Ceri Shaw


 

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Category: Book Reviews




square.jpg 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 and other stories.jpg "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



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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

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The Welsh Tattoo Handbook - A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2020-10-30


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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

Welsh tattoo symbols

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.

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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




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BUY 'KEYHOLE' HERE



...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!



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from aberfan t grenfell.jpg 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-
'Yewer loop-the-loop,
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-
booze,tabs,d'pression
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





Link to purchase on Amazon:- Bring The Rising Home!



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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.

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Hear The Echo by Rob Gittins - A Review


By Ceri Shaw, 2018-11-26






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When I was a lad in Pontypool I would frequently visit 'Aldo's' on the way home from school to play pinball, drink coffee and socialize. I don't know if it's still there but in my youth it was one of many Italian cafe's that graced the south Wales mining valleys. From Pontypool to Ammanford or from Treorchy to Cardiff you would likely spot a 'Rabaiotti's', 'Bracchi's' or 'Carini's'. These cafe's were run by Italian immigrants who left home to escape poverty, Mussolini, or both.

'Hear The Echo' is Rob Gittins' fifth novel and in choosing to set it against the background of this migration and a related tragic historical incident, he has once again succeeded in crafting a superbly intriguing and suspenseful novel.

In the 1930's, Chiara emigrates from Italy to forge a new and better life in Wales. She encounters bigotry and xenophobia as she and her employer battle to keep their italian cafe in business in the shadow of World War II. But all that's soon eclipsed by a love triangle that threatens to destroy everything.

Meanwhile present-day Welsh-Italian Frankie struggles to find the money and hope to hold her family together in the same valleys community. Along the way she has to decide how far she's prepared to go to do that - and whether what she has is actually worth the fight.

The two women never meet. But as their joint experiences begin to resonate down through time, their journeys intersect. And each becomes as real to the other as if they'd physically breathed the same air.

Arandora Star 1940

One of the novels' principal characters is interned at the beginning of World War II and sails on the ill-fated Arandora Star. In order to discover more you will have to read the book but we have included some useful information and links concerning the ships'  tragic fate below.

This is a superbly crafted  and suspenseful thriller which will hold the reader spellbound throughout. It also has much to say on topics of vital contemporary concern such as immigration and integration.




Arandora Star

From the Wikipedia:- " SS Arandora Star was a British passenger ship of the Blue Star Line. She was built in 1927 as an ocean liner and refrigerated cargo ship, converted in 1929 into a cruise ship and requisitioned as a troop ship in World War II. At the end of June 1940 she was assigned the task of transporting Italian and German civilians among a small number of prisoners of war to Canada. On 2 July 1940 she was sunk in controversial circumstances by a German U-boat with a large loss of life, 865."



'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

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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

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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."



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Tolkien And Welsh Buy Tolkien And Welsh here

I like this book. It is challenging but accessible, clear and intellectually good fun.  At the outset, the author tells us that this is a “book by a linguist … making the topic accessible to a larger audience.” The truth of this is immediately found in his definition of the traditional Welsh poetic form the cywydd, which consists of a series of seven-syllable lines in rhyming couplets, with all lines written in cynghanedd, a concept of sound-arrangement within one line, using stress, alliteration and rhyme.”

A list of relevant technical definitions that maybe be unfamiliar to the general reader are found upfront, where they are needed and chapter-end notes provide convenient references, additional material and relevant web links. Tolkien aficionados and linguists will be in their natural habitat although, being neither, I was thoroughly at home between the covers. Though not essential, as everything is translated, a familiarity with Welsh is useful, but the native Welsh, novice and monoglot American/English speaker will all find plenty to entertain/inform them, the chapters calling to mind short detective stories with often similarly surprising developments; the whole thing suitable for browsing or immersion.

As to J.R.R. and the Welsh Language, our author lets the Hobbit’s author speak:

 “I find the Welsh Language especially attractive.” At another time Tolkien adds that the Welsh components (of The Lord of the Rings) are what have “given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.” And the quote Welsh people will find most endearing “… even though I first only saw it (Welsh) on coal trucks, I always wanted to know what it was about.”  Wales seems to appear and re-appear like Gandalf the magician, often when you least expect it. For example, even The Hobbit was written while Tolkien was professor of Anglo Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford where his close friend was C.S. Lewis! In his undergraduate days, again at Oxford, Sir John Rhys was his Professor of Celtic Languages. Rhys held some interesting views on his native Welsh, noting that Welsh literature abounds “in allusions to heroes who are usually described with the aid of the mother’s name” such as Gwydion son of Don and Arianrhod daughter of Don.   Apparently, in Wales ’into the nineteenth century, some wives did not change their names when they married, and sons could choose to use their father’s or mother’s name…’ I’ve always thought of Welsh women as founder members of the strong, silent type! Taking this a stage further, the mother of the hero of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, “was the fabulous Belladonna Took…” and there were rumors of a fairy wife in the family; the whole episode reminiscent of the old Welsh Tale Meddygon Myddfai/ The Physicians of Myddfai. The undergrowth thickens as we are reminded that Welsh myth and literature were “part of the ‘leaf mould’ of Tolkien’s mind…”

One of Tolkien’s place-name creations/borrowings Gwynfa is interesting. We learn that it is associated with a dragon as is a real Gwynfa in Wales, this idea being reinforced by reference to the story about Merlin, Vortigern and the white and red dragons fighting; another tale from Cymru. Gwynfa means a holy or white place and by extension paradise. Over the years and by foreign language invasion we are told that Gwynfa became Wenvoe became Whitland. Dinbych (Welsh for Small Fort/Din Bach) became Tenby; Tyndyrn (Welsh for King’s Fort) became Tintern - as in the Abbey - with the original meanings becoming all but lost. What is truly amazing is that Tolkien’s invented languages show the same type of detailed, linguistically logical progression. There are even those amongst us, in the real world of 2012, writing and speaking Elvish!

A little further along, Isaac Taylor is referenced as having said that “the names of important rivers, posse an almost indestructible vitality.” They are a ‘type of linguistic fossil …’ Most of the rivers in the UK carry often modified Celtic names. Take the River Avon for example which is a bilingual tautology: Avon (afon) is Welsh for river. The English apparently didn’t know this, thereby creating the name River River! The River Usk (Latin Isca, Welsh/Irish Wysg [as in whiskey/Water of life]) is again River River. Bree Hill in Tolkien is Hill Hill and even more hilarious to our linguistic brethren we are informed that a local landmark in Tolkien’s youth, Bredon Hill (Celtic/Old English/English), is indeed Hill Hill Hill! It starts you mentally scanning local, real place names to see if you can find Lake Lake or Town Town.  (I found Table Mesa in my area.)

Tolkien’s created personal and family names are no less invested. The likes of Maggot, Boffin of Yale and Took are explained along with real and created family histories going back to pre-Norman days. Castles, prominences and land marks, as in The Carrock, find real-life exemplars in Castell Carreg Cennen and the like; many replete with similar attendant legends. One is left startled by the shear detail and linguistic consistency of Tolkien’s literary creations. Whether tugged on the sleeve by place or personal names, or a compelling story set in a vivid and believable geography, we are more than willing - in fact eager - to fully enter the illusion of Middle Earth.

The Welsh have always been intensely interested in the history and origins of names, both personal and place. This book will have you looking under your verbal beds and up in dusty attics, hoping to find unexpected yet friendly ghosts of meaning in your own lettered heritage and Shire. I can only hope that one of these days the author writes a sequel: A comprehensive account of actual Welsh place and personal names.

Hwyl am y tro/Bye for now, John Good/Sioni Dda.

El Mirage, Arizona.


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