First collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren) won the prestigious Costa Poetry Award 2014 and the Wales Book of the Year People's Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. His poems have won prizes in the Cardiff International Poetry Competition, the Ledbury Festival International Poetry Competition and the Basil Bunting Award, and appeared in magazines including Poetry Review, New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales and The North. He works as a teacher.
Jonathan Edwards’ poems are funny, poignant, vivid and full of the ordinary painted in technicolour. He is a also brilliant reader of his work. If I had to choose a favourite line it would perhaps be this one from View of Valleys High Street through a Café Window. It seems to me to capture what Edwards does in his poems again and again which is demonstrate how the imagination can transform and elevate the humdrum while still looking reality square in the face:
A man with a cumulonimbus
beard enters a phone box and I wait
for him to emerge as Superman. He checks
the tray for change,
Jonathan Edwards is a teacher and the title Edwards chose for his poems, My Family and Other Superheroes, is a tribute to another teacher. “We had this English teacher in secondary school, Mr Pateman, who was incredible,” he says. “Our first class reader was My Family and Other Animals [by Gerald Durrell] so the stealing of that name is a homage to him.” The book contains some superb titles, Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Crumlin for the Filming of Arabesque, June 1965 or Evel Knievel Jumps Over my Family. You don’t need to know who Evel Knievel is - the poems builds up the picture magnificently:
I close my eyes, then open them:
is this what heaven feels like,
some motorcycle Liberace overhead,
wheels resting on air?
Edwards grew up in South Wales in ‘the Valleys’ and many of his poems are rooted in this place, as shown in these lines from Anatomy:
This spine is the A470;
these palms are Ebbw, Wye, Sirhowy. This tongue
is Henry VIII’s Act of Union, these lungs
The imagery is sometimes tough and unstinting, as in View of Valleys High Street through a Café Window:
a single mam
pushing a pram, her head down and her face
so much a frown, it’s like she’s trying to mow
At the same time his poems capture the universal - how it feels to be young in Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Crumlin for the Filming of Arabesque, June 1965 for example:
parks away from them, around the corner,
in his brand new car, a ‘30s Lanchester,
with stop-start brakes, a battery he shares
with a neighbour. All sideburns and ideas, a roll-up
behind one ear and a flea in the other
from my gran for missing Eucharist,
This verse also demonstrates his deft ability to capture character in a few lines. This really shines in his lovely poem The Voice in which my Mother Read to Me:
It’s not her ‘Gateau – no, ice cream – no… I can’t make the choice’ voice.
It’s not her decades late, fourth change, ‘Is this skirt smart enough?’ voice.
The limited opportunities of the people Edwards grew up with are a strong theme of his work: Owen Jones describes the man in the kebab shop who once tried out for Cardiff City but now has his dreams “scribbled on papers in his pockets” outside a betting shop.
Edwards makes great use of popular culture, such as in the poem The Hippo:
if you were to rise, show your eyes, your mouth,
would you have Martin Sheen’s mud-crazy face,
breaking smoke-water in Apocalypse Now?
He uses vernacular language to great effect when creating a conversational ‘voice’ for this heart-warming poem:
So come to me, by plane, by train, by car,
by unicycle, girl, by self-drive van,
by Twitter, FaceTime or by sleight-of-hand,
Jonathan Edwards won the hugely significant Costa Prize for Poetry for his first collection, “Joyful and dynamic – a collection that’ll make you laugh and make you think” – Costa Poetry Book Award Judges. There is no doubt we will hear more of him in the future.