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Bibliographical Information
On Becoming a Fish
Emily Hinshelwood
ISBN: 9781854115775 (1854115774)Publication Date: October 2012
Publisher: Seren
Format: Paperback, 216x135 mm, 64 pages Language: English Available Our Price: £8.99 
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Emily Hinshelwood's new Seren poetry collection, On Becoming a Fish was inspired by a series of walks around the 186 mile Pembrokeshire coastal path in Wales.

Casgliad o gerddi Emily Hishelwood. Ysbrydolwyd y cerddi gan daith ar hyd llwybr arfordir sir Benfro.
This, Emily Hinshelwood’s second major collection, is focussed on places, incidents and impressions on the Pembrokeshire coastal path. Although this poet is perhaps best known for her performance of poetry, this collection is not primarily concerned with exciting sound-patterns or verbal pyrotechnics, but it retains the characteristics of story-telling, humour and accessibility.

Although On Becoming a Fish was a major, prize-winning poem, it is perhaps the poem ‘Edge’ which encompasses more of the collection’s themes: ‘Change ... happens at the edge’ ... ‘this is where we know who we are’. It also celebrates the fecundity of the natural world and expresses human’s impact and alienation. Despite a sometimes brutal sense of loss, her playfulness and humour runs through the book from Mrs Cheveley’s antics in Tenby, her own ‘Skinny Dipping, the encounters in ‘Beetroot’ and when ‘Searching for a map of Pembrokeshire’, to her Druidstone fantasy of cavemen playing on the beach.

The opening poem, ‘Sandscape After Hours’, encapsulates her observation, story-telling and ability to open out the commonplace to the universal or mysterious: ‘Each footprint a journey / turns the beach into dreamtime’ – captures how a landscape holds encrypted the histories and characters which pass through it. We find this again at Stackpole (where all that remains of ‘First Baron Cawdor of Castlemartin’ are lilies and sand) and at Mill Bay where a wreck melts back into the landscape leaving only a dream. At Newport this is almost reversed as an ancient boat, unearthed, returns to the sea.

Emily’s environmental concerns are never far from the surface and in ‘Wishing Well’ frustration boils over in cynical exasperation; in ‘The Woman at The Lobster Pot’ there is more a sense of grief at a lost connexion – the lighthouse keeper who ‘knew the rocks / like his own knuckles’ is replaced by an ‘empty, sweeping beam’.

On one level these are personal snapshots illustrating a walker’s diary. Some are timeless (like the ‘Westphalian’ rocks at Wiseman’s Bridge) but caught in an original image as in ‘Handover’ (when the shift from sunlight to moonlight reminds her of a child being passed ‘between separated parents’). Some are purely personal, like picking up a snake in ‘Seduction’ or having her ‘Honeymoon’ in a tent on Strumble Head. This book is not an ordinary guide book to the path – others will tell you more about what St Davids or Caldey look like – but it is a guide which encourages a different kind of seeing.

Caroline Clark

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.
Author Biography:
A writer, performer and community arts facilitator in south Wales, Emily Hinshelwood’s poetry has been published in many literary magazines including Poetry Wales, Ambit, Aesthetica, and New Welsh Review. She has won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Bridport prize and the Forward Prize for the best individual poem in 2010. After an early career as an anthropologist in the field of sustainable development for Oxfam, Actionaid, and various UN agencies, she moved to Wales in 1997 and worked as a lecturer at Swansea University before choosing to concentrate on writing and environmental work. She has two daughters and runs a smallholding with her partner in south Wales.
Further Information:
Emily Hinshelwood’s new poetry collection, ‘On Becoming a Fish’ was inspired by a series of walks around the 186 mile Pembrokeshire coastal path in West Wales, known for its spectacular views from cliffside paths skirting the Irish sea and the Bristol Channel. Deeply engaged with environmental issues through her work in community energy and climate change, the author is also a keen observer of human nature in the context of this beautiful coastline. The poems feature: ghosts, quarries, shipwrecks, pirates, fishermen, sailors; the remnants of industrial industry as well as monuments from the past: neolithic burial sites, forts, caves, graves, memorials. Also present are characters conjured from history such as the ‘four hundred Welsh Women wearing stovepipe hats’ who foiled the last invasion of Britain at Carregwastad in 1797, as well as contemporary encounters: a retired fisherman, lifeboat crew, a lighthouse keeper and a skinny dipper. The author says: “This collection explores ‘what happens at the boundary’ – not just the topographical boundary of sea meeting land – but the concept of boundary in itself: political borders, social barriers, environmental limits, historical divisions; the boundary between fact and fiction, between you and I.”

Her poetry has been published in many literary magazines including Ambit, Poetry Wales, Acumen, The Rialto. She has won a number of awards including the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, Envoi poetry competition, Aesthetica Creative works (highly commended), shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and nominated in 2010 for the Forward Prize for an individual poem. An early book was awarded the David St John Thomas Award for the best self-published poetry collection of 2004. Much of her writing is inspired by the natural world. She is a firm believer that the arts have a major role to play in how we will negotiate our lives in this changing planet.
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