Guest contributor Rajvi Glasbrook reviews Amnesia, a debut collection of poems by Rhys Milsom, published by Onion Custard.
Amnesia is an unflinching comment on increasingly important conversations: youth lethargy, drink, drugs and notions of masculinity. In that same naked and candid tone, it is also a comment on more permanent dialogues: death, birth and existential ennui. The vehicular voice is a raw, transparent and frank one throughout.
In ‘AM:PM:SLEEP’, the pointlessness and dead-end nature of entrapment is reflected in repetition and rhythmic lists.
It’s all the same:
The pavements, the cars,
The faces, the smiles,
The stares the same
An endless cycle of ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ the previous generation seemingly dealt with better than the current:
Because your parents
Did the same, your brother
Earns enough in his
To stay afloat
Less listless and more plosive in both its subject matter and consonants is ‘ME/YOU’: Perhaps Hell / Isn’t as far away / As we imagine…Mouths, /Curling like a dying cat / The twitching / Nostrils, / The dust and carbon / Monoxide clinging. The ‘mollusc horns’, ‘grinding teeth’ and ‘Eisreisenwelt’ all spit from the page and each stanza drills into the internal chaos that is the mundane business of getting through the day.
There’s loneliness and despair in the poems’ late nights, pubs, pool, cigarettes and pints. Like Rachel Trezise, Milsom’s nostrils have inhaled and exhaled Valleys youth culture sharply. ‘Days-Old Smoke’ is as much about the symptomatic torching of mountains as it is about the root.
The valleys is where I grew up
I’m no longer there
Like most of us have
But it’s instilled in me
Like the blazes that will
Laugh at the mountains in summer
The self-destructive boredom combined with restless pressure is widely palpable. Yet, only a decade or two before this restive coming-of-age youth comes full circle again and transpires into the voice of ‘The Driver’, older but no less lonely:
He drives around
For some sort of
As both the poems ‘The Driver’ and ‘Holly’, written to mark the death of a loved pet, remind, human or animal, mortality remains the only constant:
One thing that
At a recent reading in Newport’s new venue Cwtsh, Milsom stopped all movement in the audience with his reading of ‘394462’, a poem candidly charting the journey of his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy, her acidic health issues, his care, their growing love and the couple’s excited anticipation.
Milsom’s empathy and energy in this volume of poems is effective and the poems free of any obfuscation. Through his project www.wicid.tv Milsom provides opportunity for creative young voices to have an outlet. At a time when youth poverty of opportunity and rising rates of suicide are serving up urgent concerns, the words in this volume and wicid.tv are a thing to celebrate. Waste and confusion are ugly. Last Summer’s burning Valleys’ mountains emblaze this. Milsom pulls no punches in laying this bare, but in doing so inspires hope.
Rhys Milsom has a BA in Creative and Professional Writing from the University of Glamorgan and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David. He has had poetry, fiction and reviews published widely. Amnesia is his debut poetry collection, and he is currently working on a novel. He lives in Cardiff with his girlfriend, daughter and two cats. Follow him on Twitter: @rhys_milsom
Rajvi Glasbrook is an organiser of the Literature on the Lawn Festival in Caerleon and a regular contributor to the Wales Arts Review.