Swiftscape: Frances White, Seventh Quarry Press
Frances White is a member of a poetry group that was formed by the late Aeronwy Thomas, daughter of Dylan Thomas. She grew up near London and has strong family ties in south Wales. The venues she has read at include the Laugharne arts festival.
The poet’s Welsh connections form an important strand in this debut collection, published by Swansea's Seventh Quarry Press; a kind of paradise lost. ‘Llywnperdid Farm’ tells of two young riders giving rein to their horses, a roan and a grey, who then race for miles “on that boundless horizon of grass and sky … disappearing / like meteors / over Rhondda.” In ‘Letter From Mountain Ash’ a relative says: “You kids from London / loved running down the valley / singing our Welsh songs.” A second poem about horse-riding, ‘The Ride’, towards the end of the collection, strikes a more bitter-sweet tone:
Legs heavy with the strain, today, I ride
steadily through the pain,
letting my tired limbs reclaim
the warmth coursing through your veins.
There are fond poems of togetherness (‘Winter Walk’, ‘Promenade’, St Catherine’s Hill’); a villanelle, appropriately, for Aeronwy Thomas (‘Poetry Gives Way To Prayer’); and another, short poem for Aeronwy, ‘Daffodils, I Suppose’, in which a flower that is much maligned in poetic circles these days is reinstated in its true place of honour, in Welsh hearts, at least. The villanelle form is used in other, painful instances: a stillborn baby (‘Lullaby’) and a fatal climbing accident (‘The Black Cuillin’).
Two poems are placed together, ‘The Green Man’, heralding spring – “This is the day we’ve waited for” – and ‘Hallowe’en’: “This is the quarter that crosses the year / when hope is torn and nothing is born / This is the time we quietly dread.” The juxtaposition of these two poems marks two overriding themes of this collection; an exhilaration for life and an awareness of how “sunny evenings will close in” (‘August Bank Holiday’). Swiftscape is illustrated with a striking painting of swifts and swallows by Alison Ingram on the front cover; the title poem has the author watching swifts “screaming on scimitar wings” until eventually “darkness breaks the spell”.
There are also within these pages happy, amusing and well observed poems full of childhood recollections and treasured family moments, comfort at sad times, and spirited optimism in the face of ageing; someone spied wearing a jaunty hat, a couple making “making determined raids on the common” in search of fruit for homemade wine and jam. Frances White in this collection achieves a thematic balance over a variety of subjects with technical skill, warmth, and humanity.