Hello and welcome to my site.  

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I’m a painter and poet living in Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay where I moved after some wandering to teach Spanish at the uni.  My first collection of poems, Look up without Laughing (Gomer), came out in 1998 and my first solo paintings show was at the Museum of Modern Art Wales (MOMA), Machynlleth, Jan-Feb 2014.  I like to work the image in paint and word, and my second book, Ball on a River: paintings and poems (2015), sets the two forms out on facing pages in interactive mode.  The kind of link-up I’m after is seen in Miners’ (Rhondda shorthand for the long-gone miners' holiday) when the pits shut, the washing of coal stopped, and something happened overnight in the river at the back of our house: the miracle of the water.

     Miners’

     The last fortnight in July
     Jesus touched the river’s pulse
     and said, suddenly: ‘Be clean’.
     I came down with my jam jar
     from the tall church on the hill
     and watched the clouds wiping soot
     from the water’s calloused toes.
     Then I saw all the fish had
     gone, aye, off to Trecco Bay
     with 5000 miners’ boys.

 

 

Next, something and nothing I saw on my first morning in America, which involved a different sort of vanishing act: 

Times Square

There was this guy in a Frank Sinatra
hat, like some punk in a 50s movie
-Hey you!- nifty on his feet too, between
the chairs in broad daylight when we’d gone back
for relish –Hey you there!- swooping like some
manky gull off the street, lifting bits off
my plate, dipping back quick for Joe’s, wasting
himself in the crowd, the frogspawn bun flipped
belly up, tidy as you like –Sod you!-
more Fred Astaire really, thinking of it.

Times Square

 

Ball 

The image draws me, plus Munch's dictum, Paint your life, suggesting a kind of painting that's more a window in than out.  Ball on a River implies movement: I've always felt in the process of leaving the valley I grew up in, like a ball kicked over the park railings into the river.  'We live forwards but understand backwards', says Kierkegaard.  It may need a salmon leap upstream, but the past stays with us, in a state of tension every life has in spades.

That'll be the Day

 

We are all shaped by circumstance.  I cherish Goya: traumatised at 80 by events in Spain, he vomited his Black Paintings onto the walls of his house, images done with sticks and rags, of people who had only sticks and rags, as far from the fake yokel bliss in his royal commissions as you can get.  Goya's house, the Quinta del Sordo, will be rebuilt one day, I'm sure, brick by brick, black by black, next to the Prado: 14 paintings; 7 up, 7 down.  Some house/ show! Let's start a petition.

Images interpret the world, one's own world.  When they work -in Kahlo or Dalí, say, Spencer, Bacon or Rego- inner and outer are one and the image more than its pictorial parts.  Poems lead to paintings -that way round for me mostly- and connect with them directly or less so.  Each must stand on its own, not explained by the other, but interacting with it, remaking itself.  That's the plan. 

 

4-burial-of-a-county-boy.jpg

               Burial of a County Boy

 

Other Publications:   Poems in Poetry Wales, Planet, Landfall (NZ)...  Ten books from my spells at Cardiff, UCLA, Auckland, Liverpool, Aberystwyth and Bristol unis, including: The Spanish Eye.  Painters and Poets of Spain (2007), The Crucified Mind: Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain (2001), Wellington's Welsh General: A Life of Sir Thomas Picton (1996).  I started another, Salvador Dalí and the Stone of Madness, but shelved it to work on my own stuff.  Maybe I should go back to it!

Painting shows:  Besides MOMA, twice, solos have been held in Shrewsbury, Milford Haven, and locally in Aberystwyth (see Blog).

Bio-Sources:  I hail from the top of Rhondda where mountains press in hard enough to affect your breathing.  I lost half my mates at eight when girls were made to skip the other side of a white line in the school yard verboten to boys.  Our eyes never left a ball we chased even harder ten miles down-valley in the County grammar where railings stiffened our gender apartheid.  Monsieur Georges Rochât, a polyglot Swiss who's centre-stage in my (after-El Greco) Burial piece, saved me.  ¡Gracias, hombre! 

I reached the 6th Form soon after Buddy Holly died and noted the girls no longer skipped.  James Dean wore blue jeans, we smoked Woodbines, hissed Churchill, sang Halfway to Paradise through the railings and heard Will you love me tomorrow? echo back.

Chasing my river down to the sea, I took Spanish at uni, the mystery of a foreign language having cranked up poetry's charm.  Two of my profs, Stephen Reckert and José María Aguirre, clued me into images.  It was a ticket to ride: Madrid, Los Angeles, Auckland, Aberystwyth!  Living on the west Wales coast, 'under the new-made clouds', as Dylan said, stoked my own poetry which bore late fruit in Look up without Laughing, an old injunction to tell the truth.  I was writing on art now and making paintings from poems I'd done when the thought came for a book with both in, Ball on a River.

          Egg

          It looked safe enough in your hand
          wedged in your palm by that stout thumb
          like a cloud stuck in the Basin.
          Your fingertips said different:
          fidgeting the enemy shell,
          they told the odds against cracking
          on the rim, not in the pan, the
          oh-so delicate membrane crunch
          and the yoke’s headlong gravity.
          Also the recriminations,
          which fizzed loud in the albumen,
          so nobody knew if it was fat
          egos or eggs in fat that kicked
          off the early morning riot.

 Pantomime of the Eggs

The next was prompted by my first grandchild and Jan Zalasciewiecz's geological adventure, The Planet in a Pebble:

 

 

Picking up Stones

'Put her on a beach and she picks up stones
all day long', the woman said, her eyes fixed
on a child playing in wet sand: 'Stones, stones
and more stones… Don' know if it's the colour,
feel…  Puts them in piles does little Miss Tidy…'
'Which ones she like best?' asked the man nearby.
'White. Don' ask me why'.  'Pr'aps she thinks they’re eggs',
he laughed, his teeth big.  'Don’ be daft.  She likes
brown ones too, they’re her squirrel nuts'.  His eyes
went global now: 'Eats them, does she?'  '...Weird
you are...  She loves her stones.  Tactile she is'.

But Rhondda, even in its greening, is the pointer on my compass, which reminds me of something a friend said back one day from Canada: 'It's like they never lived'.

                   
  
                     Bench
 
                    You plant a pine
                    and it’s all gone,
                    the mountain spine
                    just rag and bone.
 
Our lives are full of ghosts: those who've gone and those who surface in our mind, like Hopkins, the Thomases, Hone Tuwhare, Alberti, El Greco, Gauguin…
     
    
 Magritte's Window
 
 I was drawn away to a tall window
 that looked down on the Mersey and out
 to Birkenhead: a grey slab of water,
 a dark hump of industry and a huge
 blue sky above full of those insipid
 clouds I thought I’d left behind in the room.
 It was the light that drew me, or perhaps
 a longing to see water and clouds move
 (for move they do), verify what my own
 eyes see (if see they do).  I’d all but touched
 the glass when I caught a swirling brush-mark
 down on the shoreline.  As I stood there, still
 unconvinced by the deadpan clouds, a slap
 of stippled guano gave the game away.
                                                                                                         
   Sooner or later words and paint end up on the same canvas:

     Dirty Dancing 

     Anthracite river, black and shiny,
     running along with wagons of coal
     on the railway, how you rock and roll 
     in the rain all the way down to the sea! 
 
     That was then.  Now:
 
     Thirty years on
    
     I was back taking snaps
     for the album:
     the same street
     with the same shops 
     to one side;
     the same river
     running out
     in the same direction;
     the same mountains
     with the same cloud
     between.  But
     down the street,
     in the park,
     at the bus stop,
     no one whistling. 

Language, they say, is processed via the left side of the brain, the analytical side, while visuals go to the right.  But metaphor is different, says Iain McGilchrist (The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain) who sees a gestalt energy at work in poems and paintings alike.  He may be right