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Ness Owen

Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim

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‘Sometimes in a writer’s life an image arrives, unasked, and inhabits us, breeding connections through every compartment of our minds. This new collection by Ness Owen feels like one of those, with childhood memory, family, the politics of language, sense of place and an urgent environmental concern beyond human boundaries interwoven and embodied by the sight of that most liminal thing, a stranded jellyfish. It seems the slightest of lives, adrift, less flesh than water. And yet, like these poems, it can sting.’ – Philip Gross


'a luminous constellation of poems about intimate encounters on the shoreline and political challenge grounded in the poet's home of Ynys Môn' Jane Aldous, The Poetry Society


'with exquisite fusion of form and setting, Owen gives us lyrical wave after wave breaking on the shore of our consciousness, a sensation so strong you can almost smell the seaweed.' – Mike Parker, Planet Magazine


'This collection has me wanting to tug at people’s sleeves, to share extracts, to say ‘Look at this!’, ‘Listen!’ It’s a book of word-wonders, memorable to the last. It has head and heart, and wisdom (yes, that). There is a keen care for preciousness under threat, where the Welsh language is imperilled, just like the natural world’s rich diversity.' – Fiona Owen, The High Window


'Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim is about survival through understanding ecology and the natural world as well as understanding our limitations and enabling our ability to connect with and build relationships with others. The speaker who refuses to learn Welsh fails to appreciate what they are missing out on. The observers whose relief at seeing the swallows hinders their ability to read the message the birds are trying to pass on. The half-life of fear of taking every precaution you can and yet still not feeling safe. Ultimately the poems follow the ebb and flow of words and their rhythms, elegant as a jellyfish’s underwater dance.' – Emma Lee’s Blog


'Ness Owen’s tour de force set along the shoreline documents encounters with jellyfish against a backdrop of sea butterflies, razor shells and ospreys. Owen’s use of form and feeling combine to create a collection which rewards the reader with a mesmerising portrait of a much-loved landscape brimming with startling imagery.' – Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch


'Throughout the collection, the poet takes risks, relishes collisions and uneasy contrasts. She keeps the reader on their toes, but seeks to treat them as confidante and friend. There really is something to excite every taste because the poet has such skill and technical grasp of form and phraseology. The writing feels fresh, inclusive and wise, a really lovely blend of the good things that poetry can bring to the intellect and to the senses.' – Pat Edwards, London Grip


'Really great, full of wit and imagination, Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim is a very enjoyable read all round.' – Mab Jones, Buzz


Moon jellyfish live a life adrift, relying on the current to take them where they need to go. They are the ultimate survivors and one of the most successful organisms of animal life. So how do they thrive in the open ocean when they can barely swim?

Rooted in her island home, Ness Owen’s second collection explores what it is to subsist with whatever the tides bring in poems that journey from family to politics, womanhood and language. In the ebb and flow of an ever-changing world, starlings fall from the sky, votes are cast, a village is drowned, a petrified forest is revealed and messages wash up in seaworn bottles on the shoreline, waiting for answers that will not come.


Ness Owen lives on Ynys Môn (Anglesey) in Wales where she writes poetry between lecturing and farming. She has been widely published in journals and anthologies including in Planet Magazine, Mslexia, The Cardiff Review, The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Atlanta Review, and Poetry Wales. Her first collection Mamiaith (Mother Tongue) was published in 2019. Her poems have been translated into five different languages. She has recently taken part in Ù O’ | SUO, a poetry exchange project between Wales and Vietnam, supported by the British Council and co-edited the A470, a bilingual poetry anthology about the infamous road running from the north to the south of Wales.