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This review is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

A GENIUS FOR RHYME HARRI WEBB, Collected Poems. Edited by Meic Stephens (Gomer Press) £20.

Harri Webb (1920-1994) had a genius for rhyme. This sumptuous edition of his 350 collected poems stands testimony to that genius. The canny rhyming couplet on the cover, 'One Day, when Wales is free and prosperous/And dull, they'll all be wishing they were us' ('Merlin's Prophecy, 1969'), is the first of a multitude of canny rhymes within, which lodge themselves in the mind and sing there.

They sing principally of the matter of Wales: 'Sing for Wales or shut your trap/All the rest's a load of crap' ('Advice to a Young Poet'). We hear the poet sing along to the refrain of 'valiant Welshmen' in 'The Cross Foxes': 'Hideho, Hidehi, In Rhosllannerchrugog we drank the pub dry'. This is a Wales of 'Self-praise and self-pity/Dragons and flagons' ('Tŷ Ddewi'), of 'singers, strongmen and sages' where 'the tipsy Taff was bawling' ('Big Night'), where 'our fathers before us […] mucked about on farms, played harps, knew poetry' ('Salm y Werin'), and where, 'When Christ was hanged in Cardiff Jail/Good riddance said the Western Mail ('Local Boy Makes Good'). Harri Webb's Wales is maudlin, garrulous, regressive and narcissistic: rhyme becomes the ideal poetic embodiment of all that. And with the traditional Welsh worship of the sonorousness of language, rhyme lends to each of Webb's axioms and collocations an air of divine authority.

Thus, when 'valley' rhymes with 'pally'; when 'folk' rhymes with 'broke'; when 'neighbour' rhymes with 'labour'; when 'sorrows' rhymes with 'tomorrows'; when 'damn' rhymes with ...


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