Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Headwaters: poems by Rowan Williams

At last! I’ve been waiting eagerly for Rowan Williams’ new book of poems, and it’s finally here: Headwaters (Oxford: Perpetua Press, 2008), 72 pp. The book includes 25 collected poems, plus a sequence of sonnets responding to ten of Shakespeare’s plays, plus Williams’ striking translations of several Welsh and Russian poems. (It doesn’t seem to be available yet in the US, but it can be ordered direct from the publisher, or from Abebooks, or from Amazon.co.uk.)

I’ve only read through the collection once so far, but I can tell I’ll be spending a lot more time with these poems. Here’s one of my favourites – an astonishing poem entitled “Sin,” translated from the Welsh of D. Gwenallt Jones:

Take off the business suit, the old-school tie,
The gown, the cap, drop the reviews, awards,
Certificates, stand naked in your sty,
A little carnivore, clothed in dried turds.
The snot that slowly fills our passages
Seeps up from hollows where the dead beasts lie;
Dumb stamping dances spell our messages,
We only know what makes our arrows fly.
Lost in the wood, we sometimes glimpse the sky
Between the branches, and the words drop down
We cannot hear, the alien voices high
And hard, singing salvation, grace, life, dawn.
Like wolves, we lift our snouts: Blood, blood, we cry,
The blood that bought us so we need not die.


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