My Family and Other Superheroes
|ISBN: 9781781721629 (1781721629)Publication Date: July 2015|
Publisher: SerenFormat: Paperback, 216x138 mm, 72 pages
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This debut collection of poetry, My Family and Other Superheroes, by Jonathan Edwards, introduces us to a vibrant new voice from Wales.
Casgliad cyntaf o gerddi Jonathan Edwards, llais newydd ac egnïol o dde-ddwyrain Cymru sy'n dathlu hud a chyfoeth arwyr cyffredin ac anghyffredin bywyd gyda ffraethineb a dwyster.
My Family and Other Superheroes is a début collection so full of warmth, respect and humility that by the end of my first read through I desperately wanted to buy Jonathan Edwards a pint. Well, a pint, or a coffee from a tattooed girl named Rhian; more on her later.
From the opening dedication to 'The Edwardses', you understand that the book’s title is not one steeped in cruel irony, but rather a genuine tribute to the superheroes that surround and influence Edwards. Yes, Evel Knievil and Sophia Loren appear, alongside other names more used to being showered in stardust and praise, but the real stars in this collection are Edwards's family and the often ignored cast of everyday folk who surround him. The level standing with which he respects them all is warming and full of kindness.
In his poem about, and entitled, ‘The Bloke Selling Talk Talk in the Arcade’, he takes a brash and typically annoying salesman as his subject – one a sharper-penned poet might have ripped apart – and reminds the reader that,
‘…when, at five, he packs up
his tongue for the day and walks into the world,
just like you, like me, like anyone,
he’s got the air, the night, the setting sun.’
The salesman, like Evel Knievil and Gregory Peck, is another of the titular superheroes. Rhian from Starbucks is another similarly revered figure from the high street. Celebrated and adored, the coffee-shop waitress is described with an over-romanticised eye for detail that brings to mind Roger McGough in its subtle humour and simplicity.
The simplicity of this collection, however, is deceptive. While there’s no excessive analysis or deciphering needed to get to the core message of each poem, its directness hides a carefully structured collection full of carefully structured verse. A great example of this, and a personal highlight for me, is ‘The Death of Doc Emmett Brown in Back to the Future’ –a poem that impressed me so much upon first reading it, that I instantly photographed the page and sent it to a friend. Upon receipt of said picture, it was pointed out to me that the poem was in fact a villanelle – a highly structured sixteenth-century verse form that is difficult to get right. Edwards’s villanelle reflects on the cyclical nature of life, by using the cyclical nature of a key scene from the classic 1980s’ film, Back to the Future. The book is genuinely worth buying for its 19 lines alone.
What Edwards has done with this collection is incredibly impressive. The people, places and pop culture that shaped him as a person and as a writer are described and celebrated with an honesty and respect that is rarely found. By projecting outwards to the external factors that make him who he is, he has inadvertently painted a portrait of the artist as a very very nice young man. Pint?
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.
Jonathan Edwards was born and brought up in Crosskeys, south Wales. He has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick, has written speeches for the Welsh Assembly Government and journalism for The Big Issue Cymru, and currently works as an English teacher. He won the Terry Hetherington Award in 2010, was awarded a Literature Wales new writer’s bursary in 2011, and in 2012 won prizes in the Cardiff International Poetry Competition and the Basil Bunting Award. His work has appeared in a wide range of magazines, including Poetry Review, The North, Poetry Wales and New Welsh Review.
The superheroes in question are a motley crew. Evel Knievel, Sophia Loren, Ian Rush, Marty McFly, a bicycling nun and a recalcitrant hippo – all leap from these pages and jostle for position, alongside valleys mams, dads and bamps, described with great warmth. Other poems focus on the crammed terraces and abandoned high streets where a working-class and Welsh nationalist politics is hammered out. This is a post-industrial valleys upbringing re-imagined through the prism of pop culture and surrealism. If the author’s subjects have something in common with RS Thomas, or even Terry Street-era Douglas Dunn, his technique and approach owe at least as much to contemporary American poets like James Tate and David Wojahn.
“This is a rare thing: a successfully funny poem, which is imaginative, tender, and unexpected. The final image seals the whole poem with a statement of love – usually hard to pull off – which works brilliantly.” – Sinéad Morrissey on ‘Evel Knievel Jumps Over My Family.’
“This poem is marvellous. The way the subject is handled is superb, and the ending is a corker!” – August Kleinzahler on ‘Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Crumlin for the Filming of Arabesque, June 1965’.
“A triumph of under-writing, which makes the poem become a celebration of a father. What also is captured is the child’s respect, admiration and love. The humour is an important levelling ingredient in this family gallery. The description is exact, almost humbling in its economic precision. This is splendid writing, an enviable achievement.” – Roger Elkin on ‘How to Renovate a Morris Minor.’
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