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withkindpermissionofRhonddaCynonTafLLibraryArchives

A gap now

….

The bridge has been taken away

I told you about the old bridge

that was there before

the bridge that was there before

where

the tin shed cinema stood

keeping its darkness

inside…in.

Memory

of…

running from the film …show

running from the… dark

across the …bridge

into the intense colour of the park

I was always running then

I was three.

Doctors were paid,

to write “heart failure”,

or heart stopped,

on the death certificate

of miners –

silicosis or pneumoconiosis,

“miners lung,”

inhaled coal dust in plain words

were not words

in the doctors vocabulary.

Apparently.

But the doctors were paid

by the mining companies,

so the widows’,

the children,

were not compensated

for the loss of a man’s wage,

for living their lives in poverty.

The gap is there.

I am interested

in the space,

the gap

between

and what is unsaid.

I am always running.

But never away.

©robcullen01012021

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withkindpermissionofRhonddaCynonTafLibraryArchives

In February 2019 two days and nights of heavy rain brought a flood that swept through Pontypridd’s celebrated War Memorial Park. Swept away a storage container that builders were using and damaged the Park bridge. That bridge is not the bridge in the foto’s above…that bridge is the bridge I ran out of the tin shed Cinema and crossed into the Park to disappear and keep on running. From what I do not know.

It’s funny because for most of my adult life I think of myself as running towards the fire like a fireman, or a policeman. I spent so much of my working life working with the most dangerous, the most damaged, the most…I ran towards…what?…Or was I running away from running away?

In the valley — South Wales is a land of valleys — there are always rivers, flood rivers, and when I was a child the rivers ran black. Black from the coal washed in the mines into the rivers. Black as the coal dust in the miners lungs. The rivers run clean today. Everybody says that-followed by remembrances of when the river was black. Except the river is not running clean. It’s filled with plastic thrown in, somewhere up stream, that’s swept down river every time it floods and the plastic and everything else that’s been thrown in litters the river beaches, and hangs from the beautiful trees that line the rivers banks.

The river is the living embodiment of the hypocrisy of the generations who love David Attenborough, Greta Schonberg and all the other people trying to save the planet. But the river cries out in the way that only a river can —

FILTH F ILTH FILTH FILTH FILTH…I am defiled.

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foto©robcullen01012021
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foto©robcullen01012021

WRITTEN BY

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

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foto©robcullen16012016. The bandstand a place for teenage tryst, ghosts haunt the place now.

Here There Everywhere Gone

Rob CullenJan 17 · 4 min read

In this place there are empty shapes.

Spaces, moving. Here, there, everywhere.

Spaces moving among us, about us.

The shape of the missing,

we no longer hear, or see.

People we once knew, touched,

talked with, laughed with, cried to,

they were features of this place, this town,

they are missing now. Do we miss them?

Do we have a sense of the empty space they once filled?

Once, not so long ago, a month or so,

when I was engaged on my daily walk,

I would meet older people, some very old,

Late 80s, early nineties, uncomplaining,

walking chipper, a smile, a wave.

Once I found a friend on the new river bridge,

he began reminiscing, memories of the river,

of the sandbanks below the old bridge,

when GI’s threw coins onto the river bank,

they were leaving for D day — here, there, gone.

Coins they would never need again, useless.

He and his friends crossed the river,

on the stepping stones marking the old ford,

the stepping stones are gone, destroyed

by a flood prevention scheme — history gone.

Missing, like those GI’s, missing like my friends.

He mused, my friends are missing too.

A woman in her nineties, the oldest.

Fit as a fiddle, mind as bright as a pin,

sharp as a needle, and no side on her.

One day she talked about some clubs.

Places she went to with friends during the war.

Tin shed clubs, what would be called shabeens,

few of them standing today, she talked of the dancing,

her eyes sparkled, she was always laughing.

She walked her neighbour’s dog to the park.

It was something to do through winter,

something to keep her mind occupied.

The last time I saw her, she was running

through moving traffic, dragging the dog.

She disappeared then, no sight of her since.

One day I asked, is this like a game being played?

Like hide and seek, or blind man’s bluff?

Shall we look for them in the garden?

Out in the shed, or the garage, or in the attic?

Under the carpets, under the trendy oak floors?

Behind the doors? — they must be somewhere.

We will look for where they are hiding. Hidden

away from us, gone away from us, gone.

This is a place,

Where time becomes a word — why?

This is a place, where breath takes the form of a question.

How did this happen?

This is a place, where a last breath marks a person

passing.

Gone.

Where? There? Everywhere? Missing?

Gone?

©robcullen08012021

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unable to credit foto of the open market Pontypridd.
Image for post
unable to credit foto of the open market Pontypridd.

Pontypridd Town is a meeting place — it is also the place which all the characters in the poem are elderly residents, the place they grew up in, had fun, worked raised families and lived long lives.

The town is a meeting place, a meeting of three rivers and valleys where a large indoor market and open market have been established. The town is a bustling, busy, thriving, place of skullduggery and sharp deals; once a boom town, now a town that has seen hard times and looks a little down at heel. It could do with a little luck — my cheery elderly friends have seen it all — the ups and downs, a depression, a war — and came through it all with a cheerfulness that brings a smile when I think of them.

Image for post
with thanks to Rhondda Cynon Taf library archives.

Pontypridd is a place of Easter and Summer Fairs — Danter’s Fairs that plied all the valley towns. Fairs that are the remnants of the old festivals to mark the solstice and the Christian calendar — the older context lost in the newer religious puritan revival’s disdain for such activities and as a result we have lost so much. Loss again…

My friends talked a lot about Danter’s fairs, a meeting place for the young. The Fair still comes to Pontypridd, rides that reflect the horror liked by this generation bread and buttered on online gothic terror. It’s a young persons pleasure. But it always was.

Covid has heightened not just the deaths of the elderly, but the loss of knowledge and memories of their lives and experiences. Memories that are unrecorded. We are unable to hand them on.

Missing

Here. There. Everywhere. Gone.

©robcullen10012021

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foto©robcullen30012021.

NOT HERE ANYMORE NO MORE.

Rob CullenFeb 4 · 2 min read

Telephone call came at five,

To tell her he’d died

At four thirty,

Died in his sleep peacefully.

She listened in the darkness,

It was morning,

But it lightness wouldn’t come,

For four more hours.

She made a cup of tea,

Sat in the quiet of the kitchen,

Everything was quiet now,

So she made lists of who to call.

It was two hours before she would call

The three children,

Let them sleep in the quietness,

Let them lie like she used to.

She stopped herself from saying

“when he was alive”

Now she’d have to get used

To thinking of him — dead, not here.

Not here, lifeless, not here

Anymore, no more,

But he lived, he had a life,

I am his wife I am here.

He did good things, but he is not here.

No more, any more. No more.

Not here anymore, no more.

It will be light, it will be morning.

Written for my sister Maeve who is here.

Maeve who is always here.

When the Cadman’s arrived in Northern Ireland in the early 1960’s, the Roman Catholic population did not have political representation. They had the vote but the choice on offer to them was Protestant Unionist parties. The UK Labour Party was not allowed to set up its stall in Northern Ireland and Unionism was all powerful in the six counties. Roman Catholics were exposed to a hate environment extolled by Unionists. Housing conditions were poor, unemployment rife as was poor health.

Keith and his friend John Hume set up the SDLP along with other quiet men and women. They saw that political representation would lead to full emancipation for the Catholic population — Keith Cadman was one of those quiet men who worked behind the scenes, but whose quiet work in the end moved mountains. It should be remembered.

Without the SDLP and John Hume the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement wouldn’t have taken place.

We have a reason to be proud of quiet men.

We have a reason to be proud of the women who stood at their backs through it all.

©robcullen30012021.

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Lockdown Reflections on Grey

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foto©robcullen16012021.

Lockdown Reflections on Grey

Waves of lines, white tides, rollers moving,

breaking on another shore, in another time,

waves rolling in silence, slow as mercury

silver shimmering, there is no sun in this sky

It is a panorama without feature, or horizon,

I can fix my gaze outward — it is fixed anyway,

Sunlight moves across the unmoving vista,

Unchangeable, while slow grey traffic passes.

The windows of people’s houses have the blinds drawn,

Now and then, I used to see someone look out from their window,

They never looked at me, they never waved, or made any sign,

I stopped seeing people, one day there was no one to see.

I used to see people walk past, old couples mostly,

They became fewer, sometimes ones, rarely twos,

The people walked very slowly. Walking so slowly,

It was like watching someone move in slow motion.

There are no people walking past – it becomes dark,

and the houses opposite don’t show their lights,

The supermarket truck used to deliver every week,

I’d see the same men, they’d ask how I am.

The deliveries changed to just once a fortnoight,

the drivers just leave the boxes outside the door.

A woman used to come out of her house and stand,

Waiting for the bus to go into town, she stopped

Standing at the bus stop. The bus stopped coming one day.

Something felt wrong, it was because the bus never came.

There were always ambulance sirens, blaring night and day,

Blue lights flashing, when they pass the house, they are gone.

I take no notice now. It is constant. They will stop one day.

Outside this house to take me and I will be gone too.

Where are the people who believed in miracles? Why are they quiet?

People in the concentration camps asked — Where is god?

They announced there are vaccinations coming for everyone,

They made it sound as if our scientists had performed a miracle,

they sounded like they believed a miracle had happened,

could a vacine be found for depression and mental health?

©robcullen16012021.

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WRITTEN BY

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Bridging

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foto©robcullen13012021

“Our lives are but specks of sand — better to use the time we have usefully.”

In this time of fractures

Of the emergence

Of old hatreds

The telling of lies

When politicians, our leaders

Seem unable to refrain

From encouraging fear

We need to build bridges not walls.

Bridges aren’t just about getting somewhere

In this age of having to get somewhere

Bridges are about connections

About joining one side to another

To join the divides and separations

Bridges span different views

Bridges connect generations

We need to build bridges not walls.

Bridges make things come together

Make old and new things one

Bridges make life possible

Bridges span and connect

Bridges aren’t about divisions

Bridges join and mend

We need to build bridges not walls.

Bridging the gulf between us

Help us to speak to one another

Allow us to bring things in

Allow us to take things out

Allow us to meet and share

Allow us to see things anew

Bridges join and renew

We need to build bridges not walls.

To span divides, connect, renew

Bridges are life givers

So not let divides

Part us from life

Or keep us away from one another

Bridges give meaning not walls

So let’s build bridges together

We need to build bridges together not walls

We need to build bridges together not walls

We need to build bridges not walls.

….

©robcullen13012021

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foto©robcullen13012021

“Our lives are but specks of sand – better to use the time we have usefully- build bridges not walls.”

WRITTEN BY

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

In a time of contagion

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foto©robcullen012016

You cannot call my name.

We will remember for all time the summer of this year

when last Spring, woodlands and forests had a quietness

almost an expectation

as if the trees knew and were waiting.

I would not describe it as tenseness,

the quiet wasn’t peaceful either.

It was what I would describe as resignation

if I were to attach it to a humans form.

After the heavy rains of winter,

people described them as exceptional,

rains the like of which no one could remember.

No one had seen such rain who was still living.

Out on the openness of the mountains plateau.

It was different.

On the hill above the village,

water took the shape of fear.

Carried on the edge of the wind,

its swiftness gave no cause for concern,

gave no cause for the alarm to be raised,

or bells to be rung on the church belfries and spires.

The smell of death spread thinner than wisps

of smoke, through hard weather whitened grassland,

barely visible,

beyond the horizon, its source unseen, at first,

but what did that matter in any case,

it was what it did when it arrived,

for all to see,

that was what mattered.

Death came anyway.

It used a cipher to hide behind, another’s form,

another’s name, to confuse, to distract.

Tell me your name. It is useless to ask.

I have no name

I am nameless

I am as old as time.

©robcullen31122020

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“The hill of sorrow.” foto©robcullen31122020

Death comes easily. It is always there — always near, always close by waiting. In March 2020, I suffered heart failure and came close to death. I didn’t survive because of luck — although I was lucky. I lived because of the professionalism of medical staff in our local hospital’s Accident & Emergency Unit. I was discharged five days later after two operations and a defibrillator pacemaker. That wasn’t luck. I know that if I lived in another country without a National Health Service I would be dead — death would have had its way.

I listen to the news casts each day, hear the latest covid stats — the number of new cases and the number of dead. Occasionally I see photos of crowds of people celebrating, ignoring the risks and the consequences, and the following week the spike in the stats that follows as sure as night follows day. I muse on whether people place so little value on their lives that they are willing to place themselves at such great risk. It suggests to me a mass Russian roulette.

I avoid crowds or social events in which there will be a large gathering. I am an artist, writer, poet who enjoys my own company and isolation doesn’t weigh heavily on me. More importantly it gives me time. Time to write, time to read, time to play with pen and wash. And there is so much to see, feel, smell and breathe in. Every walk offers a richness of opportunity. I do not live in a town or a city but on the outskirts of a town in wooded countryside. On the last day of the year 2021 I think I am lucky.

©robcullen31122020

WRITTEN BY

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Resistance Poetry

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

The Trick has been played, Coyote moves on

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credit: Norse research project.weekly.com

Puca watched his brother Coyote

Fall from the tail of White Headed Eagle again

Fall far from the sun and Immortality un-gained.

Another of Coyote’s tricks unhinged, another fall.

Puca knew Coyote would take on another shape

Always with the same voice, wise people would not listen to.

But the poor and wretched needing hope might.

Puca watched Coyote transform into another form.

As sure as night followed day, a trick would be played,

So that Coyote would reach the Sun and Immortality.

Puca smiled it is the endless game the Trickster plays,

Puca feels restless, there’s always another game to be played.

©robcullen11012021.

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credit: An Puca

Puca are important mythological figures in the Celtic world. The Puca is a shape shifter. Puca are capable of good; but also capable, in their sinister form, of terrible life changing harm. Jung took a great interest in Celtic Mythologies particularly with stories about figures like the Púca in Irish folk tales. Púca is the Archetypal “Trickster”.

….

On rare occasions, the Púca was said to have the power of human speech. They used human words when they needed to lead a human away from harm. This is why humans were so afraid of Púcas: they could bring terrible misfortune, or they could save your life.When you met them, you weren’t ever sure which twist of fate to be ready for.

Coyote, Loki and Puca are all Tricksters.

And so the late President, Trickster in Chief — “All hail the Chief” — has attempted to emulate Coyote and reach the Sun and immortality and has failed. Trump has fallen as he must do! And like Coyote he must try again!

©robcullen11012021.

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credit: Dr. Catherine Svehla

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

Following

204

2

204 claps

2 responses

WRITTEN BY

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Resistance Poetry

Resistance Poetry

Following

Verse as Commentary

Here There Everywhere Gone

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foto©robcullen16012016. The bandstand a place for teenage tryst, ghosts haunt the place now.

Here There Everywhere Gone

In this place there are empty shapes.

Spaces, moving. Here, there, everywhere.

Spaces moving among us, about us.

The shape of the missing,

we no longer hear, or see.

People we once knew, touched,

talked with, laughed with, cried to,

they were features of this place, this town,

they are missing now. Do we miss them?

Do we have a sense of the empty space they once filled?

Once, not so long ago, a month or so,

when I was engaged on my daily walk,

I would meet older people, some very old,

Late 80s, early nineties, uncomplaining,

walking chipper, a smile, a wave.

Once I found a friend on the new river bridge,

he began reminiscing, memories of the river,

of the sandbanks below the old bridge,

when GI’s threw coins onto the river bank,

they were leaving for D day — here, there, gone.

Coins they would never need again, useless.

He and his friends crossed the river,

on the stepping stones marking the old ford,

the stepping stones are gone, destroyed

by a flood prevention scheme — history gone.

Missing, like those GI’s, missing like my friends.

He mused, my friends are missing too.

A woman in her nineties, the oldest.

Fit as a fiddle, mind as bright as a pin,

sharp as a needle, and no side on her.

One day she talked about some clubs.

Places she went to with friends during the war.

Tin shed clubs, what would be called shabeens,

few of them standing today, she talked of the dancing,

her eyes sparkled, she was always laughing.

She walked her neighbour’s dog to the park.

It was something to do through winter,

something to keep her mind occupied.

The last time I saw her, she was running

through moving traffic, dragging the dog.

She disappeared then, no sight of her since.

One day I asked, is this like a game being played?

Like hide and seek, or blind man’s bluff?

Shall we look for them in the garden?

Out in the shed, or the garage, or in the attic?

Under the carpets, under the trendy oak floors?

Behind the doors? — they must be somewhere.

We will look for where they are hiding. Hidden

away from us, gone away from us, gone.

This is a place,

Where time becomes a word — why?

This is a place, where breath takes the form of a question.

How did this happen?

This is a place, where a last breath marks a person

passing.

Gone.

Where? There? Everywhere? Missing?

Gone?

©robcullen08012021

Image for post
unable to credit foto of the open market Pontypridd.
Image for post
unable to credit foto of the open market Pontypridd.

Pontypridd Town is a meeting place — it is also the place which all the characters in the poem are elderly residents, the place they grew up in, had fun, worked raised families and lived long lives.

The town is a meeting place, a meeting of three rivers and valleys where a large indoor market and open market have been established. The town is a bustling, busy, thriving, place of skullduggery and sharp deals; once a boom town, now a town that has seen hard times and looks a little down at heel. It could do with a little luck — my cheery elderly friends have seen it all — the ups and downs, a depression, a war — and came through it all with a cheerfulness that brings a smile when I think of them.

Image for post
with thanks to Rhondda Cynon Taf library archives.

Pontypridd is a place of Easter and Summer Fairs — Danter’s Fairs that plied all the valley towns. Fairs that are the remnants of the old festivals to mark the solstice and the Christian calendar — the older context lost in the newer religious puritan revival’s disdain for such activities and as a result we have lost so much. Loss again…

My friends talked a lot about Danter’s fairs, a meeting place for the young. The Fair still comes to Pontypridd, rides that reflect the horror liked by this generation bread and buttered on online gothic terror. It’s a young persons pleasure. But it always was.

Covid has heightened not just the deaths of the elderly, but the loss of knowledge and memories of their lives and experiences. Memories that are unrecorded. We are unable to hand them on.

Missing

Here. There. Everywhere. Gone.

©robcullen10012021

Uncertain times

Rob CullenMar 9

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foto©robcullen1970

1.

Uncertain times.

I see only forgotten men
Living in places
With once famous names
I hear only words,
Of tales and deeds,
Of days of women and men,
Long since forgtten
Long since dead.

And in these times of uncertainty,
People live surrounded
By purposeless decline.
A landscape of waste,
And those twisted lines,
Of once white shone steel,
Polished by the unce\asing grind
Of the turning wheel,
That now lie hidden by elder.
And gathering the dirt brown stain
Of rust and disuse,
Map out the death struggle
Of this dark place,
And in this uncertainty people live.
Writhing in its decay
Its history ensnares
The withering and hopeless present.
But its people refuse to cry out.
Anger has been replaced,
By that silence of regret,
That pitiless lament,
Of resignation and acceptance.
Some say it is our age,
As if we were born in other times
And others days,
Or as if this turmoil,
And unceasing uncertainty,
Was of our own making.

It has taken one hundred years
To silence and forget,
To carve away with such precision.
One hundred long hard years,
To isolate those memories,
To purge our dreams,
And cut with all the accuracy
Of liquid golden steel,
The misery of generations,
The torments of our people,
Of the years of our childhood,
And before.
We can do nothing.
We can say nothing.
We are not listened to.
This is the song of our people,
We suffer, we suffer,
We have cried too much,
We have cried much too long
And we have become lost.
But do not stir us,
For we are dark dogs,

We are shadow dogs,
We sleep in motionless terror.
Do not speak to our hearts
Of indignities, of suffering.
Do not kindle our hatred.
Do not evoke words to spur,
Our slumbering emotions.
We sleep, we sleep.

2.

In Silence

That strange silence
When did it first occur?
Were there no witnesses?
Did no one see its coming?
Had it been something gradual?
Something that had begun
Without our knowing.
Or with that abruptness,
That quickness of the blade,
That cuts and severs,
And life without knowing,
Without recognizing its own going,
Seeps silently away.

That strange silence
When did it first occur?
Were our eyes turned away?
Our intelligence caught
By other curious happenings.
Was it that? Simply
A distraction of sorts.
Or was it something
That we secretly welcomed?
And now if there are regrets
It’s too late, much too late.
All that has been is no longer,
All that may have been,
Is now silent and forgotten.

Who will remember?
Or will it become,
A few pages here and there,
Of names and muttered words?
Some faint remembrances?
That strange vision
Of people blackened,
Standing in cobbled streets,
Faces turned towards camera,
Their eyes watching,
Looking but seeing nothing.
And we see nothing of them.
Their world, our past,
A fleeting glance caught
On the papers gloss.
And in this hour I ask –
Is that all that remains?
That strange silence.

3.

Of words and truth.

Like grasses bundled
And withered in storm
We are blown helplessly
And not a word is spoken.
Who sings the authentic song?
Who speaks the words of truth?
Who stands for me and mine?
Who looks at what we see?
Who hears what we hear?
Who breathes the air we breathe?
Who sees what is right and wrong?
Who speaks for me and mine?
Who sings the authentic song?
Where are our heroes and poets now?


©RobCullen1984.

This poem was written during 1984 and was published in my first poetry collection “Uncertain Times” 2016. It is very much a poem of its time and represents the mix of defiance and despair.

In 1984 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to break the strength of the National Mine Workers after it took strike action to defend against mine closures. The government had foreseen in advance the possibility of a strike by the Miners and stockpiled vast quantities of coal reserves, it also mobilized the Police and Army who were involved in violent confrontations when miners tried to stop coal movements. In the end the government broke the strike, subsequently mines across Wales and the UK were closed down just as the Miners Union had predicted, and mining communities were devastated by largescale unemployment without any meaningful government support. The communities were overwhelmed by crime and drug misuse. There is little doubt that bringing coal mining to an end in the UK was done primarily to promote North Sea Gas and Oil.

The communities in the South Wales valleys survived, much changed, and after a long period of uncertainty, are thriving.

The photograph of the Naval Colliery, Penygraig, Rhondda was taken in 1970 while I was at Art School.Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

Written by

Rob Cullen

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Resistance Poetry

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary