Wales Arts Review is delighted to publish, as part of its special Newport Edition, a new poem by Paul Henry, ‘The Dog in the Reeds’, which will appear in his next collection, Boy Running, published by Seren next year. Henry started out as a songwriter but has since become one of Wales’ leading poets – an award-winning author of five collections of poetry.
Henry’s poems are inspired by three distinct Welsh locations: ‘the Ceredigion coastline of my childhood, two Breconshire villages and then the cityscapes of Cardiff and Newport. I’ve lived on the river Usk three times. I know its birdsong and its sirens… ‘Between Two Bridges’, which is set in Newport, is about moving back upstream.’
‘The Dog in the Reeds’ is set on the banks of the river Usk, in the Glebelands area of Newport, and recalls the time when Henry lived in the city where he raised his sons, who continue to live there. The poem is shot-through with a poignant nostalgia both for that time in his life and for Newport itself, as Henry once explained to the Wales Arts Review in a previous interview: ‘Since moving back to Breconshire I’ve missed the “gritty” and sometimes surreal imagery of Newport, where I brought up my three sons – rich terrain.’
As a companion piece to this new poem, we also present Henry’s ‘Newport East’, which first appeared in his third collection, The Milk Thief, published by Seren in 1998. This older poem references the left-wing politics of Newport and its struggles in a post-industrial era. Both poems speak to Henry’s range of subject matter and his long-standing ties with Newport – like the city that inspired them, these poems are tough, honest, tinged with sadness though lacking in sentimentality.
Paul Henry has read at festivals across the UK and Europe, and has guest-edited Poetry Wales. He recently presented the ‘Inspired’ series of arts programmes for BBC Radio Wales. His collection The Brittle Sea: New & Selected Poems was reprinted this year. To find out more go to: http://www.paulhenrywales.co.uk/index.html
The Dog in the Reeds
The vagaries of light sustained me
when I lived in the city for you –
the brush-and-go of a sheet
on a window, the summer’s last card
dealt onto a paving stone, a railing’s
sudden alchemy… It was enough.
A warm brick in a terrace was love,
a back yard’s chandelier of pears.
And when the light wouldn’t play
I’d walk old Alfie down the river.
He’d shake on his frame in the mud,
milky eyed and pissing blood
and deaf, lost in the tall reeds,
hair blown about his sunken hull.
He’d shiver and sniff at the setting sun
when I called his name … Alfie!
Small boats pulled at their leads,
their rosaries of barrels and tyres.
Esther, on the bank, on blocks
would have done for you and me
and the boys, and Alfie –
big enough to live and breed in,
to leak laughter and light. Alfie!
To what oceans did we aspire
beyond the love of a rescued dog?
The night I sailed, he howled
about the house, unable to find us,
to tell us where he’d buried the years.
If you peer through this porthole,
this one you may still see me
or hear me, cursing in the dark,
lost, knee-deep in moonlight
whistling for our dog in the reeds.
The booths close in two hours.
Ice-cream vans are on overtime.
Twinkle, twinkle … Arthur Scargill’s
voice passes down the hill.
“The only TRUE Socialist candidate …”
addresses the slow sunset,
fathoms deeper by the word.
The town’s coral gathers about them,
the sun and Arthur Scargill,
going down together,
one gracefully, one burning still.
Illustration by Dean Lewis