Skirrid Hill (2005)
Seren Books, 52pp
Welsh poet, Owen Sheers, first came to my attention through his novel of wartime resistance, aptly titled Resistance, in which the South Wales valleys were invaded by German soldiers. He is, however, better known for his poetry – predominately this collection, Skirrid Hill, which won a Society of Authors Somerset Maugham Award, and bought acclaim from poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and wide press approval.
Sheers was born in Fiji, but raised in Abergavenny, and this duality is the first of many divides that echo throughout his collection. The word Skirrid, as Sheers notes, is derived from Ysgyrid, a derivation of Ysgariad, the word for divorce of separation. This is the second divide. In a series of poems that clearly draw upon personal experience, Shears explores all manner of divides: physical boundaries, particularly the Welsh/English border, the separation of his family, of love, of city and nature, past and present. It is also a collection with an international flavour: it visits Los Angeles, Zimbabwe, Fiji and Paris.
It has been noted that Skirrid Hill has a tauter form than Sheers’s debut, The Blue Book, for here the central motif of this imposing, inspiring peak: he says of it, in the final poem in this collection:
“Just like the farmers who once came to scoop
handfuls of soil from her holy scar,
so I am drawn to her back for the answers
to every question I have never known.”
Skirrid Fawr haunts every poems separation, divorce, meeting, longing. The ruptured terrain reflects Sheers’s internal life, and the lives of others, so precisely. This is a suggestive, emotive volume that marks Sheers out as quite probably the best poet in Wales, and one of the strongest in the country, and one suspects brighter things are ahead of him still.
I wish I could say more on this beautiful volume; that I could explicate in greater detail my feelings on it, but it has been a while since I finished reading it, and have read more since. Now it is not that its details have already faded – some of the poems here still percolate in my subconscious – but that I have too much distraction at present to think clearly, and for now this rather feeble review will have to pay testament to such a grand work.