AUTHOR'S NOTES; Poetry Is the Angling of Literature, Says Poet Mike Jenkins. the Merthyr Bard Argues It's a Major Participation Activity That Gets Hardly Any Public Exposure

Article excerpt

What is the point of poetry? On the face of it, it would seem to be the literary equivalent of lacrosse: a minority sport that few seem interested in.

Fiction is the football of that world, selling by the lorry-load in many cases, compared to poetry's paltry sales.

Yet the reality is actually the opposite. When I was editor of Poetry Wales, the postman nearly went on strike as a result of the extra volume of envelopes he had to deliver every day. He developed a permanent stoop.

Of course, a great deal of it wasn 't very good and showed how few of the people who wrote bothered to read poetry books at all.

Poetry is, in fact, the angling of literature when it comes to participation. There are thousands out there who do it, many caught in the net of rhyming couplets, but not straining for release.

Many believe they can acquire the necessary skills without reading other poems: much like an electric guitarist who has dismissed Jimi Hendrix.

During the course of two weeks in late October and early November, I witnessed poetry's extraordinary powers. I co-tutored a schools course at Ty Newydd Writers' Centre in Llanystumdwy and the pupils who took part, all 14-year-olds, almost universally responded to workshops through their varied and imaginative verse. Moreover, the favourite work of the week for the majority was guest writer Catherine Fisher's challenging sequence about Captain Cook.

A week later I went on walkabout around Merthyr with the local Writers' Squad (from various borough schools), looking at buildings, soaking up the atmosphere and dwelling on the many 'literature benches' in the middle of town.

These are stone benches bearing quotations from many writers associated with Merthyr, like Harri Webb and Glyn Jones.

They were inspired to write powerful if gloomy poems, honest and full of emotion about their town.

The following day I conducted a poetry workshop and reading from my new book, Moor Music, at Aberdare Library. This was to a group called the Aberdare Poetry Society, whose secretary Aeron Elias has done a wonderful job building up over the last few years.

They are mostly retired people, but are committed to poetry and very enthusiastic. The room was packed and their work was both varied and engaging.

In early November, I was doing workshops at Cardiff City Stadium as part of their literacy project.

Poetry is just one part of an on-going involvement in the community and, like everything else, is supported fully by the Academi.

The pupils (predominantly from primaries) soon realised that poetry is fundamental to football and that fans use rhyme naturally when chanting. …