byron beynon

10 Most Read Poets – January to July 2021

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Howard Beach: Queens, NY by Doug Holder

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/howard-beach-queens-ny-by-doug-holder/

Leave Meeting by Bruce Whitacre

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/leave-meeting-by-bruce-e-whitacre/

Two Poems by Byron Beynon

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-byron-beynon-2/

A Familiar Street, Unknown by Brian Rihlmann

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/13/a-familiar-street-unknown-by-brian-rihlmann/

Two Poems by John Dorroh

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/07/14/two-poems-by-john-dorroh/

Two Poems by Mark Tulin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-mark-tulin/

Two Poems by Linda Lerner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/two-poems-by-linda-lerner/

Wild by Paul Ilechko

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/04/11/wild-by-paul-ilechko/

Two Poems by Catherine Zickgraf

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/05/13/two-poems-by-catherine-zickgraf/

Pages Come and Go by Carla Sarett

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/07/14/pages-come-and-go-by-carla-sarett/

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Jeoffry: The Poets Cat by Olive Soden

jeoffry

By Byron Beynon

The subject of this book is Jeoffry, a real cat born in a London whorehouse during an earthquake in March 1750.  He began life “in a cupboard, under the staircase of a grand house in the Covent Garden Piazza.” Jeoffry’s coat was “a fuzz of carrot and ginger, with ripples of fawny stripes that ran down his back”, his colouring inherited from his father “a spruce orange tom”. He was fortunate to come into the world at a time when “to keep and to feed an animal with and for pleasure was an activity becoming more and more common in Georgian England:”

At the age of nine however he found himself confined inside a lunatic asylum along with the poet Christopher Smart (1722 – 1771).  Between 1759 and 1763 he shared Smart’s cell, and in exchange for company and love the poet devoted 74 of the surviving 1,700 lines of his religious poem “Jubilate Agno” (Rejoice in the Lamb) to his cat Jeoffry.  Smart was confined to the asylum for religious mania.  Born in the county of Kent, and a graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, he worked as a hack journalist.  He wrote his masterpiece during his confinement, although it wasn’t published until 1939.  The poem describes his cat, who was his sole companion, and the sequence beginning “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry ….” is the most anthologised poem in English.

The biography is a mixture of fact and imagination, allowing us to follow Jeoffry’s life and experiences in literary and theatrical London. He meets Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge in the Strand, he views the composer George Frederick Handel’s swollen legs, and shares Smart’s cell as the poet writes the poem which will make Jeoffry immortal.

In the twentieth century Benjamin Britten set “Jeoffry” to music, and the poets W.H. Auden and T.S.Eliot were also impressed by this magnifi-cat. The biography comes with the 74 lines of the poem for Jeoffry, and 12 illustrations in colour, including works by William Hogarth and Thomas Gainsborough.

Soden has written with empathy and invention, a comical, deeply moving, profound biography. With excellent research, he recounts the life of Jeoffry, praising him as “a mixture of gravity and waggery”.

You can find the book here: http://www.oliversoden.co.uk/jeoffry-the-poets-cat.html

Byron Beynon coordinated Wales’ contribution to the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). His poems and essays have featured in several publications including North of Oxford, The Independent, Agenda, Wasafiri, The London Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He is the author of 11 collections of poetry including Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions).

Gigantic Cinema – A Weather Anthology – edited by Alice Oswald and Paul Keegan

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By Byron Beynon

What’s the weather like today where you are? Is it raining? How do you feel when you hear the rain?  The sun maybe shining, and a gentle breeze massages your face. Giant clouds inhabit the sky above you, faces or objects begin to take shape before your very eyes as your imagination feeds on weather’s images.

Novelists, poets, dramatists, film-makers, artists, musicians, have all been inspired by the kaleidoscope and mysterious moods weather has kindled before and within us.  I live in south-west Wales, where most of the weather conditions come from the Atlantic bringing rain.  Even the trees, growing in open, exposed places, lean towards the north-east because their sap runs weaker on the windward side.

The poet Ted Hughes in his essay entitled “Wind and Weather” wrote “Have you noticed how your mood depends on the weather?  All living things are natural barometers, and change as the weather changes … we experience these changes in our bodily chemistry as changes in our feelings.”  He goes on to say that “The great American poetess, Emily Dickinson, has many wonderful poems about various weathers” he chose the poem which begins “There came a wind like a bugle” – as one of her best on weather regarding the landscape coming alive “as if the touch of the wind and the strange light had turned it into a nightmare.”

In this new anthology edited by the poet Alice Oswald and the Penguin Classics editor Paul Keegan, we have a wide and thought-provoking selection of prose and poetry about the weather, reactions both formal and fleeting, actual responses, found in journals and jottings, diaries and letters. Whether it be rain, volcanic ash, nuclear dust, snow, light, fog, hurricanes, flood, dusk and dawn, we find a flow of reactions.  We read writers from across the ages, giving their responses and feelings on climate from Ovid to Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf to Pliny the Younger, Charles Baudelaire to Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens, Dafydd Ap Gwilym to Paul Muldoon and many others.

In the preface we hear of William Hazlit’s essay on “My First Acquaintance with Poets”, he describes his walking holiday along the Bristol Channel with his new friend:”A thunder-storm came on while we were at the inn, and Coleridge was running out bare-headed to enjoy the commotions of the elements….”.  Further along we read about Daniel Defoe’s report of the Great Storm of 1703, that “the air was full of Meteors and fiery Vapours”.  In his journal for 20th July 1778 the following details are given by Gilbert White “Much thunder. Some people in the village were struck down by the storm, but not hurt.  The stroke seemed to them like a violent push or shove.  The ground is well-soaked.  Wheat much lodged.  Frogs migrate from the ponds.”

Open the antholody at any page and you will find something to delight and fascinate.  From the fourteenth century, Yoshida Kenko writes in his “Essays in Idleness” – “One morning after a pleasant fall of snow I sent a letter to someone with whom I had business, but failed to mention the snow.  The reply was droll: “Do you suppose I can pay any attention to someone so pervserse as to write a letter with no word of inquiry about how I am enjoying the snow? I am most disappointed in you.”  Now that the author of that letter is dead, even so trivial an incident sticks in my mind.”

The poet Louis MacNeice creates atmosphere in his 1935 poem “Snow” – the opening begins:

“The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.”

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In his journal of 1892 the artist Edvard Munch writes:”I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – I felt a wave of sadness – the sky suddenly turned blood-red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, tired to death – I looked out over the flaming clouds like blood and swords – the blue-black fjord and city – my friends walked on – I stood there trembling with angst – and I felt as though a vast, endless Scream passed through nature.”

This rich antholody takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the varying moods and canvases of weather, words heightening and buffeting our senses with light and shade, creating atmosphere, this influential action of weather.
 
 
Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales.
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Dylan Thomas in Winter

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By Byron Beynon
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Dylan Thomas had a healthy nostalgia for childhood, the winter months, Christmas and the New Year, conjuring up feelings and memories within stories, poems and reminiscences of time past, using language of a familiar season when thoughts were cast back to more innocent times.
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“Memories of Christmas” was reissued, enlarged, and sold to Harper’s Bazaar for 300 dollars under the title “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales”. He also made a recording of it.  It begins with:
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“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
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He leaves his house in Cwmdonkin Drive and walks down the festive hill facing the bay as:
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“All the Christmases roll down the hill towards the Welsh-speaking sea, like a snowball growing whiter and bigger and rounder, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street;”
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He later returns to the comfort of his home “and the fire in the front room, and bang go the crackers, and holy, holy, holy, ring the bells, and the glass bells shaking on the tree…”
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In a letter from Laugharne in December 1939 he wrote to his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins; it opens with a reply “What do I want for Christmas? Oh, that’s nice.  I want a war-escaper – a sort of ladder, I think, attached to a balloon ….. could I perhaps have the New Yorker Annual (published by Hamish Hamilton…) which is all funny drawings, half a game, half a book? I should like that very much indeed …. But there will be Christmas Eve for us, and we’ll smoke your ridiculous cigarettes and buy bathfuls of Cointreau, bitter, biddy, or ink.  For you this Christmas a record: which?”
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The writer and commentator, John Ackerman, noted in his book “Welsh Dylan” that “Thomas had anticipated this presentation of the natural world in the poems of childhood, and also in “A Winter’s Tale”, which is an expansive and lyrical evocation of country life in winter:” The opening 10 lines sing through the winter air:
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“It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes,
The pale breath of cattle at the stealthy sail,
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And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl
In the river wended vales where the tale was told.
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Dylan sent the completed poem to the American anthologist Oscar Williams in New York saying: “The longish one, I’m glad to say, has taken a great deal of time & trouble”. It was eventually published in Poetry (Chicago) in July 1945.
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Back in Swansea, after much of the town he loved had been destroyed during the war he recalls in Return Journey: “It was a cold white day in High Street, and nothing to stop the wind slicing up from the docks, for where the squat and tall shops had shielded the town from the sea lay their blitzed flat graves marbled with snow and headstoned with fences.  Dogs, delicate as cats on water, as though they had gloves on their paws, padded over the vanished buildings.”
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And again, from the same piece, the excellent “staring through the glass of the hotel door at the snowflakes sailing down the sky, like Siberian confetti.”
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In “The Followers” he is again in Swansea, prose full of detail and vivid as a painting: “It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening.  Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps.  The pavements shone long and yellow.  In squeaking goloshes, with mackintosh collar up and bowlers and trilbies weeping, youngish men from the offices bundled home against the thistly wind…”
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And finally, as the old year becomes history and a new year approaches Dylan writes: “Of what is coming in the New Year I know nothing, except that all that is certain will come like thunderclaps or like comets in the shape of four-leaved clovers, and all that is unforeseen will appear with the certainty of the sun who every morning shakes a leg in the sky’” (from The Crumbs of One Man’s Year)
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Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales

 

Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed The World by Jonathan Bates

radical

By Byron Beynon

Jonathan Bate’s new biography of William Wordsworth, published to mark the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the poet’s birth, guides us through the life and makes a strong case of why we should care about the poet’s work today.
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Bate focuses and notes a climate of ideas, that Wordsworth ‘wrote with unprecedented sympathy for the poor, the excluded and the broken’. He ‘changed the way we perceive, inhabit and preserve the wilder places of the natural world’. He also ‘foresaw that among the consequences of modernity would be not only the alienation of human beings from each other, but also potentially irretrievable damage to the delicate balance between our species and our environment’.
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Wordsworth in ‘Tintern Abbey’ wrote that for him the importance was that ‘We see into the life of things’ and as Bate points out in the wonderful skating sequence from ‘The Prelude’,
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‘He felt this spirited ‘transport’ again when skating on the lake at twilight in the frosty season. The village clock tolls six as ‘All shod with steel /We hissed along the polished ice in games/…..The sibilanceof ‘shod’, ‘steel’, ‘hissed’, ‘polished’ and ‘ice’ brings the very sound of the skates to life’. However the experience of skating is not just a physical action but also an interaction, an experience with the image of a star reflected in the ice ‘To cut across the reflex of a star;/ Image that, flying before me, gleamed/ Upon the glassy plain’. 
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Wordsworth was born on the 7th of April 1770, at Cockermouth, a little Cumbrian market town on the edge of the Lake District. Educated at Hawkshead school and later St John’s College, Cambridge he became disillusioned by university life. He was to develop a keen love and empathy for nature as well as the lives of real people, he also realised his vocation as a poet. In his poetry he saw nature as a kind of spiritual healer, with a personality of its own. His deep poetic appreciation of the natural world was not an incidental and decorative part of his verse, it was its chief impulse and theme.
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Bate charts his way through Wordsworth’s childhood in the Lake District, his time at Cambridge, and his walking tours in France and Switzerland with his Welsh friend Robert Jones. He was also to visit the home of Robert Jones in North Wales, their famous night-time ascent of Snowdon left a profound impression on him, as they climbed to find the surrounding peaks illuminated as ‘the Moon looked down upon this shew/ In single glory, and we stood, the mist/ Touching our very feet; ……The universal spectacle throughout/ Was shaped for admiration and delight…’
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In 1791 he visited revolutionary France, alone this time, and met Annette Vallon by whom he had a child. He moves back to England to seek a livelihood and to be with his gifted and observant sister Dorothy.  In 1795 he meets Coleridge. He settles, after a cold and severe winter in Germany with Dorothy and Coleridge, back in the Lake District, at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and marries Mary Hutchinson. Bate focuses largely on this first half of Wordsworth’s life, through childhood, youth and the years between 1798 and 1808 when he completes ‘The Ruined Cottage’, the bulk of the poems published anonymously as ‘Lyrical Ballads’, plans ‘The Recluse’ and when ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ and ‘The Prelude’ are also completed during this groundbreaking period.
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In his preface Bate fairly states that Wordsworth ‘always lacked the glamour of Coleridge, De Quincey and Byron: he was neither opium addict nor ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. He lacked too, the pathos of Keats, Shelley and John Clare: he failed to make the romantic career move of dying young or going mad’.
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However what Bate argues towards is ‘ a selective account of the journey from the visions and experiences that made him a poet to the rays of influence that made him a force in cultural history……why his words are still worth reading two and a half centuries after his birth’.
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In 1807 he published the following sonnet which still resonates across the years:
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‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wrèathed horn.’
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Bate succeeds in persuading the reader of the continuing importance of Wordsworth’s poetry, how he created a revolutionary style to express the experience of people previously ignored by literature, along with the importance of human emotions throughout childhood and into adulthood, producing a biography which is both fascinating and relevant to the challenges we face in our own time.
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Bate succeeds in persuading the reader of the continuing importance of Wordsworth’s poetry, how he created a revolutionary style to express the experience of people previously ignored by literature, along with the importance of human emotions throughout childhood and into adulthood, producing a biography which is both fascinating and relevant to the challenges we face in our own time.
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You can find the book here: Amazon.com
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Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, Poetry Ireland Review, Grey Sparrow, The Worcester Review, Poetry Wales and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions).  A selection of his work is forthcoming from Moonstone Press (Philadelphia) entitled A View from the Other Side.
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Summer Reading Recommendations Based on readership- Top fifteen books reviewed at North of Oxford January – July 2020

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The War Still Within: Poems of the Korean Diaspora by Tanya Ko Hong

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/05/02/the-war-still-within-poems-of-the-koran-diaspora-by-tanya-ko-hong/

Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation by Cynthia Manick (editor)

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/02/01/soul-sister-revue-a-poetry-compilation-by-cynthia-manick-editor/

ÜBERCHEF USA by Jennifer Juneau

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/uberchef-usa-by-jennifer-juneau/

The Dead Kid Poems by Alexis Rhone Fancher

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/03/01/the-dead-kid-poems-by-alexis-rhone-fancher/

What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/what-the-owl-taught-me-by-annest-gwilym/

Paper Bells by Phan Nhiên Hạo (Translated by Hai-Dang Phan

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/05/02/paper-bells-by-phan-nhien-hao-translated-by-hai-dang-phan/

The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/02/01/the-weight-of-bodily-touches-by-joseph-zaccardi/

On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge by Robert Dash

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/on-an-acre-shy-of-eternity-micro-landscapes-at-the-edge-by-robert-dash/

The Elvis Machine by Kim Vodicka

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/07/01/the-elvis-machine-by-kim-vodicka/

Obit by Victoria Chang

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/obit-by-victoria-chang/

Getting to Philadelphia: New and Selected Poems by Thomas Devaney

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/01/getting-to-philadelphia-new-and-selected-poems-by-thomas-devaney/

Someone’s Utopia by Joe Hall

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/02/01/someones-utopia-by-joe-hall/

Library Rain by Rustin Larson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/05/02/library-rain-by-rustin-larson/

Flow by Beth Kephart

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/03/01/flow-by-beth-kephart/

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/01/in-the-dream-house-by-carmen-maria-machado/

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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:  https://sites.google.com/a/lapwingpublications.com/lapwing-store/home

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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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Montpellier – Echoes from a French city

Musee Fabre.jpeg

by Byron Beynon

Montpellier is where Paul Gaugin brought Vincent van Gogh in an attempt to cheer-up the fading spirits of the Dutchman. Late in 1888 both men travelled by train from Arles to spend the day in this southern French city, they came especially to see the works of Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix inside the Musée Fabre. Vincent would soon write a letter to his brother Theo about the visit in the second half of December 1888.

“Gaugin and I went yesterday to Montpellier to see the museum there and especially the Brias room. There are a lot of portraits of Brias, by Delacroix, Ricard, Courbet, Cabanel, Couture, Verdier, Tassaert, and others. Then there are pictures by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter,

Botticelli, Th. Rousseau, very fine. Brias was a benefactor of artists, I shall say no more to you than that. In the portrait by Delacroix he is a gentleman with red beard and hair, confoundedly like you or me…..” In the same letter he goes on to say that “ Gaugin and I talked a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt etc. Our arguments are terribly electric, we come out of them sometimes with our heads as exhausted as an electric battery after it has run down.”

Alfred Bruyas was indeed a benefactor of the arts and friend to artists, and his narcissism for having dozens of portraits of himself commissioned was defended by Vincent. After the trip, tensions grew between the two artists.

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          Today visitors still enter the gallery, which houses paintings, drawings, sculptures, video library, and a fine selection of books and magazines. The building is settled near a wide esplanade with plane trees  and fountains, in the heart of the city. During the seventeenth century it was a Jesuit college, then a mansion before being enlarged when Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), a former pupil of David, donated in 1825 his collection of paintings to his native city, and by doing so gave his name to this tall, wise building. Inside there are paintings by Rubens, Berthe Morisot, and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), who was born into an affluent Montpellier family of wine-growers, but who was tragically killed in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. He began a career in medicine before turning to painting. He was, by all accounts, very well liked. He helped his impoverished artists friends, and in 1868 Bazille moved to a studio in Paris which he shared with Renoir.

Sadly he was killed during an attack on Beaune-la-Rolande. His father made the journey there to find the body of his son. For ten days he dug in the snow-covered battleground, eventually he found the body and hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.

Portrait of Baudelaire (1)

         You can also see the portrait of CharlesBaudelaire painted in 1847 by Courbet, the poet with his black hair cut short, smokes a pipe, concentrating his mind on the pages of a book which rests on a table.

My first visit to France’s seventh largest city was in 1991, the following year I lived there for six months. I arrived by train, on the ultra-rapid TGV, to one of the country’s oldest protected stations,built in 1844. With a cosmopolitan population of over 270,000, a healthy mix of European youth, North African, American (there is an American library), many are students studying at the university, and the faculty of medicine, the oldest stillopen in the world. A papal bull, dated 26th of October 1289, announced the creation of the University of Montpellier, together with the medical, law, and arts faculties. Here the old, historical areas, with their narrow, shaded, antique streets exist in relative harmony with modern developments despite the angry graffiti and polluting traffic.

Since the 1960s which saw an increase in population, the council, led by Georges Freche decided to create a new neighbourhood called l’Antigone, a living area to provide accommodation and housing with relatively low rents for the people, it was the task of the Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to extend this area of the city. Close by is the Polygone, a shopping centre with cafés, restaurants, and a plethora of shops.

Cathedral St Pierre.jpeg

         One view of the city can be taken from the top of the Corum, a complex used for conventions and opera. To the north you can see the cathedral of St.Pierre, its twin, cylindrical towers stand like rockets about to be launched, also the orange-tiled roofs of the old quarter where on summer evenings, a young medical student named Felix Platter used to sit, playing his lute. He once wrote in his diary “I can see the town, spread out, as far as the sea, which I can sometimes hear in the wind”. If the Corum offered me a good view , the most popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike is the Place de la Comédie, with its fountain of the Three Graces. The three smiling girls embrace, gazing at people of all ages, passing by with their thoughts and with purpose.

Montpellier was first mentioned as far back as 985. By the year 1204 the crown of Aragon belonged to the city, eventually it was bought back by the French. It has witnessed the coming of Arab and Jewish scholars, a garrison, the French Revolution, the wine industry, a university, trams, underground parking and the new technology, pharmaceutical and research laboratories.

To get away from the centre I used to walk to the Peyrou with its eighteenth-century water tower, and the St.Clement aquaduct, the Arceaux, which brought water to the city. The cool air is reviving along with the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea to the south and the mountains of the Pic Saint Loup to the north.

Nearby is the statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, made of bronze it almost sank in Bordeaux harbour before arriving in Montpellier in 1718. There is also a botanical garden within easy walking distance from the Peyrou, created during the reign of Henry IV in 1593, with its exotic, ancient trees and plants. It is an oasis of green in the city. The poet Paul Valéry who had married the niece of the painter Berthe Morisot, enjoyed the peace here and wrote “we are going where you would go, if you were here, to the ancient garden where……all those people who meditate, worry or who talk to themselves go, as water goes to a river, and of course they meet up.”

In these gardens, one October afternoon, I met some students from the Netherlands. They were visiting Montpellier for a couple of weeks in order to improve their French, and were also doing a survey, asking questions about their homeland, the first question they asked me was to name at least one Dutch artist! “Vincent van Gogh “ I answered, “who came here by train with his friend and brother-in-art Paul Gaugin.”

 Sources and books for further reading

The Letters of van Gogh  edited by Mark Roskill (Fontana edition 1979)

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Chatto&Windus 2006)

Impressionism by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing 2007)

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bryon

Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. 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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Contributor Profile – Byron Beynon

bryon

Byron Beynon is a regular contributor of poetry, essays and reviews to North of Oxford. He lives in West Wales. He has lived in London, Norway, France and Australia. His work has appeared in several publications including Agenda, London Magazine, Plainsongs, Chiron Review, Poetry Wales, Cyphers and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), 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).

At North of Oxford: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/tag/byron-beynon/

 Poetry on the Net

Nine Muses https://ninemusespoetry.com/2019/06/03/three-poems-by-byron-beynon-2/

Militant Thistles http://militantthistles.moonfruit.com/byron-beynon-poems/4590630827

MockingHeart Review https://mockingheartreview.com/archives/volume-2-issue-2/byron-beynon/

Foxglove Journal https://foxglovejournal.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/watching-waves-byron-beynon/

The Galway Review https://thegalwayreview.com/2014/12/05/byron-beynon-six-poems-2/

Softblow http://www.softblow.org/byronbeynon.html

The London Magazine https://www.thelondonmagazine.org/art-and-poetry-by-byron-beynon/

Poppy Road Review https://poppyroadreview.blogspot.com/2014/10/two-poems-by-byron-beynon.html

Books 

At Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Byron-Beynon/e/B003ZOA9LI/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

At Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Byron-Beynon