I have just self-published my third poetry collection, In Light and Shade. It follows The Nonsuch Poems, and 168 Miles between Stanzas (this latter a joint collection with Philip Smith).
There are four sets to the book. The first is a verse – saga, the story of a soldier returning from the Great War to the Little Woodcote Estate, with its smallholdings and black boarded houses, homes for heroes. It covers the period 1918 – 1928, sharing his happiness and his sorrow. Edward Lister is a character of my imagination but his experiences in the trenches of Flanders are typical of his generation. Renting his home and land gives him an opportunity to create a new life, marrying Emma, his childhood sweetheart and they have a baby daughter, Emma.
I have no claim to prescience, and the poems were written before coronavirus had been heard of. But eerily, the present time mirrors the devastation wrought by Spanish Flu. It kills Edward’s wife and daughter. As the poems unfold the story Edward meets Hetty, a local farmer’s daughter, who lost her husband and baby in the War. The poems give them time to come to terms with building a new life, which they do together. Tracks ends with their marriage, and their joy that Kitty is pregnant.
There are eighteen poems, written in free form. They are unusual in developing the story through poetry and also break new ground in being illustrated. The black and white drawings, by the Carshalton Artist Julie Curry, beautifully support the Sequence.
The other three sets are all sonnets. Where Tracks has no pattern of rhyme or metre, The Hours, The Artists, and On Love and War, conform to the rules of Shakespearian and Petrarchan sonnet form, which use fourteen lines, the fixed beat of iambic pentameter, and a prescribed rhyming pattern.
The Hours was inspired by a visit to Hever Castle where I saw The Book of Hours, given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. It is a book of beautifully formed and coloured characters and illustrations, following the various stages of The Divine Office from dawn to dusk, from Matins to Compline.
The Artists is not about particular paintings, but places the painter in his time and place, and showcases his skill.
Neither of these sets is a description of what you see on the page or canvas. The Hours tells a story of life unfolding, The Artists the background to what they have immortalised on canvas.
Finally, On Love and War returns us to the original medieval concept of the sonnet as a love poem, although sometimes ‘hard love’. In celebration of the form the last poem is a description of undemanding and mysterious affection, a return to chivalric love as,
‘enchanted, I keep watch with her awhile,
Until rewarded by her gentle smile.’
Bernard Jacobs Carshalton Beeches November 2020.
Further details of the book, and an opportunity to order In Light and Shade, are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The cover price of the book is £8; it is available to Sutton Writers members for £6.
‘Wingspan’ has had an interesting gestation. When I began to sort through my best poems over Christmas and the New Year, my intention was to was to have a full sized collection of 50 or so poems that I had written since 2017, with half concentrating on my experiences of birdwatching over many years and with the other half containing a number of poems about my favourite locations, which have evoked a particular spirit of place. At this stage it had a working title of ‘Impressions.’
I have lived in various places over the years but the years I spent living in Colchester was perhaps as fruitful as any. I spent many happy hours on the Dengie marshes south of Colchester (Margery Allingham country), as well as the Suffolk Heritage coast from Woodbridge to Southwold. I well remember a guided walk from that time with the RSPB warden, around the Minsmere reserve. His enthusiasm was the catalyst that started my fascination with birds.
I’ve always been drawn to water and the birds that inhabit the zone between water and the land, so I started writing about birds whose behaviour I understood and whose shape and colouring I loved. So I started with curlews, little egrets and bitterns. I wasn’t like a twitcher ticking them off one at a time, because over the years I found the birds were becoming linked with my personal life and have been giving me solace whenever life has been tough going. As I started writing about them I came to appreciate the amazing variety that we see all around us. Sadly the numbers of many common birds are in steep decline because of the changes that have taken place in the countryside over the last fifty years.
Bernard and I then embarked on our tried and trusted criteria system for choosing the best poems from the selection that I had brought. We each ended up with our own list of definite, probable and not sure’s. The next task was to merge the two lists. We found that once again there was a large degree of overlap, as there had been when we were preparing ‘168 Miles Between Stanzas’ back in 2017. We agreed on the best poems and there was only a small amount of to and fro for some poems in the second category.
I had got as far as finalizing the order of ‘Impressions,’ when one of my writing tutors, who was looking at one of the draft copies suggested that the bird related poems would make a much better stand-alone pamphlet, because of its tight avian focus. She suggested that there wasn’t a strong enough theme pulling both sections of ‘Impressions’ together. As you can imagine this caused a certain amount of panic but after some consideration I realised the benefits of having the bird poems separate.
After this hiatus, the twenty three bird related poems were separated off, put into a sequence of their own and they became ‘Wingspan – Encounters with Birds,’ while the rump of the spirit of place poems were shunted into a temporary siding, hoping to be joined by other poems sometime in the future.
Memory is a strange and fickle thing isn’t it, as you find that some things you wanted to remember have escaped, slipping deeper into your subconscious, while other things stay as fresh and clear as the time when they first occurred many years previously. I’m sure we all use our memories in different ways when it comes to recalling events.
For further information about ‘Wingspan – Encounters with Birds’ and for ordering copies please email email@example.com The cover price of the book is £5.00.