The H’mm Foundation
Encounters with Nigel is a collection of encounters with the poet Nigel Jenkins, who was born in July 1949 and lived until this January 2014. A poet whose foundation as a wordsmith and lover of the land was built on the one small but powerful phrase ‘know your place’ from his poem ‘Advice to a Young Poet’. The poem is emphatic, confrontational and challenging to any person who deems themselves worthy of poetry making.
Know your place. What legends and myths
have their shaping here?
What stories, novels and histories?
And who have been denied a voice?
And how, in this place, worker of the word,
might you make yourself useful?
Encounters with Nigel collates people’s memories of Nigel Jenkins in a non-chronological structure. Some encounters are just written glimpses of the poet while others range from diary entries, to the poet made fictional in a novel. There are poetic encounters and critical essays that honour the poet’s own work, and commemorative poems from colleagues, and in a poignant dialogue between Nigel Jenkins’ daughters, there is a real sense of a man who, although a loving father, was also someone who guarded his solitary world.
All encounters carry the image not only of the poet but also the image of the person remembering him, and so the question must be asked: does the structure of these encounters give the reader a sense of Nigel Jenkins, who was not only a poet but a psycho-geographer of his own land and others; a journalist and writer of creative non-fiction as well as the director of Creative Writing in Swansea University?
The H’mm Foundation has previously published Encounters with R.S Thomas and Encounters with Dylan Thomas and, as stated in the foreword of Encounters with Nigel Jenkins, the aim is to promote and celebrate the poet’s name and work.
Reading this book is like entering a party inside a large room and mingling with people you have never met before, and yet they all talk of one person. It is intimate, sad, matter-of-fact and loving, critical at times and discordant. It is a prelude to the poet’s work and it is a clear-eyed testimonial to his blistering, politically charged and completely human life.
Nigel Jenkins was a political poet and he was committed to the landscape as well as to humanity. His contempt for the diseased remnants of colonial thinking whether in Wales or in Khasia in North East India, reached a furious and impolite brilliance in his poem ‘An Execrably Tasteless Farewell to Viscount No’.
Encounters with Nigel is not a biography and there lies the feeling of discordancy, although this is not a fault, it is just how the book serves the memory of the man. Each encounter picks up from the preceding one then veers into its own remembrances. Conversation transcripts, images of college offices and corridors, students walking along fields ancient with memory; stories of the poet’s own faults and his strength facing the fact that poetry might have deserted him. Then there is his kaleidoscopic travel writing and his psycho-geographic books, such as Real Swansea and Real Swansea Two, regarded as great paeans to a city, its roots and its reality.
According to one encounter, Nigel Jenkins’ ‘Castration’ poem pre-figured the poet’s gifted economy with haiku and its progeny, the haibun (a fusion of prose and haiku).
They sat him upright,
like a man for barbering, and I felt
in the warmth of his purse
for the tubes…..
With all that sky-wide bawling –
sound his throat
was never made for –
some nerve in me was severed.
There were words about
that weren’t to be trusted.
Perhaps the reader must already be in a psychically receptive place when reading the poem to visualise it: the bull sitting as a man, the man reaching into the ‘warmth of his purse’ and hearing the ‘sky-wide bawling’. ‘Castration’ is a poem made from the visceral grief at the sight of an animal rendered sexually dumb by human hands. It has a fragile brutality to its words… words that are used simply but used with a poet’s vision.
Edited by Jon Gower, Encounters with Nigel uses the structure of memory, story and poetic art and shows the poet’s life reflected in the lives of those he mingled with. It celebrates a poet, a teacher and a single-minded explorer of truth. A poet worthy of Wales and the world he loved.