Wales has always boasted a wealth of poetic talent and vision. And so, to mark International Dylan Thomas Day this year, Wales Arts Review has decided to take a look, and perhaps shine a little light, on a few English-language Welsh poets who have not been dead for sixty years. Here is (by no means comprehensive, and in no particular order) a list of some of the most exciting young voices in Welsh poetry.
Natalie Ann Holborow
Holborow is certainly a name for the future; already a winner and runner up of the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Prize she has this year added the prestigious Robin Reeves prize for Young Writers to that trophy cabinet. Her first collection is due out with Parthian later this year, but in the meantime you can read a selection of her work here.
Richard James Jones
Last year Wales Arts Review said of Richard James Jones’ debut collection, Little Man, that he had not read poetry of such ambition in quite a while. We also said it was a ‘reaffirming experience’. (You can read the full review here). Like Holborow, he is a Swansea poet, and although this supports suggestions of a vibrant poetry scene going on in the city, he is very much a different kettle of fish. So a vibrant and diverse scene, then.
Conwy-based poet Edwards is a former winner of the Wales Poetry Competition and another winner of the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award. Edwards’ work can be read widely – you name a publication and he has likely been included in it. He also does a nice line in improvised poetry. You can read some of his work here on his blog.
Chambers is perhaps one of the most interesting emerging talents on this list, in that he writes almost exclusively in haiku. In fact, he is so tethered to the form, and so successful with it, he is highly regarded in Japan and was recently shortlisted for the World Haiku Competition. His debut collection, This Single Thread is a favourite at Wales Arts Review. You can read examples of Chambers’ work here on his website, but you can also read his excellent essay for us from a few years ago on the art of haiku, ‘The Deep Sigh’, here.
We have to wait until 2017 for Blewitt’s debut collection from Seren, but in the meantime she is one of the most active poets on the scene, and recently has secured her PhD from Cardiff University. Blewitts’s work is witty, thoughtful, and has a certain Welsh swagger to it. If you get the chance to see her read then don’t miss it. We are very much looking forward to that debut next year. You can read a selection of Blewitt’s work on her website here.
Edwards cemented his reputation as one of Wales’ most significant poets when he won the Costa Poetry Award for his debut collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren) in 2014. Worth noting as well that he is yet another poet on this list previously awarded by the Terry Hetherington Prize. Apart from that he has won a slew of other top national awards, and is generally regarded as one of the nicest guys you’ll ever bump into at a poetry festival. Edwards’ work is a fast, dynamic experience. You can read a selection of his work here in The Morning Star.
Another name familiar to many, this Edwards made a name by taking a clean sweep at the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2013 for her collection Clueless Dogs (Seren), winning the poetry prize, the main book award and the people’s choice award. Rhian Edwards is a wonderfully exciting voice in Welsh poetry, and perhaps the most dynamic and enjoyable performance poet you will ever be lucky enough to come across. Check out this superb video for a taste of the live experience.
Milsom’s debut collection, Amnesia, published last year, landed like a firecracker. In Wales Arts Review Rajvi Glasbrook Griffiths called his poems ‘raw, transparent, open…’, and it is clear his work comes from a deeply personal and sometimes painful place. Milsom puts this kind of energy into his other projects too, and his work with developing the voices of young people who might not otherwise have found a voice is truly inspirational. Worth noting as well that his new venture, Milieu, a night of live readings and general literary rock n roll is the hottest ticket in town (the town being Cardiff). You can read an interview with Milsom here, and catch some of his work in The Lonely Crowd.
Jemma L. King
Yet another poet to come through the gates at the Terry Hetherington prize is Jemma L King. Her debut collection, The Shape of a Forest, was described in Wales Arts Review as ‘well-pruned realism’ and this, three years later remains a well-pruned description of King’s work. She has a Dylan Thomas Prize short-listing under her belt, and that alone attests to the weight, thematic and form-wise, of her voice. You can see in this video King reading her poem about the plight of the Siberian tiger.
Rhondda poet Ellen Davies saw her first pamphlet collection, Accent, published by Cinnamon Press last year to very encouraging reviews. Her work at present seems preoccupied with very Welsh questions (such as Welsh identity, growing up in the South Wales valleys etc), and the answers she offers form often a very impressive and confident bilingual tapestry. The recommendation would be to buy her collection, but if not here is an example of the work of a poet who we think will go on to great things.
Dai George perhaps has a reputation that belies his years, such is his acclaim and publication CV. But it is important to note that his debut collection, The Claims Office, is only two years old. At the time of publication Wales Arts Review said: ‘It doesn’t matter whether this is a first collection or not. Many poets will struggle to produce work as exciting as this, no matter what number collection they are on. But the fact that there is certainly more to come from this highly talented poet is the most exciting thing of all. Dai George has got a big part to play in the future of poetry, and well beyond Wales. The Claims Office is where this all starts.’ You can read one of George’s poems here.
Cornwell first came to west Wales from Cambridgeshire and now lives and studies in Swansea. His work is a heady mixture of modernism and classicism, and unashamedly intellectual. His first collection is slated for release by The Lonely Press in 2017 and it promises to be a book to watch out for. You can read some of his work here.
Canadian O’Connor should rightly be described as an international poet, but as she has recently found her feet as a regular feature on the Cardiff scene, we hope she won’t mind being claimed as Welsh for the purposes of this article. Her work is complex, but strikingly modern, with aromas of Eliot and Pound, and is deeply coloured by her travels. She runs the Cardiff Poetry Experiment, publishes widely across the world (you can read two of her poems here) and as you can see form the video below, where she spars with one of Wales’ literary heavyweights, Peter Finch, she is a remarkable performer as well.
Sheffield-born Davies is perhaps best known at the moment as editor of Poetry Wales, but her work and influence stretch even further than that prestigious post. Her poems, as found in her debut pamphlet, Then Spree (Salt, 2012), have been called ‘alert, quick and ancient’, and ‘sharply attentive to the realm of the inner ear’. Davies also works with Literature Across Frontiers and Wales Literature Exchange, and such international flavours are often found in her work. You can read a stunning piece Wales Arts Review was lucky enough to publish a few years ago here.
Although we sing the praises of these exciting emerging voices, we are fully aware it is not a comprehensive list of the talent Wales has to offer. Why not recommend your own favourites by joining the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and help make the list more complete.