On the poetry of Robert Gurney in “To Dylan”

Places we are losing, voices we are finding

Review By Ramón Minieri

Robert GurneyFor several days now I have been reading this book by Bob Gurney. As only happens with true poetry: I know I will never stop reading it – I mean to listen to it, to see it. The book will be there, on a shelf in the library, but I shall return to it again to find a certain word, a certain phrase, an image, that throb and illuminate.

Bob and Dylan are two poets who are dear to me. And in “To Dylan,” the two are present, discussing and talking, in counterpoint or in chorus.

Because this is a poetry of voices. The writing, that which is traced on the page, is the vehicle of a voice. You have to read these words aloud. I’ve heard the recording of Dylan reading “Do not go gentle into that good night”: like that, in that tone, that decision, is how you have to read these poems, as an incantation.

They are not ethereal, intangible voices. They have flesh, they have weight and physical resonance, because they are born in a particular body. I hear the voice of Dylan in places where he walked, where he walks – and Bob finds him. Even if I had not heard that recording, the rhythms the writing transmits tell me that, as people say here, it “sings while it speaks”, with a curve that rises and falls, breaks and drops.

The voices are not in the imagination, but in certain places. Bob’s poetry is a poetry of concrete places, it does not fall into abstraction. The walls of the pub, the yews and the cliffs of Port Eynon, the waters of the pool and that heron in Gower, the Ship, the meadow near Gorseinon, the King’s Head inn, Brown’s, the pawnbroker in Bute Street, the Oystermouth cemetery … Bob Gurney’s poetic country deserves a choreography, with all the places visited by his White Lady. In those specific places poetic stories occur; they then become mythical places, like the famous Kardomah: although it has been destroyed and rebuilt, poetry keeps it safe.

The places are not immutable. The place that was in the memory is exposed to some loss. I think this is a theme that is strongly present in Gurney’s poetry. Just as the tide carries a photo away, so everything is carried away, Bob and  Dylan and their loved ones, so too the tide of time carries away the sounds of one era after another (Sounds), just as the meadow where Dylan played is supplanted by a development of luxury homes. That which happened to Dylan’s papers that were in the Boathouse (The Bonfire), the clock that is no longer wound (Sounds) makes one feel painfully that loss. And I’m back to Sounds, which is for some reason for me a key to Bob’s poetics and to this book.

These pages create something ​​in his reader that seems to me to be the property of true poetry: one has to go around the world in order to come back and find oneself here. It is not difficult to read and feel what Robert Gurney says; but it is always possible to dig and look deeper, because there is a discreet wealth of references that can lead us to Rimbaud, Huidobro, Garcia Lorca, and more than once to Patagonia, to his close friend and great poet, Andy Bohoslavsky.

Personally, I owe to this book and its author an extensive learning journey through the mythically beautiful country of Wales, and an encounter with Robert Gurney’s friends in a sort of invisible Kardomah. Not only those who are with us now, nor even the most recent: here I came across Thomas Gray, with whom I promise to talk more often; and all the creators of music, images and words that the book alludes to.

There is surely more to say of this poetics, which opens a window to let a dragonfly out, and with that gesture installs the small place of the poet as a point in the cosmos. There is surely more, but I have to keep on reading – I mean, feeling and listening to this poetry.

Ramón Minieri

Colorado River, Patagonia, August 2014.

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Review of Physicians of Myddfai

Physicians of MyddfaiA facsimile of the Victorian translation of this early 13th/14th-century Welsh medical manuscript has been the most widely available edition up to now. This new book takes the facsimile as its template, complete with both its additional later material and the myth.

The author has met all the right people in the field, and in the process points up the lack of concerted work done on this interesting subject. He expands, corrects and clarifies the text, and his enthusiasm for the subject brings in wide-ranging references. I like his defence of the later section of the 19th-century edition. However, as his own social history section suggests, the 13th-century manuscript deserves a comprehensive and scholarly appraisal.

There is much information compiled in the social history, some of which will be familiar to people already interested in this area, It is clear that each era has its own preoccupations with the Myddfai phenomenon; 19th century cultural nationalism and the Celtic revival. One of the themes of our age is ethnobotany, so, at least a small index of plant names would have made the author’s considerable effort more accessible. He pre-empts criticism by citing publishing restrictions and costs,

ln 1815 Hugh Davies complained that two centuries had elapsed since someone attempted to grapple with old Welsh plant names “but we do not find that any disciple ofAesculapius hath chosen to undertake the task”, Nearly two centuries on we are perhaps hardly in a better state, although as this book demonstrates, it needs not one disciple, or scholar, but a conclave of them. Another piece in the jigsaw, but we await the bigger picture in the public domain.

Gareth Evans
in June 2013 edition of Herbs – the Journal of the Herb Society