Poet in Motion

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 6, 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Poet in Motion

Byline: By Mario Basini Western Mail

Mario Basini speaks to poet Owen Sheers about his first book of prose, The Dust Diaries, and why he's inherited his ancestor's wanderlust

THE soulful blue eyes, fashion model looks and tousled black hair may epitomise the image of the romantic young poet. But ask Owen Sheers whether he would prefer playing rugby for Wales to writing verse, and, even in these troubled times for our national game the answer will be a resounding yes.

He could have been a contender had not his career as a scrum-half been cut short by injury. He played for Gwent Schools, some high quality second-class sides such as Pontypool and Blaina and university teams before a repeatedly dislocated shoulder forced him to retire.

Instead he concentrated on his burgeoning career as a writer. His talent was so precious that at 29 his reputation as the brilliant future of Welsh writing has been around for so long it already seems a clichA. When his first collection of poetry, The Blue Book, came out four years ago it was greeted by a chorus of praise.

One bedazzled critic compared him to Keats. The book was shortlisted as The Welsh Book of the Year. The few dissenting voices were drowned in the cacophony of acclaim. Soon the Independent on Sunday had named his as one of Britain's best 30 young writers.

His former tutor on the MA course in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Andrew Motion, named him the poet for the new Millennium.

Nor was his impact merely a matter of his literary worth. The novelist Louis de Bernieres declared that when he wrote Captain Corelli's Mandolin he envisaged its Italian hero as looking just like Sheers.

Now four years after the appearance of The Blue Book little has changed with the publication of his first book of prose, The Dust Diaries. It tells the story of one of Sheers's ancestors, Arthur Cripps, himself a lyric poet, who as a missionary spent a lifetime ministering to the Africans in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia.

Once again the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, even if the occasional hostile critic has this time made enough noise to be noticed. While the Independent on Sunday and The Sunday Times waxed lyrical over its quality Alexandra Fuller in The Guardian gave him, to use Sheers's own phrase redolent of his rugby days, 'a good kicking.'

The Dust Diaries tells a gripping story in a carefully-wrought prose that occasionally crystallises into passages of considerable beauty. The description of the rape of a young African girl by a group of out-of-control British soldiers during World War I is told with a poet's precise and dispassionate command of telling detail. 'The line between the black skin of her foot and the pale skin of her soles was so neat it looked as if she had dipped both feet in a fine chalk dust.'

The lack of manipulative emotion in the passage makes its horror twice as telling.

Arthur Cripps's life, played out against the vast backcloth of the African plains and mountain ranges, was one of quiet heroism made all the more admirable by his obvious human flaws. As a young curate in England, he falls in love with a young woman and makes her pregnant.

The dutiful young clergyman offers to marry her. But his family objects and her apoplectic father insists she should marry a farmer with prospects rather a penniless curate. Cripps supinely gives in.

She marries the farmer and he opts for a missionary's life in Africa. For the next 50 years he lives among and ministers to the Africans, a maverick who commits the cardinal sin in the eyes of his fellow colonials by 'going native.'

Cripps seems to have accepted many aspects of the African religion based on ancestor worship which takes the presence of spirits in the physical world as being as natural as the rain. He fights for their political rights and economic welfare and they return his love with love and reverence.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Poet in Motion


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?