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Unread 03-26-2021, 02:45 PM
Jane Crowson's Avatar
Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
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Default Describing The Welsh Borderlands

Revision 1
The Welsh Borderlands

From a pamphlet; important work
made between the wars
when Geological Survey publications
were destroyed by enemy action.

A finger-whorl marks a pause
beside the path of a quartzite ridge,
the backbone of the Stiperstones.

From my father’s stories, the past
seen through water.
Gwendol Wrekin, son of Shenkin,
Grandson of Big Mountain
walked twenty leagues from the dark and basic
Mynyddoedd Duon towards the Silurian strata;
tiroedd gwastad. Flat plains. To dam the river Severn.
To flood the bastard English.

From a lived-in past, where unfamiliar stories
spin a lull and drift of words,
unfurl at the very edge of hearing. I curl
my hair up like a fern, turn ammonite,
dive beside manticore and basilisk,
lost, swimming with the fish fossils of Hay Bluff
in a shallow sea.

Italicised lines from Pocock and Whitehead (1935) The Welsh Borderlands, Geological Survey Publication. Second Edition

Revison - removed 'first/second/third' and replaced with 'from' at the start of each stanza. Tweaked punctuation and turned L2 'from' to 'made' to avoid word-level repetition. Removed 'stocks of' in L3. Damn to Dam in S2 L7)

Last edited by Jane Crowson; 03-27-2021 at 03:11 PM. Reason: Italics wonky
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Unread 03-26-2021, 03:02 PM
Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Posts: 5,368

Since I recently put up a piece about my father that Jayne doesn’t want to take down, I hesitate to comment much beyond suggesting that you not upper-case “Father”.
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Unread 03-26-2021, 03:06 PM
Jane Crowson's Avatar
Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
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Posts: 393

Thanks Allen,

Done. I liked your piece about your father - it made sense to me in lots of different ways. I didn't comment on it at the time as it felt from the comments that you didn't want lots of thoughts shared about it, and as a relative stranger here I didn't want to intrude.

But I remember it - it was a good poem, which crossed the Father/Son thing and moved into wider narratives, about culpability, a dissonance between ideas of the 'right thing'. But read ultimately to me as a human story about love, which was really nice.

(from memory, btw, so apologies if I'm awry)

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Unread 03-26-2021, 04:05 PM
Sergio F Lima Sergio F Lima is offline
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Location: Kansas City,MO,USA. There is also Kansas City,KS but I don't live there.
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Hi Sarah- Jane:

This is as lucent as piece of quartz in the sun. Perhaps it would take the reader to be more familiar to all these places, not only to appreciate the poem more fully, but also to write a somewhat learned critique. I take your father is (was) Welsh, since the poem is played in Wales, and you make a case to mention his lack of affection for the English. Today, he would not be alone in the UK. As a teenager, I used to drive along with my father up to the very top of some old hills and mountains, where his quartz and kaolin (a paper whitener) mines were located. In spite of the heat, the interior of the mines was incredibly cool, and the quartz veins shone like stars in the dark.

I know this is a quote, but don't you think the following should read as:"stocks of Geological Survey Publications", if that was the full name of the publishing entity?

I like S3 best, perhaps because it does not rely so much on unfamiliar local names to be understood. And I just love "tiroedd gwastad".

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Unread 03-26-2021, 04:13 PM
Jane Crowson's Avatar
Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
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Posts: 393

Thank-you, Sergio,

That's helpful, and your critique is lovely -another poem in itself. I love the image you make of the mines and the quartz shining.

Your perspective on the names much appreciated - in one way I want the poem to look at how hard it is to name things - the different ways of representing/articulating the same landscape, so it's good to know where this isn't working for you.

I'll fish back through the book to check the quote - thank-you!

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Unread 03-26-2021, 05:48 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
Join Date: May 2013
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Hi Sarah,

It's too late for me to have the brainpower to offer a crit right now, so this is just a very quick fly-by to wonder you intend "damn" or "dam"?

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Unread 03-27-2021, 06:16 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,897


Hi Sarah-Jane, I don't think the poem would be any less if you dropped "First/Second/Third". I don't think... Instead you might start each stanza with "From".

s.1 l.2 — "stocks of" is italicized and I don't think you want it to be.

These phrases (among others)are fantastic:

A finger-whorl marks a pause

backbone of the Stiperstones

I absolutely love the punctuation you use towards the end of stanza two. It is halting. I can hear it being dug out from the deep recesses of the narrator's memory.

Stanza two is a googler's dream. It produced some wonderful information about the legend of the giant and his damming the river (Matt is right that it seems you mean "dam"). The interplay of the geological, geographical and legend/lore is what animates the poem. (Btw, do you have Google Earth downloaded on your computer? It is tailor-made for someone like you with a vivid, graphic imagination/approach to writing.)

The "lived-in past" of the third stanza is a kind of amalgamation of the first two stanzas with the imagination of the narrator added to it to form a unique paradigm. It's wonderful. It shows how our paradigms are formed from disparate past experiences "where unfamiliar stories / spin a lull and drift of words," to create yet another manifestation of the same thing. Magical.

I think this is the most ambitious poem you've posted. I'll be back.

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Unread 03-27-2021, 10:11 AM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Location: Ellan Vannin
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Hi Sarah-Jane. Did your father contribute to - or even write - the pamphlet? That was my first thought, but at present I'm thinking not, because L5 suggests he was simply a user of it, out there among the Stiperstones (I say "among", although that seems to be wrong, because I now discover that, rather than a range of some sort, it is a mountain. In Shropshire, so not actually Welsh, but definitely borderlands.) Lines 5-7 here are very nice.

The second and third stanzas are really where it takes off for me, though. Ah, the Wrekin! Shropshire again. Do you know the A E Housman poem? I expect you do. Lots of lovely toothsome Welsh names in here, even if some are in translation. Is tiroedd gwastad actually the Welsh for Silurian strata? (Now I'm thinking of Henry Vaughan.) Here on the Isle of Man we still have some Manx left, but nothing like the wealth of Welsh. I hardly think I could find a decent Manx translation of Silurian strata. (I may ask someone who would know.)

And S3 is the best of all, I think, where you simply collapse time, with fairly magical effect.

But I find myself getting to the end thinking that the harking back to the pamphlet throughout the poem does not necessarily contribute greatly to the poem. I wonder - heretically, no doubt - whether you could jettison the paraphernalia of the pamphlet and find something more striking and stand-alone for the first stanza. But that's probably not what you want to do.

I enjoyed it anyway, as is. So I can't really argue with it. Not too hotly, anyway.

Cheers (Lhiats)

David (a Welsh name - sort of - it now occurs to me!)
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Unread 03-27-2021, 03:02 PM
Jane Crowson's Avatar
Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
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Posts: 393

Hi Matt, Jim and David,

Thank-you for looking at this -

Matt - thank-you - I did intend ‘damn’ but it was a toss-up. It’s my attempt at a pun, but it can be ‘dam’ quite easily. It’s good to know that this glared as a typo and I’ll tweak.

Jim - thank-you - Your thoughts about the start of each stanza are also really helpful and I’ll act on them. It started with ‘the first book’ etc as if there were three books, and I could hear something wasn’t right with the current start but wasn’t sure how to resolve. I think your suggestion is perfect.

You’ve read this poem as I hoped people would. Thank-you so much for that. It’s been a year in the revision, this one, and comes from 14 days of generative drafts way back last March. A right labour. But worth it if I might have communicated what I wanted to communicate, at least to one reader, and that’s exciting. Because it’s a complex thing to communicate, and combines the personal, which is never easy. I do have google earth, and yes, it’s AMAZING. Do you know Atlas Obscura? That’s another interesting way to explore the planet.

- the ‘stocks of’ is italicised in the book - the full quote is ‘Stocks of Geological Survey Publications were destroyed by enemy action. Reprinting is in hand’. It’s a wonderful pamphet. BUT I can see how this doesn’t work and I’ll think about what to do. I think I can probably cut out the ‘stocks of’ altogether and that will work much better in context. Thank-you for flagging this, as it needed a fix.

David - thank-you. My father didn’t, no - he wasn’t Pocock. I researched the authors (I really need to get some kind of life outside words) and they were amazing people - they were sent to Gallipoli, the surveyors, to find water, although the admiralty had asked for a water-diviner, not geologists (I wrote about that, too, in a separate poem). But they also came to a land that they didn't know, these people, and articulated it in science, in rocks and ‘experts’. And the stories are a different, more transient way to articulate it.

The poem is kind of about my father (he is still alive but in a twinkly old-man way now) who was a folk singer. A very hard-core folk singer, fond of denouncing softer, pop-like strands of folk music. It’s also about my grandfather, who I was close to in my childhood, who isn't alive now, but was fond of stories and telling me the names of places/landscapes. Yes, I know the Houseman poems, and I like them. In Hereford there’s Thomas Traherne, too, the lost metaphysical poet. Tiroedd gwastad is flat lands/arable lands, I think, if I’ve remembered it right.

Your thoughts about jettisoning the pamphlet are good ones, and well taken. I’ve already cut out quite a lot of pamphlet quotes in this revision. I'll think about this some more over the next few days - I don't want to do a 'snap revision' on this one. Manx sounds interesting. The different ways we name things are glorious, and they are part of how our worlds are made, I think. They inform how we live/understand things. Maybe.

Either way, thank-you all. It is very useful for me to have an informed conversation around this poem.


Last edited by Jane Crowson; 03-27-2021 at 03:07 PM.
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Unread 03-27-2021, 03:30 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 4,334

Hi Sarah!

What tickled me upon first reading was the fact that my father's family is from the Welsh borderlands, and his name was David Pocock, so WOW, I wonder if this Pocock is any relation, though I suspect the Pococks are myriad.

Three ways of looking at a place. Geological, clan cultural historical, memory/imaginational--the deep past. This is a terrific idea for forming a poem. The possibilities are practically endless. And what you've done so far is good, and sets me dreaming. My instinct is that this could be more, it could grow, expand into something even more than a single poem. It could be a series. I'd love to read something like that! A continuation of the weaving of the survey words. I like this idea, too, and also feel that for this device to be really effective it would take a longer poem. At this stage, the italicised references are so few that I wonder what they add.

An aside, re Matt, I assumed the "damn" was a pun, to go with "bastard English"?

You're on to a good thing here! And while my preference is for the realm of knowing in stanza three, I enjoy all the strata of the poem. I'm always fascinated to see how poets use language to evoke layers of experience, or simultaneous experience of different levels.


(oh, I see we've just cross-posted! Wil read your comments!! )
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