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Perffaith Nam

Perffaith Nam

Cyhoeddir gan Gomer
ISBN: 1-84323-456-4

Perffaith Nam (Perfect Defect) is Menna Elfyn’s first new volume of poetry for adults entirely in Welsh for over ten years, and as such is something of a landmark, including, in addition to its many shorter poems, a number of them commissions, a libretto dedicated to R. S. Thomas; a dramatic sequence on womanhood, mythical and contemporary; and a shorter sequence on Simone Weil. Elfyn paints on a broad canvas; yet the volume is carefully composed, framed by prayer-like invocations for morning and evening. Within that frame, poems are grouped or more loosely connected by such themes as poetry; Wales; international affairs and conflicts; the topical and international in the domestic; nature; death; travel; marriage; and childhood. Through these groupings too, a broader thematic concern runs both explicitly and implicitly, that is with the world’s defects. Some of these defects are spectacular, like war- and peacetime killing, untimely death and atrocity (a poem to a child dead in the wake of the first Gulf War; or on visiting the site of the My Lai massacre). Others are blemishes at once more personal and more universal: the navel as the originary scar of existence; the fault woven into an Afghan rug, one assumes initially for the greater glory of God – or, as it is hinted subsequently, possibly for some more subversive purpose on the part of its women weavers.

Elfyn sees the healing of these defects as the central work of poetry. The image of the scar is emblematic here, for it is both the index of healing, and the inevitable, indelible memory of the wound. Thus, Elfyn, even in the form of apparently private meditation, consistently engages the world head-on in the sense that her faith in the ability of poetry to communicate meaningfully about and to the world is unshakeable. (In view of this Enlightenment conceptualisation of writing, it seems no coincidence that there is consistent emphasis here on imagery drawn from light, and dark, effects).

However, the lines themselves are concentrated, sometimes even elliptical in their expression. The poems are drawn onward by the demands of a concentrated patterning of sound and meaning, sometimes rhyme and metre; but more frequently, alliteration, assonance, and such features as homonym and internal rhyme, evoking (and sometimes even partly consisting in) cynghanedd. But above all, it is some poems’ innovative lexis which can make them resist a superficial reading, drawing as they do on a wealth of challenging vocabulary, for instance locally-used or half antiquated words, and neologism. In some ways then, meaning is won dearly here due to this density of expression which can leave ambiguity open, as in the poem on the Afghan rug. Yet such expression constitutes new fields of possibility and a rich, genuinely original diction which never loses faith that that world and word can be brought together meaningfully to produce some third thing: a poetry which, ike the closely-woven fabrics which are another leitmotif in this collection, is an irrepressibly optimistic labour of love.

Mererid Puw Davies
Poetry Wales