I don’t usually review poetry. I’ll tackle pretty much anything else—fiction, factual biography, drama, documentaries, comedy, by which I mean politics and economics— with an insouciant swagger and the hope nobody will ask too many searching questions. Poetry leaves me too exposed as a fuck-wit. No-nothing. One of those dreams where you running around your old school naked and everyone else is laughing and pointing. Dib-dib, dab-dab. The emperor has no clothes – clichéd opinion.
I’m breaking my exception to the rule, non-rule, because quite simply Annest Gwilym’s collection of poetry, What the Owl Taught Me, is in a word, beautiful.
I’m also shouting it out because unlike, for example, Les Murray, whose Translations from the Natural World it bears comparison, but he is published by Carcanet. Big-hitters in the publishing industry, able to get publicity and fees for poets. She has none of those advantages of money working the media, or the prestige of established voices singing her praise and lifting her poetry out of the common muck, where Gwilym and Murray show, it thrives in Welsh and Australian soil, respectively.
Gwilym needs to be more than a poet, but a one-stop shop, battling for attention with tens of thousands of versifiers and self-promoters. I read some of her work on ABCtales.com (she used the pseudonym Rosa Cruz). I bought her last poetry collection, Surfacing. The rhythm of language takes you inside words, inside, for example, Crows, the first poem in the new collection.
They huddle like conspirators
in slick black suits
grazing the grid of the sky.
Their guttural chack chack chack
blisters the ears like car alarms.
Grass Snake (below) had me hunting for a copy of D.H. Lawrence’s Snake.
A snake came to our garden,
slid over the rockery to the pond
to fish for frogs and toads
in the stunning heat of mid-afternoon,
with forget-me-not drooping.
Yellow doll’s eyes and a golden collar,
its olive narrowness, quicksilver-smooth,
it tasted air with a flickering tongue.
Ekphrastic poetry is commonplace but to get beyond the words and into a symphonic resonance in the reader, as happens here, in this collection, is a rare pleasure.
Last Night I Became an Emperor Moth won some competition you’ve probably never heard of (firstwriters.com) but it’s the words that matter. Listen to the way they ring.
I rode through the liquid night,
As a melon sluice moon crested a bank of cloud.
Part of the hush and curve of the universe;
Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.
Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,
furry belly glossy and plump.
If you’re a poet, or would-be poet you could learn a lot from this collection. If reading is your religion then now is the time to sing praise. Amen to that. Read on.