Deryn Rees-Jones
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 3, 2019
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Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song? Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm. 

In the narrative of transformations that unfold, the invocation of Erato also carries with it a sense of errata and erasure.  As stories and ideas are repeated, and recurring imagery -- of fires, bees, birds – is continually reframed, we are asked to replay, rethink, rename. How do we step out from the ‘perpetual loop’ of trauma? And how do we find a way of processing painful change? Here, bewilderment in the face of ongoing historical tragedy is countered by the Rees-Jones’s close and careful attention to immediate or remembered experience, and the importance of the body, whether this is lying awake at night with a sleepless child, the felling of a backyard tree, walking in Paris observing the encampments of refugees, or the dreamlike conversation she has with the radio about bombs and the use of drones.  

Erato includes elegies for family members and close friends, including an impressive and moving long poem ‘I.M.’. Also included here is the autobiographical ‘Caprice’ in which Rees-Jones explores with musical abandon ‘the scribble-mess’ of self, and the ‘grainy, atomized emotion coursing through in middle age’.

Throughout Erato there is a compelling sense of continued curiosity, of thoughtful questioning, of questing for truths.  The author’s background in the classics, her immersion in modern poetry as well as a deep interest in modern art, all combine to influence the essential quality of this work. 

"Here is the poet as rhapsode, an open channel for giddily overlapping streams of grief, desire, bewilderment, awe and rage." – Josh Cohen

"Deryn Rees-Jones shows us that in the right hands lyric is the sharpest, subtlest and most devastating instrument we possess." – Sasha Dugdale



Review by Andrew McMillan, Poetry Book Society

Friday, June 7, 2019

Much is often made (quite rightly) of the exciting and energetic new voices which emerge into poetry each year. But what of the voices who have been working at deepening, strengthening and expanding their art over many years? Deryn​ Rees-Jones’ new collection is at once a firm continuation of her singular poetic project and a lightning strike which takes both her work and us as readers into utterly unfamiliar territory.

I’m reminded of what Ian Duhig said of Rees-Jones’ Burying The Wren (Seren, 2012), that it was a collection which marked “an important development in her work”; the same could be said of this collection and yet development seems too mild a word. Rather a departure, a rupture, a new beginning.

This is a formally varied collection; long prose explorations side by side with Haiku-like glimpses. In the first of the prose pieces, indeed the book’s opener, ‘Mon Amour’, Rees-Jones writes: “Yet all landscapes I held within me seemed to be receding”. That seems key to unlocking this work, something long held within, finally let go of, and something new emerging in its place. That opening poem ends with a paradox, that dual-sense of both an ending and a new beginning is what makes this collection so exciting and moving.

Something I knew was only beginning.

Something, I knew, was at an end

There are poems here of nature, of birds, of the body; poems which are tender to the wider world, not just to the physical self. There are poems which are small and intimate and, in ‘Walk’ in particular, poems which speak to the world and its geo-political state. This is a book which is always looking towards something new, the old ways, the old forms, the contended lyric, is not enough anymore (or so this book seems to suggest) and so there is a reaching out, of the line, of the image, in order to try and grasp something which might be just beyond reach, but which the poems will keep trying to move towards.

I wanted to be light, light as air.

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