Sunday, 3 May 2015


It's the turn of Russell Jones' collection "Our Terraced Hum", the shortest collection in 'Caboodle', consisting of 13 sonnets.
In her foreword to "Caboodle"  Angela Readman suggests the poems  have a slightly voyeuristic quality to them, since they are based very much on observations of other people's lives. I think I would say they are minutely observed by a poet with a very sharp eye for the goings-on of urban lives. In the very first poem the poet states 'I sit watching the lives of others, fan/ whirring, reeling in the sweaty cling/ of life.' But includes himself in that 'sweaty cling' by using the first person - it is 'our terraced hum', not theirs.

"The Flat Opposite" depicts a couple who've long lost interest in each other: the woman goes to take a candle-lit bath and when she reappears dressed only 'in the flowers of white smoke' she finds the man busy flicking through TV channels, oblivious to her presence , though the poet is not - he appreciates seeing this 'goddess' through his window. Voyeuristic perhaps, but you get a feeling of lost opportunity, an underlying wistfulness in the face of human indifference one to the other.

Jones has a good grasp of country life despite these sonnets having urban settings. In "The Back Room" an old mirror recalls for the inhabitant a country childhood rich with the smells of strawberries, memories of ploughed fields, summer bathing with friends. It is relegated to the back room, while its owner 'treads the torn beige carpet... a clock/ marking his exit through vast streams of corn,/ larks screeching'. Likewise in "Garden State" we meet someone who surrounds himself with wild flowers who 'swims/ in the rainbow of life that surrounds him'. Both poems remarkable for their countryside knowledge.

In three of the poems there is a strong hint at desire for escape from the urban scene of 'hot rod bawling down the road ....gaggles of drunks...brotherhood hymns from the football grounds'. Pigeons become angels, the reek and fume of the street become a dragon on whose back you could clamber and  name your destination "Above the 100% Human Hair Extension Salon". "Reflections on the Dog House" has a similar yearning where the dogs are tired of the 'bright and brash' streets, wanting to escape into 'a cradle of stars'. In "Loft Conversion, The Smoking Gallery" an ageing man pours a drink and remembers a stag he shot in '37 with the'old ghost of his gun'. His loft dwelling is a 'haven of eyes in the desert/ of a blind city.' as if he were still out hunting as before. What he has lost 'remains in the art of preservation', a hoof, antlers, a tail.

Russell Jones' language is terse and to the point,with a harsh urban overtone that sometimes peels away to reveal the nostalgic beauty of a far-off remembered world. A short collection but a very fine one.

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