Tuesday, 2 June 2009


It’s the Poetry Season on TV and last night’s offering was Owen Sheers on Lynette Roberts. An interesting choice, this late-modernist recently re-issued as a Collected Poems. But the programme formula is poet-and-place, which all too easily becomes a sort of poetry travelogue. The Bronte Country, The Hardy Country, that sort of thing. Sheers focusses in particular on one work, ‘Poem from Llanbyri’, which opens her first book, ‘Poems’, published by Faber in 1944. Sheers tackles his task with a sort of pious agreeableness, but I was suddenly taken aback to hear him describe this as ‘her only collection’. What about that other book of hers, ‘Gods with Stainless Ears’, which came out in 1951, also from Faber? Later in the programme he does refer very much in passing to publication of a ‘fiercely modernist poem’, but chooses not to give us the title. Looking again at my copy of ‘Poems’ I’m struck by how much of the work in there prefigures the radical experimentation of the second collection. There are only a handful of poems that are in the localist, pastoral mode implied by the programme as typical of her, but which conveniently do serve as a pretext for a great many striking shots of the surrounding land and sea-scape. O and why this inevitable, intrusive music? In particular why music all the way through the reading the Llanbyri poem rendering the words only semi-audible? I’m not sure how successful her later work always is, but one thing is certain. It is a serious and determined move into territory occupied by certain other poets at that time as well, and it deserves a lot better than to be ‘edited out’ like this.