What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

What the Owl Taught Me
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By Byron Beynon
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In this, her first full collection, Annest Gwilym makes an impressive debut. She brings to life, through rich observation, her deeply felt connection with the natural world. She inhabits this world with an objective and sympathetic eye. Landscape and place are important to an understanding of what Gwilym is trying to say in these poems. The creatures that inhabit them become the primary focus, whether they are mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish and marine life, they all play a part in the delicate balance and rhythm of a world we all share and live in.
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As Ted Hughes discovered as a teenager, animals have a “vivid life of their own, outside mine” and he began to “look at them……from their own point of view.” Gwilym’s poem “Last Night I Became An Emperor Moth” begins with this view in mind:
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“I rode through the liquid night,
as a melon-slice moon crested a bank of cloud.
Part of the hush and curve of the universe;
Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.
Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,
furry belly glossy and plump.”
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Gwilym also casts an innocent eye in the poem “Whelk Shell” when
“As a child they looked like ice-cream cones”……and “Held to the ear I hear/the rushing blood and heartbeat/of a living being.”
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There are several focused observations in her work such as:
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“sheep like drops of candlewax/Spilled over bare green hills.” (Driving Through Sheep Country)
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“Hair-thin legs on stilts” (Daddy Longlegs in the Attic)
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“They huddle like conspirators/in slick black suits…” (Crows)
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“they crest/ like the pure notes of a clarinet.” (Dolphins At Porthdinllaen)
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and from the poem “Great Crested Newt” she takes us to a world inhabited by a “Creature of two elements,/he waves his dinosaur tail /at his chosen one, beguiles/her with cologne/in his brightest spring suit.”
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There is also that sense of fate which many creatures have little or no choice to determine:
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“Ear-tags show these beasts are marked for death;” (September Cattle) and again where trees are uprooted and houses built “foxes /stalk the shrinking woods.” (The Fox Road)
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As the Anglo-American writer Stephen Pain says we “experience a whole range of feelings towards animals, and hope and believe that they are reciprocated. They produce, to paraphrase David Hume (author of A Treatise of Human Nature), “a sensible concern” in us. The birth and death of animals (not all of course) elicit from us sympathy. The nature and extent of this sympathy has evolved over centuries into something complex and provides the foundation for our appreciation of animal verse.”
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This concern can be heard in the poet’s voice as she looks outside late at night from a bedroom window at a family of foxes “a swirl of autumn,/with a feline leap from a fence they landed,/velvet-footed, spangle-faced, a mother/and kits who rolled and played…”(City Foxes)
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Gwilym has two patterned poems, “Wasps’ Nest” and “Golden Child”, both arranged in interesting shapes on the page. In her poem “Golden Child” the endangered Undulate Ray is: “Beauty queen of rays,/she hides her cartoon face underneath where she/grins with 50 teeth. She bears children in a purse/fit for a mermaid.”
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We are closer to the poet’s home territory in “Seal At Play” where in the marina she perceives the unfamiliar in familiar surroundings;
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“A water-slick head surfaces and his eyes
watch the watchers, as sunlight glosses him.
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Later, the retreating tide will lead him away,
dragged by the moon and stars.”
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In “Encounter” an unexpected meeting with a mare unfolds “she is as polished as a chestnut just out of its thorny armour,” when the horse is offered some grass to eat a trust develops as:
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“the mare lowers her head
and eats, lipping my hand
as ears flick away flies.”
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This is a mature, accessible first collection of forty poems, written with imagination and craft.  Her keen perception allows the reader to experience an understanding of familiar creatures in a receding and threatened world from a different slant.
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You can find the book here: WHAT THE OWL TAUGHT ME

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Byron Beynon’s work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, San Pedro River Review, Planet, Poetry New Zealand, Wasafiri and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)
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