The Wood below Coelbren
November 2014. 91 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-48-0
"In Simon Rees' new book the woods below Coelbren extend for miles beyond the township. They do so with accomplished style. These are poems that make history rattle. Sextus Julius Frontinus, the Roman second Governor of Britain, the man who subdued the Welsh Silures, dreams of water. The Ravenna Cosmographer, the recorder of Rome's roads from India to Ireland steps in from the mists. The three heads of hellhound Cerberus are seen on Cardiff's Schooner Way. The craftsmen of the middle ages build again. There are beasts and ghosts and whole gazetteer of places out there on the borders of the known world. But the centre is still that Coelbren woodland. This is a place where the distant and recent past mix, where our history is remembered and then forgotten, where the world is both known and unknowable. A remarkable collection."
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Table of Contents
Excerpts from The Wood below Coelbren
The Wood below Coelbren II
The wood below Coelbren,
Laid by Roman soldiers,
Underpins the lost walls
Of the old encampment.
This high, square, dry fortress
Rides above the marshes
On a raft of timber
Cast up on the wet land.
Oaks they felled, barked, squared, laid,
Still lie, now waterlogged
Against the air, sealed down
Under black bog-juices.
Marshalled like dead soldiers
Buried where they'd fallen,
They still defend the fort
Where the sheep crop and graze.
No Silurians now
Stalking these embrasures,
No soldiers to defend
Their squared-off chunk of Rome.
Only the wood below
Walling the fort, founding
What two thousand odd years
Cannot leave unfounded.
The island of Saponis rises
Foaming above soapy seas.
Suds beat and froth against its shoreline;
Seabirds hop and gag in scum.
Its rocks are soapstone, soon dissolving
Into the agitant waves.
Brine and hard water undercut cliffs,
Drilling blowholes through the rock
That spout like beached whales into the sky,
Sending up geysers of foam.
Pinkish, bluish, greyish, greenish stone
Gives off a whiff of cheap scent:
Strawberry, mint, ambergris and pine,
Leached into the scouring sea.
Whiter than white, cleaner than clean, wind
Blows bubbles that spritz the sky.
Reviews of The Wood below Coelbren
"In the opening sequence, 'Coelbren', Rees creates a slow and meditative rhythm with careful use of punctuation and enjambment that is largely maintained throughout the collection. [...] Rees does well to rally the collection for an inspiring finish in the final sequence 'Gazetter'. In particular, his narrative lyric 'In Savonlinna' – one of the collection's longer poems – offers readers a delightfully superstitious tourist fantasy that calls to mind the atavistic nature of the poems at the opening of The Wood below Coelbren."
"This is a collection that rewards several readings. It is slow, meditative - even somnolent at times - and requires several engagements for the reader to attune attentively to the rhythms and subjects. [...] Rees has an interest in the everyday and what the ordinary might reveal in its extraordinariness. [...] This much to commend this collection."
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