Three Welsh Poets: King, Pugh and Barnie

In this new series, Poetry Editor Carl Griffin, looks at three outstanding poets that are all connected in some way. He begins with three connected by country.


Jemma L King is the youngest of these three Welsh poets, and only has one collection to her name (The Shape of a Forest, published by Parthian). Still, King, a teacher of literature and creative writing at Aberystwyth University, and a founding member of the Centre for Women, Writing and Literary Culture, is an adventurous poet. Here, she time-travels between now and the late 1950s, staying in the same bar in both centuries. In 1959, there was Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The pub is the Stubbing Wharf, which was the setting of the poem ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ by Ted Hughes, published in Birthday Letters. The pub has changed a lot from the grim and smoky place it was then, and you wont get a better representation of that change than King’s ‘Stubbing Wharf’ (no ‘e’):

Stubbing Wharf (no ‘e’)



The hunt was on for his

‘gummy dark bar’,

his street ‘sweating black’

with future forking choices.

An angry, pregnant wife.


I’ll admit to expecting 1959.


I saw her swaddled

in new synthetics, choking

the corner in a swelling sulk, tightly

framing her rum with

homesick paws.


And him, the wounded dog, pouting

at her lack of love

for sooty poetic edges, looking

for the answers

in that Guinness of his.


I employed the extras of

pipe smoking old man

and hound.

Fireside and damp

fluey carpet,

threadbare, overpatterned,

dulled on the heel

of tarred pit boots.


But instead of the frothy

static of this scene,


a sun bleached pub garden

crashed in on me. A swinging

shining sign, and the benign

packed yard of

business lunchers. The ghosting presence

of flying texts and emails,

children bouncing missiles diffusing at will, mums

scrolling downloadable menus.


‘Always the warmest welcome’


the website says.

What it doesn’t say is

that the particles

have been rooted out,


with the thunder roll of decades,

collapsing into

new fads, colours.


As I sat, shoulder to shoulder

with strangers, strong armed

and pinioned by the lock

of wooden benches,


I knew then,


that they were no more here,

than in my own

front room,

or head.


Their minutes

bracketed off,


in print.


Veteran poet Sheenagh Pugh lives in Shetland but is originally from Wales. Her next collection Short Days, Long Shadows, is due to be published in June, by Seren. Pugh used to teach Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, and still visits Cardiff, regularly, where she used to live. She often uses poetry to commemorate people and places, and Cardiff this time is the place. And the person? Well, get to know him for yourself:


Terra Nova

Cardiff Bay: 23rd May 2008


We’d taken him there for his birthday

– his last, as things turned out.

The Bay was new territory


to him (‘getting the bus these days

feels like an expedition’)

but he took to the place,


sipping red wine, chewing steak

slowly and thoughtfully, watching

swans, yachts, the crazy wake


of the ribs zipping to and fro

in the pleasure-lake that once

was a coal port. Sun at the window


ironed out his face. The hazy barrage

pleased him, and the herons,

and the sailors’ church,


though he couldn’t walk as far

as the man of ice,

the white mosaic sculpture


that marks the fool’s errand

of a ship leaving safe harbour

to seek the world’s end.


John Barnie was born and raised in the market town of Abergavenny.  Previously editor of the influential cultural magazine, Planet, he is now a freelance writer. He lives and works in Aberystwyth, although he lived in Denmark for over a decade, mainly during the ’70s. His latest collection is The Roaring Boys, published by Cinnamon Press.  Even religious people can enjoy the humour of ‘APE HOUSE COMPLETE’, a poem which, on the face of it, says there is no God, only us. The beauty and joy in this poem will, to some, imply the opposite. But hey, just consider how you look first thing in the morning then read this:



Orang-utans whose hair is badly henna’d,

whose eyes are the opium dreamer’s eyes

that say if this is dreaming why dream at all


and gorillas, black leather-men hanging out

in a concrete box, who have never used their power

and cannot understand the colour green


and chimpanzees, after all, chimpanzees

are always funny, seen doing comic cuts on film

knuckle-walking into the laughter of the crowd


but in every ape house where I’ve been

H. sapiens is missing, not even a start-up family

whose offspring could be passed to other zoos


‘Daddy, come and see the humans’

and study the eyes as they glance up from a fridge

or close when copulating on a well-sprung bed.