April 18, 2013

In Memoriam

In Memoriam.

This is from 'I Got On At Hallelujah Lamppost' written in the early '80s and published in Anglo Welsh Review in 1985 (my first professional publication.) Lately I've been performing it in the very different but always deeply appreciative settings of Norfolk folk: The Wolf - the Wolferton Folk Club, Norfolk - Tuesday 18 April and Folkspot Internet Radio the following Sunday. It's the sort of thing our daughter studied at University for her Thatcher's Britain course. Hang on, that wasn't history, that was our life! I did undercover work as a bus conductor (the Muse knew that - I thought I was paying the rent) to research this sequence of vignettes of the Eastern valley of Gwent: a kind of compressed verse novel encapsulating a modern industrial world. Until they got rid of the bus conductors... and then the steelworkers...and then the miners: they haven't got rid of poets - yet - so here it is. It's became much more prophetic in time with the old elegaic heavy metal community replaced by the cash-jingling 'MORE of lots of MORE to lose, mortuary bound' shiny new culture, as long as you had a job to pay for it. Wherever you stand in that debate - and families have been riven anew about it on Facebook all week - this is what happened in 'Thatcher's Britain' and this is what died to create it.

3. Fire & Brimstone

This valley had iron
In its guts,
Steeled itself to change
Moving with the trains,
Dug into its coal
For a port for the ores of Spain.

It had shod the Great Bear
Of the Steppes with skates
Made In Blaenafon
Had united the States
Across the wild west
With Monmouthshire iron.

And when King Coal called
For a Copper Grail
For his stainless steel Table,
Tongues of fire could purge
The iron in the soul
At Pontypool inferno.


The conductor stubs out
Nostalgia and fag
For the rush down valley,
While through his worn bag
Go all the colours of the river,
The green and the silver and the discoloured copper,

Afon Garde

Afon raging with the rain.
The cut steelworks sinks in the sodden clay.
Steel-faced pickets slam a portcullis
And draw up the bridge of their riverbank scrapyard:

The workers
Will never be defeated.

Red-soiled, livid, steaming, green,
Fed with liquid fire and gases,
Afon, desperate, blindly burrows
Like a dragon for the sea.

And all the Sunday School kids
Are Monday-morning singing....
The Word
Is on the dole
He'd rather give us the past tense of coalfield.
Is on the dole
He's gone down the drain with all the rotten leaves.

Panteg steelworks at twelve o'clock,
Busmen chasing overtime, pickets - jobs,
Eyes calm as anthracite,
Clouds lined with lead

The workers
Will never be defeated.

New Towns For Old

In Tal-y-waun
The girls are like leather, the beauty ingrained,
In 15, at 50, it remains, on the wane
Like the ghost of Coal always in the unworked vein
And what is already has, and what has will again
In Tal-y-waun.

In the the New Town
In the the New Town
In the the New Town
In the the New Town
The old canal is polished up, the gardens laid down,
And pushchair trolley women bus aroundaroundaround
And brakes and valves and services - autopias - abound.
Parked in his mother's arms high above the ground,
The brand new Son of Cymru gives a multistorey frown ,
MORE of lots of MORE to lose, mortuary-bound,
And after six, just trodden chips-
Not a soul to be found.


Mark Whitaker said...

Thank you, Gareth. Much appreciated. You’ll be pleased to know that there was an anti-Thatcher rally in Hebden Bridge square on Wednesday.

Mark Whitaker

Arthur Richardson said...

Made me cry you fool…..x

Arthur Richardson

Employment Relations Officer

Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists

Tom Leech said...

Yes, relevance intensified in reading again, a goodie. As for me in times past and devastated by the Tory regime I wrote a long vitriolic piece on the immense greed and deceit represented when Thatcher was re-elected for the third time in the 80s, sadly a poem I seem to have lost.

Anonymous said...

I recognise these times and places - like you I lived in them but have been long exiled. I am not sure if I miss them. Probably not. But these are wonderfully evocative and elegiac lines for me. Thanks.

Kevin F

Kevin Fackrell, Cafe Abersychano 1967-72. said...

I really enjoyed these particular poems. I had one of those staring into the distance remembering moments which lasted for ages. Cigarette stubbers on the backs of the seats of Western Welsh buses. You had to be there on a cold and rainy day with all the little sliding windows closed, condensation streaming down the windows and the damp air acrid with stale Woodbine and No.6 smoke and fag ends littering the floor. And that was just the school bus.