A few years ago, I went to interview David Walters, from Bargoed, who was involved in the first attack on the dam site at Tryweryn in the 1960s. I was fascinated by the involvement of this man – a non-Welsh speaker from South Wales – who took it into his head that something had to be done for the people whose community was being stolen. I had romantic notions of those who resisted the building of the dam – explosives, gun-running, a force for Welsh freedom. David Walters’s actual actions, though, were much simpler, and in many ways far more interesting. One dark night, he stood next to the fence at the dam site in Tryweryn, so his friend could climb on his shoulders, get over it, drain oil from the transformer, delay the construction process, and cause fantastic and wide-reaching publicity for the resistance.
As acts of rebellion go, this strikes me as singularly and spectacularly Welsh. Growing up in South Wales, in an era of Kinnock and the Miners’ Strike, it often seemed like dissent was something that was sprinkled on the corn flakes or told as part of bedtime stories. I often think that No is our stock answer to anything in South Wales. You’re coming here on your horse, with your English accent, and you plan to take our coal, our water, our right to vote? No. You kind of like us and you want to give us this tasty slice of
cake? No. No. Hell, no.
There’s a reason why the V-flicking Robin Friday is a Welsh icon and a reason why Richey Edwards is one of this area’s most important voices. ‘If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down’ run the lyrics to that late twentieth-century hymn, Faster. And the line says so much. Saying No is never easy, however much it might be natural to where we’re from. It goes against our herd instincts, the manners our parents taught us, our tendency to be polite, accommodating and kind to the human beings in front of us – whatever their agenda might turn out to be. Saying No can do something to your body and mind and, since it’s a braver syllable than most people will say, can lead to lonely and difficult paths. Those who do the most wrong and are the most worth saying No to tend to be part of enormous systems and crushing, smug hierarchies aimed at their own preservation. But sometimes you have to say it, whatever the cost.
Such Nos can lead of course, to fantastic poetry. But – and thank God for this – poetry can also allow us, because of its beauty, to say a massive Yes. The opportunity to do so makes being an editor a privilege and a joy. In this issue, I say Yes to the extraordinary, powerful surrealism of Tishani Doshi’s ‘In a Dream I Give Birth to a Sumo Wrestler.’ Yes to Joanna Ingham’s celebration of familial love and to Gareth Writer-Davies’s celebration of a moose. Yes to David Clarke’s brilliant analysis of museums, the ability of stuff to store nothing less than the tragedy of our mortality. Yes yes yes to more pages for this thing you’re holding now, this cack-handed shot at the gorgeous, so I can say Yes to more of the amazing work that appears for each issue.
By way of an ending, I’d like to borrow the actions of David Walters, who has already given us so much, whose act in the 1960s has grown year by year, until it towers now, resonates far more loudly than he could ever have imagined. Here at Poetry Wales, we’re doing what we can. We know a thing or two of what it is to stand on the wrong side of a fence, looking in. The night out here is dark as all hell, to be honest, and the weather is godawful. But friends, we’re standing right here and we’re offering you our shoulders.
We’re saying – hell, we’re shouting – Allez-oop!