The Other City

Rhiannon Hooson
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
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‘Hooson’s style is thoughtful, questioning, reflective, and consistently restrained. Her collection gives the impression of having come together over a long period, with each piece earning its place’ – Orbis


Rhiannon Hooson is a gifted young poet born in mid-Wales and currently living in the Welsh Marches. The Other City is her debut collection of poems.

Sharply focused, beautifully resonant, deeply felt, these poems tend to travel in distinct streams: some reference and re-make narratives from classical Greek myth, featuring characters like Zeus, Narcissus, Ariadne, Ganymede; some rework elements of Welsh history, both ancient, as in ‘Y Bydd’, (inspired by a section of ‘The Stanzas of the Graves’ commemorating fallen warriors in the Black Book of Carmarthen, 12th Century), and modern as in ‘Elan’ where we we float through the eerie depths of a submerged Welsh village that was drowned to make a reservoir for Liverpool in the 60’s.

There are also a number of poems exploring the idea of otherness and the uncanny, where actions are done and undone, and the familiar made unfamiliar: “the horrifying stillness of the rocking horse.” Or, in ‘Leaving’, the landscape is dismantled behind the protagonist, ruthlessly and meticulously: “the leaves were turning/ and the trees were lifted from their drab./ We remembered them also and burnt them whole...”

This work is also characteristically steeped in winds and weathers, in the seasons of the year, from winters of fog and wet grass in the Welsh mountains, where the 12-year-old author strides down the hill, “heroic, a lamb under each arm” to hypnotic floodwaters in Ullswater, ‘Years later you’ll wake drenched with the moon’s/ long downpour of light...’ to various elsewhere both real: ‘almond trees blossoming in the streets of Jerusalem’, and imagined, as in the title poem where ‘missing men’ are sought in the “drab city of brick/ penned in by a summer’s haze.”


‘This is a beguiling debut from a poet who already has a recognizable voice and emotional register. Sensuous, musical, darkly involved, the poems make and confound their own realities. Each is beautifully detailed, each rich with memory and possibility, haunted by presence and absence, by a terrific and sometimes terrifying sense of the forces that condition human experience and relationships.

The Other City is compelling and provocative work from an authentically engaged poetic imagination.’ – Graham Mort



Review by D.A. Prince, Orbis

Sunday, October 1, 2017


   A first full length collection, this is from someone who has allowed time for her work to mature. Hooson had a pamphlet published in 2004, then won a Gregory Award, so it’s to her credit that she didn’t rush immediately into print. Throughout the work, there’s a unified voice, although the range is wide: Welsh upbringing and Mongolia; Zeus and Hokusai. And, above all, the presence of people in the natural world. The opening piece, ‘Elan’, sets its tonal colours: water; Winter; the moon. She describes a childhood game of throwing rocks onto the frozen reservoir, not thinking of how a thaw would let them descend onto the drowned village below, which brings her to consider her present life and its relationship to the past and the dead. She, and those she has lived among, are quiet people: un-named, secure in their own domestic rituals; timeless.

   The recurring use of water, silver, mirrors, winter, trees, and the pale colours of frost and ice provide a satisfying unity. The opening lines of ‘Ullswater’, show her perception of this landscape -

Years later you’ll wake drenched with the moon’s
long downpour of light, the silt of it over everything.
Through the windows the frost-pastelled shadows
of hedges will be smudged all across the hills
like lines in chalk.

   It becomes an internal landscape . At first, the use of ‘city’ in the title seems strange; there is little of the urban in this collection. Then it becomes clear that the ‘city’ in the title poem is a way of exploring otherness. A ‘city’ is another place of solitude. As she makes clear in an excellent podcast of her reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival (June 2017), she’s here exploring why men decide to go missing, and the sort of backstreets in which they choose to hide. She can describe their irrational restlessness, but typically stops short of giving answers.
   Hooson’s style is thoughtful, questioning, reflective, and consistently restrained. Her collection gives the impression of having come together over a long period, with each piece earning its place. In ‘Origami’, where repetitions evoke the effect of different folds, she writes ‘... We work paper / so we do not have to cover it with words.’ Yet her words have the delicacy and precision of the art form’s fine creases. The unnamed teacher of origami shares the same human need for ritual as Hooson’s Welsh ancestors but she never forces the point on the reader. Instead, she shows us their worlds, leaving us to deduce the overlap. It’s a beautifully balanced collection.


Review by Pam Thompson, Mslexia

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Rhiannon Hooson’s first collection draws on experiences of her native Wales and of her time living in Mongolia. Questions of belonging permeate and her imaginative reach charts myths and other narratives where the real and fictive collide: ‘At night we’d tell each other stories: / In Egypt we fed at the pomegranate’s mouth … / … Russia’s long night stank of dust / and furs.’ (‘Fictions’) ‘Fictions’, in the poem, are at once ‘precise’ and ‘petty’ subject to distintegration,’sifting to dust’.

At times poems resemble passages from novels. There are distinctive character-studies like the woman in ‘The Placing of Objects’, whose actions and words, rather than knowing who she is (a grandmother, elderly friend?) define her: ‘She lays out the silver … / taps her gold tooth … // her imprecise hands / sliding objects into place for the comfort of it.’

Food is associated with family in many of the poems, meals and their preparation becoming both celebratory and ritualistic, ‘Fridays they ate mackerel … // … Sundays she’d cook a chicken, an old bird.’ This sometimes has a dark edge. A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to take on the sins of a recently deceased person. In a poem of that name, a sin-eater is brought in after the death of her great-grandfather. The poet fills in details imaginatively: of the man’s passage to her great-grandmother’s house, ‘She would have made him wait on the step, / his Sunday-suit stiff with moisture’, and wondering what she might have served him to eat, supposing that it would not have been ‘anything rich, nothing do juicy / as a steak’ as her ‘great-grandfather / would not have warranted it.’ These poems are unflinching in their examination of place and identity.


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