they all knew, the part she was supposed to play: driven by her body, its hormones, its urge to procreate, she was petulant, with a tendency towards drama.
“But,” said Dee, kicking her shapely legs up in the air, “wouldn’t it be nice to have a change? Do something different?”
Di giggled, and took another guzzle. The liquid she was imbibing was the color of amber, but with a bit of sparkle, a hint of dazzle, so that it looked almost lava-like in the light. Fire-drink. GULP. She giggled again.
“You question,” said Dora, looking at Dee, “you consider,” she nodded her head at Di, “and I counsel. Was it not ever the way, sisters?” The baby gave a little impromptu burp after these wise words, then turned to open another Christmas present, pulling at the paper clumsily with her tiny hands. “Oh, damn this.” She blinked, and the present unwrapped itself, paper peeling away like the skin from an orange. Inside was what looked like a music box – a very, very, very old one.
“Vintage,” muttered Dora.
“What?” Dee was still lolling on the sofa, as if it were a pair of lips and she was a wagging tongue.
“Vintage is in this year.”
Dee looked at the box and groaned. “Oh, do we have to?”
“Yes,” said Dora. Dee sat up suddenly, swinging her legs seductively. “Wait for me to finish the tree, though!”
But of course the tree would never be finished. It was spouting needles, twigs, and branches as they spoke; fruit, huge and incongruous, was bursting from it: figs; satsumas; small, Rudolph’s nose-style apples. Here and there, too, were nuts, of all varieties, plus chocolates, sugar almonds, canes, and other candies. All the sweet, delicious things of Christmas. And, as the Three watched, these swelled to ripeness, and began to tremble, for they were nearly ready to fall.
The room was set. It was a perfect and idyllic Christmas scene. The daughters of the Great Mother and of, in turn – from supposed littlest to seemingly eldest – Pan, Hades, and Dionysus, were ready.
The bone chair stopped its clicking and the twelve completed stockings – one for each day of the festive season – flew to the fireplace and hung themselves from the mantel.
Simultaneously, a blood red fire burst into being inside the grate, and the woman in the blood red dress bit into a blood red apple. Ruby juice dripped down her chin; her eyes clouded, then closed, in ecstasy.
The elder sister drank and drank, the little glass filling and refilling as she gulped.
And the baby – the youngest, the oldest, the wisest of the sisters – opened her music box and let Chaos burst forth. Welcome, wonderful, cleansing Chaos! It flew from the trinket, smashing every perfectly-placed bauble, every carefully-set item within the space; it tore the stockings down, unravelling them to nothing; it opened, ate, obliterated every gift in sight, as ribbons and wrappers and pine needles and fruit, too, were infected with the Chaos and began ripping and crushing and shredding themselves out of existence.
Within seconds, the order of the perfect room was destroyed. Di’s throne ticked its last and all its bones buried themselves back into earth. The Three Sisters sighed, and whispered away to the Next Place. Their work, for this year, was done. As the last bauble blew, its fragments returning to absence, the midnight bell chimed: proof that, once again, this spell; this ritual; the ancient Sisters’ balancing of order and chaos, gift and receipt, abstinence and abundance, had been accomplished.
And, it had. Because, now, the Christmas Eves were gone, and it was Christmas Day.
I’ve recently been able to announce that, in agreement with Cardiff Harbour Authority, I am now Writer in Residence at Cardiff Wetlands.
This is a non-contractual role which I am undertaking for my own inspiration and development.
Why Wetlands, though? some of you have asked….
Well, previously, I was Writer in Residence at the National Botanic Garden of Wales; so, this new, nature-based position seems like a perfect follow on from that.
However, unlike the National Botanic Garden, this little fringe of mud, moisture, and metre-high wild grasses isn’t well known to many, remaining a mystery even to Cardiff-born city slickers such as myself.
I first found out about the Wetlands earlier this year when my friend Steve Andrews told me about it and we came here after a poetry reading to take a look around.
I was instantly captivated by that most poetic of influences, which are abundantly apparent here – nature’s beauty.
The Wetlands are utterly, awe-inspiringly gorgeous. Go past Techniquest, turn left at the roundabout, and then right again – and suddenly you see a magical-looking, estuary-edged area over the top of the wall. Keep walking, and the wall gives way to paths which lead you down into a world of birds busily nesting and feedings amongst the reeds; bugs of every element, e.g. dragonflies, cinnabar moths, and water scorpions; and views out over inky, rippling waters to the Barrage, Penarth and, further across, to the mysterious, misty islands of Flatholm and Steepholm.
It’s so lovely, I was instantly captivated, and knew then that, when I moved back to Cardiff (I was living in Ceredigion at the time and looking to return to the city), this was the place I wanted to live near.
And, I got my wish.
And, now, this. I’m terribly pleased and excited by the Writer in Residence role, because
I look out at the Wetlands every single day and feel words pooling and gathering inside me, ready to be released. This role will provide purpose and structure to that process, and whatever I pen then will, hopefully, incite interest and give more people an awareness of this amazing former salt marsh.
This year, as part of International Dylan Thomas Day, 14 May, I was able to realise a recent dream of mine – to create the world’s longest love poem. Not by my own hand, but by the combined pens of people around the world, as part of Love The Words, the literary competition element of Dylan Day.
Thanks to writers from all around the world, we managed to beat the current record and create that poem, which you can view now on Discover Dylan Thomas.com, the website of Dylan’s grand-daughter, Hannah Ellis.
Entitled The Love Club (after a phrase from the poem), Hannah and myself collated the poem from all of the many entries.
If you entered but don’t see your entry included, please email Hannah at email@example.com to get this remedied.
I teach the following 10 week courses at Cardiff University. They are currently open for enrolment, beginning Thursday 18th January. Each course is worth 10 credits at Level 4 (undergraduate level).
Draw on your own history and experience to tell the story of your life.
Whether you want to engage readers, share your history with family and friends, or simply write for yourself, this module will give you the methods and means of composing compelling life writing, autobiography and memoir.
This course adheres to the sound advice that if you want to write poetry you should read it.
It is open to anyone who wants to have a close but open-minded look at how poetry, in all its shapes and styles, succeeds in capturing the reader’s imagination. If you would enjoy this, and the inspiration to write your own poems, come and be part of a friendly, supportive class that welcomes all abilities.