resources of hope
ISSUE NO 9 | AUTUMN/WINTER 2022/2023
Selected Photographs DION COWE
We wanted it to be a book aboutsomething, and that was this idea of Welshness as distinct and inclusive. Because if there isn’t any distinctiveness then clearly people are barking up the wrong tree even going on about Wales, let alone about independence. But if there isn’t inclusivity, then we’re probably in for real political problems further down the line.
nawr Contents art literature
28 Nonhumanness and eco-futurism
30 Reasons To Be Cheerful RHYS
or The Butterfly
35 3 for 2
Selected Photographs JON POUNTNEY
Conversation with DARREN CHETTY
‘Furnace Terrace, for the new year’ and ‘bowl for sharing small joys’ SIAN BARLOW
Fantasy Fights and Worker’s Rights ROWAN CAMPBELL
Gobaith LEIGH MANLEY 32
I Worry About,
This Guitar Silences Fascists PATRICK JONES 33
‘Two Metres Apart’ LISA MANSELL
The Moments I’d Like to Keep MILLIE BETHEL 35 Back Cover Photograph DAVID THOMSPON
Family Visit DAVID ROBINSON
Devising a theme for this, our first issue of 2023, forced us to take stock. We often draw inspiration from things happening in the world when encouraging our contributors to reflect on a theme, and we were met with bleakness at all angles. Three years after our inception in January 2020, the world around us looks at times unrecognisable to what we could’ve imagined back then. From public events that have made history to the personal traumas experienced on an incredible scale, sometimes the environment in which we live can feel difficult to understand and process.
In August of 2022, we hosted our first ever Summer Festival at Cardiff Umbrella Arts Collective. As part of our week of events, we hosted a Philosophy Cafe on the subject of ‘Wales Past and Future’, where we used extracts from Welsh (Plural) and the work of Raymond Williams to encourage conversation about what it means to be Welsh today, and what a future Welsh society might look like if it is to accommodate its citizens with care and real democracy. We left the session feeling invigorated. The conversation focused on working together to feel seen and heard; to speak out against injustice; to partake in community action in the face of institutional oppression.
This issue was inspired by our Summer Festival, where we were able to see our vision come to life. Live poetry was shared; photographers came together; an interactive post-it wall saw visitors to our space share what they hoped the future of Welsh art might look like. The world is difficult, dark and often despairing, but in those two weeks, hope felt possible.
As editors, we really see this issue as a ‘resource’: something to inspire ideas and action. Rhys Shanahan’s lovely poem ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ (page 10), which we first heard at our Summer Festival launch party, invites and inspires a reader to respond with their own ‘reasons’. Rowan Hope Campbell’s essay ‘Fantasy Fights and Workers’ Writes’ distils advice for activists from the fantasy worlds of Tolkien. We hope that as you engage with this issue, you see it as a resource to share
and take beyond its pages.
We were also lucky enough to have a great conversation with Darren Chetty, co-editor of Welsh (Plural), writer and teacher which you can read on pages 18-25. It was a privilege to speak with Darren about his essay in Welsh (Plural), and about plurality, identity and memory and we feel that it is such a rich addition to this issue.
As ever, we are very grateful for the tireless efforts of our designer, Anja, to the contributors of this issue and to you, the readers. It is a privilege to be on this journey with you all!
Cariad, Anna and Martha Co-editors
This issue’s cover image comes from Dion Cowe’s Hope collection.
See more on pages 26 and 27
‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.’
- Raymond Williams
What lies between us is that arctic caul, I’m fishing for lucid clues in the small hours to find our coupled happiness. You sleep. I breathe the rhythms beyond the harbour wall, I cannot drown, why do I doubt? I dive. The sky is coral pink and mermen wave, there’s no quarrel under the cinnamon tree. I stroll the cumin sands. I find you. Our sleep.
The flit and fret of finches are dead
She does what the moon said to her and nests her life in the blues of rain
The creepy crawling things slow time
to fuel embers for her to dry They pop and crackle the least feast of friends
Their wriggling is so small she flinches and hears what the sun says of rain
Takes flight with flit and fret of finches
Her wings are soaked with life not death
Her head forces through the clouds of clocks
She cuckoos pools of spring with frocks
‘3 AM’ and ‘Cuckoo’ by
The Dreaming Valleys/Cymoedd yn Breuddwydio is a project I started in the lockdown of 2020. The restrictions in travel forced a reassessment of how and where I was working, and led to very local exploration. Despite living in the Pontypridd area for 5 years I had never visited the isolated areas of the ridges along the tops of the different valleys, particularly between where we live and down into Caerphilly. Immediately upon finding the area of Eglwysilan I was reminded of the novel ‘People of the Black Mountains’ by Raymond Williams, with its depiction of place as ageless and timeless, and people as fleeting presences across the landscape. From this small area I’ve created an imaginary space where the Industrial Revolution happened elsewhere, and the characters within that narrative are either real residents or friends of mine who I have ‘cast’ in the project. Like Williams in the novel, I am playing with the ground between fact and fiction.
Nonhumanness and eco-futurism
As a child I’d often overhear the phrase “on a knife-edge”—from the news, my family, teachers—it leaked in peripherally, its context unknown. I remember one day coming home, taking a butter-knife out of the drawer in the kitchen, staring down to a blunt point, being unable to grasp the meaning. Children today are growing up painfully aware of life’s tenuousness, a precarious dance they will be forced to perform on what seems to be an ever-thinning edge1. It can be difficult to write about the environment without gesturing at a deluge of despair, without thinking about a drop either side of us. This only serves to produce an overwhelming feeling of loss and for the litany of bad news to come to a real and material end we must change how we respond to the nonhuman around us. This is something that cannot be motivated by fear.
Changing how we look at nonhuman animals and environments means changing how we define what it means to be human. Civilisations have been defined by their difference to the world around them – to stand alone, to be exceptional, lifted from an animal origin. Our relationship with nonhuman others emphasises essential differences rather than respecting what makes us unique and at the same time dependant on one another—building an alternative future requires a relationship based on reciprocity rather than hostility. We have been told continually that we, individually, cannot affect a new outcome; that our efforts to grow and make something a little cleaner, safer, and beautified will always be out-weighed by the polluting, the negative. Whether we can or cannot change things alone is irrelevant, we do not have to struggle by ourselves. In showing our support for local, national, and international wildlife organisations we can advocate for the future of nonhuman life. Right now, charities ranging from the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the National Trust, the Rivers Trust, as well as local agencies and charities are working to defend the natural world in the U.K. against the current government’s smashand-grab policies that are reneging on climate “promises”.
Hoping for the future, one here on earth accompanied by the sights and sounds of the only known life in the universe, is more than just a wish – it is something real we have to struggle for. Thinking into the future (with all the recent discussion of space exploration resonating in our ears that distracts from issues closer to home) we should ask how we can reconsider our relationship to the terrestrial nonhuman rather than invest in the billionaires’ visions of space colonisation born from the wastes of overconsumption. Thoughts of a lonely human existence surrounded by plutocrats in space are not a comfort or a solution for what we face today. Feeling out a future that includes all of us means getting to grips with our immediate environment. Finding a material connection with the world around us is essential to building an environmental awareness that is predicated on hope rather than fear. Access to natural spaces in built-up areas is a vital part of mental well-being that encourages our own individual growth as well as our
1Cambry Baker, Susan Clayton & Eshana Bragg, ‘Educating for resilience: parent and teacher perceptions of children’s emotional needs in response to climate change’, Environmental Education Research, vol. 27 (2021), pp. 687 – 705.
collective health. We reconnect parts of ourselves when we encounter the nonhuman outside of the hermetic, manicured, human-centred spaces we are allotted. These can be difficult to find in cityscapes and suburbs, their inclusion requires new approaches to how we navigate and build human settlements to encourage other animals and keep the nonhuman life diverse and alive inside populated areas. When we begin to include other animals and environments into our considerations of the world around us, we discover the myriad missed opportunities in the past to embrace the nonhuman as part of our daily lives. Even as we walk between precipitous depths, working for a future that includes nonhumanity keeps us moving forward and from falling off either side of a knife’s edge.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
Dancing is unaffected by inflation.
Smiles are still contagious.
House sparrows are a free alarm clock.
Clouds won’t stop passing. The difference you feel between you and everyone else is real.
Walking in sunlight cannot be curtailed.
Russell T Davies is returning to Dr.Who. Coded messages are in fact just bad handwriting. Goldie Lookin Chain.
You don’t actually have to watch the news.
Search for the way to make love stay.
Smoothies, juice and water.
Meteorological spring will always be sung in the northern hemisphere.
Voices you like, saying words to your ears.
The sound Ash trees make as they sway.
The sound That Person makes when they say:
Villages are as ancient as fire and cannot be burnt down forever, You don’t actually need that thing to make you happy.
Happiness is a tide. Jokes between two friends are the height of Art. Hope is a pinch of salt and Despair is peppercorn: You need both to make a nice spag bol.
Sunglasses do suit you.
Some days not getting out of bed is for the best.
Some days getting out of bed is for the best.
An open window pours in free air.
House-plants won’t judge you for not getting dressed.
Someone is listening to what you have to say.
The colour green.
Wine Gums and chocolate.
It’s called lost AND found.
Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra.
Cheap CDs, DVDs and second hand clothes.
Fairytales and Folklore.
We have been at this for 100,000 years.
Please write in with more.
That Friend I Worry About, or The Butterfly
Quietly noses through bushy flowers. Slow. Thorough. His road an invisible sun trail that cuts south across the field.
I can see how he feels his adultness. So grumpy under the tree-bough. His head shakes at tiny eggs planted on milkweed leaves.
We stop to watch a chrysalis squirm and twist. He sees artificial hips, swaying like a lie. When it splits he mistakes it for a new death, turns his silent, slender body to Gull Cliff.
The tide has the beach in its foamy green pocket I take my boots off & beam my big yellow-tooth smile. Cup him close to my chest and whisper My friend, love is not a debt to be written off. Somewhere there is a cassette called ‘Beautiful’ And all the tracks are titled ‘you’. Get comfortable living without forecasts. ‘Perhaps’ is not a place of hopelessness it is the miles of forest behind us.
And yes, in those brilliant star-white bosoms of the stonecrops, those piercing eyes of moon-daises,
and those erotic shadows of flowering sea-carrots, There be wasps
There be spiders creeping between the pearly air. Sparrows, toads and rats, are always near. But self-destruction is not the only way. Look how gently the sun, like an old man weeping, sets itself down over the horizon. Can you hear it hold the bleak mornings, the poisoned willows, the outstretched beating wings of sea birds, with such care they must all be friends. I am not telling you to be happy. Just that the tide goes out to come in. The climb up the cliff gets easier every time. And that taste of salt on our lips is a small, windswept kiss.
On the worst days of lockdown you’d scoop me into the Fiat and drive us the 37 miles to the border to Tesco, Wrexham just to see the words bara ffrwythau cig ffres past frost-gorsed hillsides where homeschooled children heft sledgedrift braids and coil melting snow-wept channels on unploughed slopes and from the black-iced roads and you’d learn the words araf gwartheg gwasanaethau
Two Metres Apart
I’m watching this pot and it’s boiling scuds of earth and silt I’m watching the inescapable sink of diced swede and the passage of leek to the top-froth of loam and hometurf
On the TV Wales are playing France in a distanced stadium two metres apart in rough-red cotton and ancient chant and I’m watching them hymn-faced in masks bellow their hiraeth on the airwaves from a landlocked local lockdown
The itch to skim the cawl is a Sunday ritual— rehearsals in Piscah chapel, Pyle where the whole heave of the parish all closeknit and twinset lashed song-breaths in long threnodous threads
I’m watching this pot and it’s boiling the scrum of shale-laden tides and second waves and it’s boiling it’s boiling it’s boiling
‘Sledgedrift Braids’ and ‘Two Metres Apart ’ by
For some, hope is etched on prison walls in fingernail shavings — it’s the church candle in heavy weather, or politicians’ handshakes under soaking flags, the damp brow soothed in the hours after midnight, the flicker of life on an ultrasound screen, the refraction of light across the sky after rainfall, the spit of chalk on clay at match point.
For me, it’s a multipack of baked beans because when we cleared out my granch’s house, there they stood sentinel, those two remaining tins straining against their overstretched plastic collar, keeping their silent vigil
for a ninety-four year old man who had been told “it’s not responding to treatment” and used his pension to reply “I would like to have beans on toast more than just once more.”
‘THE FAMILY VISIT’
Afew years back, I received hospital treatment after bleeding caused by a bowel condition. A&E, catheters, blood transfusions and saline drips were all new and frightening to me.
The care and encouragement I received from nurses, porters, cleaners, volunteers and family gave me hope, speeding my recovery.
This is one of a series of prints I made to remember those who cared for me. I also collected stories from others who have given – or received hospital care, to make an online exhibition: www.davidrobinsonartist.com/printmaking
Co-editor Anna Bland catches up with writer, teacher and researcher Darren Chetty to talk about Welsh (Plural) - a book jointly edited by him and others - as well as Welshness, identity and plurality.
Darren Chetty, a Welsh Indian South African Dutch Londoner, taught in London primary schools for twenty years before becoming a Teaching Fellow at UCL Institute of Education. Darren’s award-winning research focuses on philosophy for children, multiculturalism and racism. He is the author of the essay ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to be About White People’ in the British Book Award-shortlisted anthology The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla. His academic work also covers education and hip-hop culture. Anna sat down for a chat with Darren about his essay ‘Whatever happened to the Black Boy of Killay’ in Welsh (Plural), as well as his experiences and inspirations as a writer and researcher.
Anna: Thank you so much, Darren, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Our theme for issue nine is ‘Resources of Hope’, which is inspired by the work of Raymond Williams and his hopeful and practical reimagining of Wales’s future. In many ways, we feel like Welsh (Plural) echoes this notion and is, in our opinion, a contemporary resource of hope. Is this something that you had in mind while you were editing the collection? Could you tell us a bit about Welsh (Plural) and how it came about?
Darren: Thank you, I’m glad you think so. The practical side of how it came about was that I went on the Hay Writers at Work scheme, funded by Literature Wales, at Hay Festival 2019. They had a series of workshops for Welsh writers, and that included writers born in Wales but living in England, which meant that I could qualify. There I saw Hanan Issa, who I’d already met because I had read at Where I’m Coming From, which Hanan runs with Durre Shahwar. Durre I knew because she organised for The Good Immigrant to do a panel in Cardiff Waterstones. So that was my initial link, living in London as I do, with Welsh writers. So thanks to Durre’s work and then Hanan’s work, I found out about the Writers at Work scheme, and there we just had lots of conversations about Wales, Welsh writing and Welshness. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Hay Festival, but there’s no Welsh language in the signage, and there were established writers I spoke to who didn’t even know we were in Wales! Whilst they do include some Welsh events, it does feel like English writing, Scottish writing and Irish writing has more of a sense of a brand about
it. And of course, there are pros and cons about having a brand. But Welsh writing in England, I think, doesn’t get a lot of attention, and having lived most of my life in England, I guess I’m still interested in how Wales is perceived in England. Not because I think England is the be all and end all. But in terms of the market, if you’re going to be a writer and write in the English language, then it’s the obvious place that you’re going to sell. So, it was those conversations. I had already had an early draft of my essay in Welsh (Plural), which I shared at Hay, and that prompted more conversations and a sense that there wasn’t a book out there that was really exploring Welshness in all its diversity. There are blog pieces, there are articles, obviously there’s Charlotte Williams’ work, but as far as I’m aware, not a book that showcased or attempted to showcase a plurality of Welshness. And that seemed quite important.
Obviously, there’s also a backdrop of growing calls for independence and even those who aren’t fully on board with independence are often arguing for more autonomy for Wales. But the way that is often argued, to my mind, recalls Charlotte Williams’ ‘land, language and lineage’ approaches to Wales and can slide quite easily into a sort of ‘blood-andsoil’ ethnonationalist perspective. Now, for someone like me who’s Welshness has been maintained largely through football – which I know is slightly odd – but going back to Swansea City games, going to Wales internationals and being so passionate about Wales and Welshness and yet often aware that I might not be considered, and that many others might not be considered Welsh as well,
I think about what that would mean for how you build an independence movement which tends to deal with slogans and memes and very emotive material, because that’s how you mobilise people. But if you’re not careful you can create problems rather than simply address them.
Iestyn and Grug both being Welsh speakers, Hanan being based in Cardiff, we had a plurality amongst us, but sufficient common ground to engage in this project. There needed to be a lot of talking just to frame the book, because we didn’t just want it to be an anthology of Welsh writing. We wanted it to be a book about something, and that was this idea of Welshness as distinct and inclusive. Because if there isn’t any distinctiveness then clearly people are barking up the wrong tree even going on about Wales, let alone about independence. But if there isn’t inclusivity, then we’re probably in for real political problems further down the line.
I really love how Welsh (Plural) explores what it means to be Welsh in contemporary society through storytelling; stories about contributors’ multi-levelled experiences of Welshness and identity particularly relating to race and ethnicity and religion. You mentioned football and that being central to your Welsh identity. And that story that you tell in your piece, when you’re at the match at Wembley and people are chanting, ‘I’d rather wear a turban than a rose’, and your desire to point out that it’s not really an either/or thing. It can be both: the turban is a religious symbol, whereas a rose is about national identity and the two aren’t incompatible. So maybe could you speak more to this idea of conceptions of Welshness that aren’t hegemonic ideas of whiteness? That kind of plurality in Welsh identity?
Yeah, I mean, I also say, as you know, that I don’t turn around and say that. I know better than to engage in philosophical conversations whilst a football match is going on. [Laughs]
What I’ve found is that with The Good Immigrant – my essay in that and doing talks related to it – people remembered and responded to the narrative framing; the story of me in the classroom. They don’t sort of comment on the conceptual analysis that I’m doing, or the references I make or the data. For me, thinking through stories and narrative should have been an obvious thing. But it’s been an effort to write in a more narrative form, I think. So with my essay, I was lucky enough to know the novelist John McGregor a bit. I gave some feedback on some writing he had done and asked in return if he’d give feedback on my essay. Everything he was saying was basically, ‘turn this more into a story’. And I tried to do that, though I didn’t quite get as far as I’d like to. But I think this sort of telling of stories that reveal the argument, the conceptual stuff, is a far more effective way of writing. It’s different from the school essay, the academic essay. And for some people, it was a bit of relearning. For others, they were already storytellers.
I guess there are a few provisos on this sort of narrative writing. One is that for people of colour, particularly, they have to be comfortable. They shouldn’t feel any pressure to tell ‘their story’, to share their vulnerability or their pain. I think a lot of writers of colour are talking about this with the reemergence of the essay form: that if we’re not careful there’s an expectation that we should have to share pain for others’ education or consumption. That limits what we can write about, but it also means that we have to give a lot of ourselves on the page, and often even once we’ve done that, we’ve got nothing else to write about, so our “purpose” is over, our “use” is over.
And I think the other thing that is really important if you’re writing about personal stuff is that you’ve done enough work and enough time has passed, that you can process what’s happened, and that you’re able to understand this small story and how it fits into a broader context. Sometimes when I see personal writing online, I worry where
sometimes I feel the readers may be making a completely different understanding of the material to the writer. And of course, readers are free to interpret. But you want the sense that the writer understands and is in control of the material. It’s not like giving a witness statement to the police, where it’s then for them to decide what’s done with it.
I’ve had experiences, you know, both in academia and socially of that: those consequences can be really hard sometimes. The first thing I ever wrote online, in the ‘90s, was about being racialized as mixed. And I thought,’great’ and I put it out there. And then one day, I was teaching my primary school class, checked my emails at lunchtime, and I just got the most horrendous, racist response. Basically saying, ‘you have no business being in this country.’ And it was really difficult at that moment, because I then had to go and teach my class for the afternoon. And these were the early days, you know, of publishing online where you weren’t expecting this, or I wasn’t, so it completely floored me. And I realised that if I’m gonna put something out there, I’m gonna also have to have mechanisms for dealing with the responses of readers.
Thank you for sharing that. This issue of race and identity that is particularly central to your essay on the Black Boy of Killay, where this figure of the Black boy becomes anc example or symbol of our reckoning with parts of Wales that we may not want to confront, or feel uncomfortable about. It also looks forward to a more inclusive
idea of Welshness. And it’s in your own ambivalent feelings towards that image on the pub sign that this idea kind of really comes through. So, firstly, what is the significance of the relationship between this plurality found in Welsh past and future and our own ambivalent feelings towards it, and also the role of past, present and future in thinking about Welshness and Welsh identity?
Everyone who was around in Swansea in the ‘70s remembers this pub sign. That’s been one really interesting thing. It stood out as this rare example of public representation of a Black person. The essay is chronicling the process of pulling out this thread and trying to make sense of it. Ingrid Pollard’s work did that before me and did it expansively in the art world, looking at Black Boy pubs. But really, this was just a crack of, ‘something is here, some remembrance is here, but we’re not sure what we’re remembering.’
I thought that it was really interesting, that the people who said we shouldn’t change history didn’t really know what the history was. I guess what I ended up with in the essay was, for me at the time, this surprising realisation of just how closely linked Swansea’s development as a town through the copper industry was to the slave trade in Cuba and the Caribbean. That even continued post the formal abolition, and through the Grenfell family, who are linked to the Grenfell family of which the tower is named. So we see this isn’t simply a Wales thing: this is British history. The copper ingots – there is one in Swansea Museum –
I think a lot of writers of colour are talking about this with the reemergence of the essay form: that if we’re not careful there’s an expectation that we should have to share pain for others’ education or consumption.
were used as currency to buy enslaved people. I think it’s timely because in the Copper Bay and Swansea Arena, Swansea is now leaning into its Copperopolis history. I think part of many regeneration programmes is a selective leaning into heritage. But I’m not sure that it’s really thought through how that process of industrialisation was so closely linked to the slave trade.
So instead, what they’ve done on the way to Swansea arena is a tribute to Cyril Cupid, a Black Welsh athlete. The road up to the bridge there is called Cupid Way. I think that’s a nice touch. But we can end up getting slightly tokenistic Black representations rather than actually remembering history in all its complexity, which obviously is something I’d favour.
I know Gaynor Legall did the full review of monuments in Wales, and their links to the slave trade, and I know Charlotte Williams’s work, and the Welsh Government are committed to teaching Black history in Wales, but I think it’s also interesting in our public environment whether we really get a sense of Wales’s history or whether it’s a very ‘selective tradition’. That’s a phrase from Raymond Williams when he’s talking about the literary canon, that there are often selective traditions and mythmaking that occur in what we call history.
I’m thinking now of this sense of haunting. You have this quote about childhood at the beginning of the essay: ‘the memories of childhood have no order and no end.’ Is there something about memory and the way we remember things of the past that plays into that sense of national identity as well?
This notion of haunting, I think, is quite present at the moment. It’s also there in Mark Fisher’s work: Mark Fisher, who set up Repeater Books with Tariq Goddard. It’s there in Marvin Thompson’s essay when he’s talking about Black history, and I end with the line, ‘We might not try to remember, yet we cannot quite forget’.
So yes, the Dylan Thomas quote apart from, you know, every Swansea essay having a Dylan Thomas quote, was a way to try and link the notion of individual identity and the way memory plays out in that, and national identity and the way memory plays out in that. I’m particularly taken with the Jamaican philosopher Charles Mills, who died last year. He talks about the management of memory and an epistemology of ignorance; that even when we’re learning knowledge, what we’re actually learning and being inculcated into is a particular ignorance. He’s talking about that particularly around whiteness. I think that was my experience of Swansea in the ‘70s: an ignorance of Swansea’s links to the Caribbean, to enslavement. That ignorance was widely shared but there were also people who would have had that knowledge who had made selections about what we were going to have access to.
As I say, I think what inevitably happens when you have this sort of ignorance is that there are little things, like a pub sign, that disturb it in such a way that there is this kind of haunting because there’s something there that doesn’t match that. Swansea is this white place that has nothing to do with Black people and yet there’s this pub called the Black Boy that’s been there for as long as anyone can remember, and no one knows why it’s called that. I think when we have this constructed ignorance, there are always going to be moments where that gets disturbed, and it’s what we do with that is quite interesting.
I’m thinking about one particular quote in your piece, where a pub owner of a Black Boy Pub is interviewed, and he says, ‘we’re not going to get rid of this sign, because it’s part of our heritage.’ There’s a kind of invisible question mark: what do we mean when we say ‘our’? It’s that idea of selective history, as you say. In many ways that sense of identity, and the kind of plurality of identity – refusing simple answers – is what this whole collection of essays is doing. It really feels hopeful reading them
Swansea is this white place that has nothing to do with Black people and yet there’s this pub called the Black Boy that’s been there for as long as anyone can remember, and no one knows why it’s called that. I think when we have this constructed ignorance, there are always going to be moments where that gets disturbed, and it’s what we do with that is quite interesting.
because plurality is seen as this kind of liberating force. And I just wonder, in the work that you do, and in the conversations that you have with people, where do you see this liberating work of plurality in practice? What are some things that you’re experiencing and hearing?
Good question – and a tough one! What I find interesting when I’m working with people on curriculum and in education, is that there’s this tension between sameness and difference. We have had from the Westminster Government this strong emphasis on sameness; on the belief that certain values are fundamentally British. The values may be laudable, but the label of them is a form of mythmaking. And we have seen recently with the death of the Queen, for example, the commentary of a ‘nation united’, which isn’t actually a descriptive statement at all. We’re told that we’re a nation united. There’s this drive for assimilation, on sameness, to the extent that those of us with parents born overseas can now potentially have our citizenship revoked. There’s a real narrowing down of what we can be. At the same time, too much emphasis on difference can lead us into too strong an emphasis on the idea of ‘stay in your lane’: the idea that ‘you can’t understand me’ because you have a different social identity to me. And whilst I don’t want to dismiss that completely, in the way that the right would, I do want to say that the reason that we read fiction, the reason that we have dialogue, is because we’re trying to bridge those differences through understanding. I think too absolute an idea that difference is something we can’t in any way deal with breaks down the possibility for literature, for dialogue, and really for democracy, for solidarity, for building mass movements. But I think when some on the left have perhaps historically said, ‘look, stop talking about gender, sexuality and race until after the revolution’, it puts too strong an emphasis on the sameness. Equally, too strong a commitment to the particularities of identity can mean that we’re all in small silos, really not doing political work so much as
just trying to engage with people who share common experiences. And the challenge for us is to keep both of those in mind at the same time. I think that is what is required to build solidarity.
I have one more question. We’re talking now in October, Black History Month, and Black history plays into a lot of your work. Who are some Welsh Black thinkers, writers who are inspiring you at the moment?
Obviously, Charlotte Williams’ work is really important and it’s really good to see Sugar and Slate get a reprint. In that there’s a foreword from Hazel Carby who has been a longstanding figure on the anti-racist movement, but isn’t always so commonly associated with Wales. Catherine Johnson as a children’s author. I think she is superb. Her YA novels I wrote about recently. In the ‘90s, she was writing about being Welsh and Black and I’m hoping that those books might be reissued–they were her early work. E.L. Norry, another children’s author, who’s doing really good work. Gaynor Legall, of course, Kyle Legall as an artist. Swansea had got involved in The World Reimagined with these globes around the city, which was a UK wide thing that Michelle Gayle was involved in setting up. Kyle Legall’s piece was in the Glynn Vivian, and is entitled Copperopolis. It visually does the sort of stuff I’m trying to do in my essay in Welsh (Plural). I would love it if that globe was just relocated somewhere in the city centre - maybe Copper Bay - as a permanent piece. That would be an aspiration.
Beyond that, I’m a big fan of hip hop, and I think that often gets marginalised when we’re thinking about culture and bigger questions. But I think historically, it’s often been a place where Black writers can actually get their work out in a way that they can’t so easily through book publishing. I think that Sage Todz’s stuff is great. I saw him live this year and had a chat with him. And LEMFRECK, whose album is, I think, nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. The first song starts with him saying ‘we are
Welsh culture’, which I thought was a lovely response to Williams’s question of ‘where is it now, the real Welsh culture?’ It’s such a confident statement that it really affected mejust that nonchalance of saying, ‘we are Welsh culture.’ So that would be my answer, I guess.
Brilliant. Thanks. We love some music recs!
Well, Darren, thank you for joining us, and for doing this interview. And thanks again for writing the book. Cheers.
“Darren Chetty, whose essay ‘Whatever Happened to the Black Boy of Killay?’, about a pub near his childhood home (and mine), hit me hard. Written from the perspective of a local with Welsh Indian and South African Dutch ancestry, it examines the removal of the pub sign and the stubbornness of the people who held on to its name, subtly underlining the racism endemic there, then and now.”
- Jude Rodgers, The Guardian
Welsh (Plural) is available to buy from the Repeater website.
Furnace Terrace, for the new year
(for Denise Levertov)
I’m feeling my way towards the fine-grain texture of things and the surprise of colour up close -
how that feels like hope.
I touch slow circling lichens patiently dappling the standing stonesdove grey and silver.
I turn in my hand one mid-winter blossom of gorse a flaring ember, golden in the grey dusk-light.
What are they, our hopes for the new year?
Like the snowdrops we have planted near the wild flag irises, they propagate and persistsoft bulbs clustering in the cinder-grit turned soil of this furnace yard turned garden.
bowl for sharing small joys
(for Yoko Ono)
Put a large bowl on a table.
Draw up a chair, or your wheelchair.
Write down a few small joys from your day on coloured papers, roll them up around a writing tool, and put them in the bowl.
Invite many others to do the same.
And ask them whether they would like to read any of the scrolls, or to pick out a small joy from the bowl, and carry it away.
‘Furnace Terrace’ and ‘bowl for sharing small joys’ by
Photograph by Kerry Collison
Fantasy Fights and Workers’ Rights
Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim. “I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.”
The poetic last words uttered by Aragorn’s mother as she faded away from grief foretold the part her son would go on to play in the war against Sauron. ‘Hope’, or ‘Estel’, was Aragorn’s name in childhood and his story symbolises the triumph of hope over despair. This is of course a key theme throughout the Lord of the Rings (and the new TV adaptation Rings of Power), and can be interpreted through the contrast Tolkien sets up between different types of hope – amdir and estel. Amdir translates literally as ‘looking up’ and means hope with a foundation in what is known, while estel is hope that comes from trust and faith – the unknown. Throughout the story, time and again we see characters placing their trust in a “fool’s hope” which miraculously pays off. The ‘prudent’ course of action, to use Gandalf’s word, would not be to send a hobbit into Mordor with his gardener. But Gandalf is wise enough to know that no one can know beyond doubt what will happen. The difference between amdir and Gandalf’s estel is seen most clearly in the character of Denethor. The knowledge he has gained of the full might of Sauron’s power drives him to madness and despair: when you think you know how things will play out, how can you have hope?
Some people criticise the Lord of the Rings as a simplistic Manichean battle of good against evil, lacking in nuance, but I think this misses the point as different complexities play out in the characters themselves. One of the reasons the story has such strength and staying power is that we see the difficult choices characters make to carry on, to resist, to do what is right. In a war where ‘good’ must fight against overwhelming odds, we see characters battling with but ultimately refusing to give in to despair. This has so much resonance for me as a trade union activist, where it feels like everything is stacked against us – the law, the power and intransigence of employers, the worship of ‘the market’ and the bottom line – and where it feels like we are fighting to prevent the further degradation of our pay and conditions rather than fighting to progress.
This attritional aspect has parallels in ‘the Long Defeat’, a notion permeating much of Tolkien’s work in which victories of good over evil are fleeting and do not halt the decline of the world. In the face of all this, how do you not just give up?
Tolkien draws on faith and duty to answer this question. There is a moral imperative to fight even in circumstances where chances of success are seemingly impossible. You must try, and furthermore, you must have faith that you will make a difference. You may not see the outcome or the role you play in making a change, but it is hubristic (to Tolkien) to take this as an excuse to give up, because we cannot know God’s design. I am not religious like he was, but I feel this philosophy can easily be applied to an atheistic outlook. Instead of believing in an unknowable higher power, I believe in the unknowable. What I have faith in is hope itself, and our ability to try.
On a surface level, amdir is rational while estel is irrational. But there is much our rational world does not or cannot know and to overlook this is its own form of irrationality. It is hard to have hope when our knowledge tells us there is little chance of success. Those of us who want a better world are up against all the might of the powerful who benefit from the status quo. But this doesn’t give us permission to ‘opt out’ of the struggle, it means we must do what we can to create resistance: connect, collectivise and build for good. Maybe not all of us are literally named ‘Hope’, but we can all take strength in estel, the hope that springs from the unknowable.
Come with me to the well, bring whatever you wish; bring it in spirit, bring it in tongue, bring it in hands, bring it in lungs, bring it in wisdom, bring it in faith, bring it together, bring it: gobaith.
THIS GUITAR SILENCES FASCISTS
(For Nûdem Durak)
“Because I sing songs they put me in jail. They can take everything from me but never my tongue or my voice’
- Nûdem Durak
* They outlaw using the letters Q W and X in official documents in Turkey because they are used in Kurdish.
Your Mother told you to ‘Sell my ring and buy a guitar’ Now the space around her finger Echoes with your absence As the night fills with terror And your voice brutally silenced
Deep in Erdogan’s dungeons Freedom’s songs still sing They may smash the guitars But their vibration lives on And the hope that brings
The more they break The more noise we must make As this choir masses And awakes, Begins to resonate around the globe
They punished you for singing in Kurdish, Erased your Quiet Words against the Xenophobes * Called it a crime, subversive A policy of terror through example Any criticism they quickly dismantle
But solidarity must not be shuttered Let our tongues remain unfettered Language no barrier to unity Six strings call to Six billion
A beautiful blasphemy Over the barbed wire Between the tanks Above the mines
A cosmic clarion across solemn skies A borderless breath
That births a song of freedom Echoing what must, what must be told A ring around the world
To replace the one your Mother sold
The moments I’d like to keep
The same sight from my bedroom mirror: An inverted view of the valley stretching out In the corner at the foreground, a house 1990s build, two storeys, raised decking jutting out I see this every morning as the sticky green sap of summer bleeds slowly into pink and crimson leaves
In this moment I think of the nostalgia I am ready to leave behind: A false pretence for the joy of school left draped over my body like heavy chainmail I carry for years, allow it to linger on purpose a sticky full-stop marks me like a bingo-dabber and you wouldn’t admit to what you’d done
Years later I reveal what has happened in a small room overlooking a hill and I find comfort in the familiar view You ask me why I tried to save face whilst simultaneously reliving a humiliation each equinox I couldn’t give you an answer but in telling I knew I had restored something
A quiet power that honours the beauty of thoughtfulness and values the way I notice Hard work does not mean persevering always towards a place of resolution Sometimes it’s best to float away
So now I choose the moments I’d like to keep: The same sight of the river where I’ve walked for years and where we’ve peeled off sweaty socks to dip feet amongst the sediment that slides through our thirteen-year old feet
‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?’
- Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Edited by Anna Bland and Martha O’Brien. Designed by Anja Quinn. All work is copyrighted to the author or artist. © nawr mag 2023
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‘Hope and Glory’ by David Thompson. Model: Seren Healy.