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Writing Wales in English: R. S. Thomas - A Stylistic Biography
Daniel Westover
ISBN: 9780708324110 (0708324118)Dyddiad Cyhoeddi Hydref 2011
Cyhoeddwr: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru / University of Wales Press, Caerdydd
Fformat: Clawr Meddal, 216x138 mm, 216 tudalen Iaith: Saesneg Allan o stoc Ein Pris: £24.99 
Does dim Adolygiad Cwsmer i'r teitl hwn.
 
Ysgrifennwch Adolygiad Cwsmer
Cyfrol fywgraffyddol sy'n olrhain datblygiad barddonol a chreadigol y bardd R. S. Thomas (1913-2000) dros gyfnod o chwe degawd, gan ddangos sut y caiff cymhlethdod y bardd ei amlygu yn arddull ei gerddi, sy'n newid yn parhaus.

In R. S. Thomas - A Stylistic Biography, Daniel Westover traces Thomas's poetic development over six decades, demonstrating how the complex interior of the poet manifests itself in the continually shifting style of his poems.
Westover defends his new ‘stylistic biography’ by reminding us of the weight of bias that has been invested in previous appraisals of ‘the most recognizable literary figure in Wales’. He directs us towards marginalising volumes entitled R. S. Thomas and the Welsh Hills, R. S. Thomas as a Priest-Poet, and R. S. Thomas and the Hidden God. Westover, frustrated by these assumptive texts, has sought to honour‘the ogre of Wales’ with a more holistic approach. He follows the chronology of Thomas’s poetic development, panning for influences and contexts as he goes and, crucially, resisting the urge to romanticise.

The striking thing about Westover’s book is the honesty with which its subject is treated. We are first introduced to an ‘innocent plagiarist’, the imitator of outmoded Georgian verse. Thomas’s early poems suffer from the ‘gentle souls’ and ‘golden songs’ of the previous century (in his own words, ‘based on the weaker poems of Shelley’). These anaemic lines are framed in neat quatrains and bursting with hackneyed cockneyisms and passé pronouns. Politically too, the Thomas of the 1930s was an unformed creature, vaguely leaning towards some sort of ‘Celtic Eden’. The hardened post-war nationalist lamenting the ‘tourist-infected Welsh soil’ is a long way off. Westover justifies the inclusion of this unflattering portrait as a sort of baseline from which we can better appreciate the sharp ascent towards ‘national icon’ status.

But there is more to it than that. Despite acknowledging progression in the work of our ‘masters’, we do like to imagine them as consistently strong voices. We want them shouting through the winds of influence, stamping the contours of their accents and stresses onto culture’s consciousness. Westover gives us a humbling vision of a man discontented with the limits of his ‘voice’; somebody constantly evolving. It’s an excellent volume that takes us from these nebulous beginnings to the solidifying of Thomas’s political consciousness and his desperation ‘to waken Wales to put aside her servility’. Westover provides imaginative germinations of Thomas’s works – from the death of Ted Hughes’s four-year-old daughter Shura, to the portentous animals from the obscure Mabinogion tale of ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’. We see the influences of the progressive writers of the sixties (Plath, Hughes, Larkin, Sexton, Ginsberg) on the poet, and the election of Gwynfor Evans to parliament imprinting itself subtly on the pages of Thomas’s verse.

Through the dynamics of his cultural environment, Thomas experienced his own alchemical literary process. From this he fashioned intense poems from the ‘muck and blood and hardness, the rain and the spittle and phlegm’ of the country with which he experienced such a problematic relationship. Thomas was neither ingratiating of his homeland (consider the following from ‘A Priest to his People’: ‘Men of the hills, wantoners, men of Wales,/With your sheep and your pigs and your ponies, your sweaty females’) nor disapproving. He saw himself as one longing for words to convey ‘painful and unsatisfying experience’. He wanted honesty and a proximity to ‘real’ life. Westover gives the man himself the same treatment and the resulting work is edifying, and satisfyingly heartfelt.

Jemma King


It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Bywgraffiad Awdur:
Daniel Westover is an award-winning poet and literary critic specializing in the English language poetry of Wales. He is currently Assistant Professor of Modern British Literature at East Tennessee State University.
Gwybodaeth Bellach:
R. S. Thomas (1913-2000) is the most recognizable literary figure in twentieth-century Wales. His controversial politics and public personality made him a cultural icon during his life, and the merits of his poetry have continued to be debated in the years after his death. Yet these debates have too-often marginalized the poetry itself and have produced a deficient understanding of his work, by returning to the assumed personality of the poet or to the received narrative of his experience. Even the best studies have focused almost exclusively on ideas and themes.
This study argues that Thomas's reputation must be grounded in poetry, not personality. Unlike traditional literary biography, which combines historical facts with the conventions of narrative in an attempt to understand the life of a literary figure, this stylistic biography focuses on the essential relationship between the maker and the made object, giving priority to the latter.

R. S. Thomas began his career by writing sugary, derivative lyrics inspired by Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, yet he ended it as a form-seeking experimentalist. This study guides the reader through that journey, tracing Thomas’s stylistic evolution over six decades. In so doing, it asserts a priority: not to look at poetry, as many have, as a way of affirming existing notions about an iconic R. S. Thomas, but to come to terms with the tensions within him as they reveal themselves in the tensions – rhythmic, linguistic, structural – of the poetry itself.
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