At times I feel the exact opposite to ‘Famous’ Seamus’s dictum that all poetry proceeds from a received tradition. Sometimes I’m totally with the Beats and the notion that poetry’s like be-bop jazz : you begin with an image , but have no idea where you’re going to or when it will end. Like Kerouac’s prose, it can blow hot or cold, but I’m excited by this because a poem can take over like that music and carry you away to places you never imagined journeying to.
The closest I’ve come to it musically is jamming on the blues harp, all brought back by last weekend’s annual visit to my beloved Aberystwyth and the great cameraderie of old Uni. mates ( who weren’t the jammers, but knew them). Inspired by a purpley haze we’d jam on the grass by the castle ; but, above all, there was our drunken return to my digs where myself ( blues harp, key of E ), Scouse Pete ( boogie piano and darts ) and Red Mal ( acoustic guitar and occasional vomit) would extemporize into the early hours. Luckily, there was no audience!
Poetry, however, requires a degree of sobriety and with an idea based on observing the filming of ‘Dagenham Girls’ in the now derelict Hoover factory in Merthyr, I had the rough outline of a poem in my head, which would switch from location to location in Merthyr examining the possibilities. I never expected it to work out as apocalyptic and, retrospectively, I attribute that to Ffos-y-fran.
I’m plagued by this huge opencast site overlooming the town like the numerous coal and lime tips of old. It seems to demonstrate how little we’ve advanced, how we’re still exploited for the ‘black stuff’ despite all the cosmetic greening. They would not allow such a site ( due to last at least 13 years ) in the leafy lanes of Radyr and Creigiau.
In the 80’s, I led a campaign against opencasting and my most distinct memory is of a large public meeting at Merthyr College addressed by representatives of Celtic Energy, who were ready to opencast south of where I live. One man stood up and spoke most eloquently and emotionally – ‘ We’ve paid our price for coal at Aberfan. Surely, we should pay no more!’
Opencast is full of dirt, noise, dust and diesel fumes : it’s an environmental catastrophe. Moreover, it reinforces our reliance on power-station coal at a time when we must look to sustainable alternatives. It puts off other, cleaner industries from investing in communities.
I cannot escape Ffos-y-fran. Over a year ago, I wrote a poem about the writer George Monbiot and other campaigners who dressed as polar bears and chained themselves to the machinery there. The land at the back of my house, know as the Waun, is under constant threat of opencasting. Both our AM Huw Lewis and MP Dai Havard have consistently failed to oppose its scourge. Hopefully, the Climate Camp, soon to be set up, will be a symbol of resistance.
MERTHYR FILM SETS
What about Ffos-y-fran
as a new planet for ‘Doctor Who’,
one called Devastation
with mutant creatures
trying to take over the Earth
with their poisonous dust?
What about all the empty shops
like Woolies being scenes
of an Apocalypse, after
the poison has spread
and many people are dead?
What about our politicians
suddenly appearing from Penarth and Afghanistan
like aliens in the town
baffled at the emptiness ?
What about the heroin addicts
with starved and young-old faces,
with craters in their eyes
full of that dust
and unable to cry?
What about those with metal sticks
as extra limbs prodding the pavements
and others hauling their own flesh
like bags of frozen food stitched
beneath elastic waists ; all searching
for a place not contaminated?
What about the cameras above the streets
recording ,unedited, as the rats and pigeons
scavenge on all the droppings
of the last people to leave
before the roller-blinds come down
and everything’s sucked into a black hole above town?