Tuesday, October 16, 2012

'Listening to Glenn Gould on Orton Scar' by Kathleen Jones

From Ravenstonedale
driving north on unfenced roads,
moonlight reflects the tarmac’s

frozen wake across the moor —
a snail's trail  in my rear-view mirror.

Bach unwinds from the c.d.
a landscape of variations
into this zero night.

The grass is white; trees black.
The walls run off like staves.

The moon fingers each stone
separately, in unexpected harmonies
and structures, endlessly practising —

compelling me to stop.  Listen
to the quiet significance of the moment.

Across the counterpoint
I hear the chill cry of a predatory bird.
Single notes glitter like frost.

©  Kathleen Jones 2011
From: Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 by Kathleen Jones, Templar Poetry, 2011.
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

Kathleen Jones is a fellow Tuesday Poet so it was a great thrill when her collection, Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 won the Straid Collection Award in 2010 and was subsequently published by Templar Poetry in 2011. The collection comprises a number of themes, including family relationship particularly those between mothers and daughtersboth history and natural history, as well as a strong sense of place. Every book of poetry will have some standout poems and usually many more again that I will enjoy reading. But to work as a collection, the sum of the poems must comprise a greater whole, so that when the final line is reached one may say:  yes, this is a book. For me, Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 met that test.

Nonetheless, in every collection there will still be standout poems, and Listening to Glenn Gould on Orton Scar is one of those poems for me. It is both a poem of nature—the moonlight, the trees, the moor—but also of place. Although I have never been there, as a reader I get so strong a sense of Ravenstonedale and the unfenced roads to the north that I feel I have stood there and seen the "tarmac's frozen wake across the moor." Yet there is more to the poem than this: as a poet I admire both the strength and precision of the language, and the way music itself—as the poet listens to Glenn Gould—is used to encapsulate both the moment and the landscape:

  Bach unwinds from the cd
  a landscape of variations
  into this zero night.

I feel that Listening to Glenn Gould on Orton Scar achieves, in a larger form, exactly what the Japanese haiku form is intended to do:  the poem captures the experience of an "ah-ha" moment in language, lifting the discreet elements of the moment to a sense of something larger. Again as with haiku, I get the sense that no one word has gone unconsidered; every word has earned its place in the poem.

And so we end with:

Across the counterpoint
I hear the shrill cry of a predatory bird.
Single notes glitter like frost.

Chilling. Austere. Perfect.

Kathleen Jones’ first solo pamphlet of poetry,  Unwritten Lives, won the Redbeck Press pamphlet award and her first full collection,  Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, was joint winner of the Straid Collection award, and published by Templar Poetry in November 2011. 

Kathleen is also a biographer, author of a life of Christina Rossetti, Learning not to be First [OUP] and A Passionate Sisterhood [Virago], a group biography of the sisters, wives and daughters of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey.  Her most recent biography, Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller, was published by Penguin NZ and EUP in 2011. 

Kathleen Jones’ home is in Cumbria, but as her partner is a sculptor working in Italy she lives there some of the time too. She has taught creative writing in a number of universities and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.  

Website:  www.kathleenjones.co.uk
Blog: www.kathleenjonesauthor.blogspot.com

This week's editor, Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. She emerged onto the NZ poetry scene in 2003 as an inaugural Robbie Burns Award winner and has since had over fifty poems published and anthologized, both in NZ and overseas. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, was published internationally in April, and she recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is a regular Tuesday Poem contributor. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we


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Kathleen Jones said...

A really lovely critique - Helen - thank you, thank you!!

Helen Lowe said...

Kathleen: a beautiful poem, thank you for letting me post it here on the TP Hub.:)

Penelope said...

Even the name Ravenstonedale captures the coldness and prefigures the later chill bird's cry. Fascinating poem.

Mary McCallum said...

A lovely weaving of music and place, dark and light, warmth and cold. Thanks Kathy and Helen.

AJ Ponder said...

Great tension between moving and staying still in the compelling winter landscape.
Cheers Kathleen and of course Helen for posting

Helen Lowe said...

Penelope, Mary, Alicia: Glad you've all enjoyed the poem.

Al said...


Thank you for hosting this lovely piece.

Michelle Elvy said...

Lovely thing to read in the night.

I especially like this:

The moon fingers each stone
separately, in unexpected harmonies
and structures, endlessly practising —

Tim Jones said...

A lovely and most musical poem - and it reminds me of driving along the stone-walled lanes of Wharfedale in Yorkshire, though whatever I had in the CD player was less memorable than Glenn Gould playing Bach.

Helen Lowe said...

Al, Michelle, Tim: Am thrilled that you are enjoying the poem as much as I did--to be honest, I found it hard to narrow my editor's choice down to just one form "Not Saying Goodbye at gate 21", but in the end this was the one that I kept coming back to--and found both haunting and powerful when read aloud.