Alun Rees reviews Seams of People, by Mike Jenkins (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, £7.50)
Mike Jenkins wastes no time letting you know where he stands politically. In the title poem that opens this impressive collection he states his position unambiguously. Indeed, the first clue is in the very first word of the title. In the Welsh valleys "seams" points the mind towards the coal industry with its history of blood, sweat, toil and tears and industrial upheaval, the "perfect storm" which gave us Cilfynydd, Senghenydd, Abercarn and other massacres, the epic theatre which meant prosperity for the few, suffering for the many.
The seams here comprise layers which Jenkins urges us to seek between the distorting strata of accepted knowledge:
we are searching
we are searching for
seams of people
where no Queen
no Queen owns us
When we feel the full impact of those largely forgotten truths we can bring it into the open:
not to trade and sell
not for rings
but food and songs -
ideals priceless mineral
This radical republican note is there again in Cymru, This House. A reference to the Prince of Wales feathers and accompanying "Ich Dien" motto tells us squarely what we have become and what we should be doing:
too long gweision
down in basements and cellars
scullery maids and butlers
deferential and bowing.
Let's make this house our own,
not some castle or mansion
Jenkins is no blind optimist, carried away from reality by blind passion. His symbolic train towards independence will have its difficulties, as specified in To A Different Country, but after a reassuring nod to Meic Stephens comes the upbeat conclusion:
There is no guarantee,
no money back or return;
but watch it emerge
at the end of he line:
our hands, our imaginations.
No Longer The Nameless pays tribute to John Hughes and Rowland Thomas, martyred in the Merthyr Rising of 1831, and launches a bitter indictment of Merthyr's grotesque ironmasters. If your taste is for a masterly attack on paternalistic rule designed to infantilise the populace and produce malleable units of labour, it's here in Hearing Water.
Outside the directly political poetry, Jenkins shows an ability to handle a wide spectrum of subjects. There are poems about care-home residents, like So Many Places, a moving portrait of an old man lost in his own memories:
It's morning but the sun
has gone, he's far away
the past the vastest
continent for travelling.
The man recalls his days at the gas works, playing jokes on apprentices, giving flowers to his wife, pushing his daughter on a swing - and then:
So many places to go
and people to be greeted;
wakes with shock at a stranger's tone
landing in bright, unfamiliar light.
There are environmental poems - Studying Glaciers, with a stark warning of an increasingly liquidised world, and The Desert Moves are worth particular study - plus recollections from overseas visits, poems about learning Welsh and others too many to mention here.
The best way to convey Jenkins's tonal range and breadth of subject matter would be to reproduce the whole book here, but I'm wary of copyright laws, so it looks as if you'll have to dosh up and buy it.
Well? What are you waiting for? It's worth it.