My Family and Other Superheroes

Jonathan Edwards
Publication Date: 
Saturday, February 15, 2014
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“Joyful and dynamic – a collection that’ll make you laugh and make you think” – Costa Poetry Book Award Judges

Winner of  the Costa Poetry Prize 2014 
Shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize 2014.


My Family and Other Superheroes introduces a vibrant and unique new voice from Wales. The superheroes in question are a motley crew. Evel Knievel, Sophia Loren, Ian Rush, Marty McFly, a bicycling nun and a recalcitrant hippo – all leap from these pages and jostle for position, alongside valleys mams, dads and bamps, described with great warmth. Other poems focus on the crammed terraces and abandoned high streets where a working-class and Welsh nationalist politics is hammered out. This is a post-industrial valleys upbringing re-imagined through the prism of pop culture and surrealism. If the author’s subjects have something in common with RS Thomas, or even Terry Street-era Douglas Dunn, his technique and approach owe at least as much to contemporary American poets like James Tate and David Wojahn.


Review by João Morais, New Welsh Review

Friday, August 1, 2014

João Morais finds it impossible to dislike these warm, moving and confessional poems about family, warts an' all


My Family And Other Superheroes. It might sound like something penned by Simon Armitage, but this moving array of poems about family and experience could only have been written by Jonathan Edwards. I must state a bold claim at the beginning of this review, no matter how stupid it might sound: it is impossible to dislike this collection. It's a portrayal of family and Valleys life written without judgement. It doesn't matter, for instance, that the poet's father's 'filming dates' aren't quite the same as Google's on meeting Sophia Loren at Crumlin Viaduct. What comes through more than anything is the warmth and affection Edwards feels towards his family.

And it is Jonathan Edwards and his own family, with all their fault-lines and quirks, that the majority of the poems are about. There is no narrator with a capital N here. This is highly confessional stuff, warts and all if you will-and it is all the better for it.

The lived experience of the collection's main subject is its main strength but also its greatest weakness. Edwards has perfected the art of tugging at the heartstrings. Despite the evident poignancy of these individual pieces, the feel of a distinct yet repeated pattern emerges after reading half a dozen: Edwards describes a light-hearted scene in which he or a member of his family interacts with some brand of popular culture(whether it be a person or an event), where at the crucial moment we are reminded that this happened in the past, giving an extra level of meaning to the scene, both in a nostalgic and touching way.

It does of course work every time, but such a structure, once spotted, is hard to forget. In 'Half Time, Wales vs Germany, Cardiff Arms Park, 1991', we're talked through the changing room happenings of a celebrated Welsh national football side. Ratcliffe, Sparky, Big Nev and Giggs are forty-five minutes away from creating history by beating the world champions.Everyone is nervous, especially the eventual match winner, Ian Rush. But 'what he doesn't know/is I'm in the stand in my father's coat,/storing things to tell at school the next day.' Can you not help but love these lines? What is more important to Edwards is who he's sharing the experience with and how it has undoubtedly shaped the man he has become today.But having read a notable number of similar poems, it's possible to tell exactly which way the last third of the poem will go.

Elsewhere the poems take on a political slant, showing a distinctly(Welsh) anti-establishment leaning. 'In John F Kennedy Airport' tells the story of a Wales that 'no longer exists', a country that has been replaced with a 'small museum in Kansas' where Welsh experience has been recreated- one of Male Voice Choirs and Tom Jones and every other nauseous done-to-death stereotype of the last ever. The citizens of the former nation are all in mourning, except for one establishment figure, who 'danced a jig, laughing' at this news as his own condition in life is improved as a result.

'The Performance' takes a darker turn again. 'On a quiet Tuesday in our village,' it starts, 'workmen started putting up a stage in the square.' These workers 'spoke no English'. When no on turns up to take it, the villagers eventually get drunk and start fighting until it collapses. These workers, 'speaking no English', return to find their handiwork undone.

You've no doubt noticed I mentioned the two pivotal lines about the workmen's language. Maybe it's because I'm bored that language is still a contentious issue in twenty-first century Wales, or maybe it's because I'm forcing it to be in this poem. It would after all be easy to read that repetitious variant of 'speaking no English' as being comparable to 'siarad yn Gymraeg,' especially if one were to read the empty stage brought in by outsiders as speaking akin to the Senedd. But 'speak no English' could just as easily mean 'not speak my language', which is something the political classes find exceedingly easy to do when it comes to conversing with the rest of us. Either way, the political poems show Edwards as a staunch defender of his people, showing as much empathy and emotional passion to the community in which he grew up as he does to those closest to him.

João Morais is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. A nominee for the 2009 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition, he won the Terry Hetherington Award in 2013. His work appears in Nu2: Memorable Firsts, amongst other publications. 


User Reviews

Anonymous's picture

Review from Mad Hatter Reviews

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onathan Edwards’ poetry collection, My Family And Other Superheroes, is a stunning and emotive compilation of family-orientated verse that is laden with emotion, close observations, and personal touches. Edwards successfully combines an apt amount of emotion and humour, combining the two to make a touching publication that succeeds in plucking at the heart strings of family life whilst avoiding the dreaded clichés that are often found within this type of writing.

Edwards uses varying verse techniques to compile information and fond memories about his own relatives, often falling back on images such as ‘all we Edwardses are holding hands’ (taken from Evel Knievel Jumps Over My Family) that succeed in maintaining this strong sense of family solidarity throughout the entire collection - although that’s not to say that other elements of the author’s life are not also explored, because there are many things worth noting here.

A favourite element of Edwards’ writing, for me personally, is his stunning use of location. Living and working in Wales, Edwards succeeds in incorporating so many local references that, even for a reader who is unfamiliar with the country, add something truly beautiful to many of these individual poems. The rich descriptions and endearing portraits provided throughout this body of work provide not only a strong sense of location, but also pride, adding what feels like another personal touch here.

The collection is divided into sections, with three and four offering an array of relationships that branch outside of the family that we have been introduced to; however, even these latter poems retain an authenticity that allows them to be just as poignant and relatable for a reader. As Edwards constructs other characters throughout his poetic narrative, we begin to see a wider perspective of both the country in which he resides and the people who exist around him, both of which are things I was appreciative of in my first reading (and even more appreciative of in my second reading - yes, this is a book you’ll want to return to).

While it feels challenging to pick just one poem as my favourite from this amazing collection, if pushed, I would have to say my favourite is The Voice In Which My Mother Read To Me. Even if you’re not a poetry fan, you simply must find and read this poem, and appreciate it’s beauty and directness in describing something that many of us have experienced ourselves. For me, this short burst down memory lane between the author and his mother is an apt, beautiful, and well-observed example of family dynamics that provides a perfect insight into what readers can expect from this collection as a whole. It’s just stunning.

A beautiful depiction of family life, My Family And Other Superheroes sees Jonathan Edwards draw on popular culture and the changing world around him in order to describe the constant state of his family and their life together. A collection that I initially described to a friend as ‘a warm and homely hug’, Edwards pulls us into these poems, alongside several generations of Edwardses, and takes us on a welcome journey throughout Wales, and I for one hope to see more from this poet in the future.

Charlotte Barnes

23/06/2014 - 09:15
jonathanedwards's picture


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Dear Reader, many thanks indeed for your interest and I very much hope that you're enjoying the book. I hope this doesn't sound too twee, but I sometimes think that poems can throw themselves at you out of shop windows, or drive past you in a car in summer, or in this case ride past you on a bicycle in a city street. I was in Italy at the time, when this nun came racing past me, and that image of her riding at speed through gridlocked traffic, her habit billowing behind her as she faced the world - it seemed like it might make a poem. She's not any of my students, but one book I do teach is The Catcher in the Rye, and I think the nuns in that book might be somewhere in the background of the poem, as are, I suspect, a number of scenes of people riding bicycles in films and TV shows - I'm thinking of the opening of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, or Angela Chase riding a bike in My So-Called Life. There's just something so free about riding a bike. But really the poem is just that nun I saw, for her, wherever she is now, and whatever bike she's riding. Thanks again for your interest, and very best wishes, Jonathan Edwards

06/05/2014 - 16:19
tonglouaap's picture


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Dear Author of 'My Family and Other Superheroes',

l am interested in the poem 'Nun on a Bicycle' in your newly published book 'My Family and Other Superheroes'. The subject, the nun, seems like an special character. Is she a purely fictional character, or did you write her based on someone you met in real life, say like a woman you knew, or a student of yours (as I heard you are an English teacher)?

Thank you very much for reading.

Y0urs faithfully,

30/03/2014 - 17:06