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On Being a Poet in Wales: Taz Rahman

01 Apr 2024 9 minute read
Taz Rahman

The Coarse Impasto

Taz Rahman

The distinguished poet Damian Walford Davies asked me last November how much of my poetry is autobiographical.

As the co-editor of the anthology, “Free Verse – Poems for Richard Price” published last year by Seren Books, he had selected one of my poems in a volume celebrating the 300th birthday of Wales’ greatest philosopher.

In the final stanza of that poem (Amygdala), ‘phrasing a yelp through streets impersonating / the bloated demolition of an illicit underpass’, I knew I had arrived.

Language may contain the sacred and the profane, the pre-conscious terror and the conscious lived; poets dwelling on the past require the necessary distance for the word on page to find the reader without constructing a haunting personal reminder.

The consummation of memory with the physical details of storytelling need not represent the exact detail. Toying with linearity, allowing one aspect to be more visible than the other like looking at one magnified section of a painting, obfuscating the others, is how poetry functions.

…years caught in sniffles I should put away for / good – acts in an over-stretched play, what / to write in, what to cross out, retire as ivy / gossip in ringlets…’ (East of the Sun, West of the Moon’)

My poetry is abstract, mired in historical and literary references, and intentionally playful.

The rail may become a moorhen, the gull a tern: neither cares the least for an exact distinction in a human constructed language.

I’ve concluded that examining the nature of truth in language might be the vocation of the philosopher, but repurposing it to fit the narrative suits only the poet.

The Wandering Aria

My first poetry collection ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ was published in February this year by Seren Books.

The flora and the fauna, spaces and stories clinging to the rivers Taff and Ely unconsciously formed the spine of the collection.

Thirty years in the city, the very early spent on tops of the twin peaks of Penylan Hill, the vast majority at sea-level Cathays, and most recently, flotsam in the Wetlands Reserve, I hadn’t intended the ‘centered on the city of Cardiff, these poems use their freely mouthed musicality and fluent sensory associations to locate life in Wales within ever-widening circles of world’, as the writer Jeremy Noel-Tod summarised my book.

Photo by Robert Balog via Pixabay

The day I had left the Cathays house without my glasses, never intending to cross the Taff, there was a kingfisher on the other bank.

In high summer the Taff can be crossed at one stretch along Bute Park – pray don’t rush out to search for this spot!

Here, the stream lacerates a cherubic bugle hitting the high boulders and then muzzles itself into a quiet hum smothering pebbles on its journey south having lost what little might it possessed before Llandaff. Poetry began here.

I often imagine the Taff as another river and the kingfisher as another species: a bee-eater nurdling the banks of Indus, the slender body elongating the central tail feathers to become another poem.

Before sunset, the grey heron of the castle’s northern moat hemming the back of the Royal Welsh College’s recital rooms follows me to Leckwith where the Ely becomes a languorous cat lying piano-black to favour moonless nights.

The dragonflies and damselflies hovering above the stagnant duckweed in dead segments of the Ely in August I paint in my Christmas cards each year, never getting the blue and the green quite right, is the scene that made me a poet.

Image by 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day from Pixabay

La Passeggiata

I am haunted by trimmed hedges. I rarely step beyond the five mile radius of my south-west walk. When veteran Cardiff poet Robert Walton pointed out Rhymney as the city’s third river, I was speechless.

I can only visualise the distant Merthyr waun of Red Poet Mike Jenkins’s dialect poems as a displaced black grouse.

When another Cardiff poet Topher Mills introduced me to ‘possible’ criticisms of T S Eliot, shocked, I discovered that the conscious is also the subconscious, the clogged heart is a clasped palm thick with prayers of fattened robins repeating themselves.

Innovation is not fabrication. Referencing is the synthesis of the imagined world, and pathos may neighbour bathos.

I am at ease engineering eight thousand year old Anatolian turtles in a made-up prayer next to E M Forster’s heroine by a Bangladeshi river, ‘…Buriganga soars, Helen Schlegel hopelessly wanders the outskirts / for an untamed night, the last rain falls on the Hittite, Çatalhöyük / collapses into honeycomb caves without doors to keep out love / curling at the edge of lips at the first temple on earth…’ (Strange Fruit)

A major UK poetry festival where I am reading soon has billed me as the globetrotting new poet taking the world by storm.

Since sixteen, I have only really travelled in my mind, never once feeling like a trapped blackbird butting the Severn or the English Channel, fluttering, darting and then gobbling Welsh cakes again and again.

A Lapidary for Moaning Doves

The deliberate element to facilitate my poetry collection was the creation of a language. A language that may necessarily abstract, allude to the universal for the longing, grief and contentment that are essentially autobiographical, to sit quietly: breathe.

From crafting my first poem in 2019 to Wales’ leading publisher Seren Books offering a publishing contract for a full collection within three years, it sounds too easy.

Here is my confession: I spent years not knowing how to write what I wanted to write.

Thudding a steel sink like a dripping tap, at times infuriated by my incredulity at not being the finished version, I discovered a cheat-sheet – intense reading.

A second cheat-sheet allowed me an unique access to learn about the writing processes of major poets and writers in Wales and beyond, ‘Just Another Poet’ the Youtube poetry channel I had founded at the start of my writing journey to widen access to published poets.

Literature Wales’ inaugural 2021 writer development scheme ‘Representing Wales’ and the resulting mentorship with the poet who has come to be the most influential person in English language poetry publishing in Wales, Zoë Brigley, was fundamental to my most important realisation: vulnerabilities are assets.

Private Tongues

I am naturally reticent. This can be a grave obstacle for an aspiring artist in whatever form.

However, verbal reticence is not emotional reticence. My mentor introduced me to a world of reading widely, and with great sensitivity, instilled the realisation that the sanctity of a private world could become the wider world if only I could devise the means of a language to say what I felt comfortable in saying.

When this process came to fruition, I wasn’t seeing obstacles on the road, but the crushed stones under the veneer of a mixture of aggregates, binder and filler for me to stir in as my own asphalt on each highway I wanted to construct.

Vermilion Immortelles

Poetry is an augury of assumptions. Speculation is in the minutiae. Most contemporary verse bears witness to an act or observation becoming a vessel to contain language.

In no other form of writing is language twisted and examined as it is in poetry.

I dabble in other forms too, but I am also content to be referred to as an innovative poet, and in ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, my wider world is a jazz hymned riff with Cardiff, the capital of an ancient nation placed as its centrally inclusive sanctuary.


‘Bread of Heaven’

The 64 km long river Taff enters Cardiff at Taff’s Well flowing south into Cardiff Bay.

Snowdrops writhing / late daffodils peeking before / time a fervent pink / peeving through lime-pine-oak-ash-hornbeam /

a March trying / to convince this land / is past wyverns / that some version of / pink is washed / off blood /

I am a sun-burnt / slap mottling Taff / which monster / threw me in when / in time present and time past /

a serpent mane / meanders as steam / climbs up a castle keep / red-white-green nurdling aloft / valley-lake-brae /

spring melanges as green / white is a layer of / terns swallowing a sea / the end of a / beginning /

morning dew / lifting / chapel hush / chittering gossip / tween the crow and tigerworm / men-women-undefined / a rush / a glance / a dance /

driftwood stacked / off / February flood / lock in feet / plead / plot / connive every trick to / make ankles stick /

at noon I am still / a shadow / rat-tat-tat / silhouettes darken to / keep me contained / what came / before what / to submerge every ridge-fossil-hollow /

boulders cwtch / compelled to justify presence / cough / let the water / percolate cracks /

I let the sound stutter / let gurgles purify each bank / wobble each bridge /

does the quarry these / stones came from miss / the parts hacked /

is there a requiescat trembling / the grieving sitar / mourning this loss in / mass /

the sun dips past two / stones have / as much business / with the river / as I /

neither may / claim / utility /

we mullion a sturdy back / to stand / an inch higher / quench a thirst / something to give back / a debt to repay /

where home / is / in the shower / I sequester dirt /

debtors hide / in the rings under my chin /

bubbles forage the / naval in search of a / songbird / lather a mist arching / my brow /

the let gone line to lick / the mends of / a hernia /

evening / falls / on the afternoon /

a procession retreats to / each corners of / the river like the cleanest laundered / sheets / pens sheathed / keyboards wiped clean of writs / perruques drizzled in / ale-prosecco-vino /

I chew / my own skin / tear up / the daily bread in / all its wheaten spelt / sometimes stale / flatten the pieces for / beaks to grasp / I keep the olives / to salinate my own cuts /

one day I / shall conjure / a typhoon / I shall colour in / a passant / red / gather all the plastic / from storms gone / clattering the banks /

I shall stop / asking / where each carrier / came from /

what the river has / smeared them in / why a pigeon hatched in / the backyard asks me / to reveal / my palm each dawn /

paint lips in saliva / slaughter all memory / flow / feed / be fed /

Note about the poem ‘Bread of Heaven’

‘Bread of Heaven’ was originally published in the Infinity Books’ International Dylan Thomas Day 2022 poetry competition anthology and is one of the poems in Taz Rahman’s first poetry collection East of the Sun, West of the Moon, published by Seren Books in 2024.

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