Owen Gallagher introduces Mike Jenkins's latest poetry collection.
Mike Jenkins is a politically active poet of the street, the estate and the countryside. He is also known among Cardiff City Football Club fans as their ‘unofficial poet’. He writes prophetically on behalf of the oppressed in towns and valleys, not just in Wales but, as witnessed in this collection and in previous volumes, across the globe.
Mike’s poems are accessible and always memorable, and if there’s any justice in the literary world, he will be the next Poet Laureate of Wales. His loyalties are clear. His subject matter is the working class and their struggle to survive under capitalism. He stands with them when they show acts of resistance individually and collectively - and also shows them being thrown out of pubs and clubs on Friday nights.
The title of this collection and of the opening poem, Bring the Rising Home! suggests that there are uprisings taking place elsewhere in the world, but that one is urgently needed in the UK – particularly in Merthyr Tydfil. It is beautifully illustrated by Gustavius Payne’s haunting cover image. Most of the poems in this booklet are derived from Mike’s experience of working and living in the Valleys, and the same can be said of Gus’s paintings.
As one of Wales’s finest contemporary painters, Gus’s paintings are bold and striking in colour and composition. Like good poetry, the longer you look at them, the more meanings they reveal. They are lyrical and expressive, revealing his concerns about politics and the individual, social class and the environment. He is a figurative painter who paints primarily in oils and is influenced by mythological themes with a contemporary context, drawing on Welsh culture, globalisation and exploitation.
The images he presents here are Goya-esque, and as powerful as the poems they accompany. Like the poems, they are rooted vividly in the post-industrial towns and countryside of the Welsh Valleys, but reveal our common history and our shared struggle under capitalism. In Gus’s own words:
My work is generally concerned with the human predicament, using the notion of a collective unconscious. There is a rhythm seen throughout human cultures via art, religion and mythology, showing that myths, fairy tales, folklore and religion all originate in a place deep within the unconscious. They allow human beings to make sense of the world.
This statement reminds me of John Berger’s words in 1985:
I can’t tell what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten.
The subject matter of the poems varies widely, including drunks, jailbirds, footballers, a mining disaster, Northern Ireland, and other locations. The poems’ real concerns, however, are with giving voice to individual isolation and alienation – see Outa Jail and Fuckall t Lose – and ultimately the urgent need to recognize that collective action is necessary to change the conditions of people – see Bring the Rising Home!
Isolated, people are powerless, but collectively they are strong. They need to organise into trade unions and join a socialist party to challenge the ruling class. As Marx said:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.
Here is a union of two socialist Welsh artists who, in their own brilliant, artistic way, are doing just that: bringing the Rising home.