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ISBN 0 86243 776 8
Y Lolfa, 2005
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In fairness to Rhidian Jones, religious poetry is not an easy thing to write. It’s difficult to think
of anyone who has succeeded notably at the task, though many have tried. To make an impact, the religious poem needs to push
the boundaries of both church doctrine and literary convention. The Reverend Jones does not attempt either of these things,
and thus cuts himself off voluntarily from any prospect of a poetic triumph.
Quite what makes the present Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of learning, describe the poems in this anthology
as "finely crafted", I am at a loss to see, though his other comments in the blurb are closer to the mark: "simple" –
yes, Rev Jones achieves that – and "covering a great range of subjects with sensitivity" – yes, he achieves that
too, moving swiftly from location to location and age to age. It is quite plain that these poems have been written by a man
of strong faith. Unfortunately, that is not in itself a guarantee that they will inspire faith in others.
I suspect that Rhidian Jones is a Welsh speaker, and this excuses the occasional semantic error ("Such activity
fails to arouse/the peace and stillness of God’s house"). It does not, however, explain the poet’s determination
to rhyme every couplet. "Fair", "where" and "prayer", "grace" and "embrace", "shrine" and "divine", all the usual suspects
are here. This characteristic, combined with the straining after conventional rhythms, makes many of these poems come across
like Victorian hymns of the dreariest kind. The very title of the collection, Seasons in the Sun, is a suspect choice;
for most people, it instantly summons up the droning voice of Terry Jacks. I speculated on whether some of the poems had been
written with the intention of being set to music, which would have explained a few things. Paradoxically, most of them lack
the strict metre required of a hymn.
Poetry should always be read aloud to achieve its full effect. It would be a mistake to save this anthology
for reading on the bus, or to try to browse it when there are other people in the room. Only by speaking it out loud, à la
Dylan Thomas (who, incidentally, wrote some of the most effective religious poetry ever, albeit unintentionally), is the reader
going to catch the better qualities of Rev Jones’s verse. I tried this with Christmas Rush, and found a potentially
moving poem hidden under the verbiage.
That is not the only good point in the collection. There is some quite clever imagery. "A briefcase-carrying
soul", for example, is a brilliant opening, leading one to expect the over-burdened businessman to lose his troubles in prayer.
The effect is spoiled when we learn that he has come to offer "thanks and praise", rather than to share his burden with God,
and An Open Heart ends with a shameless plug for the Anglican liturgy. This, and so many of the other poems –
Summer Glory, for example – fail to live up to the promise of a striking opening stanza.
As I’m always saying, poetry is generally a matter of personal response. For me, Seasons in the
Sun is a mundane anthology, unlikely to stick in most people’s minds. I hope Rhidian Jones finds other readers more
Review by Deborah Fisher
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