From Aberfan t Grenfell by Mike Jenkins - A Review
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Book Reviews
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