Angela France’s poem ‘Growth’ was written for Claire Trévien’s ‘Penning Perfumes’ event at Ledbury Poetry Festival, in response to the perfume Lumiere Blanche by Olfactif Studio. Fortunately, the colour found in the perfume (‘a blinding white hue, freezing the bodies along the coast on a milky iceberg’, according to one description found on the internet) is not so intimidating in France’s version. Subtly combining in the Cs of cow parsley, campion and comfrey, and even in chiffchaffs, possibly, the white of the perfume is narrowed and dampened in ‘Growth’ before melting into the colours of Spring.
Emaciation takes on a different, more familiar guise in Benjamin Palmer’s ‘Parting Song’. The emaciation of a human being makes a slow start, as efficiently subtle as the first few rhymes, from disbelief/reach to parcel/removal.
Benjamin Palmer was born and grew up in Cardiff but lived for many years in Barcelona, working as a teacher, translator, actor and musician. In 2012 he returned to Wales to study for an MA in creative writing at the University of Swansea, but is currently residing in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In the third poem, by Jonathan Edwards, there is no death but in the reader’s head, and that knowledge shifts the poem into another gear. A Welsh flag tells of drunken appearances of the iconic stage and cinema actor, Richard Burton. Rhyme and clever wordplay means the poem is not as depressing as it could have been, considering we the audience (the audience of the poem, rather than the audience beyond the dressing room) know what is to come in the poem’s not-too-distant future.
Jonathan Edwards is from Wales too and his first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes, is out now by Seren.
by Angela France
Cow parsley, mallow, and campion
narrow the path. Blackthorn chokes
the stile, spatters petals on the ground
Everything blooms in May,
everything grows. I could bury my face
in the white and purple froth of flowers
at the field’s edge, walk through thigh-high
stems damp with cuckoo-spit and dew,
watch the bees gorge on comfrey.
I could sink into the heady scent,
lie below high umbels while chiff-chaffs call
from a scribble of young willows
but a mild winter forced blooms too soon,
too soon, and the bluebells are over;
barely standing, frail and spindly,
only a shrivel of blue on show.
At ground level, brown leaves droop,
meld into mulch, green stems drive
upwards. Ground elder and creeping thistle
rampage under the canopy, their roots
spearing through the soil. I can almost
hear them, like cells drumming through
the earth’s veins. Relentless.
by Benjamin Palmer
His wrinkles collected particles of disbelief
which accrued and entrenched, causing the wrinkles to reach
further and dig deeper, as if attempting to parcel
the skin into strips, ready for easy removal.
His calm hunter’s eyes became those of prey –
tender, startled, pleading: ‘help me to stay
in this body, though I know it manoeuvres against me,
in this body, though I feel it pushing me away.’
But the body kept folding in on itself and the tiny
particles of disbelief seeped through his fine skin,
like ink through paper, into the bloodstream
and infiltrated the brain. And then the end came.
Nothing more could be written on his ink-slicked skin,
once disbelief had him coated, both outside and in.
Welsh Flag on the Wall of Richard Burton’s Dressing Room,
by Jonathan Edwards
I’ve seen the lot: the nights he’s come back late,
the janitor calling, Okay, Mr Burton?,
his coat heavy with Scotch and sunk a drop
or two or hurled a bottle at this wall
I hang on. Me, I can’t see how that room-long
mirror helps: he sits there making faces
at himself. I float above him. He
should take a tip from me and stand or stand
for something. Sometimes he speaks to me – oh, mostly
morbid stuff. Sometimes, far gone, he’ll call me
Elizabeth. And who are all these others –
Cleo, Sal, Cordelia, the miner’s
son, born Richard Jenkins – in his head?
He looks in his own eyes and says the words
of someone else. I’ve seen the frowns, the smiles
and all the rest and do my best for him:
as he steps through the door, I flutter faintly
in the air conditioning, raise a paw,
but nothing helps. His born pretender’s breath
goes on, wheezing Myself, myself, myself.