REVIEW by Phillip Clement

NWR Issue 108

By Fax To Alice Springs

by Simon Mundy

By Fax To Alice Springs, Simon Mundy’s remastered and released second collection, published by Gwaithel & Gilhern, the poetry imprint of Hay Press, traces the poet’s engagement with place and history across numerous geographical and personal borders. As the title implies, these poems were written all over world – from North Carolina to Italy, Moravia to Australia – as well as from Mundy’s own home territory on the Welsh border. This lyrical travelogue exhibits signs of the writer’s profound sense of place and time, his unique approach to politics and his unashamed recognition of a bittersweet relationship with women.

In 'Symphonic Poem', an assured suite of orchestral poetry which was commissioned by Hay Festival, Mundy is careful not to pastiche his subject. His moods move through the brisk cheerfulness and subtle sexuality of ‘Allegro Molto’, with his ‘mouthpiece lifted to your lips’ in the ‘quieting tumult of your cadenza’, to the needling cheek of ‘Scherzo; vivace e giocoso’ which gaily offers: ‘An unsuspecting jab to shake the equilibrium / Induce a shutter of surprise’, until finally, in the last stanza of ‘Finale; lento allegro’ (the fourth ‘movement’), Mundy reaches a romantic political sentiment of inclusion that indeed floats beneath the surface of the collection:

Friends, not these sounds, / Instead let us sing something more joyful, / Let our magic bring together / All whom earthly laws divide. / Let us all be happy / For such love can only end / In contentment and joy. / Lovers, wiser now / Give me your hands / Embrace and be silent.

Later, in the equally intense ‘Villanelle’, Mundy utilises the repeated lines of this distinctive form to create a sense of the speaker’s feelings of dislocation with regards to their lover: ‘She lay in my arms without feeling the time / resigned to her fear careless of fate / forgetting the dark and my ebbing prime.’ The poet uses these alternating tercets to foster an impression of the aging speaker as ‘other’ and enhance the sense of obsession that is translated through such sustained study of a subject.

Elsewhere, in ‘At The Tomb Of The Black Prince’, Mundy holds the infamous Prince of Wales to account for his brutal reputation and various alleged misdeeds, reminding the reader of the fickle nature of the chronicler. With the poem’s opening line he establishes the transience of ‘misrepresented history’ by evoking ‘Canterbury cleansed of Cantii’ (the ancestral inhabitants of that city of whom Julius Caesar wrote as being ‘by far the most civilised, differing but little from the Gauls in their customs’) before speaking of the Prince as one who lies:

still in gilt, glittering in the flashlights / Posing without option or favourite horse / For tourists you never conquered / Who cannot quite remember from misty school // The difference between you, the black one, and / The Princes in the Tower /

Mundy attacks the ‘nicked’ and ‘fanciful’ titles of ‘Edward ap Edward ap Edward ap Edward / never elected Prince of Wales’ calling into question his right, as a Norman earl, to govern in Ulster. Later, in an ekphrastic turn, he draws the reader’s eye above the Prince’s tomb to take in the ‘fake achievements / newly woven for fresh colour film’ and laments the ‘real ones’ which lose resonance and meaning ‘like drooping fleurs’.

In By Fax To Alice Springs Mundy reveals himself to be a poet of range and sentiment. As is written of him by Daljit Nagra on the reverse cover, ‘Mundy can be cheeky, he can be rueful but he is always passionate’.

Phillip Clement writes for New Welsh Review


previous review: One Thousand Things Worth Knowing
next review: The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream


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