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'Sofa Surfin' by Mike Jenkins, A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2018-08-14

"It's Marmite poetry....but I like Marmite!" - Mike Jenkins





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A review of Welsh poet and novelist Mike Jenkins new anthology Sofa Surfin.

"A former winner of the Wales Book of the Year competition for 'Wanting to Belong' (Seren), Jenkins is a former editor of Poetry Wales and a long-term coeditor of 'Red Poets'."
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The poems in 'Sofa Surfin' are all written in local dailect and they address themes of homelessness, unemployment and general decline in post-industrial Merthyr Tydfil. This is not Mike's first experiment with dialect poetry. He has published three previous anthologies: 'Graffiti Narratives' 1994, 'Coulda Bin Summin' 2001, 'Barkin' 2013. (Read our review of 'Barkin' here).

In a blog post ( Famous F Doin Nothin ) Mike explains the root of his fascination with this form of poetic expression:-

" I was especially inspired by West Indian writers like Derek Walcott, black English poet James Berry , the songs of Bob Marley and one particular poem by David Hughes 'Swonzee Boy, See', which appeared in 'Planet' magazine, edited by Barnie."

He goes on to outline the reception that his work in this genre has received:-

"My previous book 'Barkin!' had decidedly mixed reviews yet got short-listed for Wales Book of the Year, while the following one 'Shedding Paper Skin' ( in standard English) received great reviews and not a sniff of prizes.

An English person responded to 'Sofa Surfin' by commenting that it would have limited appeal, yet West Indian and Scots are widely accepted and , ironically, the poems have so far been greeted far more enthusiastically in England than Wales ( with 'Planet' again the exception)."

I guess we'll just have to disagree with the 'English person'referenced above. It is certainly true that West Indian and Scots dialect poetry has succeeded in reaching a broader audience. We believe that Mike Jenkins' Merthyr dialect poems similarly deserve to be widely read and treasured for their originality, humour and insightfulness.

In 'They Stopped My Benefits' we are firmly in 'I, Daniel Blake' territory as the protagonist decries the beaurocratic rigmarole which leaves him suspended and penniless:-

They stopped my benefit
an what ave I got
left in-a-flat?
Two boggin tea-bags
an a tin o sardines
outa date!

Say I never
signed on, but
I know theyer
system's t blame;
it's appened before
'F*** off!' a-compewter sayz.

Many of the poems in this collection explore life on the dole and the frustrations of dealing with a callous and unresponsive benefits system. In 'Sofa Surfin' however, Mike focuses on the plight of a young woman who has recently become homeless after an argument with her partner. She is reduced to sofa surfing i.e. "staying temporarily with various friends and relatives while attempting to find permanent accommodation":-

Ee've kicked me out
It woz a stewpid argument
'bout a juke-box
'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' -
I f***in sayd 'No way!'
(shame no Beef'eart).

.....

Coz I'm talkin 'bout the breakers
ewger than any sea's -
divorce an booze, gettin sacked an speed.
Ow I stood on-a board
f'moments before being dragged down
t the subway, like an underwater tunnel
where I could ardly breathe

But, fans of Mike's dialect poetry will be aware that there are always oases of humour interspersed amongst the grimmer offerings exemplified above. In 'No Offence' the narrator unleashes a tirade of personal insults at his unidentified victim while insisting all the while that he means no offence:-

No offence like,
but yew're a baldy bastard
with an ead like an egg,
if I woz't crack it open
yewer brain ud be
like a Cadbury Cream Egg

.....

When yew talk it's like a bloody screech,
so igh-pitched the dogs go mad
and people in-a shops think
the fire-alarm's gone off,
anybuddy ud think
you'd ad yewer goolies chopped off!

No offence like!

In this context we cannot fail to mention the wonderful and whimsical 'A Pijin In Greggs', a personal favourite:-

This pijin was struttin is stuff down town,
ee wuz in Greegs lunchtime -
think ee wuz arfta the offer
of 5 ring donuts f'r a pound

.....

I come yer f'r a pastie
coz I wanna do a college course
t learn ow t be a seagull
an yeard this is where you enrol

And so, however you feel about the real thing, we think you will warm to literary 'Marmite'. If you are responsive to the idea of a poetry anthology infused with pathos and humour and delivered in contemporary working class vernacular, then this book is for you. Unreservedly recommended!

In fact why not buy all four of Mike's dialect collections? We include titles and links below for your convenience.

Sofa Surfin

Barkin!

Coulda Bin Summin

Graffitti Narratives



From the Wikipedia. A note on Marmite for our American readers :- "Marmite is a sticky, dark brown food paste with a distinctive, powerful flavour, which is extremely salty. This distinctive taste is reflected in the marketing slogan: "Love it or hate it." Such is its prominence in British popular culture that the product's name has entered British English as a metaphor for something that is an acquired taste or tends to polarise opinions."

Princes and Princesses


By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2018-08-13



The river flows

the river always flows

the villagers earned a living of sorts

hewing anthracite

separating the hard coal

from the damp underworld

below the restless bed of the Black Cleddau

that seeped through the mine walls

and into their concerns

flowing haughtily past their daily lives

they shuffled with deeply felt reservations

into that space that afternoon

after they and their protests

were turned back by their employer

ruthless rising water

penetrated the roof

crashed

over

under

into and through them

a terrifying combination

and confusion

of explosion

gust tide and flood

among the trapped dead were

some who had been unaware

that they were the descendents

of the princes and princesses

of their country

impoverished and estranged

by the fortunes and accidents

of dynasties and birth

by the loosening

of the ties of kinship

and the ratcheting of

the new ways of exploitation

and impersonalisation

abandoned to an unroyal fate

on a lonely peaceful bank

a short distance from wading birds

whose beaks ply the sullen mudflats

there’s a modest monument

like a headstone

that’s overcrowded with names

remembering the date

Valentine’s Day 1844

listing those men

and their children

and unidentified women

and child miners

who never came home

to their festival of romance

but these veins flow

these veins always flow

Posted in: Poetry | 0 comments

Bryn Yemm

image1.JPGWhen The Beatles performed in his home town of Abergavenny; Bryn Yemm who was rapidly gaining a reputation as a prominent entertainer was amongst those invited to greet the “Fab 4”.

With over 10 albums of contemporary classic songs, together with performances throughout the world, Bryn is deservedly placed in the list of truly great entertainers. The Guinness Book of Hit Albums testifies this; acknowledging that Bryn was the only UK artist to have 2 chart entries in top 100 albums during 1986.

Today his albums offer a more reflective mood and once again he has identified exceptional musicians to collaborate on a truly inspirational album; a gift he demonstrated with “Gateway to Song” with the Morriston Orpheus Choir, “How Great Thou Art” with the Treorchy Male Voice Choir”, “Across the Bridge” with the Kidz R Us choir and the award winning “Let There Be Peace” with the Richard William Singers. Faith, Hope & Salvation – Bryn Yemm meets Salvation Brass – is an extraordinary collection of amazing songs, songs to inspire, songs to raise the spirit and songs to sing along with.

Salvation Brass are outstanding musicians, drawn from Salvation Army bands from across the UK. They contribute distinctive arrangements to each song under the guidance of the musical director Dean Jones. The Morrison Songsters realise the magnificence of the melody, then highlight and emphasise the essence of these songs. This album contains songs/hymns that are classics from Salvation Army Bands repertoire.

No matter where in the world I perform, I am proud to proclaim “I am from Wales – the land of song”; this is reflected by the inclusion of “Calon Lan” and “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” (“Bread of Heaven” as sang by Welsh rugby fans worldwide).

Bryn enthuses “I am particularly excited and proud of my version of “McArthur Park”, with the brass band it thunders along”.

A lyric from “McArthur Park” says “I’ll never have that recipe again”; we hope that Bryn Yemm will continue to find the recipe for further collaborations with exceptional musicians and albums to inspire all ages.

Posted in: Music | 0 comments
Welsh Diva Iris Williams returns to New york with her debut at the Beach Cafe on September 8 2018

Welsh Diva Iris Williams returns to New York with debut at the Beach Café on

September 8, 2018

 

New York, NY – August 01 – International song stylist Iris Williams returns to the New York cabaret scene in a solo performance in her debut at The Beach Cafe located on New York’s Upper East Side.  During Ms. Williams’ set, themed “Let the music begin” she will interpret classic American standards and other favorites. September 8 at 8.15pm. A second appearance at the same venue will be made on October 13. Cabaret — The Beach Cafe.

 

Ms. Williams will also be appearing at the Cabaret Convention in New York on October 12 -
The 29th New York Cabaret Convention.

 

In October 2015, Candace Leeds of Cabaret Scenes declared, “The stately Welsh singer, Iris Williams, made her Birdland debut …, performing to an enthusiastic sold-out house. With her low-key charm, elegant presence, and lovely, deep-throated contralto voice, she truly inhabited each of her songs. She had the audience in the palm of her hand throughout the show.”

 

Reviewing her performance at The Metropolitan Club in 2013, Joe Regan, Jr said, “Iris Williams has lost not a bit of her voice which was championed by Stephen Holden (“…one of the most striking voices in all of cabaret.”) and Rex Reed (“You owe it to yourself to see this great lady: Impeccable taste and elegant phrasing.”) The vivacious and elegant chanteuse always performs with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Rob Lester dubbed her voice ‘warm brandy’ and called her “The Halley’s Comet of cabaret.” Jeffrey Bruce for Cabaret Scenes, said after a recent concert in Boca Raton, ‘this woman is a star, in the truest sense of the word. Catch her if you can! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daqHUWMNa-w&feature=youtu.be.

 

Ms. Williams is a favorite of Presidents and Royalty. Her classical training, exceptional talent and rich, warm contralto impelled her beyond her beloved native Wales and helped Iris to thrive when her honest and touching rendition of “He Was Beautiful” went gold and launched her international career.

 

Iris says of her love of cabaret, “I am very drawn – musically, and especially lyrically - to The American Songbook.  I relish interpreting these lyrics with their compelling stories of love, sadness, happiness, and loss so that my audiences can connect on a personal level with the meaning of the lyrics behind the music.  I also enjoy keeping things fresh by exploring different interpretations at each performance.”

 

Now based in California, the much-loved songstress was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II for her musical accomplishments and her work with charity, Iris Williams has performed with Bob Hope and Rosemary Clooney, for President Gerald Ford, the British Royal Family and has at The Algonquin’s iconic Oak Room, The Metropolitan Room and NYC’s landmark Birdland Jazz Club as well as Catalina’s in Los Angeles and the Purple Plume in Palm Springs. Catch Iris Williams at the Beach Café, 1326 2nd Avenue, New York, NY on September 8 or October 13 at 8.15pm. For reservations go to IRIS WILLIAMS Tickets, Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 8:15 PM | Eventbrite.                                                        

 

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Posted in: Blogging | 1 comments

1938


By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2018-07-28

The Great War had not shaken

them from their faith

had not deflected them

from the path they had followed

more assuredly since the excitements

of the latest Methodist Revival

if anything the conflict

and its aftershock had helped them

make sense and come to a sort

of understanding of the new world order

that now came looking for them

in their previously unknown collection

of fields barns and cottages

they still respected the word

and feared God's judgement

remembering past transgressions

while processing current discomforts

there had been talk

in the vestry

the village shop

on the lanes

and at the gates

that something hadn't been quite right

that day in the first hopeful July

of the new century

that had become all too familiar

her father twenty years older

than his bride was rumoured

to be her cousin also

on the morning of her own big day

she was satisfied that the dress

she’d fashioned represented a good fit

after the alterations she’d made

as her baby grew within

placing a tiara on her high forehead

she left the dark warm indoors

of the home of her family for the last time

as an unmarried woman

in the yard she walked coyly

but purposefully through

a phalanx of neighbouring men

and beneath their raised shotguns

framed by whitewashed walls

and the fallow orchard behind

waiting for her in the chapel

where her parents had wed

was the Italian-looking young man

who would soon leave her for the sea

and return to visit when he could

during the next six years of war

each time rekindling a passion

that spanned an ocean

Posted in: Poetry | 0 comments

OBITUARIST DIES


By AmeriCymru, 2018-07-27

more_welsh_lives.jpgMeic Stephens’ last book, More Welsh Lives, was published only a few days before the author himself died.

Eirian Jones, English-language editor at Y Lolfa, said:

“It is sad and ironic that Wales’ best known obituarist has himself died but knowing Meic was unwell, we made a special effort to ensure he was happy with the proofs and was able to receive a copy of the book -- his final one of so many.”

More Welsh Lives is his third collection of obituary notices published originally in The Independent and profiles a wide variety of prominent Welshmen and women including politician Rhodri Morgan, poet Nigel Jenkins, broadcaster David Parry-Jones and artists Aneurin Jones and Gwilym Pritchard.

Robat Gruffudd, founder of Y Lolfa and friend of Meic at Bangor University, said:

“Meic himself made at least as distinguished a contribution to Welsh life as any of those he wrote about. It is hard to believe that someone as proactive and productive is with us no more. He was a nationalist in the best sense. Although a Welsh learner, he practically led the first, historic language protest at Trefechan Bridge and then gave his country many decades of generous service as author, editor, poet, arts administrator, academic and of course obituarist.

“Only somebody with an intimate knowledge of Welsh life, and a fluent mastery of English, could have written such readable and sympathetic obituaries. In celebrating Welsh lives, the book also celebrates Wales.”

Y Lolfa has also published Meic Stephens’ autobiography, Cofnodion (in Welsh) (2012) and My Shoulder to the Wheel (in English) (2015).

More Welsh Lives by Meic Stephens is available now (£9.99, Y Lolfa).

 

Posted in: New Titles | 0 comments

glyndwr_dragon_breathes_fire.jpgThe final instalment of a trilogy which tells the tantalising story of the final years of Glyndŵr's rebellion is published this week.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire by the late Moelwyn Jones is an imaginary novel based on the real life battles of Owain Glyndŵr, and follows Glyndŵr: Son of Prophecy published in 2016 and Glyndŵr: To Arms! published in 2017.

Moelwyn Jones started his career as a Welsh and History teacher, and was particularly interested in the life of his hero Owain Glyndŵr, which he researched thoroughly for the trilogy. Sadly, Moelwyn passed away before the publication of the series. His widow Delyth has ensured that the trilogy was published and has kept to the wishes of her late husband.

The third instalment is published in time for the National Eisteddfod of Wales, which is in Cardiff this year.

“It would have meant a lot to Moelwyn that the final book is out for the Eisteddfod – I’m very pleased,” said Delyth.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire sees Wales united under one flag - with a Senedd in Machynlleth and the long-held dream of a nation almost a reality. Strengthened by the support of the French king and an alliance with the English forces of Henry Hotspur (Sir Henry Percy), Owain Glyndŵr can legitimately claim the title of Prince of Wales. However, fate intervenes and his rebellion which sees the prophecy of a saviour who would one day free Wales is fulfilled, albeit all too briefly.

Glyndŵr: Son of Prophecy was selected as Book of the Month by the Welsh Books Council in November 2016 and both novels have received high praise and acclaim for their portrayal of the life of Wales' revolutionary hero Owain Glyndŵr.

Author Moelwyn Jones was raised in Bancffosfelen, Carmarthenshire, and had a career as a Welsh and History teacher in Cardiff before joining the BBC as an Information Officer. He was then appointed Head of Public Relations for Wales and the Marches Postal Board and following his retirement worked in the Welsh Assembly.

Glyndŵr: Dragon Breathes Fire by Moelwyn Jones (£8.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.

Posted in: New Titles | 0 comments

I Iolo.jpeg20% OFF WHILE STOCKS LAST- SPECIAL PRICE FOR AMERICYMRU READERS

Original Price $18.00 / Our Price $14.40+$3.99 handling=$18.39

Offer applies in U.S. only. Price includes shipping and handling $3.99. If you are a member and logged in to AmeriCymru use the shopping cart symbol on the product page to purchase. If not, please use the PayPal button below. You can purchase with your debit or credit card if you do not have a PayPal account.








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Gareth Thomas author of 'I Iolo'

AmeriCymru: Hi Gareth and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your book 'I Iolo' for our readers?

Gareth: It is a historically accurate, creative re-imaging of the life of Iolo Morganwg covering the most significant years of his life from his boyhood to 1798. It is written in the first person present tense with the aim of re-living the thought processes that led him through his stunningly eventful life. Although it contains a lot of history it is not a history book. It is a novel intended to entertain and inform. It shapes, interprets, fills gaps with conjecture and occasionally invents minor characters in order to assist the narrative. By venturing into areas of imagining denied to the academic historian I hope that I can take the reader closer to the truth, into the mind of a uniquely complex fascinating man.

AmeriCymru: Why write it?

Gareth: Iolo is a character of whom most Welsh people have heard, but of whom they know little, apart perhaps from the whisper that he forged things and had something to do with the Eisteddfod. I became entranced with the character and amazed by the story of his life. He lived at the turn of the C18th amidst what he described as the unparalleled eventfulness of this age’. From a small village in the Vale of Glamorgan he made a place for himself in the centre of the political and cultural turbulence that followed the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. There are many books about him but they are nearly all academic in nature or in Welsh which limits the readership. I,Iolo is intended to be entertaining, accessible and informative – a good read.

There’s another reason too. I write a lot about the nature of identity: personal, community or national and how individuals define themselves through their membership of all sorts of groups. Most people in Wales live with the tension between two languages and two or more identities. This is in itself neither good nor bad. It can be a source of great creativity. It also forces individuals to think about who they are and where they belong. Iolo was a man who re-invented himself repeatedly throughout his life in a search for identity, changing his name from Edward to Ned to Iorwerth to Iorwerth Gwilym and finally to Iolo as well as using a myriad of inventive pen-names. He changed his public persona and even re-wrote his own history on several occasions. This quest is mirrored in the way he worked to helped forge the identity of modern Wales.

AmeriCymru: Why did you choose to end the book in 1798?

Gareth: Chiefly to give the book shape and keep the length within reasonable bounds. There are so many different aspects to his life and so much surviving material that the book could easily have been three times as long. It was essential to choose incidents that told the story and events that conveyed the vitality, passion and endless talents of the man as well as his impetuosity and naivety. Ending in 1798 allowed me to shape a narrative that explained the creation of the Gorsedd in its political and cultural context. There’s a lot I had to leave out.

Iolo.JPG

AmeriCymru: How do you think history should regard Iolo Morganwg? Hero or villain?

Gareth: Not sure I believe in heroes or villains. Iolo is a great subject for a novel because his mental processes are so complex as to defy simple judgements. But the fact that you ask the question is significant. Certainly since his death Iolo has been portrayed as everything from a saint to a scoundrel. For example, in the middle of the C19th the political aspects of his life were carefully ignored and his life was praised as a shining example of Welsh scholarly self-sacrifice. Sixty years later he was vilified after the discovery of his historical creations – I refuse to call them forgeries - by academics such as Sir John Morris-Jones who were horrified to learn that some of the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym they had been praising and analysing with their students were in fact the work of Iolo. The heat of John Morris-Jones’ anger ignited a fire that blackened Iolo’s name for decades.

In the last twenty years we have seen a long overdue re-appraisal chiefly through the work of Professors Geraint H Jenkins and Mary-Ann Constantine of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth. They have succeeded in bringing some order to his vast archive and returning Iolo to his rightful context as a political figure who did so much to shape the character and institutions of modern Wales.

AmeriCymru: So how important was Iolo's role in the development of modern Welsh culture and national awareness?

Gareth: Incalculable. If we just take the creation of the Gorsedd, which is central to my novel, this changed the nature of the Eisteddfod from being a literary and musical competition into the annual national convention of Wales and the Welsh, our first truly national institution. The Gorsedd philosophy encompassed all aspects of Welsh life: science, theology, agriculture, art and politics. In Cysgod y Cryman by Islwyn Ffowc Elis written in the 1950s the main character, Harri Vaughan describes visiting the National Eisteddfod, not for the poetry but because ‘ there the heart of our nation beats strongest: the enchantment of a capital city’. The Eisteddfod had provided the forum where Welsh issues were fiercely debated, initiatives launched and organisations founded. The founding of the National Library and the Universities were plotted in meetings on the Maes as were important new organisations such as Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Cymdeithas Yr Iaith. It is still the case that the Eisteddfod Maes is a self-sustaining cockpit of heated debates and informed lectures on the issues facing Wales.

Then there’s the ritual of the Gorsedd. Wales has little ceremonial and perhaps for that reason alone the Gorsedd is hugely popular. For the last two years I have failed to win a seat for either the Crowning or the Chairing. Queues reach round the pavilion. I doubt if most of those attending are thinking or even aware of its origins as Iolo’s celebration of international brotherhood, world peace and the rights of mankind. For most it is a powerful way to celebrate their identity and the common bond between those who love Wales and its heritage.

I could also talk of the role of Iolo as a political figure who placed Wales very firmly in a modern European Context and gave voice to the values of the enlightenment. He undoubtedly contributed to the radical tradition in Welsh politics.

We could also discuss the way he gave pride, confidence and literary ammunition by which the Welsh intelligentsia defended their culture in the difficult years of the C19th. He and his writings became the major weapon by which whose who spoke for Wales defended its reputation against the tide of anti- Welsh sentiment exemplified by the ‘Treason the of Blue Books.’ T.E. Ellis the famous Liberal Member of Parliament described Iolo’s writings as his best means of convincing ‘sceptical English friends of the vitality of the Cymric language and literature.’

AmeriCymru: What was the full extent of his forgeries? You mention the fake Dafydd ap Gwilym poems in the book but wasn't there much more?

Gareth: I don’t use the word ‘forgeries’ in Iolo’s context. To me a forger is one who deceives others for personal gain. Whatever Iolo’s motives were, person enrichment was not amongst them. One of the enigmas surrounding him is why a talented, penniless young poet, in any age when it was possible to earn good money by writing verse, should hide his best work under the identities of long dead medieval bards? Certainly not profit.

It is important to remember the period in which he was writing and his own background. Wales was only just coming to terms with the printing press. Collectors of ancient verse would visit private collections in the libraries of great mansions to copy manuscripts by hand. It was quite common for transcribers, as Iolo himself put it ‘to curtail, to amplify, to interpolate and to alter’ when they perceived inadequacies in the originals. For that reason amongst others it is sometimes difficult, even for forensic academics to know what is ‘genuine’ and what is an ‘improvement’.

Certainly it is wrong to think of Iolo as primarily a faker. The majority of his writing was based on hard won research. The academic who did the most work to unmask the true nature of Iolo’s creations, Professor G.J. Williams, noted that to have produced his inventions Iolo had to achieve a depth of knowledge and width of understanding of medieval Welsh poetry never again equalled academically until the C20th. Amazing for a man with no formal education.

As well as the Dafydd ap Gwilym poems my novel describes the time in gaol in Cardiff when he composed Secrets of the Bards of the Isles of Britain, a creation which prepared the ground for the ceremonies of the Gorsedd and revised the restrictive metrical rules that had governed the work of the bards for centuries. To support this pure invention he wrote poetic testament which he attributed to a series of minor bards from various epochs from the C12th century onwards providing ‘evidence’ in support of his creation. Each work was written in the style of the bard’s own time. He created the myth and then created the proof. In the book I have him imagining and keeping company with these long dead bards whilst they dictated their verses for him to transcribe.

Perhaps his most significant other ‘creation’ occurred in the period not covered by my novel when Iolo was commissioned by his sponsor Owain Myfyr, the wealthy London Welsh furrier, to collect lost poetry of the C13th from the ancient but often decaying libraries of great houses such as Hafod near Aberystwyth and Hengwrt near Dolgellau. This Iolo did on a long and exhausting tour of north Wales but it appears that he was dismayed by his discoveries. The verses portrayed the ancient princes as bloodthirsty, quarrelsome and warlike. These accounts ran counter to the vision of Welsh civilisation Iolo wished to create which portrayed a society dedicated to peaceful cooperation and the rule of reason. Accordingly the genuine discoveries were inexplicably mislaid and lost in transit, supposedly in a carrier’s depot in Bristol. His sponsor was deeply frustrated at this delay to the publication of his planned collection of Welsh verse, The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales. Iolo filled the gap by providing an extensive collection of ancient triads. Triads are short wise statements on religion, society, art and human nature. They were a genuine part of the bardic heritage originally passed on as part of the oral tradition and first written down in the C13th. Those Iolo contributed included much that was ancient but also larger amounts composed by himself in the same style to express republican and progressive values which owed more to Rousseau than the ancient bards of Wales. For example,

Tri dyn a fynnant fyw ar eiddo arall: brenin, offeiriad a lleidr.’

(Three men who live on the property of others: a king, a priest and a thief)

Iolo also provided much additional created material for the Myvyrian Archaiology particularly accounts that established his beloved Glamorgan as the most important centre of the bardic tradition.

AmeriCymru: You have read more of Iolo's work than most. How would you rate his literary talent?

Gareth: It is now not the primary reason he is remembered but in his time the work he produced over his own name was greatly admired. His ‘creations’ in the style of Dafydd ap Gwilym remained more popular than the genuine article until his unmaking in the C20th.

Professor Ceri Lewis in his authoritative evaluation of Iolo’s poetry suggests that he was often hindered by his own extraordinary cleverness. Much of his verse in English is over complicated by his attempts to deploy Welsh metrical forms in another language. Personally my favourite pieces by him are his simplest lyric poetry, love songs and ballads in praise of his Glamorgan and his darling Peggy. These are enchanting.

AmeriCymru: You have also written a novel. Care to tell us a little about 'A Welsh Dawn'?

Gareth: A Welsh Dawn is set in the Wales of the late 1950s – a time of political and cultural confusion memorably described by Rhodri Morgan as ‘the wild west period of Welsh politics’. I dramatise the period as faithfully as possible: the intrigues of Welsh politicians, the manoeuvring of Downing Street and the machinations of civil service mandarins. This is the backdrop before which the main characters of the novel, Gwen and Ifan, their families and neighbours, live their lives and make their choices. One reviewer described it as ‘A beautifully developed story of emerging identity, both personal and national.’ More details are available on its dedicated web site www.awelshdawn.co.uk

AmeriCymru: Where can readers purchase 'I Iolo' online?

Gareth: From the publishers Y Lolfa at www.ylolfa.com or by Googling Amazon or other on-line retailer. It is distributed in the USA by Dufour Editions and is available in Welsh and English language versions. There are also some free worksheets for advanced learners of Welsh which can be downloaded free from www.parallel.cymru/cipolwg-ar-iolo

AmeriCymru: What's next for Gareth Thomas?

Gareth: I am just completing ‘Beyond the Volga River’ the story of a young Polish woman forcibly displaced from her home in eastern Poland by the Russian invasion of 1940 and her subsequent struggle for survival. She endures a Siberian labour camp, a trek through the Middle East before becoming a truck driver in the Polish Anders Army during the Italian Campaign, eventually ending up as a refugee in London. Crucially, the narrative is interspersed with the stories, 50 years later, of her three UK born children and the effect their parents’ experience and Polish heritage had on their lives. It is hopefully resonant of contemporary problems faced by the families of refugees. As yet the book has no publisher so if any agent wants to get in touch………

AmeriCymru: Any chance of a sequel to 'I Iolo' covering the last 28 years of his life?

Gareth: That’s a real possibility, depending on the demand for the first book. There’s certainly enough material.

AmeriCymru: Any final remarks for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Gareth: Thank you for valuing your Welsh identity and for flying the Dragon banner on the other side of the Atlantic. I so value the creativity that comes from the meeting of cultures that you represent. That is one reason I have come to admire the multi-cultural vitality of American society. It is so good to know that ‘Welsh-American’ is a title proudly carried and one that is capable of inspiring afresh. I was greatly impressed by a talk in the Eisteddfod last year on the Welsh influence on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Although he was born in Wisconsin and never visited Wales until an old man, it was his mother’s descriptions of cottages in the landscape of Ceredigion that led to his ideas that architecture should be organic and at one with the landscape. He could not have achieved this without his Wisconsin and his Ceredigion heritage.

Hir oes i’r Cymry Americanaidd!

Unilluminated Ruminations


By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2018-07-16

Let rage ride a ragged pony

around the fenced-in final

Site of Specific Scientific Interest

its legs buckling under

the combined burden of

foaming resentment

short-lived joust-tirades

and knee-jerk dismissal

of potentially good things

but when you’re born

you get a life

you get a name

you have to live

with that name

that life

with all of its expectations

its meanings

fortune and misfortune

I am almost alert

and will not sleep

as long as the death watch beetle

holds me in its sway

reminding me of the terms and conditions

of worms and munitions

and the hum of the soundtrack

of my collected respirations

the elixir of preparation

and the preparation

of the elixir

the moving air

the flies on hot roof tiles

science as aspirin

alchemy as a thread

through the eye of a needle

in the cemetery of celebratory dead

a view through a green glass sphere

“better do it now than wish it done”

where are my ghosts?

where did I put them?

the clouds conceal a super moon

could they be hiding anything else?

did I visit the moon?

I can’t remember


pond orphans occupy

ex-factories

vying with versions of levitating ladies

(they’ve parked a little too close

I want to urinate

my car’s windows fog up

perhaps I should drive away

or limbo dance my way

around the door)

in old-fashioned fields

stand scarecrows

scaring crows

scared crows

scare crows

sacred crows

scarred crows

blow up your television

escape to the country

from your country

where is your country?

blow up your television

the Clitheroe Kid

updated for the Age of Dunce

and the Presidents without a brain

becomes the Clit Hero Kid

blow up your television

your Jezebel label

with rebel labia

Euphrates nose

an unusual bouquet

Mermaid Quay

poems about blackbirds

I don’t have one

I had been looking for

the most recent results

and the hotel offers an excellent selection

of shops in the town

that's nearest to a city

and the hiss of the unknown

that kind of person who is

in the humidity of the unknown

and students were able to find out

more about the role of a company

in the humidity of a few hundred yards

a paean for an undiagnosed chutney

my MP40 submachine gun

got from the retirement

of a demobbed Action Man toy

his hard plastic hair

and raised scar

his no cock cock

then Siouxsie Sioux sings

reunion begins

passwords based on

early Atlantic coast saints

early Atlantic coast saints

based on passwords

I struggle to recall their successors

wonder who they could be as I stroll

around the magnificent shops

or as I wait for the fog to lift

and the horizon to be returned

the liturgical urge

the need for mystery

explained or not

Jesus

please us

please

Posted in: Poetry | 0 comments

hear_the_echo.jpgThe timeless story of the search for a better life is the inspiration behind and message of Rob Gittins’ new novel, Hear the Echo, which is set around an Italian café in a vividly portrayed South Wales Valleys community.

The critically acclaimed novelist has also won awards for his screenwriting, and has written for numerous top-rated television drama series, including EastEnders, Casualty, The Bill, Heartbeat, Vera and Stella as well as many original plays for Radio 4. In 2015 he received an Outstanding Achievement Award in recognition of his work as EastEnders’ longest-serving writer.

The novel weaves together two contrasting stories, both of Welsh-Italian women in the same Valleys community but living 80 years apart. Chiara is a first-generation immigrant and has to deal with religious bigotry and prejudice in the close-knit mining community in which she lives in the run-up to and during the Second World War. The other thread follows present-day Frankie, who has her own struggles to keep the wolf from the door.

Hear the Echo reveals unexpected connections and commonalities:

“Going back into history sometimes makes clear just how relevant seemingly old stories can be,” says Rob Gittins, before adding:

“The women are different, the historical period is different but the trials and challenges they face are exactly the same. Each is seeking to escape a world that is at one and the same time a home and a prison, each is trying to work out the opposing claims of duty and desire, each struggles to navigate hugely difficult economic circumstances.”

The story was partly inspired by a love of the old Italian cafés of the Valleys, which Rob Gittins started frequenting after moving to Wales in the 1970s, and their unique character and tradition:

“They are extraordinary places, steeped in history and character, a far cry from the homogenised chain cafés that had already begun to appear by then and supplant them – a process that’s intensified over the years. There was always a magic about them – as well as a powerful sense of tradition – that I loved. They’ve brought so much to the Valleys, and really seem to represent the coming together of two very warm and welcoming cultures.”

But there was a second inspiration too:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of ‘echoes’, the idea that – and despite all logic tells you – thoughts, emotions and characters can somehow reach you from across time. Sitting in some of those Italian cafés back in the 1970s, looking at all the pictures on the walls of the people who used to live and work there – it wasn’t difficult to imagine them still there somehow.

Out of that came the idea of two women intimately connected to one such café – the fictional, Carini’s, in this story. They’ve never met, they can never meet – but as the story progresses each becomes real to the other in ways neither quite understand.”

As one of the stories is set in the 1930s and 1940s, there was a fair amount of research to be done. As the author researched the era, mining communities, the high number of Italians who first moved to Wales in the 1930s and the xenophobia and religious bigotry that many faced, a clear message became apparent – similar issues have been affecting people throughout history:

“Both Chiara and Frankie are to some extent refugees. And refugees, in one form or another, are such a massive modern story. Modern day refugees have to undertake journeys and trials my two fictional characters could only wonder at, but the desire is exactly the same.

What Chiara and Frankie are celebrating is an impulse that beats even more strongly in the modern age in a sense; somewhere, out there, is something better and I want to find it.”

Hear the Echo will be launched Waterstones in Carmarthen at 6.30pm, on Thursday 19 July 2018. Free entry – a warm welcome to all!

Hear the Echo by Rob Gittins (£8.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.

Posted in: New Titles | 0 comments
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