So many in Welsh lit over yrs have cited Nigel Jenkins as someone who had inspired, helped, been kind to them. That, friends, is success: these wise words from Kathryn Gray plopped into the muddy swirl of my Twitter timeline earlier today. I nodded in silent agreement, though the thought did flit across my mind that it seemed a faintly random sentiment for a wet, workaday Tuesday. The sucker punch truth that it was a 140-character obituary only dawned a few tweets later.
At 64, Nigel was too young to go. The fire still roared within; it burst out in his poetry, prose, politics, lecturing, psychogeography and music; it combusted all around him and brought light and merriment; it scorched even through the hallowed chambers of the Encyclopaedia of Wales, a project that ate seven years of his life as one of its editors, and which he wearily nicknamed ‘Psycho’. His inability to stand the sickly cant of sanctioned public discourse brought untold admiration from many of us, but brickbats galore too, none more piously hurled than when his furious eulogy to ‘Viscount No’, George Thomas (“The Lord of Lickspit / The grovelsome brown-snout and smiley shyster”) landed him on the front of The Guardian and booed on the letters page of the Western Mail for months on end. As ever, he was proved entirely right on that one.
|How green was my bile…and how true|
The last time I saw Nigel was at a hugely convivial event in Aberystwyth rugby club to mark Planet magazine’s fortieth birthday. There was music, poetry, prose and speeches from a glittering cast that included Ned Thomas, Jan Morris, John Barnie, Gai Toms, Jasmine Donahaye, Damian Walford Davies and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. As compere of the evening, I’d come up with the idea of ascribing a different planet to each performer, a conceit that became distinctly strained on occasion (Jan Morris, suffering an injured foot, hobbled up to the stage after my introducing her as Mercury, fixed me with a baleful eye and murmured “well, I certainly don’t feel very Mercurial right now”).
While some were highly tenuous fits, there was no question which planet to give to Nigel: Mars, the red planet, named after the Roman god of war, the near neighbour that’s fascinated us for generations, famous for its eruptions, its volcanoes and its elliptical orbit. I cringe to recall this now, but my last words before bringing Nigel to the microphone were “so, is there life on Mars? There certainly is!”
And now there isn’t. The sky is a far darker place without him.
[Here is Nigel filmed reading one of his loveliest poems, Snowdrops, written about and for this time of year: http://www.nigeljenkins.com/aa_film/film008.htm]