Rhian Edwards
Publication Date: 
Monday, March 13, 2017
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‘Concentrated, irresistible poetry’ – Emily Blewitt

Brood is the new pamphlet from poet Rhian Edwards. Winner of all three categories of Wales Book of the Year in 2013 for her debut poetry collection, Clueless Dogs, Bridgend-born and based Edwards is known for her dazzling performance style and her vivid, often acutely personal poems.

The new pamphlet opens with ‘Birds of Rhiannon’ introducing us (via a nod to the famous medieval Mabinogion story where magic birds, said to bring people back from the dead, console the heartbroken Celtic princess Rhiannon) to a darkly resonant tone that echoes from the myth:

Before I was mortal, I was haloed
in feathers, my trinity of familiars;
whose birdsong was legend, serenading
the dead from their dreams,
lullabying the living to torpor…

The centre of this new pamphlet is a ten-part poem, ‘Pied Margot’ based on the mnemonic rhyme for groups of magpies ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy…’. This long poem charts the progression of a troubling relationship from infatuation to disillusionment, alongside the birth of a much-loved daughter.

There are unflinching descriptions of arduous pregnancy, as well as miscarriage, that remind us that this stage of a woman’s life can be as risky as a battlefield. Also, any parent will recognise the irritated joy of ‘Kiss’ where a child becomes an expert at ‘delaying the damnation of bedtime.’

Meanwhile, birds are at all times present: hovering, chattering, casting their shadows, they are both tricksters and familiars in these hypnotic, spell-like poems. Welsh artist Paul Edwards has provided some beautiful charcoal drawings of magpies inspired by this atmospheric sequence, which feature throughout the pamphlet.

Other poems feature Gulls, Red Kites and ‘The Universal Doodle’ of a murmuration cloud of starlings. This pamphlet Brood is an apt follow-up to Clueless Dogs and leaves us eager for the poet’s next full collection.



Review by Elizabeth Edwards, Planet

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

From The Parliament of Fowls to Crow, birds are familiar ground for poetry but Edwards's dark and witty Brood finds new points of entry. Suggesting maternity, and a mood, from the title onwards, Brood bears witness to things unravelling - a relationship, a pregnancy, a myth, a familiar rhyme. 'Before I was mortal', it begins with 'The Birds of Rhiannon', transporting us to the undefined chaos of an unreal world crowded with characters (human and avian) and voices (spoken and sung), and their increasingly punishing demands.

The second poem, 'Pied Margot', a ten-part sequence derived from the 'One for Sorrow' magpie rhyme, takes up the most part of the pamphlet. A marriage drama and pregnancy story emerges in the third part of the sequence, 'Girl', which brings a Hitchcockian horror vibe to the increasing number of magpies - from one to two to a 'minstrel theatre of birds' that needs 'fending off'. Imagined magpies blur into a black-and-white sonograph image; in the fourth part, 'Boy', the magpie morphs into a man - with 'black' feathered hair' and beak-like nose - though this poem is about failing to foresee unhappiness lying ahead ('I mistook / his monosyllables for shyness, / his unkindness for grief'). The magpie's notorious acquisitiveness comes to the fore in parts five and six, in mercurial word play and lurching, ominous language that yields to a gentler tone for motherhood in parts seven and eight. The miscarriage theme of the final part, 'A Bird That's Best to Miss', brings on brutally raw observation: 'I stagger / to the bathroom, sputter / a prayer to keep the last of him in'.

The final poems focus on three different kinds of bird - seagulls, red kites and starlings - associated with Aberystwyth, where Edwards was writer in residence at the Arts Centre in 2013. The gull poem is a 'slapstick march' of ruthlessness and viciousness, while the red kite poem invokes airborne choreography swaying pairs of half lines. Closing the pamphlet, 'The Universal Doodle' perhaps brings the otherworldly Mabinogi-oriented theme full circle (Branwen famously tames a starling and sends it, bearing her message, across the Irish Sea). Contemplating starlings seemingly dragged one way and then another across the sky by invisible forces, the collection ends on an elusive high point: 'Can you hear pathetic fallacy? / The siren song of a metal's hum / crooning behind clouds, a bit like a God.'

Review by Jennifer Wong, The Poetry Review

Friday, April 6, 2018

In Brood, Rhian Edwards explores the labour of love through imaginative accounts of birds’ lives, recalling medieval conventions of bird imagery. The pamphlet begins with ‘The Birds of Rhiannon’, which revolves around Celtic myths of magical birds that belong to the goddess Rhiannon, who “serenades / the dead from their dreams, lullabying / the living to torpor”. In the myth-retelling, Edwards details the birds’ human-like affections and sufferings: “For the sake of my world and him, / I crowded my belly with children.” The ten-part sequence ‘Pied Margot’ transforms with originality some of the best-known rhymes for magpies. In ‘Silver’, she articulates the sorrow of the unloved mistress – “Never one to grasp the whimsy of dearness” – whose longing for love leads her to the compromised resignation to accept a “secondhand proposal / with the regalia of a Coke ring”. In ‘Joy’, she brings to life the delight of intimacy:

The foiling of your solitude’s ruin, is enough to make me press
this quivering, dealt hand
to the birdcage barring my heart.

Navigating the joys and sorrows in love – from courtship and promises to separations – Edwards highlights the body as a vessel of emotions and fertility. The sequence ‘A Bird That’s Best to Miss’ shifts the perspective to that of the expectant mother, who observes the strangeness of her pregnant body in early morning and her loneliness to feel the “blank half” of the bed, a time “too dark for bird / song”.

Review by Emily Blewitt, The Cardiff Review

Monday, December 18, 2017

Densely-layered, rhythmic, and populated with both mythic and everyday birds, this pamphlet haunted me long after I finished reading it. It is concentrated, irresistible poetry. It's also full of striking magpie illustrations by artist Paul Edwards.

Review by Vicky MacKenzie, New Welsh Review

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Brood is an exquisitely produced pamphlet which includes several dynamic charcoal drawings of magpies by Welsh artist Paul Edwards. It’s a fitting title: there’s the sense of ‘brood’ as the offspring hatched from eggs, and as a verb meaning to nurture and protect young. There’s also the sense of ‘brood’ as mediating on something, especially unhappily. All these meanings of the word are at play here, since whilst the obvious theme is avian, the poems also explore pregnancy, child-rearing and the breakup of a marriage. The central sequence, ‘Pied Margot’ (another terms for magpie), follows the folklore saying about magpie numbers, beginning with ‘1. Sorrow’, ‘2. Joy’ and so on, until the heart-wrenching ‘10. A Bird That’s Best to Miss’ which details the pain and distress of miscarriage, ‘the silt of near life’.

Edwards relishes mixing registers and tones: red kites are the unexpected ‘flight of false moustaches’ and a pregnancy test kit is the unromantic ‘piss wand harbinger’. Rather than accepting her partner’s ex-fiancée’s diamond, the poet wishes she had accepted a proposal ‘with the regalia of a Coke ring.’ Her imagery is never less than fresh and witty, and this pamphlet dazzles with wit, honesty and linguistic verve.


Read the full, three-book review on the New Welsh Review website.

Review by Rhys Owain Williams, Poetry Wales Magazine

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Brood is the much-anticipated next publication from Rhian Edwards, whose debut collection Clueless Dogs (Seren, 2012) swept the board at the 2013 Wales Book of the Year Award. Though birds of legend, lore and myth feature heavily in this sequence, to call these poems 'bird-themed' is deceptive. At the heart of this pamphlet is 'Pied Maggot', a 10-part poem that takes its titles from the nursery rhyme 'One for Sorrow'. This poem charts the course of a troubled relationship, its breaking down confused by the couple's creation of a daughter. In 'Boy', we find a triumphant return to the character poetry so well-forged in Clueless Dogs:

I had him pegged as a Midnight Cowboy
freshly dismounted from the Greyhound,
what with his plaid shirt, weathered jeans,
a belt buckle that made him
a man of two halves.

The deconstruction of this coarse and unkind partner is carried out with the unflinching brutality one expects at love's end, as the traits that once made a person so endearing are seen in a different light. It's a shame that the A5 format forces the final stanza of this poem overleaf, making it an afterthought - though this is admittedly preferable to losing the diptych effect of having 'Boy' and the preceding poem 'Girl' on facing pages.

Though many of the poems in this sequence are heavy with the pain and disillusionment felt at the end of this relationship, there are others that speak of its fruit. In 'Girl', we are given the haunting image of an unborn daughter being a mother's second chance at herself. In 'Kiss', the pantomime of a child's bedtime:

I am contorted in this pixie bed,
querulous with your story-time heckling,
your hair-splitting curiosity,
craving monikers for the anonymous,
under-wrought woodland chorus.

The included illustrations of Paul Edwards (no relation) sit lightly around the text, reflecting upon it without ever attempting to directly illustrate. Only on one occasion does an illustration encroach, suffocating the breathing space at a poem's end. However, as this poem is the aforementioned 'Boy', it may be that this is intentional.

Brood is a stunning sequence of poetry. Its conceit never becomes too heavy-handed, Edwards' magpies and other feathered creatures flitting lightly between the branches of these 14 poems. Though its brevity may count against it, it would not be surprising if this brave publication brought Edwards another Wales Book of the Year Award, amongst, I'm sure, many other deserved accolades.

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