David Gwilym Anthony



Passing through the Woods

Anne Drysdale, Angle Journal of Poetry

Upon first looking into David Gwilym Anthony’s new book Passing Through the Woods I was a little confused, since so many of the poems in it were familiar to me.  I felt the spine-creep of déjà vu.  How could I have read so much of it before?  All is explained in the introduction.  This is, in effect, a self-published second edition of Talking to Lord Newborough with revisions and a scattering of new work.  I searched for differences.  One of the most obvious revisions is the look and heft of the book - this new one is a lovely thing indeed when compared with the original, which had an awkward, slightly oversized format and a strange shadow on the cover that looked as though the sun had bleached part of it.  The inside is also much improved in appearance.  It amused me that the poem which appeared as Triolette in Lord Newborough is now called Triolet - almost a show-don’t-tell tribute to the new typeface, which is bigger and better and much easier to read.  I was sorry, though, that he has amended one of the lighter poems, replacing the phrase ‘bugger me’ with ‘blow me down’.  I spotted this at once, though that probably throws more light on the reader than the writer.

The new volume is unusual in that it includes six pages of reviews and comments which, added to Carol Rumens’ assessment of the title poem on the back cover, make another opinion seem almost unnecessary.  What new insight could I add to these?

I found myself looking at David’s work as a whole, wondering what it is that makes it different.  I began with what is perhaps his best-known poem - Talking to Lord Newborough - and read it quietly aloud, pleased with the easy diction and unforced metre.  Because I live in Wales and have become familiar with the language, I read the name of the village, ‘Maentwrog’, without faltering.  Its two outer syllables rocked gently, balanced either side of the central ‘too’, but as I was enjoying the feel of it in my mouth I found myself wondering what others might make of it.  David has a large US following, for example, and he has made no concession to their possible puzzlement.

Then I wondered if Maentwrog was location of Tale from a Gwynedd Village, which takes a gentle dig at the visitor who attributes the returning native’s intuitive knowledge of a local death to his having heard the wail of Celtic spirits.  (The chap has done his homework.)  In fact it is the shriek of the undertaker’s power saw that has alerted the young man to the situation.  He may be a Celt but he’s no daft anachronism!

The poem Bloodlines makes the case again.  The poet is angered by the depiction of his ancestors as barbarians, detailing some of their achievements in astronomy and scientific construction.  He claims their memory lives in his chromosomes.  His poems prove it.

This fascination with his background shows again in One Way Ticket, where he revisits the miners’ railway where he played as a boy and stands contemplating Cwm Cynfal and the Ceunant, among the ghosts of trains.  I am reminded of Tolkien, watching goods trains steam past with exotic Welsh place names chalked on the wagons, which some believe sowed the seeds of Sindarin.  David is a master of form, as everyone recognises, but surely few could take the ultimate send-up formula of the double dactyl and render it thoughtful and sad, as he does in Unsaid.

My own favourite of all his poems Hawthorn, with Housmanlike simplicity, remonstrates with the tree for weeping when the poet can see no reason for it, but all David’s finest poems give the lie to the statement.  He finds unerringly, as Francis Thompson put it … all the sadness in the sweetThe sweetness in the sad.  He offers a simple insight to all who need to understand it via his poem To Gerard Manley Hopkins - without the dark your candle could not glow.

There is a thread of gentle regret running through these poems, too easily classified as mere Celtic twilight.  A consciousness of roads not taken and of the passing of time that gives them a straight-to-the heart appeal (Father of the Man).  I am searching for a single word to sum it up and the nearest in English is wistfulness which won’t do.  The Welsh word is hiraeth but David might not thank me for using it because it has become a cliché.  He is a proud man.

It is a fine day here in South Wales, with a boisterous westerly wind.  There’s a red t-shirt billowing on the line in my neighbour’s garden, waving a cheerful slogan: ‘You can take the boy out of Wales but you can’t take Wales out of the boy’.  Indeed.  Da iawn, Dai bach.  Seren aur i chi.

Passing through the Woods is available from UK bookshops and also, including a downloadable Kindle version, from Amazon UK, Amazon.com and all other Amazon sites.


Talking to Lord Newborough

If a poem is a verbal device designed to go off in the heart (apologies to Philip Larkin) then David G. Anthony’s graceful, contemplative second collection implodes quietly, delivering emotional truths from within well-crafted constructs.
- Cheryl Snell

David Anthony’s superb new collection, Talking to Lord Newborough, is the second release by a remarkable new literary publisher, The Alsop Review Press… Anthony’s poems are all written in traditional rhymed forms, but the poet’s sensibility is entirely modern. Anthony is a master, so at home with such forms as the sonnet and the villanelle (to name only two) that the resulting poems are fluid and seamless, truly flawless. Equally notable is the broad range of tone and subject matter, from the wildly hilarious to the deeply moving. My personal favorites include “Situation Vacant” and the wistful title poem.
- Robert L Smith

David Anthony is a skilled craftsman whose use of form always feels natural. Although he’s at home with wordplay and metaphor, his work is not opaque. It often breaks the cardinal rules of contemporary poetry: Don’t show any emotions other than anger and melancholy, don't use perfect rhymes, and for God’s sake, don't ‘say’ anything. That infuriates some critics — always a good sign.
- R M Kelleher

There is no 'street cred' and no attempt to match or compete with the noise of modern media. This is poetry painstakingly composed in traditional forms that have changed very little and have stood the test of time…The subject matter is broad — from wistful to uncomfortable — from a commemoration of the late Queen Mother that concludes: ‘Lie easy now, the head that wore a crown’, to “Out of the Night”, which examines our unforgiving attitude to a criminal who has taken the lives of many others. Some of the poems are funny and some of them are not. They are always honest and offer sympathy, but no quarter.
- Peter Stewart Richards

Words to Say

David Anthony's work shows that a poem doesn't have to raise its voice to get our attention, and that control is not the opposite of feeling. These pages offer a rare enjoyment: contemporary verses that please the ear as well as the intellect.
- Alicia E Stallings

A peopled landscape is always present. These poems will give great pleasure to those without expert knowledge and even more to those who realise how much skill was needed to produce such simplicity.
- Janet Kenny

I was aware, while reading these poems, of his mastery of rhyme and metre, and overall, a voice of great dignity and control. There are many moving poems here, but also a section called ‘Chestnut Puree’ of some wickedly funny ones.
- M A Griffiths

It's a wonderful book, truly. I've been picking it up and setting it down and picking it up again for the past two or three weeks. Every time I read it I find something I hadn't seen before. “For My Daughter” and “On the Suicide of a Friend” are my current favourites. I may have others tomorrow. The voice is gentle, soft-spoken and perceptive.
- Jaimes Alsop

Words to Say is a wonderful book, full of all the right things that poetry ought to have: seriousness, moral weight, feeling, complexity, music, without any pretentiousness or self-consciousness or wrong notes. What the poet does with formal patterns is deft and casual, even a potentially hard one for English, like the Petrarchan sonnet. He manages to get real thought into the triolet, and he makes it feel natural. His rhymes, whether perfect or slant, seem inevitable. It's good to find among these poems several that are already familiar from some of the best sites on the internet; the unfamiliar ones are just as stunning and immediately inviting. The Foreword by Helena Nelson gets it right when it notes Anthony's ‘delight in his craft’. This is beautiful work, enhanced by the art; I'm grateful to have it on this side of the Atlantic!
- Rhina P Espaillat

The first things that came to my mind were the dignity and gravity of his work. His judgments are as measured as his verse. Of course, for the light of heart, he also writes a wicked versified joke.
- Tim Murphy

David’s poems are rarely mere ornaments: they contain real thought, often difficult thought at that. He is an honourable disciple in a long tradition, using the sonnet, for example, to introduce a question or problem, before offering his own considered resolution. His thought is compressed, personal and satisfying. Penetrating in his insights, he avoids didacticism. His utterance is characterised by interrogatives, perhapses, and a tone of conjecture. At the same time, he is playful with words, form and intent. Sometimes it is a very serious playfulness; at other times, it is unashamedly mischievous. The humorous poems in this collection are no less carefully made than their serious counterparts. They bubble up from an irrepressible sense of fun. Who could resist ‘Cushioning the Blow’ or ‘Who’s Afraid?’ Such pieces serve to persuade that poetry can both begin and end in delight… Faced with sadnesses both small and large, David Anthony’s poems, with disarming modesty and memorable grace, really do find “the proper words to say”. Read them, and you will see.
- Helena Nelson


The scene and situation are set at once, so that communication is clear at the surface level. The mystery occurs at a deeper level, and is subtler, in what the poem suggests about memory and time: “These days the past is nearer”. We think of the past as retreating into a farther distance, as do the dead, but this poem reverses that notion, and implies that the dead “remember” with us. I found myself feeling not only surprised, but persuaded by this tender but unsentimental sense of identification with those who are closer than they were when they “left” us, because now we're approaching them. The end feels wholly true, and the force of the poem is greater than it would have been if the language were not so unobtrusively ordinary. And then, just to compound the strangeness of the poem, a re reading reminds you that this particular “old friend” was a stranger, after all, “met” beside his gravestone by an imaginative and sensitive boy! Remarkable poem.
- Rhina P Espaillat (Judge, Eratosphere poetry competition 2004) on the poem “Talking to Lord Newborough”

This is not just a poem to please its author, or the denizens of a workshop. It is cunningly, perniciously calculated to snare the judge of a poetry competition. I undertook this charge resolutely determined to exclude any poem about poetry from the finalists. ‘Slush Pile’ has defeated my good intentions. I will never forgive the author, when I learn his or her identity.
- Alan Sullivan (Judge, Eratosphere sonnet competition 2007) on the poem“Slush Pile”

David's poem illustrates that there is yet life in traditional forms and themes when handled with skill. The ‘hymn stanza’ (alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter) and the repetitions serve to reinforce the tone of the piece rather than distracting from it and clearly demonstrate the truth of Prokoffief’s observation, when he was asked why he alone of 20th Century composers continued to write in traditional key signatures: ‘There are so many lovely things yet to be said in C Major.’
- Howard Miller on the poem “Warming”

Getting lost in the woods is a narrative which belongs to folklore, childhood and the pre-industrial human past: it is one to which the atavistic instincts of the modern urban reader still strongly respond. This poem plays effectively with process (narrative but also formal). Within the miniature span of the poem, we nevertheless have a sense of time passing and dangerous night approaching. Judiciously placed punctuation varies the traction of two important little words — ‘now’ and ‘because’. The two foreshortened lines reflect the ebb and flow of the speaker's confidence. Line six offers a burst of cheery optimism — ‘I'll find the track somehow.’ — but the conclusion again casts doubt on a happy outcome, and the poem records a mood of uncertainty and a shadowy sense of threat. The title implies, perhaps, that the path will be found. Let's hope it doesn't lead to Baba Yaga's hut… “Passing through the Woods” is exemplary.
- Carol Rumens (The Guardian) on the title poem


Passing through the Woods