Category: Book Reviews
The Feast by Matthew G. Rees, A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2022-01-22
Read our interview with Matthew G. Rees here
Not to be confused with the recent, wildly acclaimed Welsh language horror movie of the same name ( Y Gwledd ), this is Matthew G. Rees' third published anthology of short stories. You will find reviews of his other works here The Keyhole and here Smoke House & Other Stories
We have expressed the opinion that Matthew G. Rees is a major new talent elsewhere and this new collection confirms our estimation. The Feast is a deliciously dark and frequently amusing collection that leaves one in no doubt that Rees is a writer at the top of his game and destined for popularity and acclaim.
In so far as this collection has a theme, the author outlines it in his brief introductory note:-
" This collection of stories created itself over the course of two years in which I found that I seemed to be writing short fiction that possessed a connective tissue ."
The nature of this 'connective tissue' becomes clearer when we consider the accompanying quotation from Shakespeare:-
" Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour. " William Shakespeare Richard II
Indeed there is an element of - be careful what you wish for - in most of these tales. In 'The Twilight Maiden' we are introduced to Guiseppe Dellucci, an Italian restaurateur in search of a delicious legendary variety of tomato which only grows in the vicinity of the remote village of Collina Rossa. The atmosphere of suspense and thinly veiled threat are skilfully crafted until Guiseppe is finally inducted into the mystery of the fabled tomato plant.
These stories are set in a variety of locations and in 'Stone Cold' we meet Candice Canyons, an exotic dancer at The Southern Peaches Go-Go Club, somewhere in the American south. She dreams of a better life and opportunity presents itself in the form of Seymour Thrayle, an aged wealthy landowner who frequents the Club. His obsession with, and desire for, peach tarts leads to a grim and humorous denouement.
In 'Fungal' the protagonist is distracted by a store front sign which reads:-
Having nearly exhausted a fortune he had inherited from his family he decided that there would be no harm in inquiring. Needless to say his life is changed forever in the most unexpected of ways.
If you are not acquainted with the work of Matthew G' Rees this collection provides an excellent introduction. His tales have the capacity to simultaneously delight and disturb and always stay in your thoughts for some time after reading. The Feast by Matthew G' Rees is AmeriCymru's selection for Book of the Month January 2022.
Students of Myself - Rhys Hughes: A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2021-07-24
In this collection of bizarre tales from the Welsh master of the absurd we are introduced to a Professor with a small class and an unusual subject matter. Rhys explains thusly:
There are few students in my class. When one considers what the subject is, this isn’t surprising. I teach myself.
In other words, I impart to my students facts and fancies based on my life and ideas. It’s the least popular class in the university and I doubt it will be funded for another term.
As a homework assignment the students are asked to write an essay in which they must try and imagine how the Professor spends his spare time. Needless to say he has told them nothing of his personal life.
The eighteen essays which follow offer an extraordinary and hilarious variety of imaginings, some of which are, worryingly, partially accurate. Is the Professor being spied upon? Who is the woman waving from the street below, and which of his students is prowling around on the roof presumably watching him? Of course you will have to read the book to a conclusion for answers to the above questions.
Meanwhile the 'homework assignments' on offer here will delight Rhys Hughes fans. There is the strange case of Professor Spark who we meet walking the corridors of the university thinking about the meaning of life. His musings are of little interest because:
It could be the case he was about to make a major discovery in his field, to prove that viruses have knees or that aardvarks are descended from dragons, who knows? I didn’t care much.
The situation quickly deteriorates, however, when Prof Spark returns from a local bookshop with a copy of 'The Pop-Up Book of Fire'. The consequences of his purchase are at once, tragic, absurd and hilarious.
Then there is the tale of Miss Diane Ra who loves labyrinths. The problem is that clothes have a habit of unravelling whenever she is accompanied on a walk through town. And who is the madman who prowls the city streets with the strongest lamp he can find looking for darkness?
Towards the end of the book the Professor is advised by one of his students:
You have taught yourself. Now teach others.
Is this further foreshadowing of Rhys Hughes forthcoming emphasis on non-fiction and essay writing?Readers may remember the following announcement in Weirdly Out West :
I will switch to non-fiction and start writing essays and articles. In fact I began last year to take my non-fiction much more seriously and I am hoping that my first book of essays will be out in the next year or two.
Whatever the truth of that, 'Students of Myself' is another triumph from the pen of Rhys Hughes and will delight both fans and new readers alike. If you are not familiar with Rhys's work this would be as good a place to start as any. If you are, you will need no further recommendation or encouragement.
Weirdly Out West - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2021-06-17
In one of his finest collections to date Rhys Hughes treats us to a cornucopia of Western whimsy and wierdness. Weirdly Out West , published by Black Scat Books is available now from Amazon.com
Rhys Hughes latest offering comes complete with all the standard delights we have come to expect from his writing. There are the wonderful guffaw provoking titles such as 'Phony Express', 'Like a Rhino Cowboy', 'For a Few Hollers More' and 'Tom Cabin's Uncle'. There is also a very catholic selection of literary genres on offer in these pages....short stories, even shorter stories, poems, a play, haiku and an essay.
Rhys has been on a quest to write 1000 short stories and is currently somewhere around the 900 mark. In a recent interview AmeriCymru asked Rhys what he would do when he reached his target figure. Here is his response:-
I will switch to non-fiction and start writing essays and articles. In fact I began last year to take my non-fiction much more seriously and I am hoping that my first book of essays will be out in the next year or two. I am in negotiations with a publisher at the moment. The techniques of non-fiction have been creeping into my fiction in the past few years or so.
I, for one, hope that he revisits this decision because literature will be somewhat impoverished without regular infusions of absurdist fiction from the pen of the Welsh wizard. Having said that, it must be admitted that the essay included in this collection is both thought provoking and entertaining. In 'For A Few Hollers More' Rhys discusses his notion of the 'weird western'. He credits the movie 'High Plains Drifter' with introducing him to the idea of the weird western and name checks a few other other practitioners of the genre.
Amongst the stories included here we find 'Tom Cabin's Uncle' in which Tom, the fastest gun in the east, challenges the fastest gun in the west to a contest at a point in the state of Kansas near the border
with Nebraska. This leads to unexpected complications and timely lessons are learned.
In 'Bigfoot The Hoaxer' we are introduced to a Sasquatch with a sense of mischief. He is in the habit of walking around the backwoods on a pair of stilts with a pair of human boots attached. This enables him to leave human footprints in remote places to confound explorers who imagine themselves to have been 'beaten to it' when they discover new locations and geographical features.
The author has kindly consented to the inclusion of an excerpt in this review, so we are pleased to present 'Django's Fandango' (see below) as a teaser.
Aficianados of Rhys Hughes will need no further encouragement to order Weirdly Out West but it is to be hoped that many new readers will be tempted by this latest offering. Rhys Hughes is a national treasure in my opinion and deserves to be more widely appreciated. Buy Wierdly Out West here
The West is changing. All the cardinal points are changing but the upheavals are most strikingly felt in the West. It is now perfectly acceptable for men to dance with women. In the old days men only danced with men or horses or the occasional bear. Flimsy biplanes cross the skies. The telephone has replaced the telegraph. Sometimes the telephone will ring and the voice of a woman will announce that she is coming by biplane to attend a barn dance. Django has only a limited time to construct the barn. But he is strong. He also prepares a landing strip. He has taught himself the fandango in front of a mirror that once belonged in a saloon. There are colleges out east that teach many such dances but one is quite enough for him. He could dance the fandango to the horizon and back if he wished. He hears a low droning and looks up. Biplanes are aircraft that like being flown by both male and female pilots. This one swoops towards him menacingly. The bullets from the Gatling gun mounted in the cockpit make a wavy line in the dirt that stops right in front of the toes of his boots. For a moment he feels the temptation to draw his six shooter and shoot the wheels off the thing as it comes in to land. He suppresses the urge. The West is changing and he must change too. He has already changed his pants and shirt. A permanent change in his attitude will be next. Easy come, easy go, Django tells himself as he welcomes the new arrival and shows her into the spick and span barn.
A Tribute to Cwmbwrla - 'Circling The Square' - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-26
Author David Jones is most insistent that this is a 'people' book. A brief perusal of the Contents list reveals how accurate his assessment is. We are introduced to a cast of characters whose challenging and inspirational experiences are recounted in sections on Personal Histories, Family Histories and Covid-19 Heroes. Overall the book is a tribute to the small Welsh community of Cwmbwrla in Swansea and chronicles its response to the 2020 pandemic. There are also contributions from local artists and poets, and Jeff Phillips original drawings of Old Brynhyfryd are particularly evocative and memorable.
Consider the case of Circus Eruption, the UKs first integrated circus project. Based in Cwmbwrla since they purchased the old St Luke's Church building in 2018 their mission is to teach youngsters (11-19) circus skills. Their work and commitment has provided local youth with a much needed break from the misery and tedium of lockdown:-
"The building is a proving to be a perfect base for outreach work, and on the final day of 2020’s unusual summer the Cwmbwrla Community Events team saw at close quarters just how effective Circus Eruption are at engaging young people.
'Among the highlights of an August Bank Holiday event in Cwmbwrla Park were a series of workshops teaching skills in juggling and plate spinning, as well as a range of team-focused games. The mission of Circus Eruption, as we saw very clearly on that sunny Monday afternoon, is to build confidence and spread joy. So far it’s mission accomplished.'
At the Manselton Surgery we find Corinna Evans and her colleagues standing by no matter what the personal cost:-
'Sister Corinna Evans has worked at this surgery since 2005 and it’s difficult to imagine anyone being a more dedicated public servant. On the day I spoke with her, she hadn’t slept. During a night of heavy rain, a leak in her roof had kept her awake. She was clearly exhausted, but she still came to work. She always comes to work.'
It would be so easy (not to mention, a pleasure) to go through this book cherry picking the wonderful tales of dedication and commitment contained therein. But that would be unfair to the many contributors I would have to omit AND to you dear reader because I know you will want to read this book so, the fewer spoilers the better.
David Jones has provided us with an invaluable record of a tragic year. We owe him and everyone else who collaborated on this project a debt of gratitude. And, hopefully, this magnificent effort will inspire others to follow suit. Personally I don't care what lies Boris Johnson peddled in the Commons this morning, even though his penchant for buffoonery occasionally makes his performances entertaining. The guardians of community are our REAL leaders for they are the guardians of the human race. This is REAL history.
BUY IT HERE: Circling the Square: Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community
Smoke House & Other Stories by Matthew G. Rees - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-18
"Henry Hoffman was walking on main Street and his nose was on fire. This fact apart, he was proceeding quite normally. He smiled genially and nodded as he passed by Michael Maguire."
From the moment we read the above intro to Matthew G.Rees' 'Smoke House' we are aware that we are in for a strange journey. Readers of Matthew's debut collection 'Keyhole' will perhaps be better prepared for the bizarre and other worldly tales recounted in these pages.
In contrast to 'Keyhole', in which all the stories were set in Wales, the tales in this collection are set in America, Russia, France and a number of other locations around the globe.
In 'Smoke House' we are invited to consider the fate of Fort Tinder, an American village which has long been served by an unconventional 'medical practitioner'. The arrival of jobbing plumber Michael Maguire reveals a conflict in village life which ultimately leads to tragedy.
'The Glass' transports us to the frozen steppes of Russia where Grigor Grigoriev has arrived to repair the stained glass windows in the church at Krasyansk Cathedral. He takes a proper pride in his work and the congregants seem to appreciate it too, but who are they and will they let him leave.
There is also 'An Exhibition' which examines the predicament of a gallery attendant who hates modern art and in particular the work of a local much lauded artist whose work is on display. She plots vandalism and sabotage but do her plans come to fruition or does the artist ultimately triumph?
A worthy successor to 'Keyhole' we have no hesitation in recommending this collection to anyone with a taste for the macabre and bizarre or indeed anyone who appreciates exquisite story telling.
Smoke House & Other Stories is AmeriCymru's Book of the Month for November 2020.
Matthew G. Rees on AmeriCymru
Keyhole - An Interview With Welsh Author Matthew G. Rees
Keyhole - A Stunning Debut From A Major New Talent
Simon Howells Reads 'Dreamcoat', A Short Story By Matthew G. Rees
As The Meadow Ends By Matthew G. Rees
Saturdays Are Black or White - Brian Jarman: A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-11-10
Brian Jarmans' fifth novel, Saturdays Are Black or White is set in the Eastern Black Mountains in south Wales. It opens with a chilling phone message:- ‘Hullo. It’s me. I haven’t got long. Cancer. Thought you’d like to know.’
Twin brothers Bren and Arwyn are brought up together on a remote hill farm. Arwyn leaves the valley to pursue a career in journalism which eventually takes him to London and around the world. As a consequence of his globe trotting lifestyle he loses contact with the family farm and more particularly, with his brother Bren, who is left to run it.
Arwyn returns to the valley to visit his brother and finds himself not entirely welcome in certain quarters. He experiences numerous instances of more or less subtly disguised resentment from members of the community that he abandoned in his youth. In the course of his stay he discovers that he is also the target of vicious rumours about his former wife who was murdered during a burglary at their flat.
But, of course, the major theme here is the relationship between the twins Arwyn and Bren. Author Brian Jarman has said that:
“I wanted to explore the complex nature of being a twin, right down to how they see the days of the week in different colours, and that’s the meaning of the title. he novel is also about how sibling rivalry can sometimes go wrong, and this is where the fiction begins.”
There are many delightful vignettes, such as the day trip which Arwyn takes to the Brecon Mountain Railway. There is also an account of a llama walking expedition which apparently, is a thing in the Black Mountains these days.
There are also many acerbic and drily humorous passages. In describing his life in London he recounts his experiences at a journalists club which he regularly frequented in order to socialise with his old, and getting older, colleagues:
"They called these sessions Organ Recitals, when they would in turn catalogue their various ailments. One said there were three ways of knowing you’re grow-ing older: appointment listening to the Archers, secret relief when social engagements are cancelled, and you can’t remember the third."
In summary, this is a powerful novel which explores themes of profound and tragic consequence. It is also a delight to read. Unreservedly recommended!
BUY 'Saturdays Are Black or White' here
The Welsh Tattoo Handbook - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-10-30
A must read for anyone contemplating a Welsh themed tattoo. This book has everything you will need!
In the foreword we learn that:
"This book aims to help you choose a Welsh tattoo wisely, confidently, and safely. It offers a glossary to help you. Beyond the glossary, this book provides enough of an introduction to the Welsh language to support you in your desire to honour it. You may even be interested in learning how to join the hundreds of thousands of people who speak it."
Authors, Robert and Meagan Davies , deliver generously on their pledge to support your decision making with chapters on 'Features of the Language' , 'Choosing A Welsh Tattoo' , 'Translation Tips' and more, but it is perhaps the Welsh Tattoo Glossary section which will prove most valuable to readers. This comprises a 400+ glossary of words and phrases arranged into thematic categories.
Let's suppose for instance that you wanted a simple tattoo to celebrate your Welsh heritage and origin. You might try the 'Place and Identity' section in which you will find such entries as:- Gwlad fy nghalon yw Cymru = Wales, land of my heart or Cymru am byth = Wales forever. In the 'Love and Friendship section we find dedications of a more personal nature e.g. Cariad tragwyddol = Eternal Love or perhaps more prosaically Cymheiriaid = Partners.
The glossary sections (full list below) are sure to provide inspiration for whatever theme you care to adopt.
Place & Identity , Family, Love and Friendship, In Memoriam, Relgion and Spirituality, Courage, Honour and Service, Work Activities and Identities, Emotions, Qualities and Concepts, Personal Mottos and Sayings, Quotes From Popular Culture and Song, Traditional Welsh Sayings and Proverbs
The authors hail fr om Alabama in the United States so the Welsh diaspora is not overlooked. Useful phrases you will find translations for include:
Gwnaed yn America o rannu Cymreig = Made in America of Welsh parts , Gwnaed yng Nghanada o rannu Cymreig = Made in Canada of Welsh parts
But what of the image I hear you ask? Chapter three includes an introduction to many of the most popular symbols and emblems and also includes an explanation of their significance in Welsh history and cultrure. In short everything is here to enable you to choose your tattoo design and dedication, as the authors say, 'wisely, confidently and safely.'
Dedicated to John Good ( Americymraeg tutor) and the Welsh Society of Arizona, the book also has several chapters which serve as a basic introduction to the language for those who are unfamiliar with it. Hopefully, the book will inspire readers to learn the Welsh language after selecting their tattoo design and inscription.
In conclusion we cannot recommend this book highly enough. For anyone who is thinking of getting a tattoo to celebrate their Welsh heritage 'The Welsh Tattoo Handbook' will prove invaluable. If it inspires you to go on and master the Welsh language as well, then so much the better.
The Welsh Tattoo Handbook is available from bradan press. Price: $11.99 US | $14.99 CDN | £7.99 UK | €9.99 EU | $14.99 AUS
Keyhole - A Stunning Debut From A Major New Talent
By Ceri Shaw, 2020-06-15
...the unknown world is in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet, the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it.
'The London Adventure', Arthur Machen
... I saw a star shining over our valley, a keyholeful of light, telling me I was home.
'The Water Music & Other Stories', Glyn Jones
It is always a pleasure to welcome a major talent to the Welsh literary scene and 'Keyhole', by Matthew G. Rees clearly establishes the author's claim to this title. The 18 stories in this collection are set in various locations in Wales although mainly in Carmarthenshire and the Marches. They all exhibit magical and supernatural qualities and exemplify the author's fascination with the 'liminal' or, 'that territory where the known and the unknown meet and interact.'. In this respect his writing is reminiscent of the work of one of his literary heroes - Arthur Machen. Indeed this collection is published by a small publishing house in Newport, Gwent (Three Impostors) which specialises, amongst other things, in reprints of old Machen classics.
Matthew has worked at various times as a journalist, teacher and night shift cab-driver. He also has a PhD in creative writing from Swansea University and is the author of two plays. He was raised in Gwent, the Welsh border country, an area rich in myth and legend. He has said that - "It's a place where you constantly find yourself stumbling across strange stories, that aren't always myths,...".
All the stories in this collection have a mythical, spellbinding quality to them. Consider the tale of Rhys the inhabitant of a remote Welsh farm - Yr Hollt. His dedication to his hobby (flower pressing) attracts the attention of some visiting local gypsies or migrant workers. Their presence is never really explained but they do have magical powers which are revealed to Rhys with tragic consequences. One detects the influence of James Frazer here, but with an ironic savage twist.
As one might expect a collection like this is filled with bizarre and eccentric characters. In 'Sand Dancer' we meet Jobey whose obsession with Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall amongst others betrays an almost pathological reverence for the popular music and mores of a bygone era. Whilst metal detecting on a local beach he is granted an opportunity to realise his dreams in a most unexpected fashion.
In 'The Lock' we are treated to a cautionary, almost moral, tale concerning a property developer who revisits his youth by taking a narrow boat excursion on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. He panics as his surrondings become, by turn, unfamiliar and threatening. In the closing scene nature, 'red in tooth and claw', exacts punishment for his depredations and a primitive justce is served.
The above short account may give the impression that all Rees's stories lead to a ghastly denouement, and many of them do, but there is also humour and pathos in these pages. In 'Dragon Hounds' two mythical beasts are invoked to resolve a love feud in an old peoples home. The darkly humorous manner in which they render their assistance is one of the many fine passages in this collection.
These superbly crafted and extraordinary tales delight in many ways not the least of which is the vivid description of the Welsh countryside, villages and farm interiors. Coinsider the following . In 'The Press' we read that:- "My parents first brought me here when I was young. As a small boy I was drawn to the heavy black range in the kitchen (that I was forbidden to touch). To me it was a train, inexplicably lodged in the walls of the house, yet of the kind an old man like Rhys would surely catch." Another tale opens with the following evocation of an overcast evening on a Welsh beach:- "Conger eel sky, thick, endless and monger slab-heavy on the shore."
In conclusion this is an exciting debut from a major new talent. These stories never fail to delight and intrigue and we have no hesitation in recommending 'Keyhole' to anyone with a taste for fine writing and exquisite story telling. You will not be disappointed!
From Aberfan t Grenfell by Mike Jenkins - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2019-03-11
The title poem of this collection focuses on two manmade disasters which occurred forty years apart but which revealed the same pattern of callous indifference on the part of the political establishment. The Aberfan disaster which claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults occurred on 21st October 1966 just down the road from Mike Jenkins' home town of Merthyr Tydfil. The Grenfell Tower fire took the lives of 72 people in West London in 2017.
In discussing this poem in the short 'Notes' section at the back of the book, Mike Jenkins says the following:
"The Aberfan disaster of October 1966 has had a lasting and profound effect on the Vallys and when someone put on Facebook shortly after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower that 'this is our Aberfan', I knew exactly what they meant."
Most of the poems in this collection are, however, concerned with purely personal tragedies which are detailed in poems such as 'Steve the bus'. Steve is a pensioner whose wife has recently passed away. He takes to riding public transport all day using his bus pass:
It's winter time
now my missis ave gone
I'm straight down-a bus station.
All day I keep warm
If they took my pass away
I'd surely pass away.
The invaluable bus pass also helps him to keep boredom and loneliness at bay:
The missis woulda said-
all's yew need's blankets an soup!'
But I meet all kindsa folk,
drivers know me as 'Steve the Bus' -
better 'an ridin in an earse.
Then there is 'Ow Far Down' in which the protagonist has lost his wife, home and job and is now homeless and suffering from depression which the prescribed medication only makes worse:
Don' 'member what order
they come in-
mixed t'gether, Molotov cocktail
in is brain.
But there are also moments of light relief and in 'Famous f doin nothin'we find our hero drunk and collapsed in the Merthyr Poundland doorway. Unfortunately he has triggered the alarm and caused a commotion with police sirens wailing and choppers circling overhead. He confronts his wife when he returns from his nocturnal adventures:
Tol is missis when ee got ome
'Google it...I'm fake news, see....
MAN IN MERTHYR ACTING SUSPICIOUSLY -
I woz famous f doin nothin.'
She sayd, 'Nothin's changed 'en!'
The illustrations, by Alan Perry, are exquisite throughout and wrap around the words on the page to produce an almost graffitti-like effect which enhances the power of the poems.
Fans of dialect poetry may recall our reviews of previously published collections by Mike Jenkins. If not you will find them here: Barkin! and here: Sofa Surfin . 'From Aberfan t Grenfell' will delight all aficianados of Mike's dialect poetry and hopefully win him new admirers as well. In giving the dispossessed and disadvantaged a voice Mike Jenkins is creating a growing body of work which is at once insightful and compassionate, humorous and harrowing. Unreservedly recommended, buy it now, here:- From Aberfan t Grenfell
Bring The Rising Home! by Mike Jenkins - A Review
By Ceri Shaw, 2018-12-02
Link to purchase on Amazon:- Bring The Rising Home!
For anyone who is unacquainted with the historical details of the 1831 Merthyr Rising, the following link should be of some assistance - Merthyr Rising . Of course, the most thorough and authoritative account of these events can be found in Gwyn Williams' - The Merthyr Rising.
The Rising is commemorated with an annual festival in Castle Street, Merthyr where twenty four of the protestors were shot and killed in 1831. This collection was published to coincide with the 2017 event.
The anthology consists of 25 poems (four in Welsh with English translations) and accompanying illustrations by Welsh artist Gustavius Payne. For more details about Mike Jernkins and Gustavius Payne please see the biographical details and links at the bottom of this page.
In 'Ble?' Mike Jenkins asks:-
Ble mae'r enwau'r pedwerydd ar hugain,
gafodd eu saethu gan y fyddin?
Where are the names of the twenty-four,
killed by the army in this square?
Other poems in the collection directly refer to the historical events of 1831 but more concern themselves with contemporary living conditions in Merthyr Tydfil and elsewhere.
In 'Bag Full of Writings (For Merthyr Rock Bands)' we meet a street poet/songwriter who is down on his luck:-
He's been living in the dole age
since they invented it;
his plasticine face moulded
by worry and rage.
A chance encounter with a young lad fresh out of Swansea jail is immortalised in 'Outa Jail':-
Don' know wha I woz doin, see,
pissed outa my ead-
least I gotta job washin cars,
better 'an-a las one
in-a juice factree
all overtime, no breaks an unions,
treated like bloody sheep.
Many of Mike's poems give voice to the disadvantaged, the homeless and the destitute. For example 'In Portland, Oregon' recounts an incident at the local bus station when a homeless person temporarily waylaid Mikes bus when he was on his way to a West Coast Eisteddfod event in the town:-
A downtown junkie came out
from the toilet ranting
and hi-jacked our bus,
the black woman driver calming him
until the cops turned up.
The collection ends with the somewhat disturbing 'We Want it Back!' in which the protagonists are heard to demand:-
We want it back
we want our country back!
We want Grammar Schools
(though not Sec-Mods),
where working-class kids
can achieve (well, a few of them)
we want corporal punishment
like the cane and the tawse,
pupils will be grateful
when they are abused
There is perhaps a certain irony in demanding a partial return to conditions that once led to insurrectionary violence and bloodshed in the streets. But, Mike Jenkins is no preacher and readers are left to their own deliberations and to draw their own conclusions.
The illustrations are powerful and provocative throughout and perfectly evocative of Mike's poetic themes. In a note at the end of the book Gustavius Payne, after detailing their many shared interests, has this to say about his artistic collaboration with Mike Jenkins:-
"It may be that the basic ingredients of our artistic endeavours have more in common than many, and perhaps explains why the visual work I've done resonates so closely with the series of poems that Mike has written."
Whatever the shared background and interests, their collaboration has produced an outstanding book. We have no hesitation in recommending this collection to anyone with an interest in contemporary Merthyr, Welsh working class history or fine poetry and artwork.
Notes on Two Welsh Artists
Mike Jenkins is a retired teacher of English at comprehensive schools. He lives in Merthyr Tydfil, has co-edited 'Red Poets' for 23 years and has blogged weekly on his website www.mikejenkins.net since 2009. He runs creative writing workshops with children and adults and organises regular poetry events in Merthyr and elsewhere in south Wales. He is winner of the 1998 Wales Book of the Year for a book of short stories, Wanting To Belong (Seren); his latest book of poetry is in Merthyr vernacular Sofa Surfin' (Carreg Gwalch); and he was shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017.
Gustavius Payne is a Welsh figurative artist, represented by Ffin-Y-Parc Gallery, Llanrwst, where his work is regularly exhibited and held in stock. His paintings are also held in collections including at the University of South Wales and the Museum of Modern Art, Wales. He has exhibited regularly since 1994 including a touring exhibition with Mike jenkins in 2011/2012, funded by Arts Council Wales.