Rhys Milsom’s debut collection of poetry, Amnesia, is a frank comment on increasingly important conversations: youth lethargy, drink, drugs and notions of masculinity. In that same unflinching tone, it is also a comment on more permanent dialogues: death, birth and existential ennui. The voice of the poems is a raw, transparent and open one throughout. Like in ‘Identity’ where the angst is apparent:
This sense works itself into ‘AM:PM:SLEEP’ next, where the pointlessness and dead-end nature of entrapment reverberates in repetition and rhythmic beat of endless life-lists.
It’s all the same:
The pavements, the cars,
The faces, the smiles,
The stares the same
The endless cycle of ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ the previous generation seemingly dealt with better than the current, no longer seems a viable existence. The centre cannot keep holding.
Because your parents
Did the same, your brother
Earns enough in his
To stay afloat
Less listless and more plosive in both subject and consonants is ‘ME/YOU’: Perhaps Hell / Isn’t as far away / As we imagine…Mouths, /Curling like a dying cat / The twitching / Nostrils, / The dust and carbon / Monoxide clinging. The ‘mollusc horns’, ‘grinding teeth’ and ‘Eisreisenwelt’ all spit from the page and each stanza drills into the internal chaos that is the mundane business of getting through the day.
There’s loneliness and despair in the poems’ late nights, cigarettes, pubs, pool and pints. Like Rachel Trezise, Milsom has inhaled and exhaled Valleys youth culture sharply. In a short story, ‘I’ll See You On Sunday, James’, Milsom amalgamates experience and haphazard thoughts movingly. Mephedrone, poppers and pot regularly come with a heavy price, and there is both thankfulness and guilt in escaping. An earlier interview with the poet in Wales Arts Review tackles this directly. Reading this collection, the spate of Bridgend suicides between 2007 and 2011 come to mind. Not least because suicide rates among men in Wales remain the highest in the UK. The ‘Days-Old Smoke’ is as much about the mindless torching of mountains as it is about the emptiness at root.
The valleys is where I grew up
I’m no longer there
Like most of us have
But it’s instilled in me
Like the blazes that will
Laugh at the mountains in summer
The self-destructive boredom combined with restless pressure is widely palpable. Yet, only a decade or two before this restive coming-of-age youth comes full circle again and transpires into the voice of ‘The Driver’, older but no less lonely:
He drives around
For some sort of
Both ‘The Driver’ and ‘Holly’ are poems to mark impending mortality. Human or animal, that life ends remains the only constant:
One thing that
At a recent reading in Newport’s new venue Cwtsh, Milsom stopped movement in the audience with his reading of ‘394462’, a poem candidly charting the journey of his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy, her acidic health issues, his care, their growing love and the couple’s anticipation. Milsom embraces fatherhood, and the Listening / Breathing / Kicking / Punching / Preparing / For life / Outside / Of our den and its renewing power.
Milsom’s empathy and energy in this volume of poems is effective and the poems free of any obfuscation. Through his project www.wicid.tv Milsom provides opportunity for creative young voices to have an outlet. At a time when youth poverty of opportunity are serving up urgent concerns, the words in this volume and wicid.tv are a thing to celebrate. Waste and confusion are ugly and last Summer’s burning Valleys’ mountains emblaze this. Milsom pulls no punches in laying this bare, but in doing so inspires hope.