With Footnotes to Water, winner of the much deserved Wales Book of the Year Award 2020 for poetry, Zoë Skoulding confirms her place as a leading poet who continues to examine her surroundings, the imprints of human history on nature and the ways in which nature is present in man-built environment. Here, she imagines a river as a transverse section, cutting through urban and rural spaces, connecting places that are themselves in flux. She follows the mysterious path of the culverted Afon Adda in Bangor, close to where she lives, as it draws her into conversations with the city as well as with the sound of the river itself, half-heard under the metal plates of the observation chambers along its route. It leads her to the Bièvre, a lost Parisian stream that once ran through streets of tanneries and past the Gobelins tapestry factory, where the quality of a famous red dye was attributed to the river’s polluted water. Following literary traces as well as exploring landscapes, a sequence on hefting sheep links the two rivers, extending the idea of local habitat or cynefin in Welsh to encompass the interweaving lives of different cultures and species.
Being also a translator and editor, Skoulding is apt at crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries, adapting diverse poetic forms to her needs and bringing the threads connecting her observations of two very different locations together, as she traces the hidden manifestations of nature in a cityscape and examines nature from a perspective informed by contemplation of human enterprise and science, and ultimately interprets both as sites of cultural heritage in the broadest sense.
'Informed, engaged, thought-provoking'.
Desi Tsvetkova, New Welsh Review
'Skoulding’s poems span time and space, giving a depth and complexity that unnerve the senses ... Language links the hidden past to the present.
'The importance of language is demonstrated in a preoccupation with the musical etymology of plants, rivers, and place names, with quotations and Welsh phrases threaded through the poetry. Language achieves, through oral tradition, a memorialisation of the Adda. As a translator, it is fitting that Skoulding asks the reader to translate too, though some of its charm lies in not being understood.'
Thomasin Collins, Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA)
'This quiet collection shines with Skoulding’s finesse – she plays with shape, form, punctuation and alliteration to paint an impression of rivers’ movements against your skull. Throughout, we’re invited to view water in its relation to human feats of engineering, and to compare our own dances and dalliances to that of a river...'
Judy Darley, SkyLightRain blog