My poem 'Still Life', dedicated to my father, is up on the Mary Evans Picture Library blog this week. Find it at Poems and Pictures on this link
The Rainmaker’s Wife, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2017
“A Rainmaker was a shaman in indigenous cultures: in the 21st century a Rainmaker is a financial wizard, making money for businesses. The poems in this collection record the distance we have travelled from a world where human beings were seen as part of a precariously balanced eco-system, and contemporary corporate culture which sees the environment as a resource to be exploited. The poems deal with the constant pull between our instinctive, spiritual selves and the practical, scientific and economic realities of the everyday.
Many of the poems were written on a journey to the remote Pacific islands of Haida Gwaii where the Haida Nation are at the forefront of environmental activism in British Columbia, others from travels to Russia, New Zealand and the Middle East.”
“Kathleen Jones reflects on so many of the questions we should be asking about our planet and how we live on it.”
Avril Joy, Costa Award-winning novelist.
'The Rainmaker’s Wife is a closely observed, beautifully and economically crafted expression of the most serious dilemma man faces today.' Steve Matthews, Bookends
The Rain-maker's Wife
Naked in the dry hull
of our marriage-bed
we hold to our separate weather.
He is the element of water
I of fire. The old paradox.
I am ungentle, sudden, electric,
a lightning bolt, a super nova
in the darkness of far space.
He spends time in the garden measuring
precipitation and talking to clouds.
Not in favour of ritual dancing,
or invocations, he prefers dry ice, and crystals
of silver iodide and salt. Seeding the sky
to make tadpoles of electric rain wriggle
across the window pane.
I love the rhythm the rain makes
on the roof when I wake in the night,
and every green thing it brings.
But not its cold drench, the shivering
misery of the damp, the hiss and suck
of the north sea in January.
There is something disturbing about
the blind surface of deep water,
the drag of its tides and currents.
I refuse to go down into it like a diver
frog-legged, breathing gas.
But when he touches my skin, with a cool hand
our fatal chemistry could vaporise an ocean.
We are each other’s counterpoint,
both there at the beginning, the light shining
on dark water, and in the dark he moves
inside me, swimming gently, towards the light.
© Kathleen Jones
Mapping Emily, Templar Poetry, 2017
Winner of the Iota Shots Pamphlet Award, 2017
Written in landscapes as diverse as Haworth moor and the Alpi Apuane of Italy, these are poems about love and the relationships between people and place.
“These poems often express the disjointedness and brokenness of daily life, but at the same time the human need to hold things together, to make sense of ourselves and the world we live in – poetry as a kind of map, to show us where we are and where we (think we) are going."
In the hopeful half-light
of early morning
berry-red beacons torch my way
up to the moor like promises –
easing emotions rubbed
as raw as weather.
Is love anything more
than chemicals swirling in the brain?
I imagine you, on the other side of time,
every touch, kiss, word, exploding like quarks
in the atomic soup; our selves
dissolved into a universal whole.
Can the smallness of us
and these feelings,
the scarlet berries and the tree,
be codified in mathematical equations?
Or have we missed something important
not expressed in numbers? Something present
in the way uncertain light changes
as the sun approaches the horizon;
the unseen, uncalculated
matter that contains us;
the knowledge every atom has
of its mysterious beginning;
the sap that trees share underground
root to root, nurturing each other
in a way that is like love, if such a word
could be scientifically proven to exist.
© Kathleen Jones
Review by Elizabeth Stott from Tears in the Fence, No.67, Winter/Spring 2018
Kathleen Jones is an award-winning biographer, novelist, short story writer, and a poet. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Before Mapping Emily, she published two pamphlets: Invisible Lipstick, and Unwritten Lives, with Redbeck Press. Also a full-length collection Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, with Templar Poetry. This collection won the Straid Collection Award. Templar is an independent publisher of poetry, founded in Scotland, now based in Derbyshire.
That Jones is a biographer rings loud and clear in this latest pamphlet, which was a winner in the 2016 iOTA Shot Pamphlet Awards. Jones knows how to turn 'facts' into vivid lifescapes and moments of revelation, without compromising authorial objectivity. Emily Bronte is the subject of the book's title, and several of the poems in the pamphlet were written at Ponden Hall, which was the house Bronte used for Wuthering Heights. Bronte's life - and death - provides a resonance for the other lives Jones portrays. Amongst the 21 poems in this book, we find autobiographical poems and biographical poems, some of fictional characters based on Jones' life in Italy. There are friends and daughters, a prodigal brother, and a squirrel killer. Two prominent scientists, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Fred Hoyle, also feature, their lives and work underscoring the themes of the poems. Concepts of science and nature are subtly woven into the work.
A mark of Jones' writing is its economy. Her style, sensual and direct, energises her poems. Taken from: '8.30am, breakfast in Versalia':
A red train at a grey station. Coloured
scarves on a rack. A girl with purple hair. Highlights
of a drab day.
Rain pools on white marble like spilt milk.
A crow falls away from the sky like a black rag.
Simple sentences, broken open. Statements of the actual. They evoke a mood of sadness, studded with abrupt jabs of colour. Without knowledge of the poet's life, they conjure the notion of severance and loss. Possible happiness is indicated in bright colours, perhaps for precious moments - or perhaps for someone else. The significance of marble is apparent when one knows that, -until recently, the poet and her partner lived, of necessity, in different countries. Fie is a sculptor who needs to work close to the marble quarries in Italy, whereas Jones needs to work most of the time in England as a writer. The poem finishes with a poignant, metaphorical, single line: 'The mirror's round mouth swallows my reflection'.
The emotional challenges of that relationship feature in her full-length collection, particularly the title poem, 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21'. Autobiographical work in the new pamphlet includes: 'Solway', 'Rowans' and 'Biography', and, less directly, 'The View From Here' and 'Sirocco'. 'The View From Here' is a romantic summer picnic with vine tomatoes, olives and wine. But the glasses are 'half-full', and they sit on the 'dry grass', with 'the continuum of crickets, 'listening to Turkish music on the i-pod, against the 'backdrop of marble mountains' - a setting for the poet's life in Italy.
There is a 'foundness' in her observations, which - like the marble of the sculptor - are the unshaped substance of the poem. A favourite of mine from the book, 'Still Life', is a short poem which gives us a picture of love, hard work and loss.
'There's redshank growing through the handle
of the spade he gave me, propped
against the garden wall because it proved
too heavy; a man's weight — the grip carved
for the width of a man's fingers, the shaft
measured for the length of a man's leg'.
Blunt sentences and sounds that mirror the action of the spade; a life remembered in a simple object.
The natural world is often present in Jones' work, her eye and ear honed from her youth, brought up on a hill farm in Cumbria. In 'Solway'we are told 'this is not a fancy coast like Cornwall'. In the 'mud brown' estuary, there is 'slag iron, pumice/sea-polished coal/the beery foam of/impure water'. In 'River God'we hear about the aftermath of a flood experienced by the author during Storm Desmond, leaving behind a tree stump that has the form of a beast's head 'the torn roots/curled into ears and horns'. 'The Dame's Violet is/frothing about his ears. His snout among the musk.' Lovers 'writhe together in the/moon's shadow under his head.' In 'Sirocco', 'the wildfires leap/like desperate angels/winging from tree to tree.' Always we are in the moment, and aware of the emotional register of the human perspective.
The title poem, Mapping Emily, is set out in four short sections, numbered. The numbers underlining perhaps references to time, in the metronome and the heartbeat, and the etiology of a disease, where science and nature elucidate the blood and the breath of tuberculosis. The final stanza is brutally imagistic in the reference to the small space of her writing book, the sharp nib of her (Bronte's) pen 'inking hard words into a small space' and the narrow dimension of the coffin, only sixteen inches wide.
Jones has included some surprises. 'The Grey and The Red' is a poem notionally about squirrels, and the culling of the non-native greys. It is a metaphor for our attitudes to other human beings.'The Chymical Marriage' is written for British chemist, Nobel winner Dorothy Hodgkin, whose work in X-Ray crystallography determined the structure of insulin. At the heart of the poem, is the subject of the marriage, where the brilliant Dorothy was assumed by him to 'thrive in shade'. (Yet she managed to raise three children and win a Nobel). Fred Hoyle, the eminent cosmologist, who coined, pejoratively, the term 'Big Bang' also appears, in 'Fred Hoyle at Cockley Moor', but in the context of his affinity for the Lake District, and she reflects upon his spiritual beliefs. The poems about her fictional characters, 'In Reggio Emilia', and 'Olympia has a Problem With Shoes' are self-contained little stories that evoke lives observed. This latter poem was commended in the 2016 Magma poetry contest.
There is much to relish in the mull and spin of lives, the desires, collisions and the separations. Jones does not over-analyse or shrink from difficult and irreconcilable situations, but, with a biographer's objectivity, and a poet's sense of language, she avoids the maudlin and introspective, arriving at necessary compromise, and the getting on with things.
Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, Templar Poetry
Winner of the Straid Award, 2012
“In these poems Kathleen Jones shows us departures and attachments, journeys and encounters; some come from an attachment to place, the mountains and lakes of Cumbria, others from the longing to be rooted in one place and feelings that tussle with a passion for travel, new experiences and a fascination with the lives of people met. And there are also different kinds of departure, more personal; the breakdown of relationships, the deaths of close relatives.” Alex McMillen
Title Poem: -
Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21
Wellington: September 2010
The final call
the last, forgotten,
canned drink binned.
I watch him through the glass
walk to the door and hand
over his printed pass.
makes the clown’s face
that means ‘Cheer up,
this time, I won’t be gone
for long’. He turns,
then turns back, lifts one hand
to the terrorist-proof glass. We place
palm to palm
on either side of the cold surface.
already past tense,
he has wheeled off towards
the journey and, unlike Orpheus,
not looking back,
I watch the swerve
of his head, his coat flap. Then
the screen says
‘Gate closed. Boarded’ and
I walk away with his absence.
© Kathleen Jones
UNWRITTEN LIVES, (Redbeck Press) 1996
`All the poems in this hard-hitting but also beautiful book are good . . Her language is spare, the words being quiet servants of the images' Anna Adams
`. . .darker poems . . penetrating in their exploration of domestic tensions and responsibilities.' PQR
`strong work here from Kathleen Jones'. Gillian Allnutt, Poetry Review
swill the farm dirt
from their torsos
at the kitchen sink
and sit at table
watching their sister
lift the heavy silver pot
to pour the tea.
Embroidered hollyhocks and roses frame
the text upon the parlour wall.
‘Christ is the Head of this House
The Invisible Guest at every meal.’
Ginny carves the bread against her breast
dealing the slices to her brothers
seeing her father’s shadow at their backs
putting her school prize on the fire.
The parlour clock ticks away the unused time.
Hollyhocks smother the window’s light
to a green dusk.
Ginny smooths her grey reflection
in the teapot’s face
passing her brothers the cake
without a word.
© Kathleen Jones
Unwritten Lives (Redbeck Press)
First published in Writing Women
Featured in the film ‘The Mind of Man’