In this new collection of poems in verse and prose, prize-winning author Richard Gwyn draws on his own vagabond years to carry the reader on an intoxicating, dangerous journey around the eastern Mediterranean, crossing the borders of history, myth, magic and both real and imagined geographies. The stowaway of the title is no heroic, Ulysses figure, but more of a hard-living survivor, a mischief-maker, a diabolic shapeshifter. Whether climbing the ship’s rigging or witnessing the atrocities of war, wandering dazed through wine-shops and spice markets or beached in a hospital bed or fishing boat, he draws the reader into an impossibly rich, hand-to-mouth world. Confounding the normal rules of time, place and narrative, he travels from Byzantium, the Venice of the doges and on through centuries of conflicts between peoples and faiths – Christians, Jews and Arabs, Greeks and Turks – until he finally washes up on present-day Lesbos among exhausted migrants, themselves part of an ancient past. Journeys imagined, dreamed, remembered or reconstructed intersect, peopled by travellers in perpetual transit, with or without a destination. Moving between dark and light, wearing their erudition lightly, these dazzling poems shock and entrance, revealing the writer at the peak of his powers.
Impressively layered and packed with puzzles and riddles to pore over and revisit. It’s a collection to slip into your coat pocket and carry with you, out on the move.
Sometimes the speaker in the poems is the stowaway himself, sometimes his account is overlaid by a retrospective narrator or the autobiographical interjections of the poet. In this way the stowaway’s story and the telling of it merge in a fragmented, multi-layered narrative.
Poetry Book Society
This is a poetry collection which, more than any other I’ve read recently, I implore you to take the time to read and digest.