bryon beynon

A DRAUGHT OF VINTAGE

Keats 1Fanny Brawne.

Towards John Keats’s Third Collection of Poetry by Byron Beynon

Two hundred years ago in July 1820, John Keats’s third book of poems “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems” was published by Taylor and Hessey, of Fleet Street, London.

His two previous collections “Poems” (1817), and “Endymion” (1818), had either been ignored or reviewed with savage scorn. This third collection contained most of the major work and is rightly considered his greatest collection.

The eighteen months or so leading up to the book’s publication had been for Keats a rollercoaster of different emotions, with the death of his brother Tom from TB, anxiety over money, personal illness, interspersed with periods of calm, inspiration, and fresh landscapes. However, he managed to create in a relatively short time (between January and September 1819) a body of work which challenged comparison with those of John Milton in his maturity.

This outpouring of major poetry in 1819 produced “The Eve of St Agnes”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Melancholy”, “Ode to Psyche”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “La Belle Dans sans Merci”, “Lamia”, and “To Autumn”. Poetry full of atmosphere, with wonderful delicacy and reserve. It was also a time when his older brother George had already left England and emigrated to America, he’d also met the love of his life Fanny Brawne, not forgetting he had to catch up on and digest several scathing reviews of his previous collections.

These reviews, as John Barnard points out in his book on Keats, were the product of “snobbery and class-consciousness….”. He also noted that “Keats’s aspirations had touched a nerve. Keats represented a threat.” Undaunted Keats would have the strength of mind to continue with his writing.

In his journal letter to his brother George and his sister-in-law Georgina written during December/January 1818/1819 Keats recalled:

“The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature; but his last moments were not so painful, and his very last was without a pang – I will not enter into any parsonic comments on death – yet the common observations of the commonest people on death are as true as their proverbs. I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature o (r) other- neither had Tom….. Sometimes I fancy an immense separation, and sometimes, as at present, a direct communication of spirit with you.”

George had sailed in June 1818 from Liverpool to Philadelphia, onto Pittsburgh, then to Illinois territory, and the frontier settlement of Henderson in western Kentucky. After several years he eventually moved to Louisville. By the early 1830s, with a successful lumber mill and flour mill, he prospered, and built a large house in Louisville in 1835.

Keats, after the death of his brother Tom on 1st December 1818, moved into Wentworth Place, (now called Keats House), Hampstead with his friend Charles Brown. He had been writing and working on the poem “Hyperion” but put it to one side as the year drew to a close due the stress of his brother’s illness and death.

It was also in his journal letter to George on the 16th December 1818 that Keats first mentions Fanny Brawne:

“Mrs Brawne who took Brown’s house for the summer, still resides in Hampstead – she is a very nice woman – and her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange – we have a little tiff now and then- and she behaves a little better, or I must have sheered off.”

Two days later, on the 18th he wrote “shall I give you Miss Brawne? She is about my height- with a fine style of countenance of the lenghthen’d sort – she wants sentiment in every feature-she manages to make her hair look well- her nostrils are fine- ……her full-face which indeed not full but pale and thin without showing any bone – Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements….”

Through the encouragement of friends like Charles and Maria Dilke, Keats decided that  a change of scene might do him good, and by mid January 1819 he travelled and stayed in Chichester, and then onto Bedhampton, to the old Mill House, where he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes” (January/early February 1819). It was another friend, Isabella Jones, who probably suggested to Keats that he should write this poem, a short romance, based on a legend. He had also been working again on the poem “Hyperion”, but the going was slow, and he finally abandoned it before or during April 1819. In mid February he began something new, the unfinished “The Eve of St Mark” where he pictures a cathedral town on a Sunday evening. At the time he worked on this poem he was suffering from a sore throat and was confined to his rooms.

He was now heading towards a golden period when the great odes of late April and early May would come. Back in London, on 11th April Keats took a walk across Hampstead Heath and met Mr Green an acquaintance from Guy’s Hospital in conversation with Coleridge, he joined them on their walk and as Keats said “In those two miles he (C) broached a thousand things……Nightingales, Poetry, – on Practical Sensation- Metaphysics- Different genera and species of Dreams….”

Soon after he wrote “Fancy”, and then on 21st April the ballad “La Belle dame sans Merci” (not included in his third volume). Within another nine days he had completed “To Sleep”, two sonnets “On Fame” and then “Ode to Psyche” the first of the great odes which was written by 30th April. “Ode to Psyche” proved to be a valuable springboard, within two or three weeks all the five remaining odes except “To Autumn” were written. His mind open and restored again with a fluency of purpose after a period of uncertainty and anxiety.

His friend Charles Brown wrote that “Ode to a Nightingale” was written soon after “Ode to Psyche” and composed in a single morning, he described the time of composition as lasting “two or three hours”. Brown also wrote:

“In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continued joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of papers in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale.”

Richard Holmes in his essay on Keats reflects on the poet’s survival in popular imagination via the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and how in the twentieth century “Scott Fitzgerald revealed a lifelong obsession with Keats, which produced not only the theme and title of “Tender is the Night” (1934), but also inspired his late pedagogic attempt to become a literature professor, as movingly recounted in Sheilah Graham’s “College of One” (1967), which began when Fitzgerald started reciting Keats to her as they drove back from a Hollywood film premier in his ancient Ford.”

Between July and September 1819 Keats stayed in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, he would also move to Winchester, working on the play “Otho the Great”, and the poems “Lamia” and “The Fall of Hyperion”. That July, Keats who was by then engaged to Fanny Brawne, wrote to her from Shanklin:

“My Sweet Girl,

Your letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe it it, …I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else – I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.”

At Winchester, in September he wrote the sensuous and richly powerful “To Autumn”, and on the 19th he wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds and mentioned:

“How beautiful the season is now- How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it…I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now- Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm- this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

During the winter of 1819/1820 and back in Hampstead, Keats became unwell. His increasing ill health would continue throughout 1820, and his doctor ordered him to go to Italy, hoping that a warmer climate would aid his recovery. In July his third book, after revisions, was published by Taylor and Hessey. With an intuition for sound Keats had produced a body of work unmatched by a poet who had not quite reached the age of twenty-four. As RS White stated in his “John Keats – A Literary Life” the poet did have the “satisfaction of seeing into print a new volume of his poems, containing mainly the fruit of his astonishing creative output in 1819, its title emphasising the romances:”. White further adds that “the 1820 volume is a sublime artistic success, comparable to Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge in its significance for literary history.”

By September, along with Joseph Severn, Keats set sail for Italy on the Maria Crowther. There in Rome, on the 23rd February 1821, the 25 year old poet died from TB. Joseph Severn later reflected “Nothing seemed to escape him, the song of a bird and the undernote of response from covert or hedge, the rustle of some animal, the changing of the green and brown lights and furtive shadows, the motions of the wind.”

When I lived in London I took advantage of visiting the restored house in Hampstead where Keats once lived and wrote several of his poems and letters. On display inside were first editions of his three books of poetry. These books were once owned by his good friend Charles Brown, and they bear his signature. They were originally issued in drab grey paper covers but Brown had them re-bound in leather to match other books in his library. All three volumes went out of print and they were not available again until 1840. However pirated editions appeared in Paris in 1829 and also in Philadelphia in 1837.

For further reading and sources on John Keats:

John Keats: The Complete Poems edited by John Bernard Penguin Books 2006

Letters of John Keats: A selection edited by Robert Gittings Oxford UP 1986

John Keats by Walter Jackson Bate Harvard UP 1963

John Keats by Robert Gittings Penguin Books 1979

John Keats by Nicholas Roe Yale UP 2012

This Long Pursuit by Richard Holmes William Collins 2016

Keats and his Circle – An Album of Portraits compiled & presented by Joanna Richardson

published by Cassell London 1980

John Keats A Literary Life by RS White Palgrave/MacMillan 2012

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Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, The London Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Poetry Salzburg, Agenda and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and the Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)

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A Fever For Colour

By Byron  Beynon

Portrait of J D Innes by Ian Strang

Portrait of Innes by Ian Strang (1913)

The Painter J D INNES (1887-1914): A brief introduction to his life and work

James Dickson Innes was born in Wales in 1887, the third son of John Innes (1853-1923) an accountant, and his wife Alice (1857-1942) who lived in the Carmarthenshire town of Llanelli.

The year 1887 appears to have been a fertile one for the birth of painters. Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986), and LS Lowry (1887-1976) were all born in the same year as Innes. However, Innes did not have the luxury of living and painting into middle life let alone mature age. His life was tragically cut short, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 27. Nevertheless during a few short years, he produced several memorable paintings, rich in imagery with an exquisite harmony of colour, or as his friend John Fothergill (1876-1957) said, “he painted nature with the brilliance of stained glass.”

His grandfather Robert and his parents valued education and had a correct ethos towards the children. The grandfather had opened a school in Llanelli and was also secretary of the art class. His mother had been born in Lyon, France in 1857. She offered stability to the family. Her connection with France may have kindled the boy’s imagination and curiosity about her life there. I also believe the landscape of Wales; Carmarthenshire, Breconshire and Pembrokeshire awakened in him a sense of place, and a need to capture those landscapes creatively by sketching and painting.

Furnace Quarry Llanelli

The Furnace Quarry, Llanelli (1906)

Llanelli’s population in 1900 was approximately 36,000, an industrial town, it produced most of Britain’s output of copper. Although an industrial town it was in close proximity to unspoilt countryside and situated by the sea.

Innes attended Christ College, Brecon, before continuing his education at the School of Art, Carmarthen. He was inspired at first to follow JMW Turner’s footsteps (Turner had made five sketching and painting tours of Wales between 1792 and 1799), and travels through south Wales, visiting and painting Kidwelly, Carew and Chepstow castles, and Tintern Abbey. Innes would later visit north Wales; places such as Bala, Aberystwyth, Llanidloes and the Arenig mountain which became an important subject matter, obsessed by it, he acquired a passion for the mountain. A favourite story of Innes about the painter Turner was when a lady complained to Turner that she did not see in nature the colours Turner saw, he replied “and don’t you wish you could, Madam ?”

 

Innes seems to have been a delicate son, not as robust as his elder brothers, suffering bouts of ill-health. Undeterred, and with the support of his family, by the autumn of 1905, he was in London, studying at the Slade School of Art. He first lived at Wimbledon, but later moved to Cheyne Walk, and to Fitzroy street. It was an important period in his life, meeting fellow artists and contacts in the art world. He would meet early influences such as Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Augustus John (1878-1961), John Fothergill (1876-1957) and the Australian painter Derwent Lees (1884-1931). He also went on to exhibit his work at the Chenil Gallery, Chelsea.

In 1908 he travelled to France with John Fothergill. He headed south to Bozouls, and then to Collioure, following the paths taken by Matisse and Derain who had been there a few years earlier in 1905. Innes’ work became influenced by the strong sunlight and his colours became bolder after he moved to the south of France. He would visit France several times, spending time at Collioure, the Pyrenees, Perpignan and Paris. Hilary Spurling in her biography of Matisse quoted a contemporary traveller taking the train from Perpignan at the beginning of the twentieth century “All of a sudden as you emerge on the crest of a hill from the rocky corridor, Collioure! Radiant with light on the curve of a small bay, hemmed in by the last burnt foothills of the mountains, a blaze of reds and ochres…..Is this still France, or already Africa, with its clumps of agave, and its palm trees dotted here and there among the garden?”

In 1912 Innes also travelled into Spain, south to Ronda, and the mountains of Andalusia, capturing in his work the light and colour of the landscapes he saw and experienced.

In the same year he briefly visited Coole Park, in Galway, Ireland. It was the home of Lady Gregory, born in 1852, who was a great friend and influence on the poet WB Yeats (1865-1939). During his stay there Innes painted The Lake at Coole Park, Co. Galway. There is a tree standing in the garden, known as the Autograph Tree, inscribed by Innes; it also has the initials of Yeats, Bernard Shaw and others.

Arenig North Wales

Arenig, North Wales (1913

Back in north Wales he developed an extraordinary passion for painting the Arenig Mountain. He was fascinated by it and painted it over and over again, just like Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) did with his Monte Sainte-Victoire. Innes developed a wonderful sense of colour, and painted Arenig from different viewpoints, in diverse lights and weather conditions. The mountain situated in the middle of the moorland between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog is a natural landscape which Innes painted with great intensity. Augustus John who had spent time with Innes in north Wales, was amazed by the restless and creative energy that Innes had acquired for the mountain.

In February 1913 five of his paintings were selected for the prestigious International Armory Exhibition of Modern Art which toured New York, Chicago and Boston.

Sadly, during the last years of his short life, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. By the end of 1913 and early 1914 Innes was seriously ill, and after spending a brief time in Morocco and Tenerife, he was taken back to England. First to Brighton, where his mother took care of him, and then finally he was moved to a nursing home in Swanley in Kent. It was there that this skilled artist died on the 22nd of August 1914.

Town of Collioure

The Town of Collioure (1908)

Some of today’s critics believe that Innes’ work is the link between Turner’s experiments with light and colour and David Hockney’s work (b1937). The intense light of the south of France encouraged bolder and brighter colours, which his friend Fothergill thought was inspired by their stay in the town of Collioure with its “gemlike bay” and “fishing boats of antique build and scarlet sails;……and where his all-excelling sense of colour was awakened.”

Augustus John in a tribute later said, “His work will live when that of many happier and healthy men will have grown with the passing years cold, dull and lifeless.”

In 2014 the National Museum of Wales held an exhibition of his work, marking not only the centenery of his death but also to celebrate this gifted and prodigious artist, whose early death robbed Wales and the world of a great talent.

FOR FURTHER READING

James Dickson Innes 1887-1914 by John Hoole and Margaret Simons Lund Humphries (2013)

James Dickson Innes by John Fothergill Ariel Books on the Arts Faber &Faber (1946)

Matisse the Life by Hilary Spurling, Penguin Books (2009)

In Montmartre  Picasso, Matisse & Modernism in Paris 1900-1910 by Sue Roe Fig Tree imprint of Penguin Books  (2014)

Post-Impressionism Royal Academy of Arts London 1979-80 catalogue published by

Weidenfeld & Nicolson London

The Great Bohemian The letters of Ida John Bloomsbury Publishing (2017)

Carmarthenshire The Concise History by Dylan Rees University of Wales Press (2006)

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Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, Cyphers, San Pedro River Review, The London Magazine, The Worcester Review and the human right anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He coordinated the Wales’ section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions).  He is currently working on a project with Dr Barry Plummer about the artist J D Innes

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Three Symphonies by Tony Conran

Tony Conran - Three Symphonies (Cover)

By Bryon Beynon

In 1968 the poet Basil Bunting wrote “with sleights learned from others and an ear open to melodic analogies I have set down words as a musician picks his score, not to be read in silence, but to trace in the air a pattern of sound that may sometimes, I hope, be pleasing.”

Reading the preface to Tony Conran’s Three Symphonies he says that for sometime he had been “haunted by the idea of a long poem in several disparate movements like a symphony in music”. There is a sense here of a bond between the two poets, wave-lengths not too dissimilar.

The word symphony derives from Greek, meaning a sounding together or concord of sound, and arguably is the most pure musical form that can be written. I believe that during his lifetime (he died in 2013), Conran’s Symphonies (the first, Day Movements, appeared as far back as 1967) worked towards this union or concord of sound, using the rhythm of words. Conran’s book contains symphonies 7 The Magi, 8 Fabrics (in one movement of sonnets), and 9 Everworlds (including “Requiem for Robert Graves”), all composed in the period 2004-2007. I remember that in December 2004 I published in a magazine (Roundyhouse) I co-edited, a sequence of seven sonnets from Symphony 8, which included Fabrics (which became the untitled sonnet 4), ‘Stone Age’, ‘Fleece’, ‘Washing the Fleece’, ‘Dye Plants’, ‘Penelope’ and ‘India’ with “Brahamani bulls humped like toast racks-all day /Odd villagers with an hour to spare would meet/ To shed the warp, let fly the scuttling weft.” The sonnets were a work in progress, and numbered sixteen when completed.

I first heard his poems being read aloud by his wife Lesley at the Poetry Society in London, when it was based at Earl’s Court. By coincidence, the following day I went along to Keats House in Hampstead, where Basil Bunting sat and read by a table in the Brawne Rooms. Conran also belongs to that same line of Modernists which includes Bunting, MacDiarmid and David Jones. 

Born in India in 1931, he spent most of his life in north Wales, settling in Bangor, where he taught at the university. Widely published, he was much admired for the passion behind his writing, as a poet, critic, dramatist and translator of Welsh-language poetry. His Penguin Book of Welsh Verse appeared in 1967, with translations from a selection of work from fourteen centuries of poetry from Taliesin and Aneirin, to Waldo Williams and Gwyn Thomas. Through his discovery of Welsh literature he went on to learn the rules of cynghanedd, and wrote poems in English which were based on Welsh metres. His books of essays The Cost of Strangeness and Frontiers in Anglo-Welsh poetry, are impressive, stimulating and important works, and his many volumes of poetry include Life Fund (1979), Blodeuwedd (1989), Castles (1993), The Shape of my Country (selected poems and extracts 2004), and What Brings You Here So Late? (2008).

In his informative and thought-provoking introduction to Three Symphonies the poet Jeremy Hooker, a fine critical writer on Anglo-Welsh matters, writes with detachment, insight, and warm sympathy, that Conran’s “ modernism acknowledges diverse influences including Eliot and Yeats, Robert Graves and Idris Davies……he used what he found in them creatively in making poetry of striking originality.” Add to this his knowledge of Welsh poetry dating back to the sixth century to the present day, a fusion of something new and powerful occurred. Hooker guides the reader as he notes “ the symphonies’ encyclopaedic form includes everything, from the Big Bang to the present state of the world.”  We are taken on a poetical, cultural, and political journey, an unsentimental celebration of “the gift of life”, an exploration of “the making of the world and all that it contains.”

We hear this in the poem ‘Life’ (from Symphony 7):

LIFE
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It has taken me time
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Wherever life grew first –
In black smokers
Of the rifting seabeds
Where bubbling lavas
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Geyser up
Into an airless murk;
Or by breakwaters
The soup of lagoons
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Warmed by the Sun, but saved
From the deadly light
Under rock debris
Or buried in mud
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-Wherever the thin whiskery
Haze of the protein
Replicators
Crept like rottenness
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Into sharp stone
Foul-smelling – but
There were no noses –
The secret changelings,
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T he cloned effluvia
From whose myriads
Came our breathable air,
Our shielded home…..
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Came, like locust swarms,
Eventually, us.
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Conran also thought of his poetry “as a dance for the tongue and the vocal chords: ultimately, since tongue and vocal chords don’t occur in a vacuum, for the whole body, the whole mind.” In an interview in The New Welsh Review with Ian Gregson in 1988, he was asked about the influence of Robert Graves, in the sense of how poetry happens, how it gets written, Conran’s reply…… “I think that writing poetry does involve you in a different level of experience, a deep trance-like state. But it depends on the poem. Poems which have a strong rhythmic base and the rhythms takes you along into the darkness….the poem is a stranger to you like a baby”.

In the second movement of the final Symphony 9, there are several poems in memory and in praise of Robert Graves, including ‘Dejà Unvisited’, ‘The Erosion of Everworlds’, ‘Castle’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Oxford 1919’, ‘Disembarking’, ‘The Goddess Sings’, ‘To the Utmost’, and ‘The Peony’.

The second movement begins with:

Passage to Dejà
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i.m. Robert Graves (1895-1985)
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Dejà Unvisited
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The hill haunted me. Dejà –
One of my everworlds
Whose magical fauna
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Sometimes as friends of friends would come
Filling my room
With his last, dumb
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Awarenesses, geologically
Slow, a poetry
Speechless as lichen.
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My household could have been translated
And I’d only to look out
Through olive groves
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To see twilight
Blur the long stairs
Up to the town,
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The corner to his home…..
And behind me, did I half-hear
Her footsteps
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Who ‘variously haunts’
This hill,
This island Earth ?
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This is a life-affirming book, written with intensity and energy, poems of mystery and beauty, where the personality of the poet enters the vital sinew of each poem. He has, as T.S. Eliot said of the work of James Joyce and David Jones, “the Celtic ear for the music of words”.

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Byron Beynon lives in West Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, London Magazine, Cyphers, Poetry Ireland Review, The Sante Fe Literary Review, The Yellow Nib and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He coordinated the Wales section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications). 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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