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Background to '@JAMRY' - Poetry links Jamaica and Cymru

For almost 10 years Learning Links International has supported a range of activities in Wales and Jamaica that have explored the historical links between these two countries. During this time much of the activity done in Wales had Arts Council Wales support as part of Black History Month programmes. These annual programmes involved a range of creative artistes including the key developers of this project, Yasus Afari, a leading Jamaican poet and Rhys Trimble, an innovative Welsh poet.

During our research into the historical links between Jamaica and North Wales we discovered something we didn't expect - a link between poetry in Jamaica and poetry in Wales. This was interesting and came about as we used the creative arts to explore the links between these two post-colonial, bi-cultural and bi-lingual environments.

In December 2015 we gained support from Arts Council Wales to undertake a pilot research project to explore these links, to create and present an experimental pilot show to share our findings and to suggest further possibilities. The proposal was supported by the North Wales Jamaica Society, the Centre for Cultural Engagement / North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration and Jamaica 2000.

The Learning Links International team recognised that the project had potential to achieve greater understanding of the cultural and historical interaction between Wales and Jamaica, with a 'feel-good factor' that can be seen in the way that Jamaica’s sometimes tell their own history. However, this can only be brought into play by brilliant, skilful and creative poets as they explore and share their distinctive approaches using poetry to help recognise and understand this difficult history.

We were therefore fortunate to not only have Yasus Afari, one of the leading Jamaican poets and creative arts entrepreneur, and Rhys Trimble as an open minded and innovative Welsh poet, leading the project, but also the support of Ifor ap Glyn, National Poet of Wales and encouragement from Professor Mervyn Morris, Poet Laureate of Jamaica, along with Welsh poet Karen Owen and Jamaican researchers Natalie Fagan-Brown and Audrey West.

As the project got started interest grew both in Jamaica and in Wales, and Rhys Trimble was invited to Jamaica to perform at a special event to be held at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in Kingston. Unfortunately, Arts Council Wales were unable to support this. However, Learning Links International stepped in to fund this important opportunity, and also planned a visit to Jamaica by a small delegation from the North Wales Jamaica Society and Learning Links International to support Rhys and to undertake a range of activities including making use of opportunities to progress research into the poetry links and other historical links.

The workshops and research activities done from our base in North Wales went really well and the experimental pilot show was a great success and snips can be seen at >

The project was based in Bethesda, where Welsh is spoken widely and which is in an area of North Wales that has strong links with Jamaica. Yasus Afari ran workshops in local schools including Ysgol Dyfryn Ogwen, and the team ran two workshops at Literature Wales Centre, Ty Newydd, at Llanystymdwy. The research to date culminated in a pilot of the show held in Neuadd Ogwen, the local community theatre, which became the hub for the "Irie Pesda" Festival.

Reactions to the presentation of the research during the "Irie Bards" performance event were brilliant! Initial responses to the project seemed good, but the outcomes were overwhelmingly positive. 

Thanks go to John Wyer from the North Wales Jamaica Society for taking on the development of the Irie Pesda Festival, as well as both Learning Links International* and Jamaica 2000 who provided financial assistance, and to Dr Sibani Roy, Mayor of Colwyn Bay and Chair of the Centre for Cultural Engagement (formerly the North Wales Association for Multi Cultural Integration NWAMI).

* Learning Links International stepped in to support Rhys Trimble to go to Jamaica for an event related to this project held at the University of the West Indies. This enabled Rhys to work more closely with Yasus Afari in preparing the research.

Thanks also go to Arts Council Wales for their support in funding this unusual and innovative pilot project.


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