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Review: Skirrid Hill by Owen Sheers

From the cover I knew I was in for an exploration. The style of photography on the cover is called Body Landscaping, and it is when the object – often a human body – is made to look like an entire landscape on its own. In this case the shoulder and collar bones transformed into a valley, a hill, an estuary, a mountain. A landscape only too well known to many of us, iconic Wales.

  ‘Skirrid Hill’ is a exploration of familiar introspection that takes the reader by the hand and helps them navigate their own personal history. It is only fitting then that we begin at the ‘Last Ac’t. There is a feeling here that we are seeing the writer in a similar role to the actor ‘bowing as himself  for the first time all night.’. There is a distinct difference in confidence in Sheers second collection of poetry. A writer who is confident in his own raw emotion, confident even in the instability of image. The entire collection pivots on the grey area between having something, being one thing, and loosing it or becoming something else. Beyond that as the concept of the collection we see poems themselves altering before out eyes.           Poems like ‘The Farrier’, that in tandem throw images of the farrier carrying on his days work, and that of a bride on her wedding day, alongside the ambiguity of the horse. All images pulling together to deliver the fatal blow as ‘The sound of his steel, biting at her heels’.      The winds of change are constantly blowing, I am older now than I have ever been and younger than I ever will be again. ‘Inheritance’ makes that abundantly clear, after the style of R.S. Thomas as Sheers ties in an incredible welsh poetic history to his work. ‘From my father / … / From my mother’ here could mean the biological parentage or the rich heritage of poetry. the offspring, the barer of this tradition ‘what they forged / in their shared lives;’ – the heavy weight of this burden, but also the combined ancestry of it, a wonder that what humans really inherit from their families and from their environment, the collection continues to add to this image, speculating how we inherit the world around us and the skins of our old selves.    An interesting vein of this collection is Sheers’s investigation of language. Wales is a fascinating hub of bilingualism, but it hasn’t always been this way. Just as his first collection ‘The Blue Books’ hovered on the edge of languages with it’s obvious rooting in the blue books of 1847,the discussion continues now. In ‘History’ set in the Lleder Valley of North Wales the blades of slate make a ‘rusted, / metallic sound’ telling the ‘story of stone’. Here mixing the Welsh language both with the landscape as ever present and also making it Other, disconnecting it from any known language.

       Sheers is one of my favourite writers both in Wales and generally. I devoured this collection.

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