Burying the Wren

Deryn Rees-Jones
Publication Date: 
Monday, September 3, 2012
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Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year 2013

Poetry Book Society Recommendation Autumn 2012

"contains poems that leave me speechless, at the same time so simple and so complicated that my words fail and only hers will do." – TLS

"Burying the Wren is a major event and achievement in the poetry of these islands." – Ian Duhig

"A powerful, deeply moving collection..." – John Burnside

"...her language is so mesmeric... A powerful intelligence is at work in Rees-Jones's poems." – The Warwick Review

"...a wintry, wide-ranging and deeply felt collection"New Welsh Review

"Burying the Wren is an accomplished collection, its emotive centre never allowed to drift clear of time and space." Eyewear Blog

In Burying the Wren  Deryn Rees-Jones returns to familiar preoccupations but with a new clarity and maturity of vision. With intense lyricism she calls on the Roethkean 'small things' of the universe -- truffles, slugs, trilobites, birds, stones, feathers, flowers, eggs -- which, mysterious, and magical as well as ordinary -- she sets up against loss. Her sequence of 'Dogwoman' poems, which draws on the work of artist Paula Rego, is an extended elegy to her late husband, the poet and critic Michael Murphy. Above all these are poems of the body, “...the blue heartstopping pulse at the wrist”, which are alive to the world and the transformative qualities of love.

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The North Review

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One of Deryn Rees-Jones’ many skills lies in knowing when to stop and when to go on. Some of the sparer poems in Burying the Wren are achingly short, evoking the iciness of grief ‘I’m a bride to silence, these smaller spaces’ (‘A Scattering’); others roil in the baying and repetition of unbridled anguish ‘No one can love this horror, no one can want it. I’m crouched between my own thighs // with my dog heart and my dog soul’ (Dogwoman). This book mourns her husband’s untimely death, and a seam of grief runs through it, nowhere more poignant than in the beautifully observed poems about their younger children. Haunting images show how love and grief are twinned: ‘The night would not give in to me - / or something inside me would not yield. / The great harness of love I was wearing / stiffened in my shoulders, was held like a bit / between my teeth’ (After You Died). The mix of dream worlds: ‘Whose mouth is this in the roomy darkness, / whose hand is this that flies with mine’ (from The Songs of Elisabeth So), and concrete realities: ‘small as a bullethole, / in the place where it pressed itself, / its fossil colours close to my heart’ (Tilobite), is as disconcerting and disorientating as grief itself.
Her deep investigation of mortality offers hard-won wisdom. She achieves this by marrying small, apparently fragile things - blown eggs, Chinese lanterns, robins, wrens, poppies – with the vastness of the universe and its phenomena: ‘as Time was slinking, doing its business, the fiery empyreal nature of things / became the thing on which we most depend’ (A Dream of Constellations). A metaphysical poet for our times, this is writing at its most necessary and intelligent, where even the white spaces lives and breathes.

River Wolton for The North

04/09/2013 - 11:52
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Review from New Welsh Review

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From its title and dedication page onwards (‘For Michael 1965-2009'), the elegiac impetus of Burying the Wren is clear. The tragically early death of her husband has hurt Deryn-Rees Jones into poetic timbres which poignantly register the volatile fluctuations of the grieving process. These range from anger and baffled sorrow to regret and plangent memorialising. However, although the sense of a bravely embraced catharsis is strong, Rees-Jones is a mature and insightful enough poet not to have descended into anguished confessionalism. Instead, she has bolstered the collection fast to everyday realities. She also painstakingly recovers the meaning and values undermined by death.

Like Yeats, Rees-Jones makes careful use of folklore and mythology to create a poetic context for her experience, so shifting it out of the realm of private loss. The burial of the wren, ritually killed in midwinter and ‘paraded in a holly branch or box by the Wren boys in Ireland’, relates to Celtic mythology as a symbolic jettisoning of the previous year. It serves as a haunting image both of the irrational brutality of death – the tiny songbird clubbed by a gang with sticks – and of a moving beyond what’s past towards a coming-to-terms.

The brief title poem makes link between the poet’s Irish husband and the wren in the ‘little box’ – a minimized prolepsis of ‘The Box’, a poem about the husband’s coffin later in the book. The last line, ‘the fluttering breast you longed to touch’, bifurcates past and present, referring both to a desire to touch the ‘soft’ wren and (fastforwarding to after the husband’s death) a hopeless longing to reconnect with his physical form.

“A Dream of Constellations’ – perhaps the book’s most powerful poem – movingly evokes the final months of a battle against cancer, the distortions of time and reality wrought by agonized waiting.

Again, Rees-Jones employs the mythological names of star constellations as an armature for turbulent emotions, transposing each figure into nightmarish travesty of itself.

The book comes full circle by ending with a second poem called ‘Burying the Wren’, a hard-won attempt to enact what Emily Dickinson called ‘the letting-go’: the wren, alive and singing now, has shifted to a symbol of hope which allows the poet to say to her husband; ‘yet love / you’ve been with me enough / so I must let you be.’ It forms a fitting resolution to this deeply felt wide –ranging collection, whose emotional arc plots a courageous overcoming of grief which could afford solace to anyone who has suffered a similar bereavement.

Oliver Dixon New Wlesh Review Winter 2012

08/03/2013 - 13:08
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Review from The Warwick Review

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Burying the Wren reads as if Deryn Rees-Jones has given everything, emptied herself of metaphor and words, her language is so mesmeric, travelling far and deep. The movement in these poems is between the skin and the heart, communicating an intense awareness of maternal love and grief. Rees-Jones has managed to deliver a sense of silence in this collection, the poems spilling into that space but travelling with it.

But the wren's song "flirty in the alder" ends the collection, fitting the compelling, beautiful tone running through the other poems, a tone that Rees-Jones draws on for the sequence, 'from The Songs of Elizabeth So'. These six mysterious poems in the voice of a women whose lover seems to have returned after being away.

The "songs" are mournful and timeless, freed of the constraints of contemporary life and almost outside the material world. This quality is present in many other poems where the focus is on consolation is distilled and, where narrative is present, it's spare.

A powerful intelligence is at work in Rees-Jones's poems.

Jackie Wills The Warwick Review December 2012

08/03/2013 - 11:56