- United Kingdom -
Meirion Jordan is a poet, editor and musician. He was born in Cwmllynfell, South Wales, and studied mathematics at Somerville College, Oxford. While at Oxford he won the Newdigate Prize, and his first collection, Moonrise (Seren, 2008) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His pamphlet on outsiders and strangers in Norwich, Strangers Hall (Gatehouse, 2009) was shortlisted for the Jarrold East Anglia Book of the Year Award, and his most recent collection, Regeneration was published by Seren in 2012. He has performed his work at venues and festivals across the UK and in Europe, including the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the Hay Festival, and Internationales Litteraturfestival Berlin. He is editor for Gatehouse Press and its literary journal, Lighthouse, which is a non-profit enterprise seeking to provide opportunities for new writers from across the UK. He also performs as a fiddle player, playing British and Irish traditional music.
"I can't call a more impressive debut to mind" wrote Sarah Crown in The Guardian about Meirion Jordan’s first collection Moonrise published when he was only 24 years old. The poems in Moonrise reveal a masterful craftsmanship “poem after poem serves to showcase his ability and agility as a poet. He’s careful to keep his focus wide and expansive, like the moon. He dabbles in both the expected and unexpected, indulging us in all that we’d expect to find in a moon themed collection – wolves, owls, vampires, tombs – and all that we wouldn’t – Dan Dare, ‘The Nuclear Disaster Appreciation Society’, pirate music. He uses each poem in Moonrise to effectively showcase his talent and define his own space as a talented young poet.” (Samantha Jackson)
Meirion Jordan is also a powerful performer of his work as seen by Gareth Prior, “Meirion Jordan had the audience from his opening line: “I, Yuri Gagarin, having not seen God”. Everything slowed oh-so-slightly; the smoke cleared in the room (this was three years after the smoking ban but memory is a hopeless embellisher); nobody muttered, nobody breathed too loudly.” Jordan also gave a memorable performance at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2009 as reviewed by fellow poet Anne Berkley, “The first was Meirion Jordan, reading with Ruth Bidgood - quite a contrast of voices. He's good, this is a very accomplished first collection. Sarah Crown called it "a startling, lubricious debut". He reads well, too.”
Meirion Jordan's second collection of poetry is Regeneration. "...this is not only a well-written set of poems in themselves but an impassioned and well-researched collection." – Poetry Wales
Regeneration is Welsh poet Meirion Jordan's take on the medieval manuscripts known today as the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch. Meirion Jordan writes “I really took to these two manuscripts, not just because of their lively and sometimes robust approach to ideas of history and romance, but because they were written as household books—places where a family could read the old stories, learn genealogies or pick up some basic medical knowledge. Even the stories themselves are full of local color, with digressions on place-names or important historical figures. The Red Book, in particular, felt very close to home for me. It was originally made for a family who lived about ten miles from where I grew up, and I passed the site of their former home every day to go to school.” This collection is not a 'reinterpretation' but a re-imagining, inspired by the source material that include the stories of the Mabinogi as well as by Mallory's version of King Arthur's tales. We meet characters including 'Arawn, lord of Annwn'; 'Rhiannon's gossips' and 'Bodeuedd (the woman made of flowers)'.
The poems in Regeneration evoke what Meirion Jordan calls in his insightful preface 'half-recalled heroic landscapes' they capture the elusive essence of these characters, their mysterious passions and their sometimes violent and often strange adventures in Jordan's distinctive poetic style. “There are many routes through (or at least into) this labyrinth. The two books maintain a complex and multi-layered dialogue with one another, as do the individual poems within and between the books, and the footnotes that interrupt White Book in mid-sentence or mid-phrase. These are allusive, elusive poems – difficult, but also heartbreakingly beautiful and often profound...The writing is very good indeed. Jordan can evoke a primal myth-world as economically as Picasso could evoke a bull with three pen-strokes: a world of “places without name, / or names partly forgotten; / of rivers called ‘river’ / of hills called ‘hill’”. (Gareth Prior)
Jordan uses footnotes to make comments about his own family, and especially his grandfather who passed away in 2008. Jacqui Kenton writes in the New Welsh Review, “They provide a running stitch throughout the narrative. As he writes in the beautiful Brycheiniog:
My dream of wearing a coat of my ancestors...
Such a close fit. Shot through
With unexpected thread
And – from footnote 52:
‘Who were they? Who were these people who are so alive in my memory and in my imagination. And is this their country as well as mine, this patchwork land that is forever slipping in and out of time and place?’”
Meirion Jordan was born in 1985 in Swansea, Wales, read Mathematics at Sommerville College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize in 2007. He holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia, and plays fiddle in the Norfolk folk group Stookey Blue. His début Moonrise was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and his pamphlet, Strangers Hall was shortlisted for an East Anglia Book of the Year award.
/ The owls
In February Mark began to grow a beak.
Nose and jaw meshed, hardening,
orbits expanded to the two discs of a face.
Somehow his eyes deepened and his head learnt
to turn in ever increasing arcs:
He was the first to go. Then Aled,
breath misting on the sight of his shock-white plumage
one evening in the mirror,
flapped himself through the bathroom window
and returned by hag-light with a throat full of vole.
Two weeks later I found Sam and Marie
preening each other in my hay-loft,
heard the low hooting and the scuffle of sharp feet.
I knew it. My neighbours were turning into owls.
At first I thought nothing of it, except that my barns
stank of the cold sweat of mice each morning,
I grew used to the ghost of wings crossing my windows,
eyes gliding in the woods after dark.
Then solitary populations retreated to their attics
and my street became a gust of boarded doorways,
gales hunted over the empty fields.
Now each dusk I watch them rise
through the skeletons of the old roofs and listen
to tufted ears pricking the silence. In winter
the houses rise windowless into a blear sky,
an owls’ citadel of rafters and roosts.
And each night I sit under the last lamp in the house
hearing the clink and rasp of their claws at the slate,
each night I dream of snow under a huge moon,
my shadow broad and beating it like down.
/ A horse in the dark
Quiet, quiet: do not dream
it is the owl parting fronds
of starlight, the water
muttering in abandoned mines.
It is the stillness falling
and pooling, drop
it is the clouds spooling past on wires.
Soon you will hear oaks
pushing their mouths to the soil's tap,
the rushes drinking
far down the hill.
The lidless quartz blinks
at the snap of a twig's shadow;
a nothing so breathless.
It champs at a giant sky.
/ For the cosmonauts
I, Yuri Gagarin, having not seen God,
wake now to the scrollwork of a body,
to my own white fibres leafing into the bone:
know that beyond this dome of rain there is
only the nothing where the soul sweeps
out its parallax like a distant star and truth
brightens to X, to gamma, through a metal sail.
So I return to you, cramming your pockets
with the atmosphere and evening news,
fumbling for gardens in the moon's shadow,
in its waterfalls of silence. I wish for you
familiar towns, their piers and amusement arcades
unpeopled at dusk, the unicorn tumbling by
on china hooves behind the high walls
of parks, among congregating lamps.
May you find Earth rising there, between
your steepled hands. May your voyages
end. May you have a cold unfurling
of limbs each morning, when I am fallen
out of the world.
/ Deifr (Deira)
It starts with this:
the somehow-dappled land,
the sea-thumbed rocks,
the sun-burnt grass, the cairn
and headland cutting the sky in two;
the places without name,
or names partly forgotten;
of rivers called 'river'
of hills called 'hill':
with waters, beside waters.
The stream or the waves give voice.
Keel-gathering clouds, the woods
watching the shore; where
the sea thuds like a drum.
/ Arawn, lord of Annwn
This is the story as it must be told,
the boy twisting away from you
through the summer wood, becoming man,
becoming Prince of Dyfed. And this
is the story as it must be told, the prince too
stepping his horse out of birdsong,
the tangling of hounds. The blood
slick on the grass, the antlers rearing
as the shadow of a god. This is the story
as it must be told, the prince
meeting himself among the foliate faces
of a book; and turns, mouth opening
to cry to you: no.
This is the story as it must be told,
the boy, the prince, the summer wood.
Blood on the grass, the shadow
of horns. And in the half-face of a god,
islands of glass. His opened eyes.
/ Branwen's starling
There are days
when the stare's wings open
in a babble of tongues
and you hear women, princes,
through the same page.
And some nights, when the dead
men are springing
from the cauldron of your mind
you cling to the stone of words,
handle each pebble like the ruins
is a distant shore, and the heart
flutters in its fist of ribs;
fly, bird. Bring me a giant
or brother wading in
over the noise of the rain,
over the white beach and the sound.
/ Breuddwyd Macsen Wledic
Down the long shaft of the cairn
Macsen rides, out of his titles
and sunlight, grey as the stopped air.
It takes him a thousand years. And he,
feeling the still-warm bones
slip through his hands turns
to see the sun reaching
its noonday fingers to hold
his skin in its rags, a nothing.
Soon he must ride back. Out
of the otherworld's dark he moves,
fumbling; and the land changes.
Deep under autumn, ten
spadefuls down I found him,
the red king: bloody
with iron and ochre, his head
split from the spade's heel
snatching at frost
and sugarfine leaves;
his afterlife blazed
and crackled under my boots.
I dragged him, wrinkle
by wrinkle, year by
pocked year – into the air
where he stood splaying
his gifts of flints and torcs
over the garden's rucked,
leafless squares, where I left him
turning to the wind's hum,
into the crow-flight and rain.
if she is waiting, it is on
some scruff of a hill,
where the house barges
its one storey out
against the valley's weather.
it takes a month
for her letter to reach
the trills of her neat
for them to find their way
down the tight-wound
clockwork of the hedges.
her pleasure is in white things,
fresh milk from the wet
of sheds a half-mile below,
the spilt cloud framing a yolk;
if she is content, it is
only the glow, numb,
of a fire smothered
with white sprays, and flowers.
/ Iarlles y Ffynawn
In the bright frame of a girl's dress
time stops. A breeze rustles the gauze
which might be a sleeve, or skirts.
Beyond, the landscape is very small.
Owein in his tiny, archaic clothes
- scarlets and greens – runs over the grass
and beyond the high wall of the garden
a few towers stretch into a blue heaven,
their flags hardly lifting in the light airs.
And that is all. A dog barks and falls silent.
The girl's dress moves careless as brushwork
and the man runs – but from what, and to what?
/ The ordinary state of things
for George Szirtes
In a bar
where rain pours down the walls,
the ceiling daubed
with cubist ravings of a suicide,
its one window
on a courtyard where great-aunts,
some of them six feet tall,
go to light cheap Russian cigarettes
and sit giving death the evil eye,
or whatever pipsqueak is passing,
the record player knows only
and the music strikes up
with angles stranger than the door-jambs
as though a Jazz-band
trapped in the caved cellar
by a Soviet bomb
had forgotten to ask for their rider
or a Roma
dressed in an ancient morning-suit
was pulling the strings from his fiddle
as it neighs in disappointment -
and listening to this
in another century
on a phonograph
carved in the shape of an owl
bequeathed by a long-forgotten
is the man who takes off his jacket
pours out the tea
and welcomes his guests
protesting that this, too,
is the ordinary state of things.
This is not a poem about how my father built
a roundhouse and used it as a garage.
Nor is this a poem about how he dug a pit
in its cold clay, lapping its walls
with brieze blocks and pink cement.
This is not a poem about how he cut a sump
in its northeast corner, setting a pump
to chuckle away its oily damp.
This is not a poem about how with us
in early morning frogs would come
from the dazzling grass to shelter
in that earth-smelling cloister; or how
we would find them trapped, lying
like tarry leaves against the concrete,
their eyes milky, uncaring stars.
Nor is this a poem about how one June
we worked together, fixing the suspension
on my beat-up red Fiesta, him
on one end of a bolt and me on the other,
until at last the bolt siezed and we resolved
to drill and break through the holding nut.
No, this is a poem about how
as he drilled the frogs watched
those bright scarves of metal fall from the bit;
how, dumbfounded by his love
reaching down into their prison they looked
and shivered and were not moved.
/ A Mercy
Iesu, trugarha wrthyf - last words of Richard Gwyn, catholic martyr, 1584
In death they spilled out like a truant’s take
from those schoolmaster’s pockets: Peter’s keys
notched from some hard keeping; a sky of crows,
their black wings drubbing his heart awake
though stubborn now it seemed it would not break
for all the hangman’s knocking; then the sixpence
he’d once pledged the state in deference
to his several crimes. Which little joke
next to his last words sticks in the throat,
that he called for mercy as his guts were drawn
who laughing once had goosed some prissy vicar
hectoring him from the court-cum-pulpit’s height.
For whose sake at last God sought to drown
death with his testament. Iesu, trugarha.