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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

WELSH POETS IN ENGLISH JOHN DAVIES, North by South (Seren) £8.95
ROBERT MINHINNICK, After the Hurricane (Carcanet) £6.95
NIGEL JENKINS, Blue (Planet) £6.50

First, apologise for not being able
to speak Welsh. Go on: apologise.
Being Anglo-anything is really tough;
any gaps you can fill in with sighs.

John Davies's poem `How to write Anglo-Welsh Poetry' is nicely barbed; it's also doing what it's mocking, knowing that diagnosing one's problem is not necessarily to resolve it. The poem is in many ways a cheap shot - its target obvious, its ground well-traipsed. What makes it interesting is an awareness that the clichés it's exposing come uncomfortably close to its own experience of the conditions of writing. Its irony is proleptic too, in that if Davies's poetry as a body of work has a consistent theme, it is a sense of what in French is called dépaysement - a feeling, weaker than exile and less self-dramatising than outsiderness, of being uncountried, in-between, imprecisely dispossessed.

Coming as it does early in the Selected Poems section of the book (from Davies's first collection, At the Edge of Town, 1981), one might expect `How to Write Anglo-Welsh Poetry' to stand as a kind of negative manifesto: a setting-out of what, and how, not to write. Luckily this is not the case; if it were, we would not have poems such as this:

The tv set, stirring itself, confides
in my father in Welsh. Bored, I can see
outside the steelworks signal in the sky
to streets speaking pure industry.

His ...


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