Richard Gwyn offers us a rich mix of history and memory in his new poetry collection, Stowaway: A Levantine Adventure. The author says:
This collection, held together by a loosely knitted narrative around an unnamed protagonist, a kind of anti-Ulysses, is based on a number of journeys that the central character takes around the eastern Mediterranean: journeys that I myself might have taken. However the speaker in the poems – whether first or third person – seems to transcend historical time-zones and incorporates elements of the mythic, and even the magical (shades of The Thousand and One Nights), as well as certain historical phenomena, such as Cavafy’s Alexandria, the Greek diaspora, the geography of the Aegean islands, the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) the disaster of Smyrna 1922, The deportation by the Germans in WW2 of the Jews from Thessalonika (called throughout by its Greek name, Saloníki); the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Lebanon war (1981-2), the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian civil war and the rise of Islamic State or Da'ish. At the same time, the reader is conscious of the fact that this collection is being composed retrospectively, and subject to all the frailties of memory. Around half of the 46 poems are in prose poem form, the others in a more lyrical, traditional format. Five of the poems form a sequence, scattered throughout the first half of the book, and refer to the ‘Stowaway’ central to the narrative of the collection, although the protagonist of the Stowaway (and the book) continues on his journeys, settles down in Smyrna (Izmir) and witnesses many of the catastrophes of the region over the 20th and early 21st centuries mentioned above. The reader will come to an understanding that the stowaway’s story transcends linear time, and the character himself is of a semi-mythological status. The stowaway poems are intermixed with first person poems: sometimes it seems the speaker there is the stowaway, sometimes more a retrospective narrator (or meta-narrator). In this way his story and the telling of it merge.
Gwyn is the laureate of ‘Reckless Travel’ – one of the poems in this richly imagined new collection. Winner of the Wales Book of the Year for his memoir, Vagabond’s Breakfast, Gwyn is also noted for his inventive prose-poems, lyrical fiction and artful translations.