Monday, May 4, 2015

'Taken' by Jo Bell

When a thief kisses you, count your teeth.’ – Yiddish proverb

Let’s just say it was complete surrender.
The wanted word is visceral; the usual
exchange of fluids doesn’t quite compare.
He closed his eyes and tilted back his head
and he was mine, as naked as a worm.
He yielded like a sapling to the axe.

Humility is not an asset in my trade, but
such an ecstasy of loss brought out
the best in me, at last.  I stripped.
His willingness unmanned me; such a glut
of giving.   It was hard to take but oh,
I took it, breath for breath and blow for blow.

I got up with the sun; gobsmacked, lovestruck.
My keys were missing.  All the doors were locked.

© Jo Bell
Kith’, published by Nine Arches Press 2015
Click here to hear Jo reading her poetry on Sound Cloud.

Jo Bell is great on love – the reality and absurdity of it rather than the romance;  the pain and the pleasure of it. One of my favourite poems is called ‘Your Helens and my Jonathans’ and deals with the baggage we bring with us to new relationships, going to bed ‘Just you and me/and everyone we’ve ever slept with.’  Jo writes that her poetry 'straddles the border between literary and performance'.  There is a lot of humour in her poetry, of the wry, understated, northern variety, and the lines have a certain 'grace' in the way they dance off the tongue and echo in the mind long after you've finished reading.

There’s also a wealth of images.  I love her description of ice ‘thick as bottle bottoms’, the old standing stones of ancient Britain ‘frank as knuckle dusters/on each ridge’, and the narrow boat, lifted out of her natural element, in dry dock –  ‘A welded tongue; she’s fluent wet / and dumbstruck dry’.

The title poem ‘Kith’ explores the meaning of the word, ‘made scant by frequent use’, little used now except in the expression ‘Kith and Kin’.  It is part of Jo’s northern identity ‘the Northern tongue behind my teeth’, and gives a tribal sense of belonging; ‘Something I can recognise/something that recognises me’.  That attachment – both to places and people – and the loss of those attachments, is at the root of many of the poems in the collection. There’s a clear sense of history, of the long genetic thread that has us all tethered to the ancients under their  bronze age barrows on those bare uplands. ‘Their names and mine will pass like rain/ but I am buried in them, they in me:/ their  soil will cling to me a little when I fall’.

Jo is a northerner -  born in Sheffield, UK,  she went on to become an industrial archaeologist.  After winning several major poetry prizes she was appointed as the UK’s Canal Laureate and she lives on a narrow boat.

What better recommendation than Carol Ann Duffy - ‘Jo Bell is one of the most exciting poets now writing and no time is wasted in the company of her work’.  I’ll second that!

I’m sharing another of Jo’s poems ‘The Shipwright’s Love Song’ on my own blog this week - click here to read it. 

Jo reading from Kith at the London Book Fair
Jo also blogs at The Bell Jar
and you can find her on Facebook too, where she ran the very successful '52' online workshop.

Kathleen Jones is an English poet, biographer and fiction writer who blogs at 'A Writer's Life'.  Her most recent collection of poetry is 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21', published by Templar Poetry. 

Be sure to click on the link on the sidebar to check out what the other Tuesday Poets are getting up to!


Jennifer Compton said...

great stuff

Helen Lowe said...

Love it!

Kathleen Jones said...

Glad you both like it. I think she's a terrific poet!

anuj kaushik said...

No doubt, I am getting closer to the poem
every moment I spend here. No doubt,
I am lucky that I found her poem in open air.
No doubt, I will put them very close to me.
where no doors installed, no need for key.