I only knew him for a little over six years but he changed the direction of my life.
After I had some haiku and haibun published in ‘Planet Magazine’ in 2007, Nigel Jenkins invited me to the launch of his haiku writing collection, O for a gun (Planet) that summer in Aberystwyth. I moved back to France in the Spring of 2008 but we kept in touch and he subsequently invited me to edit another country, haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer Press 2011) with him and Ken Jones.
I travelled home from France for the launch of that collection in 2011. I remember walking through Swansea Marina with Nigel and him asking me whether I’d ever thought of writing a ‘Real' Port Talbot. Nigel was the author of Real Swansea I & II and was working on Real Gower, for Seren Books.
‘Oh, I don’t think I could,’ I said.
I didn’t feel as if I had the ability to write prose at length. And the ‘Real’ books were so eclectic too, a collage of historical research, journalism, memoir, sometimes poetry, and photography. And eclectic was exactly what Nigel was: essayist, journalist, creative non-fiction writer, editor, broadcaster, poet, playwright, lecturer.
‘You could,’ he said.
And I decided to believe him. And I did. And he came to the launch of Real Port Talbot at Taibach Rugby Club in November 2013. I didn’t see him again. He died in January 2014 from pancreatic cancer.
I’d written to him after his diagnosis in December:
I am writing from the top of my head because what is in my heart almost weighs too heavily to put down on paper. I want you to stay around for a long time. For Margot and your daughters and close friends. And selfishly for me too. When you like people, and they feel that warmth, it makes a difference to their lives, Nigel. Maybe because they know – I know – that you do not tolerate navel-gazers and clever dicks and pomposity! So we feel saved!
I still miss him. And continually feel grateful for the gift of his words. For his openness and generosity. For the elegiac and the comical, and everything in between.
I open the window —
dogs barking in the nights
the seal’s head and mine
bobbing face to face
on the tide