For some reason I cannot fathom, Lax's poetry has a wonderful resonance for me - like all good poems you find something new in them each and every tim...moreFor some reason I cannot fathom, Lax's poetry has a wonderful resonance for me - like all good poems you find something new in them each and every time you read them, and with Lax's unique structure, as for example in his 'Andalusian Proverb" and 'Twenty-five Episodes', you are drawn into implausible yet compelling narratives that threaten to envelope you completely.(less)
A wonderfully well-constructed anthology of poems about animals of all kinds and so many of them were new to me. All human life is there as well as al...moreA wonderfully well-constructed anthology of poems about animals of all kinds and so many of them were new to me. All human life is there as well as all animal life both real and fictitious. This collection enhances Faber's reputation for publishing beautful anthologies and sits well with others I inherited from my father. A delight!(less)
A hugely ambitious and vastly entertaining work that captures the many and varied aspects of the living river. I chose to take it with me when staying...moreA hugely ambitious and vastly entertaining work that captures the many and varied aspects of the living river. I chose to take it with me when staying recently at Buckfastleigh and you get a strange sense of rootedness reading this work at the place it was conceived. There is so much here, rhyming verse, free verse, prose and silence, and a woderful mixture of voices, local voices shaped by their experience of the river over a long time. The changes of pace are so well worked as is the melding together of words almost into a new language. Yes, I did enjoy it, immensely.(less)
The tenor of this volume seems to me to reflect my ambivalence towards the language issue that has long beset Wales and promises to continue to do so...moreThe tenor of this volume seems to me to reflect my ambivalence towards the language issue that has long beset Wales and promises to continue to do so for years to come with an increasing imperative. There is something of the orphan in those of us who are born in Wales but within an anglicised household, where there is sometimes no will and little incentive to learn the so-called ‘language of heaven’. These days learning Welsh is compulsory in all Welsh schools and a generation of children have grown up with a working knowledge of the language and, certainly in east Wales, with no desire and little opportunity to speak it once their schooldays are over. My experience as an adult learner was similarly fraught, I seemed to expend a great deal of effort acquiring a little Welsh only to find no opportunity to use it and thereby improve my proficiency. This is why I have long admired R S Thomas, for having learned the language as an adult and deliberately sought out parishes in which he could survive only by using the language everyday. This kind of devotion is rare and I lack his determination.
Many poems in this volume were written in Welsh perhaps as a tribute to Thomas’ long promotion of the language although his own work remained stubbornly in English. It is understandable that a poet should prefer to write in his first language for to do otherwise is to risk the wrath of the language purists, an unforgiving bunch at the best of times. However, English translations have been provided, and to my inexpert eye, they work well. Many of the poems have been written in response to Thomas’ death and take the form of an elegy, others were written when he was very much alive and form part of ongoing conversations, and yet others are parody. All are engaging and offer alternative windows into the character of the man. I hope the following extracts will help to give a flavour of both the man and his relationship with the language, as well as indicating the high quality of this anthology.
This from Roy Ashwell:
Thomas in his final curacy and caring now for his soul’s cure only set his English to the door and strove in Welsh to make good his end,… (R.S. Writes His Biography in a new Tongue)
From Peter Finch there are a number of excellent poems but the one that gets me chuckling is this parody of A Welsh Landscape:
'To live in Wales,
Is to be mumbled at by re-incarnations of Dylan Thomas in numerous diverse disguises.’
And reminding me of the cover photograph for Justin Wintle’s ‘Furious Interiors’:
‘Is to be bored By Welsh visionaries With wild hair and grey suits.’
And the sheep…
‘And the sheep, the sheep the bloody flea-bitten Welsh sheep, chased over the same hills by a thousand poetic phrases all saying the same things.
To live in Wales is to love sheep and to be afraid of dragons.’ (A Welsh Wordscape)
And so many superb first lines/verses: From Menna Elfyn (trans. Gillian Clarke):
‘To wash the world new every morning that’s the poet’s work.’ (The Poet) and again: ‘A caress in the dark. What a tame lot we were,
With our secretive yesterday’s kisses,..’ (Handkerchief Kiss)
and the incomparable Emyr Humphreys:
‘Let it be understood poets are dangerous: they undermine the state: they thrust before congregations hymns they would prefer not to sing.’ (S.L. i R.S. (An Imagined greeting))
It is impossible to mention every wonderful poem in this wonderful anthology so I’ll finish with the hearty recommendation that for and R S Thomas fan, this anthology is much, much more than the sum of its words and a few more lines that spoke volumes to me:
From Owen Sheers: ‘From my father a stammer like a stick in the spokes of my speech.’ (Inheritance)
From John Powell Ward: ‘Carried over the threshold As before, a bride in white But as to the hair this time, The snowfalls of age For her final honeymoon.’ (A Bride in White)
and from Daniel Westover: ‘...I think about a poet’s barriers. Half offered by the landscape, half fashioned with his words, the protective walls kept actual Wales away and imagined Wales away from human hands.’ (At Porth Neigwl) (less)
I drove thirty miles yesterday evening to attend a reading at Brecon Guildhall. I say reading but in fact it was a recitation for Rhian Edwards was ad...moreI drove thirty miles yesterday evening to attend a reading at Brecon Guildhall. I say reading but in fact it was a recitation for Rhian Edwards was adamant that a poet should be able to recite their work without reference to a printed page. She was reading from her first collection, 'Clueless Dogs', which had won the John Tripp Award 2011-2012 and was Wales Book of the Year 2013. it was an exhilarating performance of barely restrained energy. Rhian is, after all, a performance poet of great vitality. She seemed to be reliving the experiences that had prompted the poetry as she recited, and some of those experiences were clearly far from painless, especially where former lovers were concerned. It was confessional poetry that seemed particularly raw. 'Marital Visit' - a married lover shoos her out of the house in readiness for a visit from his wife, I've selected, what were for me, the particularly poignant verses:
It's her visiting time which presses the pause, makes you follow me downstairs and shepherd me out of the door...
...The ritual begins with the clearing away of my face: foundation, lipstick, powder, concealer, the wooden brush cobwebbed with my unyielding knots...
Your wife lets herself in, carries herself across the threshold, she smiles at her hallway, sniffing me everywhere.
There are two other poems that extend this story of an affair that is inevitably doomed, 'Suitcase' imagines the poet packed in a suitcase and lying on the upper shelf of the wife's wardrobe, and 'Pinchbeck' mocks the man's attempts to return the house to its bachelor status and ends with the stark:
Your bedroom has lost its bottles. There are no trinkets scattered around the mirror and no face powder dusting the wood. Her hanging rail has been picked to the bones and wears only the white wall behind it.
A long-distance courtship is evoked with all its frustration in 'Skype'; and 'House Key' reveals the apprehension of a boy who knows how to grab the latchkey on its string but is terrified of entering the empty house.
The collection is full of poetic gems that evoke odd scenes and incidents peripheral to love, both requited and unrequited with a subtle humour and often a sense of joy. 'Pest Controller' is a fine example of a lively woman succumbing to the temptation to flirt in totally improbable circumstances. Intriguing and captivating, 'Clueless Dogs' must surely be only a taste of the brilliance yet to come.(less)