REVIEW by Patrick Crotty

NWR Issue 101

RS Thomas, Uncollected Poems

by Tony Brown & Jason Walford Davies (eds)

Whisper it, but the RS Thomas canon is a mess. All but the most rapt of the poet’s admirers recognise that he wrote too much, and published too much of what he wrote. Collected Poems (1993) draws generously but unevenly from nearly twenty separate books, with no indication of the rationale behind its sporadically vigorous editorial weeding. Collected Later Poems 1986–2000 (2004) reproduces the full contents of Thomas’ last five volumes. A substantial Penguin Selected Poems (also 2004) includes twenty-two pieces from the early and mid-career absent from Collected Poems, in addition to eighteen published neither in Thomas’ lifetime nor in Residues (2002), the bracing posthumous volume assembled by M Wynn Thomas from the contents of a file of that name found among the poet’s papers. In public, ‘RS’ was known to intone from trembling A4 pages poems that had yet to make their way between magazine or book covers, and it is not clear what befell these. At Swansea’s Ty Llên in December 1995, for example, in the course of the Welsh leg of an archipelagic tour by English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh poets, he kicked off his part of the evening with ‘Desolation’, announcing the austere title in such high, clipped tones that one suspected a degree of mischief, though whether at the expense of the solemnly respectful audience or of the poet himself was difficult to tell. Each poem read was unfamiliar and apparently new-minted, with no more offered by way of context or explanation than the glum abstract noun that served as its title...

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previous review: Call Mother a Lonely Field
next review: RS Thomas: Poems to Elsi


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