Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
When Kathleen Jones walks among the stone circles and the stone-age avenue at Moor Divock near Pooley Bridge, she is aware of “the burnt fragments of ancestors under my feet”. The landscape around her is alive and unified and she feels a sense of being at one with it. “A lark’s song runs / like beck water over stones / in the largeness of the wide sky / opening above me.” She looks at the “circles of different green” still visible where the round wooden huts have rotted away. There is a connection between us and our ancestors from the stone age: “All our lives, all our deaths / bound by a fiery ring of stars.”
It is the same sense she has when she goes “Skinny Dipping at Isola Santa”, plunging into the “wrinkled skin” of the water. She is part of a greater something: “Skin to skin, / I am fish, trailing weed, a floating leaf”. It is a sense of being part of something which reaches far back in time: “I feel the tug of invisible vectors, the chill / of ancient ice.”
“The Ancient Dead” are still with us in that “All that is left of them is ourselves”. A gesture, a filament of hair, our myths are all parts of “the narratives / that wove the DNA that spirals / in the grit of our bones.”
And it is those myths, that sense of being part of the chain of being, of being of the world, that we may lose in “The Year Zero”: “It was the year we found we no longer / spoke the language of the land.” It is a time when science does not provide an answer. When we need something else, when “our mythologies” have “lost meaning”: “The year we knew we needed a new story / to tell us how to live.”
She turns to the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and tells of how, in the beginning, the raven stole back the light, of how, stealing back the stars, moon and sun from man, he “opened his beak wider. Kaaaaark! // And out rolled the big golden ball of the sun.”
If the raven carries the sun on his back “and the moon and all the stars / are in the shadow of his tail”, he is also to be seen “in his tuxedo / Black tie” with a hunger “bigger than the world”. “He has rolled up the mountains and the lakes” and “to tempt the woman at his elbow” he has placed “the stars of the universe / on her fingers and swinging from her ears. And // he is still hungry.”
Man is all-consuming and destructive.
In “The Rainmaker’s Wife”, the finest poem in this thoughtful collection, she is the element of fire, “ungentle, sudden, electric, / a lightning bolt” and he, the Rainmaker, is the element of water”. She sees “the tadpoles of electric rain wriggle / across the window pane” which are the result of his rain making and she both loves the “rhythm the rain makes /on the roof” and is disturbed by “the blind surface of deep water, / the drag of its tides and currents.” But, in their coupling, she is aware of him, “swimming gently toward the light”.
In these profound poems Kathleen Jones is looking at how we are part of nature, how we should be at one with the world and one with the generations which have preceded us, and yet, how in our hunger, we have separated ourselves from that world where we can still feel we belong.
The Rainmaker’s Wife is a closely observed, beautifully and economically crafted expression of the most serious dilemma man faces today.