This is an excellent debut. Within only a few pages I knew I was in the presence of a real poet. What I mean by this is that the author clearly has a true lyrical sensibility and is able to project it concisely, precisely and powerfully into the reader’s mind. There are many superb poems that exist that were written by authors without this sensibility. Those poets have relied on craft, luck or inspiration, or even the sheer momentum of originality, and everything has worked out for the best. But when we feel we are in the presence of a real poet we know that nothing is left to chance.
This doesn’t mean that the poems weren’t sweated over, rewritten, grappled with. I make no suggestion that poetry flows without any trouble from the pen of a real poet, but one thing is sure, which is that the reader of a real poet soon develops a deep faith in the author and is willing to go quite far on the poet’s future journey, no matter how tortuous the way turns out to be, without becoming discouraged. I found that reading the poems in this book filled me with confidence in the voice of the poet. I turned the pages trustingly rather than hopefully. The poet almost adopts the role of a guide, leading the reader, who is now a sort of pilgrim, into the mysterious territory of the work, guiding them safely to destinations that are also resolutions. And it is all very satisfying.
The range of the poems in this volume is impressive. There is a mystical tone to many, but others are pragmatic, grounded in this world, full of raw emotions transmuted into beautiful words by the alchemy of perfectly honed and tuned words, phrases, lines. The balance of these poems is a delight. They all inhabit their own length exactly, without wasted words or abrupt dislocations. There are poems about motherhood, wistfulness, daydreaming, human connections. So far, so good, but there is nothing in these themes, despite the wonderful treatment they are given here, that one can’t find in innumerable debut poetry collections. The book bursts out of the typical debut poet’s emotional restrictions when it deals with elements that are more fantastical. This is not to say that these wilder and more outward poems lack emotion. On the contrary, the emotion returns and surrounds them, but the effect is heightened. There is now adventure as well as introspection, action as well as feeling. I appreciate the blend, the variety, the vigour, the echoes of legends, tall tales, myths.
The poet has given permission for two poems from the collection to be quoted in full by me. The truth is that I could have opened the book at random and selected any two to justify my praise of this volume. There are no weak poems in the book at all, no fillers. But I have chosen two that align most closely with my own taste. The poet states that ‘Humans Become Fish’ was inspired by the artwork of an artist named Natalie Low but it reminds me of the first novel of one of my favourite writers, Inter Ice Age 4 by Kobo Abe. My second choice is the wonderfully evocative and melodic ‘Night Fantasy’, a sombre yet not unhappy nocturne.
– Rhys Hughes
2051: HUMANS BECOME FISH We have learned to breathe underwater, traded our salt-choked lungs for gills, At first it was difficult, many died. But slowly we trained ourselves to become elemental, Our filament fingers, scraping the seaweed from foamed faces, became fine-feathered fins. Last of all to go, was the legs, We were loath to lose them, but one day, after years of running along the bottom of the ocean, we found we could fly. We flicked out new-grown tails, somersaulted bubbles and swam, Our pellucid eyes bulging, Mouths an open question, And made our homes among the reeds and coral. Lately we have lost all power of speech, but find ourselves able instinctively to feel the shoal’s clamour, Our sleek armoury of scales Streamlined to the flow. NIGHT FANTASY Last night, we were all at sea, tossing and turning on the churning waves, billowed up on the briny foam-flecked spatter of a white-horse gallop, we slipped into wet pillow worlds where fronded whirlpools sucked and stranded the matchstick masts of our promises and dreaming and dashed them cruelly on the broken rocks of the night, See how I lengthen my footsteps along acres of untamed sands, how the tides suck away at my prints, until all that remains is a splinter of moon dust; shipwrecked on the shallows of your sleeping.
Rebecca Lowe is a journalist, poet and co-organiser of Talisman Spoken Word open mic and Swansea Poets for Peace. Her poem ‘Tick, Tick’ won the Bread and Roses 2020 Award. Her poetry has been featured on BBC Radio and published in many anthologies. Blood and Water is her debut poetry collection.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
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