May Day Greetings from the Red Poets / Cyfarchion O'r Beirdd Cochion

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May Day Greetings from the Red Poets / Cyfarchion O'r Beirdd Cochion

YN GADARN / IN SOLIDARITY

Poetry can change people’s consciousness, of that I’m confident. Our revolution must embrace words and song, dance and film, art and journalism and give voice to the many struggles of those whose aspirations are too easily destroyed by poverty.

We’d like to express our solidarity with the struggles against capitalism and imperialism throughout the world. We are a collective of poets based in Cymru/Wales who have been in existence for some 27 years. We have produced an annual magazine of left-wing poetry from Cymru and beyond, a live CD and a number of poetry books. Our next publication (in 2021) will be a history of the Red Poets by 6 of our regular writers. We were born out of Cymru Goch (Red Wales) the now defunct Welsh Socialists and myself and Marc Jones, the other co-editor (from Wrescam) were both active members.

One of the highlights of our calendar has been the Merthyr Rising Festival at the end of May each year, which celebrates Trade Unionism and the history of the Welsh working class. There are speeches, debates, poetry and lots of music and my poem ‘Bring the Rising Home!’, from a book of the same name published by Culture Matters, brings together the history and the music.

Bring the Rising Home!

by Mike Jenkins

Bring it home
bring the Rising home!

the truck shops
the loan sharks

the ironmasters
the opencasters

the British military
the Acts of Tories

the Welsh language
then and today

chwyldro –
a turning of the times

gweriniaeth –
rule by people not kings and queens

bring it home
bring the Rising home!

the demand for bread
the Food Banks

the bailiffs knocking
the bailiffs ringing

martyrs on the streets
suicides on benefits

the debtors’ courts
the disability assessments

and yet, the mills rolled -
while now the drummers beat.

Notes - chwyldro - Welsh for revolution
gweriniaeth - Welsh for republic

May Day 1

This is the cover of issue 25, with artwork by Fred Fitton a long-time activist from Wigan, who used to teach art in Swansea.
Here’s a poem from that same issue which wittily describes the Rebecca Riots of 1839, a widespread protest against the toll gates:

What A Riot!
(Wales,1839)

by Phil Knight

Her hat and her Sunday frock
fitted me to a tee, but she said
"Lay off the corset cariad".
But like a fool I would not listen.
Well they said "come as women"
and the wife never crossed
our threshold without her corset on.
So I would have felt undressed like
without it on, see.

It was a bit snug to start,
however when I was running
and whooping on the Toll Gate
I was fair dying of breath.
Some of the boys even laughted at me
and them all dressed as ladies.
Ladies with beards and hairy arms.

Never since the beginning of time
had St. Clears seen such a sight.
"A most shameful spectacle! A return
to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah"
said the Carmarthen Journal.
We burnt the gates of our oppressors.
We danced and sang, well they did.
My corset was fair killing me for breath.
None of the other boys wore corsets.
However the Reverend had
his wife's pink pantaloons on,
but they say that's a regular thing.
Still I know better for next time.

So up with Rebecca's Daughters!
Down with the Toll Gates!
Down with the soldiers!
Down with the Whitland Trust!
But take the wife's advice boys
and keep your hands off the corsets.

May day 2

Many of the poets included in the recent anthology of radical poetry from Cymru ‘Onward/Ymlaen!’ published by Culture Matters have also appeared in ‘Red Poets’ magazines over the years. Both the cover and several images in the book are by Merthyr artist Gus Payne, whose work has been closely associated with us for many years. One of the poems in this book which embodies our spirit is by a poet who has appeared in every single issue of the magazine, Alun Rees, a retired award-winning sports journalist. This poem won the Harri Webb Prize:

Taffy Is A Welshman

by Alun Rees

Taffy is a Welshman,
Taffy is no thief.
Someone came to Taffy’s house
and stole a leg of beef.

Taffy made no protest,
for he doesn’t like a row,
so the someone called on him again
and stole the bloody cow.

They stole his coal and iron,
they stole his pastures, too.
They even stole his language
and flushed it down the loo.

Taffy is a Welshman,
Taffy is a fool.
Taffy voted no, no, no
when they offered him home rule.

Six days a week upon his knees
Taffy dug for coal.
On the seventh he was kneeling, too,
praying for his soul.

And now the mines are closing down
and chapel’s had its day,
Taffy still lives upon his knees,
for he knows no other way.

Now sometimes Taffy’s brother
will start a row or so,
but you can bank on Taffy:
he doesn’t want to know.

For when they hanged Penderyn
he had nothing much to say,
and when Saunders Lewis went to jail
he looked the other way.

Taffy is a Welshman
who likes to be oppressed.
He was proud to tug his forelock
to a Crawshay or a Guest.

They give him tinsel royals,
so he has a pint of beer,
and sings God Bless the Prince of Wales
as he joins the mob to cheer.

Now Taffy is a fighter
when he hears the bugle call.
Name any war since Agincourt:
Taffy’s seen them all.

He’s fought in France and Germany
and many another land;
he’s fought by sea and fought by air
and fought on desert sand.

He’s fought for many a foreign flag
in many a foreign part,
for Taffy is a Welshman,
proud of his fighting heart.

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

welsh independence march ifan morgan jones llinos dafydd 27.jpg

Activism has always been integral to the Red Poets collective and as well as doing benefits for strikers, against the poll tax and for CND, many of us are still involved in various groups, parties and movements. Ness Owen’s ‘Caernarfon’ (from the forthcoming issue, 26) describes a march in North Wales on 27th July 2019, attended by over 10,000 supporters of independence:

Caernarfon

by Ness Owen

We arrived later than
we thought, running
to catch up, me and
an old school friend
short-cutted through
the car-park like we’d
lost the bus. Holyhead
Welsh standing on the
verge, watching clouds
breaking over Môn,
looking down Balaclafa
Road to a sea of red,
green, white, of Yes,
of Cymru, of rhydd,
fy ngwlad, fy nyfodol.
A wave flowing from
doc, rushing through
arches built to keep us
out, sunglasses on for
face detectors. Tim yn
ffycin cael wep fi. By
Black Boy, clickers count
our true numbers. The
castle is surrounded, stones
echo with our soft tread,
onto Y Maes, no tears of
blood, today, our hearts
in the hands of each other.

rhydd – free
dyfodol – future
Tim yn ffycin cael wep fi – Holyhead Welsh for ‘you’re not having my fucking face’
Y Maes – square in Caernarfon

9781912710089

Finally, I’ll leave you with the title poem from my book in Merthyr dialect from Culture Matters, ‘From Aberfan t Grenfell’, which was illustrated superbly by Swansea artist Alan Perry. It's about two man-made tragedies where working-class people suffered greatly:

From Aberfan t Grenfell

by Mike Jenkins

When I seen tha fire
blazin through-a flats
like they woz wax,
I thought o Pant Glas
children an teachers,
graves of rubble an sludge.

When I seen ow
the Tories didn wanna know,
I thought o Lord Robens
an George Bloody Thomas,
of ower Council oo’d bin tol
of the tip movin long ago.

When I seen them people
come from all over
with clothes an food,
I thought of rescuers
from all over-a Valleys,
come t search
f life in-a ruins.

When I seen tha block,
a ewge charred remains
a dark memorial t the pooer
kept there like battree ens,
I thought of-a tip come down :
ow ev’ry sum an song
never knew an answer or endin. 

YN GADARN / IN SOLIDARITY

Read 524 times Last modified on Thursday, 30 April 2020 09:11
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.