Cwmbran teacher Marvin Thompson wins prestigious National Poetry Competition

  • Video report by ITV Wales reporter Kate Lewis

A Cwmbran schoolteacher has won the prestigious National Poetry Competition with a deeply personal poem about love, parenthood and his black heritage.

Judges from the Poetry Society said Marvin Thompson's piece The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22) is "fresh, honest and brave".

It was chosen from more than 18,000 poems entered into the competition by 7,472 poets in 95 countries.

Mr Thompson, 43, was born in London to Jamaican parents and has lived in Wales for ten years.

The father-of-five said his poetry often includes themes of parenthood, the Welsh landscape and his dual heritage.

He told ITV News: "This poem is really important to me.

"It talks about a lot of the issues I 'm really focused on, such as my Jamaican heritage, my love of music, parenthood and my Christian beliefs."

  • Poet Marvin Thompson on what his winning poem means to him:

Mr Thompson, who has previously entered the competition without success, said it felt "amazing" to win.

He recalled: "I was in the car with my children, and when I heard that I'd won I literally screamed! They were like, 'Dad - what's going on?'

"My poetry career has been a long haul, with lots of disappointments. I started when I was 19, writing some very sloppy, insipid love poems! Whereas most people end their poetry career right there, me being a stubborn person, I kept on going."

He added: “As with all my poems, The Fruit of the Spirit is Love was written for my children. Like all my poems, it is a gift to their future selves. A poem to be read on nights when the weight of being a dual heritage person in Britain feels too heavy to bear.

"My poem is for my 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.”

Mr Thompson was born in London to Jamaican parents and has lived in Wales for a decade. Credit: Christopher Ball

The poem contains personal memories, such as cuddling up to his father as a child watching films. For this line, Mr Thompson opted to use the Welsh word 'cwtched'.

He said: "It's the perfect word. Everyone should use it!

"Unfortunately I can't speak much Welsh. But I wanted to represent the Welsh nation and show my appreciation for so many of them who have warmly taken me into their hearts when I moved from London."

As well as winning the National Poetry Competition, Mr Thompson's debut poetry collection 'Road Trip' was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and selected as one of its five Black Lives Matter Inspiration books.

Mr Thompson said he cares deeply about issues concerning race and speaks with his own children about it.

Of recent Black Lives Matter protests, he said: "It was lovely to see people from diverse backgrounds coming together for a human cause.

"People have realised these are human issues, and we should all be thinking about equality and fairness and diversity."

Previous winners of the National Poetry Competition include Sinéad Morrissey, Ruth Padel, James Berry, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison.

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

By Marvin Thompson

Dusk reddened a Dual Heritage neck, handsand 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 fangreeted my waking eyes, the house sleepy.I’d dreamt both Dali’s Christ and someone hanged.

“... a pineapple on his head...” sang football fansand a comedian blacked up as Jason Lee,mocking Rastas. Did Jason beg Jah:

“Please keep this from my kids.” Should I tell mineI filled my lungs with ’90s minstrelsyand sang, a teen lost in lads’ mag England?

Who taught me pro-Black talk was contraband?The me who cwtched Dad whilst watching Spike Leeswas shoved down basement stairs, feet tied to hands.

Embarrassed, should I play my kids Wu-Tangand other rap that set my rebel free?One day, when they walk their kids through woodlandwill they sing calypsos or ‘Blood of the Lamb’?