REVIEW

Byron Beynon 

'Where Shadows Stir'

Portsmouth Poetry was delighted to be asked to publish some of the recent work of Welsh poet Byron Beynon. Born in Swansea and brought up in Carmarthenshire, he has taught in Wales, England, France, Norway and Australia and been a tutor at the University of Wales, Swansea for over ten years. He has published fifteen collections of poems (including ‘Where Shadows Stir’) since his first collection ‘Winter over Nantyglo’ in 1984. His poems have been published by, among many, the Independent, The London Magazine, Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review and Poetry Australia. He has worked with the Dylan Thomas Centre and Royal Festival Hall and lectured on art, art and poetry, and the poetry of Idris Davies. His article on art and poetry can be read at the London Magazine online [www.thelondonmagazine.org]. 


Byron is a member of the Welsh Academy.

‘Where Shadows Stir’ is a collection of forty-five poems recently published by The Seventh Quarry Press examining our connectivity with nature. They are apposite to a review published here at the beginning of spring when we have just emerged from a merciless pandemic and now face the obscene tragedy in Ukraine. There is an underlying heartbeat to Byron’s poetry that is, for me at least, decidedly Welsh and, like so many poets I have reviewed, their simplicity and directness is the product of both skill and affinity and perception of the nature and impact of well written poetry evident in lines which present rain as music reflected in the metre and flow of the carefully chosen words.

                               “I hear the rain’s beaded

                                notes on the window pane

                                a fluid arrangement

                                on a stave of glass”

In the poem which follows, Byron connects the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom said to have been sunk beneath Cardigan Bay, and the music of Britten and Debussy in which he writes of “the dialogue of the wind and sea”. Making links like these in short concise poems is one of the things that stands out in his work. Byron provides us with a greater understanding of and feeling for the natural world by presenting it in an intricate emotional and visceral way – rain as music, wind and sea in conversation. This descriptive potency through using references not normally associated is part of a poets powerful repertoire found again in his poem published here, ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergere’ where he writes of “the empty noise of human life”, “a geometry of untouched fruit” and “expensive alcohol about to escape from the music of bottles”. These are not mere pastoral poems content to describe or praise the natural world. Poems like ‘Rivers and Oceans’ have a mission poets should be addressing in this age of environmental catastrophe, to rewire us with the natural world upon which we depend but now have a crippling disconnect. ‘Magnolia’ a poem about one of spring’s most beautiful plants is a glorious presentation of life re-awakening -

                           “it will survive winter’s blast,

                               its primitive roots of place

                               starless and mysterious

                               from the virulent frost”

“primitive roots of place” is a fantastic combination of words in which primitive is powerful not crude and roots and place affirm the importance of origin and belonging. In the next poem, writing of a common wild flower, Byron captures the pandemic summer as “That summer of uncertainties / in a muffled world” and the lovely description of the unassuming ragwort captures the breath of hope that simple flower provided. Another poem revisits that idea of the natural world providing positivity in our “uncertain age”


                             “as nearby a vivid blackbird

                              stirs with a new found optimism”


Whilst these poems do not rely upon or over emphasise the land to which Byron Beynon belongs Wales is present in much of his poetry if you recognise it. There are tributes to Edward Thomas and Alun Lewis and a painting by Gwen John. There are poems about Kidwelly and the Gower, that magnificent peninsular in South Wales with its glorious beaches. As if he was walking there from Swansea, there are poems about Ferryside with “History oozing into pores” and the home of Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, “waiting for the man of words to return”. The poem ‘View from Ferryside’ talks of “The eternal language of seabirds” (think about that for minute) and

                                   “A landscape navigating

                                    through the syllabus of days

                                    that have vanished

                                    into the skin of time”


The poem ‘Roots’ explains both the delight in mother tongue and the musicality of the Welsh language


                                  “that sense of place

                                   where her tongue

                                   rests and feels at home”


and the connection we have with our parents reminding me of my own Mam


                                 “I witness her happiness

                                 that only the words can bring,

                                 those natural roots which grow within”


Byron investigates this further in two poems, one to his father and the other to his mother both at the age of ninety. That to his father repeats images of sunlight, metaphors for his fathers age and the years that it encompassed by references to the fires of the “4 Day” blitz of Swansea during WW2 [the subject of another poem], and a total eclipse in the year of his father’s birth


                                “His steps are strong

                                he lives on with the changing tides

                                walks in a world that races

                                onwards in the afterglow of a lingering day”


That to his mother is poignant with memories, “the imagination of time” and


                               “a cry of the long

                               night and those gentle flowers

                               with their colours and green lanes

                               still awake by her side”


There are needed poems addressing our recent history. The attack on Capitol Hill a “frozen nightmare”, a “fiasco of cold disorder” and a “continent of pain”. A tribute to the pandemic front line ‘Nurse’ “the humanity behind the mask” and the other poem gracing our webpages ‘Refugee’ tragically prophetic as it now turns out. 

                           "She has already left

                            the country of her birth

                           crossed into another

                           searching for that rare

                           seam of freedom”

             

‘Where Shadows Stir’ is a fine collection from an talented poet, softly gentle on the eye, speaking without seeming to, unpretentiously, of the core of experience and humanity that unites us all with the wider universe in which we must coexist. At a mere £6.99 its a literary bargain.

'Where Shadows Stir’ is published by The Seventh Quarry Press. It can be purchased from the publishers by visiting https://seventhquarrypress.com

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Portsmouth Poetry is not a literary magazine, our primary purpose is to run projects and events and work with poets. We have the luxury to only publish reviews of poetry we particularly like and admire. We would never publish a review which criticises but those who are occasionally reviewed are poets we believe to be worthy of recognition. Any work reviewed here we believe you should read and can be confident you will enjoy.


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