Ancient Lights – Selected Poems by Dick Jones
Neither love nor freedom
can survive the fire from
what we might become.
Several of these poems seem to take place at the junction between two hemispheres. The poet finds himself in the cold blue-before-dawn light with one foot in the old world and another in the margin that might or might not mean a future. But sometimes the margins coalesce; Shadows realign at the field’s edge.
Night self-heals, like water.
Dick Jones is a Modernist poet. In this collection he maintains a stance against cliche and the establishment and reinforces that good old modernist determination to amaze and belabor the bourgeoisie at the same time and at every opportunity.
Reading these poems one notices a telling use of language, the musician’s sense of rhythm, and the recurring echoes of the Beat poets; the voices from the 1914-1918 war, particularly Wilfred Owen; and Larkin, Thomas and Redgrove among other British poets from the middle of the 20th century up to our own day. But there is always the modernist’s unease before the incontrovertible fact that his work, no matter how avant-garde or experimental in design and execution, will have its life mainly through the patronage of a bourgeois audience.
Many of the texts are delightful and stand you back on your heels, like this one from 2004:
THE TIES THAT BIND
The morning after you left I drew
the curtains on the seven acre field.
Two hares were bowling through the stubble,
wind-blown, skidding like broken wheels.
They danced and sprung apart and danced again
and then were gone, beyond the tidemark
of the tree line. Then a mob of seagulls
swung downwind from the west, scattered,
gathered again in a brawl of wings and then
were gone, into a bleak neutrality
of towering clouds. Love or combat, the wind
blew them into the world and out again,
these dancers, bound only to the end
of their measures and not beyond.
Or, in another mood, Jones can produce taught, muscular poems like the opening Stille Nacht, with its poignant observations:
Outside a town in the Ardennes
Private Taunitz hung
like a crippled kite
high in a tree.
A cruciform against the sky,
he seemed to run forever
through the branches,
running home for the new year.
There are poems here which comment on and are inspired by events during the second World War, hand-me-downs, poems from a past before the past of the poet. Some celebrate the wonder and joy of parenthood; while others touch on the grief of loss and the awareness of death, the end of times.
I must say that I felt something was lost to me by approaching these verses via a digital (.pdf) route; and on more than one occasion I had to resort to printing the poem onto a clean A4 sheet, which immediately rendered it accessible, and often movingly so.
All in all, though, highly recommended. Go and get a copy for yourself.