Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 (Templar Poetry, 2011) is Kathleen Jones’ first full poetry collection. Her pamphlet, Unwritten Lives won the Redbeck Press Pamphlet Award and this collection was joint winner of the Straid Collection Award.
Jones is known to me more as a biographer of literary women – Christina Rossetti, Katherine Mansfield, Margaret Forster, Catherine Cookson and the sisters, wives and daughters of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. In Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 Jones combines her skill as a literary historian with that of poet and pours for us poetry of time, place, departures, deaths and abandonment, in a weathered landscape that is at times a physical place, Carrock, Orton Scar or Murmansk, and at others a metaphysical one.
As a biographer Jones shows us 15th century Elsinore and tells us of Tycho de Brahe, an astronomer, who “translates the whirling heavens / to spheres of wood and brass” and has “stayed too long at court / neglecting to relieve himself / until his body had forgotten how” (Facing Elsinore). In this poem Jones writes “I have written it down / as he told me” and it is from this root that the collection spreads; from a love of storytelling, of character and situation.
What speaks to me most is the language of nature: she gives us “perpetual arctic ice” (Aiming for Archangel: Lake Onega), “snowlight hollows” (The Silence of Snow) where single “notes glitter like frost” and she invites us to listen “to the quiet significance of the moment” (Listening to Glenn Gould on Orton Scar) and watch “as the dusk / begins to smudge the trees” (Afraid of the Dark). She presents places where “the falling sun herds / us into the longest night” (Winter Light) and “cottages are fallen stone / and the roofless church / has a congregation of nettles” (Above Middleton).
Her characters are wide ranging: from her past she brings Uncle John whose hair is “crumbed with snow”, her mother whom she holds “delicately, conscious / of the thinness of skin, the brittleness of bone” and she speaks with an honesty that captivates, as she tell us of a mother/daughter relationship:
“Now the telephone’s umbilical line
is all that connects us; travelling
sound across oceans like
whale music”. (Whale Music)
From history she brings us Elizabeth whose womb is “dry as a winter gourd” and tells us not only of de Brahe, but also of Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, Millais and Morris, of bookplates and people’s fates, of hands touching through glass and children who are left behind.
In the title poem Jones writes “I walk away with his absence”. There is loss too for the reader at the end of this collection – loss that is tangible, that fills rivers with its emptiness. Jones is a lyrical storyteller and these stories rush at the pace of a current that is strong and rapid.