Cwmbran teacher wins top prize in National Poetry Competition

National Poetry Competition Winner, Marvin Thompson

A CWMBRAN teacher has won a national poetry competition with a “poem for my parents” and “anyone who has felt discrimination”.

Marvin Thompson has been chosen as the winner of the prestigious National Poetry Competition for his poem The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22).

Mr Thompson, who is of Jamaican heritage, teaches English at Lliswerry High School.

“As with all my poems, it was written for my children, a gift to their future selves,” he told The Guardian.

“A poem to be read on nights when the weight of being a dual-heritage person in Britain feels too heavy to bear.”

Packed into nineteen lines, it’s a work that “spans decades and multiple lives and histories, some literary and historical, some personal, some painful, some shameful.”

Mr Thompson’s win follows on from his much applauded debut poetry collection, Road Trip, which was a Poetry Book Society recommendation and selected as one of its five Black Lives Matter Inspiration books.

It was chosen by the Daily Telegraph as one of the Poetry Books of the Year for 2020, and described by The Guardian as an “invigorating journey through complexities of black British family life.”

Mr Thompson said of the win that the poem was also written for his parents. “When they were born in Jamaica, they were British by way of Empire. When they made their home in London, they encountered racism. And friendship. And love.

“My poem is for anyone who has felt discrimination pressing on their ribs, air being squeezed out of their lungs.

“My poem is for everyone, everywhere who lives their life seeking and believing in love.

“My home and my children’s home is Wales. As such, it feels vital that I add my voice to Wales’s rich literary culture. This is a culture in which, increasingly, diversity and difference are celebrated.

“In these challenging times, it is my hope that my poem inspires others to make poetry part of their everyday lives.”

Karen McCarthy Woolf, one of the competition judges said: “What distinguishes The Fruit of the Spirit is Love is how it operates on multiple, complex levels yet speaks in a voice that is fresh, honest and brave.

“Specific in its geography, natural in diction, this is a poem that asks many distinctly contemporary questions that make you feel as if it could only have been written here and now, in 21st century post-Brexit Britain.

“What is it to raise dual-heritage children in the UK, and specifically in Wales? How does black identity shape itself in a white environment, where allegiance to a predominantly hostile flag is the paradox of belonging?

“Will these children be loyal to Wu-Tang or sing hymns in the Welsh choir? Or, as the poem demonstrates, will they do all of these things at once, in a manner that is seemingly effortless?

“These are big questions, which, one might argue, only the best poetry is fit to answer.”

The winning poem:

The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22)

Dusk reddened a Dual Heritage neck, hands
and a moustache – its ends curled with wax. Jason Lee?
I stood below his dreadlocks in woodland
and reached up to touch his feet. A whirring fan
greeted my waking eyes, the house sleepy.
I’d dreamt both Dali’s Christ and someone hanged.
“… a pineapple on his head…” sang football fans
and a comedian blacked up as Jason Lee,
mocking Rastas. Did Jason beg Jah:
“Please keep this from my kids.” Should I tell mine
I filled my lungs with ’90s minstrelsy
and sang, a teen lost in lads’ mag England?
Who taught me pro-Black talk was contraband?
The me who cwtched Dad whilst watching Spike Lees
was shoved down basement stairs, feet tied to hands.
Embarrassed, should I play my kids Wu-Tang
and other rap that set my rebel free?
One day, when they walk their kids through woodland
will they sing calypsos or ‘Blood of the Lamb’?

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