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My Family and Other Superheroes

Jonathan Edwards
ISBN-13: 
9781781721629
Format: 
Paperback
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.

REVIEWS

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. 

 

Review by Meirion Jordan, Lighthouse

Friday, March 21, 2014

...  Jonathan Edwards’ collection takes a very different approach. Where Burton’s poems feel controlled to the point of being sedate, Edwards revels in the quixotic and mercurial. His flagship pieces, Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Crumlin for the filming of Arabesque, June 1965, and Evel Knievel Jumps Over my Family demonstrate an infectious delight in all the quirky dreamlike visions that weigh in upon a modern Welsh identity. The latter poem in particular demonstrates Edwards’ full-tilt approach to verse:

Mr Knievel has faced much bigger challenges:
double-deckers, monster trucks, though the giraffe

is urban legend. Evel Knievel enters,
Eye of the Tiger drowned by cheers,
his costume tassels, his costume a slipstream,
his anxious face an act to pump the crowd,

The listing and repetition eke out the hyperbolic tendencies of the poem wonderfully, doubling and redoubling the effects of Edwards’ infectious élan; as in so many of his best poems, we are drawn forward through the interplay of the ridiculous and the heart-achingly serious. Indeed, Edwards might best be described as a surrealist in the true sense of the word, his verse a steady-handed scraping away at the surfaces of contemporary reality to reveal emotional truths.

Edwards’ versions of that contemporary reality are tightly focused around his portrayals of the South Wales valleys. Unlike Burton’s Hallaton, however, he aims less for a landscape painting than he does for a more human geography, exploring the idioms and idiosyncrasies of his family and his ties to Ebbw Vale. So much so that his collection often feels like a portrait gallery squeezed inside a cramped terrace house: it’s bursting at the seams with the sort of vignettes that characterised the earlier work of northern poets like Simon Armitage and Andrew Waterhouse a decade and more ago. Edwards’ poem Building my Grandfather, for example, bears remarkable affinities to Waterhouse’s Climbing my Grandfather. Consider these two extracts from the former and the latter respectively:

He comes flat-pack, a gift for my eighteenth.
We tip the bits out on the living room carpet:
nuts and bolts, a spanner, an Allen key,
tubes halfway between telescopes and weapons.
At first he goes together easily:
slippered left foot clicks into the ankle,
shin joins at a perfect right angle.
(Jonathan Edwards, Building my Grandfather)

I decide to do it free, without a rope or a net.
First, the old brogues, dusty and cracked;
an easy scramble onto his trousers,
pushing into the weave, trying to get a grip.
By the overhanging shirt I change
direction, traverse along his belt
to an earth stained hand.
(Andrew Waterhouse, Climbing my Grandfather; from In, Rialto, 2000)

There’s a kind of genetic closeness here that raises significant questions about the foundations of Edwards’ verse – not just in the similarity of subject but in their similarity of approach, tone and style. There’s the loosely disarming end-stopped opening line that also frames the conceit; the quick segue into a list that forms an affirmation of a specific set of homely details; the phrasing that slots the whole thing into a sort of earnest free verse; and so on. It’s a list that I’ve seen repeated elsewhere (not least in my own writing) but the comparison with Waterhouse demands the question: have first collections really stagnated that much in fifteen years? Edwards’ work is far from stagnant – it’s lively, engaging, and often witty – but it leaves me with a lingering impression that this collection is often meeting the expectations of a specific  side of contemporary poetry culture rather than breaking into new territories. As with any collection that seeks a kind of celebration of the ordinary, there’s a risk that too much is being taken as read, and that potential difficulties are not so much swept aside as rendered invisible by limitations of perspective.

If this seems somewhat unfair to Edwards’ obvious gifts as a poet – well, it is. Out of the three poets reviewed here, I ended up feeling that his collection had both the most to offer the casual reader and the least to offer those who might express reservations about all that is nearest to the surface in contemporary poetry. Edwards has produced verse of compelling charm and grace here, and his lively portraiture of valleys people past and present will ring true with many readers. But perhaps the comparison with Andrew Waterhouse cuts into Edwards’ collection in other ways: Waterhouse’s poetry interspersed the heartwarming with the chilling, the tragic, and the outright strange in ways that went beyond the merely quirky or charming. Edwards’ work perhaps surpasses Waterhouse in its formal sharpness and technical acuity but, in this first book at least, he hasn’t yet found Waterhouse’s reach.

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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

http://www.madhatterreviews.co.uk/books--e-books.html

23/06/2014 - 09:15
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jonathanedwards

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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

tonglouaap

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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,
Reader

30/03/2014 - 17:06

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tonglouaap's picture

tonglouaap

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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,
Reader

30/03/2014 - 17:06
jonathanedwards's picture

jonathanedwards

0
No votes yet

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
Anonymous's picture

Review from Mad Hatter Reviews

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No votes yet

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

http://www.madhatterreviews.co.uk/books--e-books.html

23/06/2014 - 09:15
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