A Guardian of Lost Legacies
By Karen Corinne Herceg.
In Robert Milby’s new chapbook, “Gothic Orange”, he fosters in us “the awe of eternal human history” (P. 5, l. 13), as he states so eloquently in “The Fossil Record, Catalogued by a Child.” He uses his home county of Orange in the Hudson Valley, New York region to create a microcosm of wonder and natural intelligence that informs both the local and wider landscapes of the world. Specific regional references correlate to universal knowledge through very personal perspectives, and Milby knows the minutia of the area as well as anyone. In stark and striking language, he writes with an antique authenticity, a pre-industrial mindset, and nostalgic yearning for a purer time of farms, fields, and the poetry of nature with “The sagacity of woodsmoke, grease/and ethers of the hayride of American history” (P. 10, ll. 10-11). He exhibits a remarkable ability to observe the environment with extreme patience and detailed specificity in the tradition of such great poets as Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Frost.
There are very specific examples of our inability to acknowledge the disconnections we experience within our environment. Milby cares deeply and expresses this throughout his work. We feel his deep sense of loss of a centuries old cottonwood in “The Balmville Tree,” cut down and disposable. He assigns an anthropomorphic persona to the tree that enhances the fact that this was a living, breathing entity: “Here he stood, a patriarch; a witness tree; over 300 years of/Hudson River story” (P. 13, ll. 2-3). And, again, in “Night Noise,” he employs a human element in a description of “the parched and cracked skin of fields” (P. 16, l. 3). Given our ubiquitous disregard for the importance and pre-eminence of nature, is it any wonder that a coyote would hide “from the heresy of humans”? (P. 26, l. 20).
Milby has a facility for examining humans and nature both in opposition and in communion. In “The King of the Frogs” he states: “I speak science truths one day, mythology the next” (P. 8, l. 17), evoking our ongoing conflicts and attempts to reconcile the mystical and the material worlds. He draws on his deep understanding of nature and extensive knowledge of both literary and world history to create an informed and nostalgic yearning, combining his wonder of the natural with ponderings of our many troubled interactions in the world. With wonderful, original lines like “the rails hiss like feral cats” (P. 10, l. 14-15), “wildlife gossip like human festivals” (P. 14, l. 17), and “Post partum rain” (P. 16, l. 1), he brings into focus the symbiosis of humanity and our indigenous environment. His connection to nature is intensely personal, and he integrates that connection with all aspects of art including painting, as in “The Field—for Vincent Van Gogh,” and with music in “The Grand Montgomery Chamber Series in Spring”:
A visual image or auditory experience can evoke a direct association with elements of our inherent biological world. We have a legacy that is both ethereal and tactile, and nature is the bridge to that magical world through which we can “trace our organic past” (P. 5, ll. 1-2). There are “verses trapped in ancient stone” (P. 5, l. 8).
Milby is the Poet Laureate of Orange County, New York (2017-2019), an honor that is well earned and well deserved. He is the paterfamilias of poetry in the county and beyond it, encouraging and supporting his fellow poets, reading not only his own work but also promoting the work of others, hosting series and events since 1995, and publishing throughout the Northeast in many journals and anthologies. He is the author of four previous books of poetry and two spoken word CDs. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his dedication, support and assiduous study of the ancient art of poetry that is so vitally needed in our modern world.
We may not ever reconcile the contradictions of human desires and intentions with the imperatives of nature, but we have poetry like Milby’s to prompt us to awareness and reflection so that we, too, might stop to reconsider our interactions and possibly make “a truce with/snowflakes” (P. 24, l. 19-20).
Milby, Robert. Gothic Orange. New York: Printeks Reprographics, 2018. Copies available from the poet at:
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays. A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017). She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.
An introduction to his life and work by Byron Beynon
Travel north-eastwards from Swansea, along the A465, away from Dylan’s “ugly, lovely town”, on through the watchful Vale of Neath, by-pass the lyrical place names of Glynneath, Hirwaun, Cefn-coed-y-cymmer, and Merthyr Tydfil, continue until you turn onto the A469, follow it to the small town of Rhymney. Founded during the nineteenth century on iron and coal, it was by the early 1900s employing thousands of workers in the town’s collieries. It was there in 1905 the poet Idris Davies was born, and by the time he died in 1953 his poetry was respected and read by some of the most influential and distinguished poets of the twentieth century.
TS Eliot published Davies at Faber& Faber, writing about his work he noted “that they are the best poetic document I know about a particular epoch in a particular place, and I think that they really have a claim to permanence……. There is great integrity, I think, about his work, and his subject-matter is something that he knew from A to Z. If all poets knew their proper material as he did, there would be less futile verse in the world.”
WB Yeats, writing to Vernon Watkins in March 1938 wanted Davies’ poem “William Morris” set to music. He had read the poem in the magazine “Wales” during the autumn of 1937, and went on to say “If I were a millionaire I would pay somebody to set it to music and whenever I was visited by any person who knew Morris I would pay somebody to sing it to us.”
In January 1946, Dylan Thomas, in a radio broadcast on the BBC Eastern Service, and produced by John Arlott, read Davies’ poem “The Bells of Rhymney”, in a programme entitled “Welsh Poets”. Many years later the iconic American folk-singer Pete Seeger would set this poem to music, it was also recorded by the 1960s’ group The Byrds, by Judy Collins, The Alarm, and many others.
By 1973, Philip Larkin, as editor of “The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse” included two of Davies’ poems, “The Lay Preacher Ponders” and “High Summer on the Mountains” in the anthology. Since the early 1970s Gomer Press has brought out several editions of Idris Davies’ Collected Poems, keeping his work alive and available to the discerning reader. It is easy to understand why, the work is humane, dramatic, lyrical, sophisticated with a deceptive strength and a clear sense of rhythm.
In a robust introduction to the 2003 edition, Jim Perrin claimed that Davies is “ the most significant and original Welsh poet to have written in English during the twentieth century”. Perrin considers Davies’ two long poems “Gwalia Deserta” and “The Angry Summer” as being “among the most considerable achievements in Anglo-Welsh poetry, and fully worthy of inclusion alongside other great twentieth century long poems from marginalised cultures: Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger”, Hugh MacDiarmid’s “A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle”, Sorley MacLean’s The Cuillin”. “
Davies had left school at 14, worked first as a miner and was introduced to the poems of Shelley by a fellow-worker named Eddie Balman. He became acutely aware of social and political issues: “But the greatest of our battles/we lost in’26/ Through treachery and lying,/And Baldwin’s box of tricks./ I began to read from Shelley/ In afternoons in May,/ And to muse upon the misery/ Of unemployment pay.” (from his poem I was Born in Rhymney). 1926 was a crucial year for Davies, the year of the General Strike and the Great Coal Strike, a long period in the mining villages of South Wales of privation and suffering. He later wrote “Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,/ The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,/ And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlit streets?” (from Gwalia Deserta).
He eventually escaped the mines and attended Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham, and by the end of 1932 had qualified as a teacher. He would teach in London for several years. In 1940 he lodged at 28 Haselmere Road, Crouch End, teaching at Hoxton. He kept a diary and wrote about the blitz- “Sept, 8. Sunday 11.45am ……. perhaps one of the worst nights London has ever known. About 500 Nazi planes bombed London’s dockland in the Eastern area, doing considerable damage and killing about 400 people, and injuring many more. A big fire blazed along the river for hours and the London sky was wonderfully lit-up.”The next day he wrote “I travelled by tube this morning……I have seen a good deal of damage today, most of it round Old Street Station. There’s a big crater in the street, and the Maternity Hospital at the corner was hit….Hoxton has suffered severely from the raids of the last three nights. Crouch End, so far, has escaped any severe damage,”
The writer Glyn Jones, a friend of Davies, wrote an essay about him in 1968, stating that “ He became a great lover of London, of Hampstead Heath, of Epping Forest and especially of the Charing Cross area with its second-hand bookshops. And he got to know many Welshmen then living in the capital, including Aneirin Talfan Davies, Keidrych Rhys and Dylan Thomas, whom he used to meet on Friday evenings.” Welsh writers frequented Griff’s Bookshop in Cecil Court, and in the early forties and early fifties it was kept by a man named William Griffith, who kept a representative stock of Welsh and Anglo-Welsh publications.
In 1938 Dent published his volume “Gwalia Deserta”, the first of four published volumes (the next three would be published by Eliot at Faber). During the period 1939-1945, he was evacuated several times with schools from London to Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, and to Wales. It was during this time that he wrote “The Angry Summer”, a poem of 1926, expressing his feelings for his people and what they had endured. This long poem of 50 sections, along with”Gwalia Deserta” (36 sections), and his autobiographical poem “I was Born in Rhymney” plus several shorter poems such as “Waun Fair”, “Capel Calvin”, “Rhymney”, “London Welsh”, “Midnight”, “Hywel and Blodwen”, do I believe have that claim to permanence which Eliot noted.
By the early 1950’s he became seriously ill with cancer, and just a month before his death his Selected Poems was published by Eliot in March 1953. Eliot had already published Davies’ “The Angry Summer” (1943), and “Tonypandy and other poems” (1945). Idris Davies died at his mother’s house in Victoria Road, Rhymney in April 1953. Today there are no mines to employ the workers, time has brought many changes, but Davies’ “poetic document” remains. There is a plaque on the house in his memory, and opposite there’s the library which also remembers him with a plaque,and a display of some of his books, pens, photographs and the family Bible. Here then was a poet who had compassion for the plight of the people he had been brought up with, a poet to echo Eliot, who knew his subject matter.
In late 2016 Faber & Faber published “The Map and the Clock: A Laureate’s Choice of Poetry of Britain and Ireland” edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, which includes two of Idris Davies’ poems “The Bells of Rhymney” (poem xv from Gwalia Deserta) and “Mrs Evans fach” (poem 7 from The Angry Summer). His poetry is direct, it sings, and continues to be read and appreciated into the 21st century.
For further reading and sources on Idris Davies:
The Complete Poems of Idris Davies edited by Dafydd Johnston (University of Wales Press 1994)
Collected Poems (Gomer 2003)
The Dragon Has Two Tongues essays by Glyn Jones (Dent 1968)
Idris Davies of Rhymney a personal memoir by Islwyn Jenkins (Gomer 1986)
Poetry Wales – Idris Davies Special Issue (1981)
Byron Beynon lives in West Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Third Wednesday, Poetry Ireland, Chiron Review, London Magazine, Crannog and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine. Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)
The following list consists of 15 book reviews published in 2018 that have generated the most interest from our readers as of November 2018. Click the links and consider a purchase for your holiday gift giving.
The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner
Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski
The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer
Appearances by Michael Collins
The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young
A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley
Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz
Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper
The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman
Ornaments by David Daniel
A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas
Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella
Logos by Gil Fagiani
A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree
The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching
Kristina Krumova is 29 years old and she lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. She has a Master’s Degree in “Contemporary history” from Sofia University and she was an Editor at New Social Poetry Magazine, Bulgaria. Kristina Krumova works as a freelance editor and she’s preparing her first poetry manuscript.
Thirteen years on she steps back into my wasted life, stark on the front page, a new name, the husband’s, same cool beauty, her face jolting me in my meal break near oil drums filled with rain, machinery’s grind and clatter silenced, my heart on overtime. Vanished. Foul play suspected. Two youngsters left, their father, who I know will be on everybody’s mind.
After trouble in the city I moved back to the area where we attended school, that madhouse of burgeoning libido. I think we held hands. Was there a note passed? A kiss? Now some moron might have killed her. My brief early love. I want to save her, me, a sad sack semi-skilled wage-slave attracted to trouble who can’t save himself. Who pays the price daily for skiving off in school. Kissing instead of studying.
She hitched three hundred miles of coastal roads dismayed by monotony’s grip. In a motel with seagulls in crisis, light dimming, sharks out there somewhere, an ocean of pressure overwhelming her, she knew the jig was up, turned herself in, old before she hit thirty. The husband of our suspicions might have grasped his second chance. I fled the factory. Now, with me washed up by a sighing sea, wind wild in my face mending pain, she alights in a thought gap. I hope we kissed.
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.