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The Blue Book


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by Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers doesn't need any help from the likes of me to sell his first published work, which has already got him a job as a TV arts presenter. I'm indulging myself for two reasons: first, we don't have enough poetry on this site; and second, I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

The opening poem in The Blue Book, entitled Feeling the catch, is designed to be a shocker - and not in the way the first few stanzas lead one to anticipate, either. We are in no doubt, right from the start, of the poet's identity: male, young, confident in his masculinity, casual in his attitudes to women. Or is he?

Several of the subsequent poems - Coming home, Unfinished business, Not yet my mother, The pond - reinforce the image of a boy coming to terms with manhood. (By my calculations, Sheers was twenty-six at the time of publication, but many of these pieces must have been written much earlier.)

I am not surprised by the success of this collection. Sheers displays, throughout, a sensitivity most men of his age keep well under wraps. The tender portraits of his own family, in poems such as Iron filings, and of intimate relationships (The wedding, His and hers) are unquestionably moving, but it is in pieces like My grandfather's garden that Sheers shows his talent at its peak. Here he places himself in a situation where human life, except his own, is entirely absent, and in its absence all the more poignant. Other poems achieve an equivalent effect by concentrating on the natural world and other minutely-observed aspects of the writer's surroundings: not only the farming environment he knows so well (Hedge foal, Lambing, Harvest, Skirrid) but the Pacific island where he spent his early childhood, as recollected by the adult Sheers (World maps, The Fijian lay preacher).

If I have a personal favourite, it must be May ball, a poem that would be almost out of place in this context if it were not for the introduction and conclusion, reflecting how the poet's relationship with his late grandfather dominates the whole collection. Against a backdrop that will be unfamiliar to many of his readers, he somehow contrives to put into words the essence of his character and give voice to the sensibilities of a young man who, whilst quite capable of living life to the full, never loses sight of how he arrived in the world.

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ISBN 1 85411 277 5 Published by Seren, 2000.

64pp, paperback Retail price 6.95

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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