Finely held moods and moments resonate throughout this unusually accomplished first book. The rich, complex history of Wales often crops up in expected, as in the post industrial imagery of ‘A Camera at Senghenydd Pit’, and then, in often unexpected contexts: ‘The New World’ is a vision, a cross between ‘Under Milk Wood’ and an early J.G. Ballard novel, of post-global warming Wales, with a polyglot population: “Ronaldinho Davies/wowing the crowds at the Millennium Stadium” and swamped by tropical vegetation: “cobalt lizards and coral snakes/swallowing the cottages an Llandinam/ the mahoganies uprooting Carno’s hearths”.Another apocalyptic scenario prevails in ‘Pirate Music’ where a typical weekend in the binge-drinking culture unravels vividly as one of Dante’s circles of Hell.
Such inversions of myth are rife in this book. There is a freshness with which classical motifs echo in thoroughly modern contexts. A girl on a motorbike: “you fly your hair like a flag” is a glimpse of a goddess at speed. ‘The Head of an Athlete in an Ionian shipwreck’ is the past as ghost: “his smile as white as alum”. What starts as portraiture sometimes veers off in darkly mysterious incantatory digressions as in ‘The Magdalen College Chef’ whose “souffles bloom from a dipped fork./Upstairs his ragouts seethe under the grins of dons and demons”.
There are also clever, out and out satires like ‘The Nuclear Disaster Appreciation Society’ where “We love to watch/the palm trees beating in the thorium breeze…” and ‘Blockbuster Season’ where the protagonist is bizarrely ensared by the cliché plots and B-list actors of the cinema “Darth Vader using my Ford Fiesta to escape from Colditz…”. The plot twists and clever inversions available in these poems often recall science fiction writers like Philip K. Dick. Engaging, musically deft, an intelligence that wears its learning lightly, this is a sparkling debut from one of the most promising young poets Wales has seen in some time.