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Y Lolfa
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ISBN 0 86243 783 0

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A selection of 80-odd of Alun Rees' poems from the last thirty or more years. There is an imposing traditional feel about these poems, often with a basic structure and rhyme or half-rhyme, in the evocation of timeless verities and images, as in WOMAN BY WINTERLIGHT:

	The snow upon the garden makes
	the empty rosebeds bloom with white,
	and now upon your lips there breaks
	a smile to see by winterlight.

	A smile so rare it tames the snow
	and makes the garden shake with light
	as on the frosty path you go
	and turn the morning summer-bright.
Another example is WOMAN BY SUMMERLIGHT, the serene and peaceful simplicity of the scene, and its mythical stature, evoked through choice of word and rhyme:
	The sun falls white upon her head
	as she sits in the garden, reading.
	The almond tree puts on its grace.
	The world goes on its way, unheeding.

	A man is justified in life
	if once he worships such a pair:
	the almond blossom, white and good,
	and sunlight in a woman's hair.
There are a number of tender, no less passionate love-poems, and the object of the poet's love is often juxtaposed with, or rather transformed into an image of nature, in particular the effect of light on various objects, as in GHOST WITH APRIL HANDS, an idyll to spring:
	She is the cry of the lark in the evening sky,
	and she is the flush of sun on the oak-tree's bough.
	Oh, she is the daytime ghost who tells me why
	her April hands make all springs seem like now.
Alun Rees' love of nature and its living things pervades this selection. A constant refrain is the wanton cruelty of man to nature, his tendency to interfere and harm, as in TREES:
	Our houses herd too close, and trees remind us
	of larger landscapes, valleys, mountains, forests,
	of open living, measureless. So we prune,
	and cut their scale of living down to ours.
There are a number of poems on animals, and he calls, in NATURE LESSON, in the form of simple precepts for children, for respect for all living things and the never-ending cycle of life:
	Harmonies, child, harmonies: learn how worm
	renews the earth,
	how egg will bloom into blossoming bird,
	how bird and fruit have come to terms,
	how worm and root and egg and fruit
	are arcs in a living circle.
Conversely, the elegiac lament in THE DREAM OF THE WILD SWAN cannot really be cushioned by any belief in nature's cyclic eternity or absorption into its living rhythm of death and loss:
	I will look for new values
	in the close of each season, knowing
        that in every death and disappearance
        there are the seeds of births and entrances.
        I will look bravely at the autumn moon.
        Yet I know
        that when I sleep my dreams will be filled
        with white feathers falling like snow.
In HEDGEHOG AND BLOWFLIES, a poem on a pregnant hedgehog flattened by a car, there is some exquisite imagery:
		Her wrecked remains I mothered
	into a garden hole. I used my foot
	to seal that ruined ripeness in the earth.
A number of other poems deal with members of the poet's family. A beautiful poem, SWAN IN THE MIST, describes how his daughter, in growing more independent as she approaches womanhood, glides away from him as did the swans they used to love to watch together:
	I am left stranded on the shore, stunned by the wonder
	of your transformation. You go from me, but still I am clutched.
	Through a haze, I see you far out on the water,
	my swan in the mist, ghost-gliding further from reach.
The cyclic rhythms of generational repetition are deftly and concisely portrayed in ON BEING CREATED ANEW where Rees writes of his children:
	My glorious girl, my brilliant boy,
	you are my dreams of myself. You colour
	each hour, each day with original pigments.

	Generations reverse. You lead, I follow
There are a few descriptive poems of particular characters and places, one or two obligatory lustful ones, and a few bits and pieces that could perhaps have been left out. There are a number of narrative, ballad-like pieces dealing with seamen/explorers/pirates, looking back with envious nostalgia to the times of exploration and adventure. There are other poems also dealing with less personal themes crowding the later pages of the selection, on anything from a hapless modern-day Hercules always being menaced by the police for killing endangered species to poems on ancient Rome or Lucifer, but, in general, they do not seem to work so well. Maybe 80 poems is a bit too many, but there is a great deal of heart-felt, exquisite work here, particularly in the more personal pieces.

Reviewer: Alan Hardy.

YESTERDAY'S TOMORROW is a book of traditional left-wing verse. Traditional both in the political sense and in the sense that it is mainly written in regular metre and hard rhyme. Alun Rees first emerged as a poet in the sixties with a whole new generation of radical Welsh poets. Rees is the kind of poet whose work can be understood at first hearing in a pub. These are poems to be read out loud, and I can imagine many of them being sung. Rees' work speaks with compassion and controlled rage. Much of it is satirical and I was strongly reminded at times of Adrian Mitchell and Alan Jackson, two other poets who became names to be reckoned with at around the same time.

Here is a sample from THE CABBAGES OF MAIDANEK:

	But did the blue-eyed Aryan troops
	know they were eating kosher soups?

	Or realise that they, perforce,
	grew steadily Jewish course by course?

	It was so efficient, so well designed:
	each death was stamped and sealed and signed.
It has to be said that after a while the hard rhymes can start to grate. And so can Rees' tendency to divide the world too clearly into good and bad as in WORKING-CLASS SONG:
	They are poor but they are honest,
	victims of the rich man's whim
The poems that work best on the page are, for me, those which paint individual portraits of people, such as a concentration camp survivor or homeless beggar, or his own father and daughter. From SURVIVOR:
	Morris Silver, from Lithuania,
	a small Jew with a cardboard suitcase,
	came to our house every week to display
	combs and ribbons, mirrors, buckles, tape,
	zips and laces, pins and pencils, anything
	he could buy for a little and sell for a little more.
Here, we are not being preached at, and individual details involve us at a deeper level.

Reviewer: Ian Seed.