Owen Sheers’ Skirrid Hill was a perfectly enjoyable surprise; Sheers has been increasingly prominent and is beginning to develop a media profile, with appearances on BBC Radio 4 recently in which he hailed the Great Life of Dylan Thomas. Good choice.
This text is now set for examinations, and is the first poetry anthology reviewed in this blog. It opens with Mametz Wood, an allusion to Graves’ brilliantly concise original, exploring the war with 100 years of hindsight. Images of colour mix with tactile descriptions emphasising the fragility and transience of life, and this is a theme to which Sheers frequently returns. Sheers looks for life in nature, and the traditions of rural Wales, seeking permanence and order in a world of change and decay. Farther and Skirrid Hill explore this theme in the context of the Welsh countryside, and whilst The Farrier is suggestive of a tenuous sort of control over the fragile beauty of the natural world, the predominant feeling is of transience and loss. This theme is taken up in The Wake and Amazon which both engage with death and illness in ways that manage to celebrate life. There are echoes of Seamus Heaney in some of these poems, including Late Spring but they are not derivative: they are further explorations of Heaney’s themes of inheritance (the title of another poem here), continuity and death.
There is a romantic thread to this anthology, and these poems are intense and intimate. Sheers is a new voice, striving for new ways of expression and is always interesting because of this. His explorations of Welsh history, and modern Wales, in The Steelworks, History and Joseph Jones are not just local poems, and have a universal appeal.
Interested in Owen Sheers’ Skirrid Hill? Find practical criticism reviews of the poems The Farrier and Mametz Wood, at this link: