Winner of Wales Book of the Year 2013,
Winner of the Roland Mathias Prize for Poetry 2013
Winner of Wales Book of the Year People's Choice 2013
Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012.
"Poetry has never sounded so alive" - Cerys Matthews
“An astounding Welsh poet with performances that get you in the emotional gut…” – Ian McMillan on The Verb, Radio 3
"...Edwards is a strikingly confident new voice." - Poetry Wales
"It’s an extremely interesting collection..." - New Welsh Review
"One of her greatest abilities is her verb choice; a rarer gift these days than, perhaps, it should be." - Planet Magazine
Clueless Dogs is the first collection of poetry by Rhian Edwards. Already a noted performer of both her songs and poetry, this book confirms her startling talent.
Poems like ‘The Welshman Who Couldn’t Sing’ chronicle a fraught childhood in Bridgend, south Wales, where the sensitive child escapes through imaginative games of ‘Playing Dead’ and ‘Broken Lifeboat’. Full of verve and humour, with a spiky syntax featuring hard-edged consonants, her language has a winning honesty and intensity. Later poems chronicle teenage lusts, student rivalries, damaged peers and tense situations. Although the author doesn’t flinch from ruthless depictions in which we are often implicated by her use of the second person ‘You’, there is an underlying sweetness, an elegiac thread most evident in the poems of maturity, like ‘Back to Bed’ ,’Safe’ ,’The Wrong Season’ full of both the sensual rapture of love and a clear-eyed realization of its inevitable disappointments. Witness the poet in performance and it is impossible not to hear her distinctive tones when reading her work. Clueless Dogs is a brave and beautiful first book.
Although her poems are accessible – and I would strongly recommend them to anyone who thinks they don’t like poetry – and supremely crafted they are also inhabited by something far rarer, an unerring ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. – Time Out Magazine
“The Unique voice lies in the music of the language, a distinctly un-English sound, often in a minor key, elegiac but with unexpected leaps of the imagination. Against a Celtic bass-line, she sets her own modern turn of phrase and sense of humour” – Hugo Williams
“Rhian Edwards makes the language sing and dance. Join her campaign for the liberation of poetry from all that is dry, stuffy, insincere and boring…” – Christopher Reid
…She is a dazzling performer, at ease with the language, sometimes slangy, sometimes lyrical, with undertones of South Welsh speech. Her warmth and humour will make her a popular reader – Gillian Clarke
A video of Rhian Edwards performing one of her poems 'Tiptoe' at a venue in New York City
Video Source: ''Somewhere in the Dark' directed by Mads Jeppesen.
Review from Eyewear Blog
At a time when contemporary poetry seems to be leaning towards the anti-lyrical, the anti-personal, the irony-heavy and the ‘shrugging’ (to use Jack Underwood’s description), Rhian Edwards’ debut collection – autobiographical, image-laden, crafted and musical – takes its cues from more traditional sources. This is a poetry of the expected, inasmuch as it does what poems are ‘supposed to do’ – speak about the writer’s firsthand (quirky, affecting, disturbing) experiences in a relatively uncomplicated, feelingly anecdotal way. No bad thing for those who require or admire such qualities in poetry; and this approach is sometimes telling. The absolute clarity of ‘Parents’ Evening’, for example, offers up some attractive lines and even the weaker-seeming units function in the abbreviated manner of a school report –
She has failed to grasp the planets…
has proven violent in games…
has learned to darn starfish
As an opening indicator of the autobiography to come, this works well – there is humour, familiarity allowing a subtle collusion with the reader, and a blackly comic denouement – (she) ‘insists upon your death / as the conclusion to all her stories.’
The trouble with this kind of biographical re-rendering though, is that the poet has to make us care, as readers, about the time a bird hatched in their airing cupboard (‘The Hatching’), or ‘the school holiday we played knock-a-door-run…’ (‘Camposuil’). Luckily, Edwards’ arsenal of charming anecdotes is substantial – the childhood / adolescent pieces are likeable, down-to-earth, and stocked with immediately striking imagery, and as we progress from adolescence through deep-seated angst (‘Unmentionable’) and the melancholy of rediscovering a childhood toy
– you are… moribund,
a Rosebud, a relic
put out to pasture, living
proof we were once something else
Edwards cleverly encourages empathy and identification by dealing with familiar subjects – teenage jealousies, one-night-stands, dissatisfaction at work (the excellent, ambiguous ‘Alison’) – allowing herself some linguistic breathing space in the process. Metaphors bob up and down; obliquity creeps in.
In its second half, the book’s speaker is embroiled in domestic, sometimes bleak situations; extra-marital affairs, drunkenness, and the language understandably takes a darker, less ebullient turn. The feeling remains of reality reflecting back at us, as if these are experiences the poet needed to slough off or unburden herself from – not quite confessional in the fevered sense of Plath or Sexton, they nonetheless occasionally take on the manner of well-crafted therapy sessions; enjoying improbable metaphors – ‘the house turned against you… / pushed you down the stairs, / stabbed you in the hand’ (‘The Good Hand’), cute reversals – ‘pick-pocketing five more minutes / from a clock that rolls its eye’ (‘Quotidian’) and witty half-rhymes –
Looking me dizzy
licking me drunk
in the face of our nudity
I am not nearly naked enough
Edwards’ register shifts impressively when she casts her eye around her hometown for characters. ‘Going Back for Light’, an anomaly within the collection, is an earthy, entirely convincing portrait of ‘Danny’ who ‘got blacklisted at the colliery for making ructions’. Semi-prose, half-affectionate and almost satirical, it contains something rich of the world the poet once inhabited. Similarly, in the concluding ‘Girl Meats Boy’ (winner of the John Tripp Award, 2011), the voice abruptly becomes huge and essential; the language overflowing with an inventiveness reminiscent of Dylan Thomas but also entirely her own; as if a tap has been trickling in secret and is now manically flooding the bathroom. We are reminded, through such energy, pace and playfulness, that this is a poet actually in love with poetry, rather than half-mocking it from the margins. At a time when sincerity and ‘the personal’ are generally viewed as badges of uncool, Clueless Dogs is like two fingers in the face of fashion; proud of its constructions, unselfconscious in the act of remembering.
Ben Stainton, Guest Reviewer for Eyewear Blog
Review from Poetry Wales
There is something of the performer’s swagger in Rhian Edwards’s debut collection Clueless Dogs. The strength of this poetry comes from the variety of subjects amplified by the imaginative approaches and conveyed with a linguistic surefootedness.
There are poems which explore the contemporary mythologies of Welsh life such as Bridgend’s youth suicides and the miner turned ballroom dancer. Much of this first section is made up of poems about the darker sides of childhood as in the mock ‘Parents’ Evening’ report and the first person recollection of ‘Playing Dead’. These verses mature into explorations of troubled teens and adolescent awakenings in the triptych-like ‘Polly’, ‘Petra’ and ‘Alison’. These poems are like the ‘nameless toy’ horse in ‘Steed’; ‘they are ‘living / proof we were once something else’.
The less angsty second section includes poems which explore the complexities of sexual relationships in the modern world; kisses conveyed to a webcam in ‘Skype’, having all traces of yourself tidied away in advance of a marital visit, the visceral sexual bodies and their pungency which makes the speaker ‘open every window, telling / myself I’m airing the place’. Mouths and hands are recurring symbols throughout, and far from being Fifty Shades of erotica; the sex is realistically ‘cloying and anxious’.
As performers know, the production of other selves can easily be derailed if the mode of delivery is found lacking. Thankfully, these poems do not lack linguistic and poetic integrity, but rather seem to luxuriate in the sound and rhythms of their delivery. Rhythmically, Edwards seems most comfortable in three or four line statements, as in the final stanza of ‘Safe’:
The adventure is dulling
Safe in the little harms I do,
I rehearse permutations of futures
Where I dare to be certain of you.
In some of the longer narrative poems such as ‘House Keys’ or ‘Pest controller’, the lines flow less easily and the clauses marry less well. This is scant criticism though, for those poems stand on other merits.
Overall, Edwards is a strikingly confident new voice.
Alex Pryce , Poetry Wales Autumn 12 Volume 48 No: 2
Review from Planet
The term ‘performance poetry’ is used often to excuse cliché and cover a great number of other poetic inadequacies, and though by her admission she has delivered over 300 performances, Rhian Edwards makes no such excuses. She needs none.
Clueless Dogs is Edwards’s first full collection, following her 2008 Poetry Book Society selected pamphlet, Parade the Fib. She is the 2011-12 John Tripp Award winner and has been shortlisted for The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.
Though some of Edwards’s poems hint at her time performing – ‘I’m walking dead to you, bereft of you,/ with crumbs of poems left of you’, from ‘Tiptoe’ for example – Edwards is keen for us to understand her work has the legs to bear weight off the stage as well. Some poems, ‘Bridgend’ and ‘The Woman Downstairs’ especially, might shatter during anything more than a confident recital, so fragile and sensitive are they in their humanity. And though other poems, the reader imagines –‘Girl Meats Boy’, ‘Skype’ – could be enhanced by performance, there is little danger of Edwards not having reserved something for the reader for her volume.
One of her greatest abilities is her verb choice; a rarer gift these days than, perhaps, it should be. She crafts verb phrases that are at the same time startling and incisive. The reader is treated to a newly-hatched bird ‘scissoring its beak’ (‘The Hatching’), coins ‘furring to grey’ (‘The Petrifying Well’), and an airport scene in ‘Outcast Hours’ in which an ‘antique couple are butchering time’ – all of which spark their respective lines to life.
Edwards’s strength, though, lies in her portraits, characterised by a Chekhovian refusal to judge her subjects. Nowhere in the collection is this more evident than in ‘Petra’, in which the poem’s namesake whose ‘soprano solo made the music teacher weep’, is recalled by the narrative voice (with what seems a hint of admiration):
You got off with the room, snog-hacked
a thoroughfare from kitchen to lounge.
You fell to your knees in the garden
and in the cold grass earned your fellatio wings.
That strength falters, however, when she begins to move away from a direct relationship with her subject, as in ‘Hitched’, which treats a relationship in a rut (it could be any two people in any relationship) in too general a way, eschewing the peculiarity that is a hallmark of her other poems. Such pieces are in the minority, though, making way for the unabashed honesty of such poems as ‘Marital Visit’ and ‘Rhys’, which are Edwards at her very best: writing ‘with a nakedness meant only for bathtime’ (‘Rhys’).
Alan Kellermann, Planet Magazine 208 Winter
Review from New Welsh Review
Edwards establishes her own dark humour early on in fine pieces such as ‘Parents Evening’ and ‘Life Boat’ and it carries through to the end of Clueless Dogs with ‘Girl Meats Boy’ and the wonderful ‘Pest Controller’. She comes alive in poems like ‘Tiptoe’ which, like Williams’ ‘Butterflies’, is anxious to be read aloud:
For you may tear this infrastructure,
this composure cannot flounder
armed with the toughness of magnolia,
the cold robustness of a character
that seems to make and merit me
as my mother’s God-damned daughter.
Edwards is known for performing her poetry and I was eager to hear how her Bridgend accent would bend these half rhymes. I was not disappointed after seeing her perform the poem (alas, only via YouTube). In no way is the ‘ephemera of affection’ she describes in the early lines confined to the page and what is, perhaps, most interesting is that I felt myself compelled to return and actually re-read ‘Tiptoe’ after hearing it on the stage.
It’s exciting to see how easily Edwards dismantled the supposed division between performed and on-page poetry in a recent interview with Write Out Loud. I was surprised to see her confess in the same article that she still gets nervous before going on stage (even after winning the John Tripp award for Spoken Poetry last year with a performance of ‘Girl Meats Boy’), but even more so by her admission that ‘it was great validation to discover my poems actually worked on the page regardless of me being a good reader, when Seren accepted my unsolicited manuscript having never heard of me and basing their decision solely on the poems’ merits.’
Reading Clueless Dogs, the merits of the poems are obvious; it is clear that Edwards’ confidence as a performer is an extension of her confidence in writing. Though hearing them performed would no doubt elevate many of the poems even further, there is never the sense that, having missed the performance, we are missing something in the text. Poems such as ‘No Place’ and even the chatty ‘Going Back for Light’, for example, are far from alone in seeming both perfectly controlled and content upon the page.
I’m still eager to hear Edwards’ accent handle the lines ‘We slid on the sediment/of wet currency’ from ‘The Petrifying Well’. Reading this collection will very likely make you want to hear her perform –– and hopefully, hearing her do so will send you back into the book itself. It’s an extremely interesting collection from a relatively new poet, and while Clueless Dogs, despite its nomination, did not win the recently announced Forward Best First Collection prize, this is hardly likely to stall Edwards’ promising career. I look forward to future poems, collections and performances which may feed into each other and continue to elevate Edwards’ writing beyond the page.
New Wlesh Review