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A Last Respect: The Roland Mathias Prize Anthology of Contemporary Poetry

Glyn Mathias
Daniel G. Williams
ISBN-13: 
9781781726372
Publication Date: 
Monday, July 5, 2021
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“No better way, perhaps, to salute the passionate commitment of Roland Mathias in transforming the reputation of Welsh poets writing in English than through the poetry he enabled. I, among many, have a career in literature to thank him for.” – Gillian Clarke

A Last Respect celebrates the Roland Mathias Prize, awarded to outstanding poetry books by authors from Wales. It presents a selection of work from all eleven prize-winning books, by Dannie Abse, Tiffany Atkinson, Ruth Bidgood, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Christine Evans, John Freeman, Philip Gross, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, and Owen Sheers. It is a who’s who of contemporary poetry which shows the form in good health in Wales.

The fifty-four poems included are wide-ranging in style and subject – relationships, nature, environmental issues, mortality, time, war, Wales, poetry itself, even the minefield of parents’ evenings. They are inventive, experimental, formal, original and, as prize-winners, of the highest quality.

Two accompanying essays provide the context in which the poets work. In her Introduction, Jane Aaron writes about Roland Mathias: a poet himself, but also an influential editor and cultural commentator who did much to foster and develop poetry in Wales. A Last Respect is a continuation of his legacy. Daniel G. Williams’ Afterword is an incisive discussion about poetry in Wales over the past sixty years: where it started from and how it changed. 

This combination of prizewinning poems and informative commentary makes A Last Respect a must-have book of writing from Wales.

 

“A fine, eclectic anthology of extraordinary work well representing the generosity, intelligence, commitment and determination of the man it celebrates. The incisive Introduction by Jane Aaron and Afterword by Daniel Williams will become required reading not only for an insight into Roland Mathias’s crucial role in Welsh cultural life but for much of the course of literature in English from Wales from the last century to this.” Chris Meredith

“This book, with its range of individual poetic voices, and the critical support of leading academics, shows excitingly the continuing development of the tradition that Roland Mathias worked tirelessly to promote.” Jeremy Hooker

REVIEWS

Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation Cymru

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Don’t be fooled by the photo of the gorgeous Welsh landscape by Chris Howes on the cover of ‘A Last Respect’, an anthology of contemporary poetry from Wales. All winners of the Roland Mathias Prize, here are a chorus of voices, each singing their own tune.

There are some poems of Welsh places, such as Christine Evans’ ‘Llŷn’: ‘after dark/ like busy star-systems, the lights/ of Harlech, Aberystwyth, Abergwaun/ wink and beckon.’ Ruth Bidgood’s ‘Lives’ is another example: ‘The valley is full of life,/ hardly any of it human./ Big freestanding hawthorns/ are coming into bloom.’

The other topics in the anthology range from vermin ‘I showed him the oven,/ where I accidentally roasted a mouse’ (Pest Controller by Rhian Edwards) to marriage ‘honeysuckle nights,/ when you’d open the jammed sashed window/ above the dark basement flat and I, below,/ would be an urgent, athletic Romeo.’ (A Marriage by Dannie Abse). Owen Sheers and Robert Minhinnick’s poems about war and Philip Gross’s about emigration make for disturbing reading given current world events.

The point is that subject matter aside, all the poets in this anthology are masters of the craft and the reader does not need to know anything about birds to appreciate Gwyneth Lewis’s series of poems including ‘Murmuration’: ‘I fell among starlings,/ Birds of the damned.’ You don’t have to be a runner to relate to Tiffany Atkinson’s ‘Nightrunning’: ‘You/ balance your breath like a bowl of dry/ ice.’ You don’t have to have children to feel the words in Ailbhe Darcy’s ‘After my son was born’: ‘He knocked/ me so my nose coughed blood,/ punched a finger through my cornea.’

The anthology is book-ended by two essays, one ‘Worth the Record’ about Roland Mathias by Jane Aaron who won the prize in 2009, the other ‘Afterword: Old and New Shibboleths’ by Daniel G. Williams who edited this excellent anthology with Glyn Mathias, son of Roland.

Review by Ben Woolhead, Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Viewpoint finds Ruth Bidgood looking out at a natural landscape that is at once familiar and alien: “from here / we saw it new, aslant, changed, / a beauty of questioning and strangeness”. A Last Respect is a similarly revelatory survey of the literary landscape, one that throws the lofty peaks of Anglo-Welsh poetry into even greater relief. Titled after a Roland Mathias poem and featuring 11 previous winners of the annual prize established in his memory, it’s a fitting tribute to a tireless champion of Welsh writing in English.

Rhian Edwards’ Skype may be a deliberately topical nod to the pandemic, and digital maintenance of intimate personal relationships, but generally the subject matter is universal and weighty. The shock of parenthood verges on visceral horror in Ailbhe Darcy’s pair of poems, After My Son Was Born; Owen Sheers and Robert Minhinnick take us into bloody combat on foreign soil; Edwards laments her own physical decline in The Unkindness (“What of this cauliflowering arse, / where are the buttocks that snake-charmed?”); Gwyneth Lewis and Bidgood are haunted by the prospect or reality of losing linguistic faculties in old age (“Words have migrated, / I forget their calls”); and the latter writes ominously of death in Porch-light.

By contrast, Dannie Abse’s A Marriage is light relief, a tender portrait of “perdurable love” that sees the poet comically recollecting illicit nocturnal visits to his lover’s lodgings, avoiding a ferocious German landlady and her “anti-Semitic” pooch.

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