Welsh Poet and Swansea University academic Nigel Jenkins died on the 28th January at the age of 64 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Nigel's dying request was that he be buried at St Mary's Church, Burial Ground, Pennard - this land was previously owned by his family and formed part of the farm on which this award winning poet grew up. He had requested burial there and designed his own, verse-laden gravestone, which the Burial Ground could easily accommodate.
Initially, it seemed that Pennard's Community Council, who now own the land, reviewed the request favourably, but in the past few days have ultimately declined his wish, citing rules of local residency; Nigel was living in Mumbles at the time of his death.
Despite a strong, but mainly private campaign to request an exception from Nigel's family, friends, and the poetry community of which he was such an active member, Pennard's Community Council, have viewed this request with a distinct lack of understanding, compassion and appreciation of the legacy Nigel Jenkins leaves. The National Poet for Wales, Gillian Clark, made an impassioned plea for the Council to reconsider the decision; on the February 3rd, she wrote:
In case it is never too late to enter a reasonable plea with a body representing a civilised and humane community, I add my words, in my own right, as life-long friend and colleague of the poet, Nigel Jenkins, and in my role since 2008 as the National Poet of Wales. Please allow a shocked and grieving family to fulfil Nigel's wish to be buried on his childhood land, where he was reared, grew up, and in his heart and poetry never really left.
Rules? There must be rules, but there must always be exceptions to rules in a civilised society. This permission, if granted, would not become a precedent, as there is no other Pennard poet needing burial on his ancestral land. The writers of Wales are gathering in their grief, and it is their collective request that this rule be set aside.
Please listen. Poets, and poetry lovers, will respect Pennard, will visit, will remember and will pause to spend a quiet moment of grief and gratitude to a place that can only increase its reputation for being civilised if you change your minds.
Let the poet rest in peace in Pennard.
National Poet for Wales
Following criticism from the community, this was the formal response from the Community Council
Thank you for your email regarding the decision not to allow Mr. Nigel Jenkins to be buried at Pennard Burial Ground. Whilst we understand that many people may find this decision upsetting or perplexing, please be assured that this decision was taken in line with a long standing policy. Pennard Community Council understand and respect the tremendous and unique contribution that Nigel Jenkins has made to our nation. For a Welsh poet to have such an impact on the world stage as to be recognised by scholars and institutions around the world is truly remarkable and we, of course, take great pride in this. That said, there is a policy in place which was set out in order to ensure that Pennard Burial Ground remains open and available to residents for as long as possible. The policy, on this basis, was set many years ago that only those resident within the ward be eligible. The Council has a duty to treat every case impartially and to see that everybody is equal in death. There have been many exceptions sought and declined over the years and these families would unfortunately have been just as disappointed. We would also like to point out that, in addition to the standard response, every democratic avenue to make an exception was explored. Unfortunately, in this instance, it was the settled will of the majority of councillors that no exemptions be made to policy on the grounds of consistency. Pennard Community Council would like to offer our sincere apologies for any hurt and anguish that has been caused by this policy and would like you to understand that no decision has been made on any personal basis, only on the facts surrounding whether or not Nigel Jenkins qualified. For your information, we have received news that Mr. Nigel Jenkins is to be buried within the family grave at the Churchyard at St. Mary's, Pennard following his funeral.
Yours sincerely Pennard Community Council
Even support from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has left the council unmoved and Nigel's burial will now take place on Monday 10th February, followed by internment in his father's grave in the Church graveyard - this plot had been reserved for Nigel's grieving mother. This decision has been incredibly difficult for the family - as his self-designed gravestone cannot be accommodated within the already overcrowded churchyard - doubling the pain of a seemingly impossible compromise.
The tragedy here really lies in the bureaucracy that has surrounded this decision and the loss to Pennard to offer a fitting memorial to a man who had spent his life creating a psycho-geographic legacy, not only of this corner of Wales, but the breadth and depth of the land, and its history through his work. This was Pennard Community Council's opportunity to provide a pilgrimage for poets and poetry lovers alike, to pay their respects to this man and his life's work in the surroundings of his childhood. One is reminded of the pilgrimage so many of us have made to Dylan Thomas' Laugharne.
Francesca Rhydderch, who worked with Nigel as editor on two of his books, said that she was deeply saddened by the situation, and whilst mourning the loss of Nigel she, along with many others who knew him, has made numerous phone calls to those who may be able to overturn such a devastating decision, but as the date of the burial draws ever closer, the chances of such a favourable outcome grow slimmer. His friend Peter Finch has also campaigned vigorously to honour Nigel's memory - his moving tribute explains the depth of the loss. Gower MP Martin Caton and Welsh Government Economics Minister Edwina Hart have also added their voices to the protest, in addition to an open letter to Pennard Community Council from the Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Lee Walters,but with the limited time left before Monday's burial, this pressure may may all be in vain.
It is his family's wish that this bureaucratic, unsympathetic and seemingly unnecessary decision to deny Nigel his dying request be made public - it is perhaps fitting that one great poet's words reflect their wishes in these tragic circumstances.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.