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Regeneration

Meirion Jordan
ISBN-13: 
9781854115553
Publication Date: 
Thursday, March 15, 2012
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"It's an invigorating and captivating approach. I couldn't put it down" – Poetry Review

"...Jordan is a masterful and sensitive poet whose poems are rent with staggering insight, depth, rhythm and subtlety... As a rule I never use the word genius, but Jordan almost forces me to write it in connection with the way he stitches footnotes about his own family in among the tales of chivalry, betrayal and love... If you only buy one book of poetry this year, I suggest it's Regeneration by Meirion Jordan." – Poetry Salzburg Review

"...this is not only a well-written set of poems in themselves but an impassioned and well-researched collection." – Poetry Wales

Regeneration is Welsh poet Meirion Jordan’s take on the medieval manuscripts known today as Llyfr Coch Hergest and Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch). This collection is not a ‘reinterpretation’ but a re-imagining, inspired by the source material that include the stories of the Mabinogi (first made famous by the Victorian translations of Lady Charlotte Guest) as well as by Malory’s version of King Arthur’s tales.

In 'Red Book' we meet characters drawn from the eleven stories of the Mabinogi, like ‘Arawn, lord of Annwn’; ‘Rhiannon’s gossips’ and ‘Blodauwedd (the woman made of flowers)’. These poems evoke what Meirion Jordan calls in his insightful preface ‘half-recalled heroic landscapes’; they capture the elusive essence of these characters, their mysterious passions and their sometimes violent and often strange adventures in Jordan’s distinctive poetic style. His pared-down pure lyricism and tightly enjambed free-verse lines bring brevity and clarity to these tales without subtracting their unsettling power to move us.

'White Book' gives us a cast of kings, queens, knights and companions of the round table. This long poem treats themes of love, betrayal, friendship, kinship, and the vexed question of leadership, in poems that revolve around the contentious figure of King Arthur. The footnotes provide for scale, casting the great themes of Arthur’s story against a backdrop of real lives, lived in the landscapes that inspired the original myths.

The inventive format of the printed book (both sections ‘back to back’ with separate covers) echoes the division of the original manuscripts into ‘red’ and ‘white’ books.

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Review from Poetry Wales

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This attractively conceived volume features back-to-back a Red Book side and a White Book side with reference to The Red Book of Hergest and The White Book of Rhydderch respectively. Here we have a collection that attempts to re-write or re-imagine the classics of the Welsh canon. Other works that spring to my mind when reading included Logue’s reworking and translation of The Iliad, Táin by Thomas Kinsella and perhaps the ‘Mabinog’ sections of David Jones’s Anathemata. Though in fact, rather than a translation, this is a collection of poetry that explores our English-speaking engagement with such ancient texts as the Mbinogi, with an overarching Fisher King or Mab-like regenerative metaphor.

Red Book draws on some of the Mabinogi’s tropes and themes, places and names. Describing the Mabinogi on his introduction as stories in which ‘arise the cliffs of now distant country of myth and history’, Jordan imagines this world through ‘Insulars’ adrift in a mist of mytho-historic reality. Half of his Red Book is divided in terms of Red Book and Mabinogi characters, with intervening ‘Insulars’ I through IV providing commentary on both ancient and modern status of literature:

Dark thing; Bran’s head
crouched in its bag. It will not utter
a word. Beyond the door
a language flows, sweet as a stream

Like other contemporary poets, Jordan reinvents the characters, making them more complete and modern, emphasizing with Rhianon’s travails as a woman and placing Aneurin in a stolen car. He fills in the alien and starkly prosaic storytellers’ style of the original manuscripts with the motive and characterisation our modern sensibility demands. For example Efnisern (general trouble-maker from the second branch of the Mabinogi ‘Branwen Fferch Llyr’) expresses his feelings as follows:

If we were different, sister
know that I grieve you
in faces pared back
to the eyes and teeth

The modern and personal become a means of bridging the gap between the grandness of a mythic history filled with mention of now-defunct kingdoms – Bryneich, Gododdin and so-on – and a post-Brythonic universe filled with Anglo-Saxon postmodernity. A telephone conversation is effectively imported into a poem entitled: ‘Bryneich’ (the ‘old north’ of historic Wales);

       Storms in the arse-end
of the year and the thatch              hello?
rotten                                hello
Fuck the north sea
                       and fuck you for asking          hi
                                                    Mam fi
                                                                    Sy’ma

Here Jordan succeeds in regenerating these texts in a modern idiom and at his most innovative uses the white expanse of the page skillfully to bind the ancient and contemporary.

The prologue to the White Book section reiterates Jordan’s position with regard to the ancient texts: ‘I conduct my interrogation of Arthur’s world, and it is with this in mind that I try to enmesh it in language; not simply to memorialise this change of livings to anticipate it and to make it speak.’ Drawing on Malory’s Arthur rather than Welsh sources for Arthurian romance such as Cullwch ac Olwen, Jordan introduces elements of personal history as means of linking the mythic past and present.

… this is not only a well-written set of poems in themselves but an impassioned and well-researched collection. The Mabinogi represents a cache of ideas or ‘cultural capital’ from which we may draw as country, and this is what Jordan has done here. It is a call into history that invites it into dialogue with the present:

Arthur,
          thought your heart is broken
          remember me

Rhys Trimble  Poetry Wales Autumn 12 Volume 48 No: 2 

17/10/2012 - 13:24