Poems from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

Poetry from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

These four slim poetry anthologies are beautifully produced, each containing a selection of poems centred around a specific area of Wales, collated by Seren’s editor, Amy Wack. Many poems are taken from recent collections, but there are also several new poems, and each pamphlet has a distinct feel to it. To begin with, in Poems from Pembrokeshire there is a sense of time standing still in a landscape rooted to the past.

We meet the ancient Brynach, ‘a lad with a dusk thirst / no cask of ale could kill’ in a poem by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams, and a ‘Boatman’ who ‘comes / Cockle treading in salt-faded shoes’ in a poem by Alison Bielski. We tread along the invisible ‘Landsker Line’ where ‘time clots and cloys in the breaths between sentences’ in Ben Ray’s poem, and we encounter ‘The Bleeding Yew’ in Nevern Churchyard, in a poem by Rowan Williams.

I love the wry humour of R.S. Thomas’s poem ‘A Line from St David’s’, a place which I am still yet to visit:

Somewhere a man sharpens a scythe:
A child watches him from the brink
Of his own speech, and this is of more
Importance than all the visitors keeping
A spry saint asleep in his tomb.

Philip Gross’s poem examines footprints, both ancient and modern, while we are treated to a new Mabinogi inspired poem from Matthew Francis, and Amy Wack’s ‘Goscar Rock’ takes us back to the Vikings, and even further:

You have to go back to the last ice age
to find the glacier enamoured enough

to sweep a hill off its feet, set it adrift
in the churning ice floes of the channel

In Poems from Snowdonia there is a sense of expanse, of height, and emptiness, as we hear the ‘swee a swee’ and ‘creea cree’ of the Greenfinch, in a poem by Carol Rumens, look up with Rhian Edwards at a ‘circus of Kites’ in an ‘air tattoo of turns’, and climb with Peter Finch up the ‘crowded slog’ of the Watkin Path, to lie down at the top and see ‘sky still there / dry blue and most of it still up’.

Katherine Stansfield captures the experience of a newcomer to this area in her poem ‘Iaith / Llaeth’:

After araf, which is slow, on the long mountain roads
that wound to the sea, pulling me to the town,
the first word I learned to see was iaith,
which is language, because it was the world

And I love Richard Poole’s poem about sheep in Blaenau Ffestiniog who ‘stroll along the street. / When passing passers-by / they meet them squarely eye to eye, / don’t blink or deviate’.

Poems from the Borders is full of water. I particularly enjoyed reading Philip Gross’s poem ‘Severn Song’ a beautiful, repetitive, musical description of that place:

The Severn was water, the water was mud
whose eddies stood and did not fill,
The kind of water that’s thicker than blood.
The river was flowing, the river was still.

Catherine Fisher traces the route of the Severn ‘past lost / lanes, cow-trodden banks, nudging the reeds’, and John Powell Ward conjures up an image of the River Wye as a ‘tonnage of sedately moving / Water. Sleepily it stirs…’.

‘Borderland’ by Christopher Meredith is a clever villanelle which grapples with the Welsh notion of ‘ffin’, part of the word ‘diffiniad’, meaning definition, and also part of the place-name Capel y Ffin:

You’ll find a ffin inside each definition.
We see what is when we see what it’s not:
edges are where meanings happen.

This linguistic theme is picked up again in Paul Groves’ poem ‘At Partrishow in the Black Mountains’, where ‘The sun rises over England, and sets over Wales’, a place where ‘the English tongue has licked or lashed / the Welsh identity’, yet ‘Quietude’ remains.

Poems from Wales - Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia, The Borders, Cardiff

Poems from Cardiff begins, as it should, with the people who ‘crossed an ocean to help make this city’ in a poem by Gillian Clarke. This selection is full of humour and more mixed than the others, reflecting some of the diversity of the city itself, though, as a Cardiff resident myself, I can see plenty of aspects to this small capital which are not represented, and hope that it will inspire local writers to produce more.

There are poems which evoke the Cardiff suburbs of Grangetown and Roath. Abeer Ameer’s ‘Roathed’ portrays this quirky part of the city perfectly. She begins, ‘I’ve been ‘Roathed’, and goes on, referring to the popular vegetarian café, Milgi:

I’ve been veggied
in a yurt out back
strolled round the lake
sat on eulogy benches
swanned off with the swans

And Hanan Issa captures some of the diversity of Grangetown in her poem,

Kids in white hijabs and hats, late for Quran school,
dodge an elder from the Hindu temple holding a bag of fruit.

And her closing lines evoke the sense of home,

There’s something about Grangetown.
It’s the muck and the music: I love it.

I really enjoyed reading the villanelle ‘Panetyric for Cardiff Mods’ by Patrick Lodge, which seems to encapsulate the music scene in ‘60s Cardiff, and ‘Toast’ by Sheenagh Pugh gives the best description I’ve ever read of the Millennium Centre, as a ‘vast concrete-and-glass mother-ship // that seems to have landed awkwardly / in our midst’.

I should also mention ‘Lunar Distance’ by clare e. potter, a beautiful yet stark elegy for Whitchurch Hospital, which closed its doors in 2016, and ‘Girl on the Stairs’ by Stephen Payne, which captures a small, yet memorable moment, in one of Cardiff’s many university buildings.

These four poetry pamphlets give us just a small taste of Wales – its landscape, its people and its poetry. You can buy them directly from the Seren Books website.

Declaration: I received free copies of these books from the publisher.

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