Mike Jenkins

Mike Jenkins

Mike Jenkins is an award-winning Welsh poet and author and unofficial poet for Cardiff City FC. His new book of political poetry, Nobody's Subject, is published in Summer 2016.

Onward / Ymlaen! An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales
Friday, 14 February 2020 12:14

Onward / Ymlaen! An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales

Published in Poetry

Mike Jenkins introduces a new anthology of Welsh radical poetry

 These are left-wing poems from Cymru rather than ‘Wales’. Why do I stress this?

As the Welsh language poet Menna Elfyn rightly points out in notes to her poem ‘Neb-ach’, the very words ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ are both associated with being ‘foreign’: we call ourselves what others have chosen to call us – namely the English.

I choose Cymru because it means ‘fellow-countrymen’ and is intrinsically about belonging and co-operation. Poetry also has always been about social solidarity – it is fundamental and not peripheral to our society. Every year at the National Eisteddfod we crown a bard for his/her free verse and chair another for their work in cynghanedd (an ancient verse-form).

During the ceremony the Archdruid (who is, at present, Myrddin ap Dafydd, and is represented in this anthology) calls for ‘Heddwch!’ and the entire audience responds by calling out that Welsh word for peace.

Bards have traditionally come from many different backgrounds and one of the most renowned was ‘Hedd Wyn’ (bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans) who was a shepherd who fought and died in the 1st World War. An avowed pacifist, he was chaired posthumously at the Eisteddfod in 1917, when they draped a black cloak over the Chair in his absence.

In Cymru, poets have also invariably had close associations with their ‘milltir sgwar’, areas of belonging and identity, and you can see this in the work of many  here, such as Ness Owen from Ynys Môn (Anglesey) and Gemma June Howell with her Caerffili dialect poems.

Ness writes in both Welsh and English, with the language and her feminism at the fore in her work –

Tongue-tied
excusing our way through
we breath in Mamiaith

Gemma hails originally from a working-class estate in Caerffili called Graig yr Rhacca. She writes in the voices of its inhabitants, for all their faults so full of humour and energy –

A’rite? Nairmz Rhiannon
an I leve on thuh Rock.
I luv drinken ciduh
and I luv sucken cock.

As co-editor of ‘Red Poets’ magazine for 26 years (we annually publish left-wing poetry from Cymru and beyond) I am acutely aware of the importance of socialist and republican politics to our poets. Most of them have appeared in that magazine over the years. In particular I think of Herbert Williams, Alun Rees, Tim Richards and Jazz, who were there at the very beginning.

The power of satire is vital to these poets, and Rees’s ‘Taffy is a Welshman’ deservedly won the Harri Webb Prize. It takes a well-known nursery rhyme and develops it into a scathing look at the history of the Welsh working class, fighting imperialist wars –

He’s fought the wide world over,
he’s given blood and bone.
He’s fought for every bloody cause
except his bloody own.

For many, their poetic heroes have been the likes of Idris Davies and Harri Webb, uncompromising poets never afraid to take on the burning issues of their times: Davies dealing with strikes and the Depression and Webb with the rise of Welsh nationalism and sense of Cymru as an oppressed colony.

In the 60s when Alun Rees, Herbert Williams and Sally Roberts Jones came to the fore, the worlds of Welsh and English language poetry were largely separate. Nowadays, poets like Siôn Tomos Owen and Rufus Mufasa move between both their languages, often within individual poems. Rufus is also a quite amazing performer, somewhat like Kate Tempest but with more singing and an emphasis on dub rather than rap. Her work on the page is quite distinct from her performance poetry, though both move easily from Welsh to English –

Y bwrdd cadarn, caer / our fortress made of blankets

From the multicultural society of Cardiff to former industrial heartlands of slate, iron and coal, there are a strong feelings of injustice and anger shared by many working-class communities throughout the British Isles.

One younger poet, Hanan Issa (who I met and read alongside at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff) draws on her Muslim background, here reflecting on an incident in Marrakech –

Immersed in the maelstrom
of a Marrakech market.

It has to be said that the emerging and enthusiastic independence movement, which many of these poets are part of and which is led by non-partisan groups like Yes Cymru, has created a sense of hope more akin to Scotland in recent years. I wanted to reflect this in the title ‘Onward/ Ymlaen!’ which I took from Patrick Jones’s poem ‘The Guerilla Tapestry’ to encapsulate this spirit –

Following the dream of emancipation
Your power we shall decline
Ymlaen Ymlaen

Jones’s own journey from Labour supporter to embracing the emerging Indy movement is one which truly reflects our politically fluid times. And the same word is echoed in Phil Howells’s poem about the Merthyr Rising which took place in my home town in 1831, when the ironworkers rose up against their masters to take over the whole town and, it’s claimed, raise the red flag for the first time.

In Welsh the slogan we’ve used for decades has been ‘Fe godwn ni eto!’ (We will rise again!). Until now it seemed like the futile call of the few. Today, it is a real possibility for the many. Despite the Tory victory in the Westminster election, there is still plenty of room for optimism and these poems are sure indicators that the spirit of 1831 and the Chartists live on.

Onward / Ymlaen! An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales, edited by Mike Jenkins, with a Foreword from Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, and with images by Gustavius Payne. 170 pps., £10 plus £3 p. and p. ISBN: 978-1-912710-16-4

For discount prices on trade orders please write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Seesaw

from Onward / Ymlaen!

by Rebecca Lowe

Children are playing across borders,
A Mexican girl with curly pigtails
Tests her balance against
Her American counterpart –
She edges nervously
Before whirling upward,
Giggling, giddy, arms outstretched
To the sky.

Children are playing
Through barriers built by grown-ups,
Smiling through walls of steel and barbed wire,
The universal language
Of laughter.

Who's up? Who's down?
It's a balancing act, this,
A seesaw diplomacy,
Who will falter first?

As the walls are built
Ever higher,
What will it take
To make them tumble,
To make them fall?

For now, the only sound
You can hear is laughter,
The child beyond the border
Throws back her head and, grinning,
Flings herself in open embrace:
Above her, the sky is endless.

(Note: In July 2019 artists placed pink seesaws through slats in the fenceposts across the US-Mexico border, allowing children from both sides of the border to play together, despite the physical barrier of the fence.)

To A Different Country
Wednesday, 06 November 2019 09:47

To A Different Country

Published in Poetry

To A Different Country

by Mike Jenkins

We were selling tickets
for a journey to a different country
(our own, yet changed totally).
At the station our flags flapped
in a strange wind
stirring from valley to mountain
despite the frosty stillness
of another Monday morning.

‘But it’s the same old train!’
moaned the half-asleep
commuters heading for the city
as they took our leaflets
which explained the way.
‘They’ve only painted it up,
it still runs late
or over-crowded too often.’

The train followed the river down valley
and high up on the stonework
of an old viaduct plinth
someone had painted ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’;
was it the ghost of Meic Stephens
suspended on dragon’s breath?

‘You will arrive on time.
We will build it together.
There is no guarantee,
no money back or return;
but watch it emerge
at the end of the line:
our hands, our imaginations.’

Notes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    'Cofiwch Dryweryn' means 'Remember Tryweryn'. Over the past year in Wales many people have graffitied this: on walls , rocks, bridges and most recently on an old railway viaduct plinth in the Taff valley. It follows the vandalism of the original one on a rock near Aberystwyth, originally painted by poet and editor Meic Stephens in the 1960s referring to the drowning of a valley and clearance of the village of Capel Celyn, in the Tryweryn valley. See here

Two poems for St. David's Day
Thursday, 28 February 2019 20:07

Two poems for St. David's Day

Published in Poetry

The Dai Caps

by Mike Jenkins

Ave yew yeard
there's Welsh people
takin t the streets
an they int wearin
them yellow vests like in France,
but traditional dress?

Nah, not them tall black ats,
not even trackies or shell-suits,
but all of em
are sportin caps.

Women an men, teens an kids
sayin no way austerity,
sayin yes way indie,
sayin we've ad enough,
ower time ave come.

We int copyin nobuddy,
an leave them surveyors alone!
In ev'ry city, village an town
the Dai Caps 're comin!

 

TOO small, see

by Mike Jenkins

We’re too small,see
an we’re too pooer,
we aven even got a tidee road
between the south an north -
gotta travel by train t Englan’
jest t get t west Wales.

What would we do without
all tha money in London
an ow could we possibly
survive without the Queen
visitin ev’ry few years?

We don’ produce nothin
now ower mines ave gone,
we got loadsa mountains
but they’re ewseless, in ’ey?
We should look t Westminster...
well, maybe not today!

I’m Welsh as yew are,
nobuddy cheers louder
when we score an win,
but goin it alone’s beyond.

We’ll end up ev’ryone divided,
the whool countree arguin
an no bloody solutions.

Those Hands
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 10:42

Those Hands

Published in Poetry

Mike Jenkins offers a prose-poem inspired by Martin Hayes’ book of poetry ‘The things our hands once stood for’ 

Those Hands

for Martin Hayes                                    

   I’ll never forget those hands resting on his lap like two sleeping cats till his body was wracked by a coughing fit and they woke and shook disturbed by dreams of slobbering, snarling jaws.

   Those hands knew deep down what I had acquired in studies, courses of rivers and streams black on his palms; while I had merely drawn a map of the Valleys with a shaded area to mean coalfield, like a tainted lung.

   Those hands – the pick ‘n’ shovel of them – had known the obdurate seams, blind tunnels and a dust so dense it seemed a swarm, a plague.

   As he talked they opened up and shone, glowed with his up-down tones which followed the streets down to the nearby park and Nye Bevan museum and back uphill sucking at precious breath.

   As he talked, they played like the kids he’d never had; cats scampering along fence-tops and clawing up bark.

   Such hands you’ll never see again, engrained with stories of his butties, of desperate rescues, of pit-ponies born into dark galleries.

   Those hands had been buried, were a print of carbon; had risen to rub the gentle flames of skin, to a hearth where he sat with his missis coaxing the fire to a high burning.    

Graffiti art, Herne Hill
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 21:10

May in Dolgellau

Published in Poetry

May in Dolgellau

by Mike Jenkins

Croeso i Gymru!
Come to Wales
if you want to make decisions,
ramble on Yr Eryri
just like the PM Theresa May.

Not only between lovespoons
with two balls in cages
and a slate plaque
inscribed in inspiring Welsh –
‘Crach wedi codi o’r cachu’.

Come to Dolgellau,
new capital of ‘penderfyniadau’ –
let the Mawddach soothe
and the crags enlighten
before you bring down the country.

Let the giant of poetry Idris
sit you down in his chair
before you unleash chaos
and the howling of Cwn Annwn
take us who knows where.

 

Notes 

Croeso i Gymru – welcome to Wales
Yr Eryri - Snowdon
Crach wedi codi o’r cachu – wealth comes out of shit
Penderfyniadau – decisions
Cwn Annwn – the howling of these mythical hounds foretold death

 

Ewsed T Be Ooverville
Monday, 01 February 2016 17:20

Ewsed T Be Ooverville

Published in Poetry

Em’tiness. Them factree sheds.
The las shift leaves
an ev’ry machine stops.

We ewsed t be Ooverville,
ower washin-machines
sent all over
like rails an cannons
from them ol ironworks.

We could even afford t larf
bout Sinclair an is C5,
puttin it in-a window
as a crazee failure.

Now, we drive away
f’r the las time
with nowhere t go :
the toy factree’s gone
an we ardly make nothin.

It’s all retail an ousin
in this once great town :
but oo cun spend
an nobuddy’s buildin.

All them yers, all them skills
wasted like my son
with his degree, signin on.

Em’tiness. Rot an rats move in
an on’y the diggers o Ffos-y-fran
never stoppin like the lines
we left be’ind: the memrees
o frens stay welded,
as joints break an roof’s collapsin.