Wales Arts Review is delighted to be sponsoring and hosting the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award once again – where you, the public, get to have your say and vote for your favourite. To help you decide, we’re taking a closer look at the titles in each of the four categories. Next up, it’s the books shortlisted in the Poetry category.
A Marginal Sea by Zoe Skoulding
A Marginal Sea is written from the vantage point of Ynys Môn/Anglesey, which is both on the edge of Wales and in a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean – the island is imagined here as a site of archipelagic connection with other places and histories, where the spaces of dream and digital technology are interwoven with the everyday. Skoulding’s poems take their readers into new worlds: we come to terms with the oystercatcher’s ‘muscle of belonging’; we chart the cross-cultural coordinates of ‘Newborough Warren with Map of Havana’ (‘and it’s this way to the Malecón /to look out over the Menai Strait’); elegy and song overlap in moving poems which think through how we remember and misremember: ‘it’s my voice // deepening with others that won’t let themselves / be buried.’ (‘Anecdote for the Birds’). A Marginal Sea is inventive, exhilarating in its soundscapes, and brilliantly awake to otherness, in language, and in the animal and natural world.
Zoë Skoulding is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bangor University. Her collections of poetry (published by Seren Books) include The Mirror Trade (2004); Remains of a Future City (2008), shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (2013), shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; and Footnotes to Water (2019), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and won the Wales Book of the Year Poetry Award 2020. In 2020 she also published The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher) and A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman). Her critical work includes two monographs, Contemporary Women’s Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and Poetry & Listening: The Noise of Lyric (Liverpool University Press, 2020). She received the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2018 for her body of work in poetry, and is a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.
As If To Sing by Paul Henry
The power of song, to sustain the human spirit, resonates through As if to Sing. A trapped caver crawls back through songs to the sea; Welsh soldiers pack their hearts into a song on the eve of battle, ‘for safe-keeping’; a child crossing a bridge sings ‘a song with no beginning or end’…
Blurring past and present, a ‘torchsong’ of music and light intensifies in The Boys in the Branches, a moving sequence to the poet’s sons where three boys scale a tree to manhood, to ‘carve their names on the late sun’. The collection’s closing cadence includes the long poem The Key to Penllain. Set in the summer of 1969, its apocalyptic dream stages a search for a key which could save the planet. Rich in the musical lyricism admired by readers and fellow poets, As if to Sing is an essential addition to this poet’s compelling body of work.
Paul Henry was born in Aberystwyth and came to poetry through songwriting. Since receiving an E.C. Gregory Award he’s published eight collections with Seren, including Boy Running and The Brittle Sea: New & Selected Poems. His work has been widely anthologised and translated. Paul has performed his poems and songs at festivals in Europe, Asia and the USA. He’s guest-edited Poetry Wales and presented programmes for BBC Radio Wales, Radio 3 and Radio 4.
The Language of Bees by Rae Howells
How can we have hope in a world that is dying? With a forensic eye, Howells takes us on a journey through ordinary human lives and the extraordinary natural world we are in danger of losing. The carder bee carries the story of a colony, a species, and, ultimately, the fate of all life on earth. The mermaid weaves an almost beautiful tale of a tragic miscarriage. The magpie writes yearning letters to her lost lover. The brilliant kingfisher flits through the mind of a woman with dementia. Through each exacting portrait, we begin to understand something special, a language of bees, and discover for ourselves how intimately we are all connected and what the natural world is trying to tell us.
Rae Howells is a poet, journalist, academic and lavender farmer from Swansea. She’s won both the Welsh International and Rialto Nature and Place poetry competitions. Her work has featured in a wide range of journals including Magma, The Rialto, Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, Acumen, Envoi, Poetry Ireland, Black Bough, Marble and The Cardiff Review, as well as in the Poetry Business anthology, The Result is What You See Today and Arachne Press’s anthology A470. Howells’s pamphlet Bloom and Bones, co-authored with Jean James, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2021. The Language of Bees is her first full collection.
You can view the full shortlist for this year’s prize, and cast your vote for this year’s People’s Choice Award, here.
You can find out more about this year’s Wales Book of the Year Awards, here.