I was delighted to take part on Sunday 29th March in
Poetry In The Arcades is a project which puts poetry onto the walls in one of the busiest areas in Wales’s capital city – its network of Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades which are a distinctive feature of Cardiff, the ‘City of Arcades‘.
The project commissioned several poets to write poems and later launched a competition to elicit more poems on the theme. The winning poem will be put on display.
I was immediately attracted to the notion of writing about Cardiff and found that the process revealed to me depths of fondness for the place that I hadn’t explored before.
I am from Belfast, another port city that boomed in the period the arcades were being erected. I discovered, long after my father’s death, that he had worked out of the port of Cardiff from 1928 until after the start of World War 2. There were many Irish seamen in Cardiff at the time. He joined the Merchant Navy in Cardiff as a cabin boy on a ship owned by the Cardiff-based Fairwater Shipping Line. This had many ships working the route between Cardiff and the River Plate Ports, including Buenos Aires.
Much of my father’s paperwork is in Spanish. There he was, a ‘camerlengo’, at 16. His crewman’s log book documents the cris-crossing of the Atlantic in ships belonging to various Welsh lines, with Spanish-speaking captains.
I wrote about discovering this information in a poem, ‘An Irish Merchant Seaman’ published in 2018 by The Open Ear Literary Journal
So, the poem I entered for the Arcades competition is partly inspired by my feeling for Cardiff Bay, that once bustling industrial port that linked Cardiff to the world.
I was invited by lead judge of the competition, Mab Jones to record my poem, ‘My Cardiff’ for a short film compiled from entrants and existing ‘Arcade Poets’. This went out as part of Wales Arts Review’s virtual Digithon festival.
The Winner of the Poetry in the Arcades Competition will be announced when things are more settled. In the meantime, it was fun to take part in this virtual poetry reading and to see and hear some of the other poets.
In the film, Mab Jones reads her poem ‘Summer in the City’ and she writes about it here:
Other poems already on display can be read here:
And here is The Open Ear poem about my father:
AN IRISH MERCHANT SEAMAN
In memory of Clifford Graham 1912 – 1971
How little, sometimes, remains of a life.
A battered case carries your initials;
Your Service papers; Military Missal;
Some postcards: Well, Old Ship-mate…; Dearest Cliff…;
Snaps of two ships you served the longest on;
A Happy Birthday, Daddy card from me,
Aged ten. When I reached fourteen you simply
Died one night. Now, from your log-book, my Seán,
Rising sixteen, smiles shyly up and through
Strong Argentinian sun: First Voyage,
Nineteen-twenty-eight, from Cardiff. Your Welsh
Grandson, Cardiff-born, looks like teenage you!
You were no hero. But you were once young
And under-loved. I’d like to right that wrong.