by Tony Lewis Jones
edited by Rachel Bentham
Available from Amazon here.
I think you have to have a bit of nerve to write haiku, so close do they often veer to the bleedin’ obvious. I’ve no doubt many more get thrown away as get published. So it is a kind of tightrope the poet walks. Luckily for Tony Lewis Jones he has both nerve and balance, and in many ways it is a perfect form for his particular ability to rescue sensation from sentiment.
Lewis Jones is, as a result, recognised as a master of the form in Europe. I don’t know whether he reads Japanese, and I don’t much care. These are British perceptions, written with a British sensibility, tiny blinks of irony relieving what might otherwise seem a little po-faced.
Easter, you arrived early
in utter cold -
we clutched our coffee
in the restaurant
and hung on.
This little collection describes the year (admittedly following traditional Japanese requirements) with delicate little word pictures, commencing with its rebirth in Spring. Easter is recognized and Rosh Hashanah, a cathedral is described. These are religious way posts that point to the ability of the form (which is concerned with the juxtaposition of contrary ideas) to marry the sacred and, if not the profane, then the sensuous.
Here “cathedral” carries enormous weight, abstract, historical. It is mellowed to the moment by reference to sight and smell, and the ‘on-en-an’ around which the poem weaves its sound.
Irony again inflects another, longer (relatively speaking), poem:
At the bus-station, a pretty girl
rolls herself a cigarette.
I reflect on the church's
square steep tower rather
than her rather beautiful legs.
You can’t keep the church out, but then it is hard to ignore the legs.
Tony Lewis Jones has always had an eye for beauty. Even in his war poems, he evokes not the brutality but the pity of war. Here, then, we find a spider’s web hung with dew, yellow roses, a dappled forest glade, apple blossom, a cat stretched our, a songthrush. These are the delicacies of nature, small and often underheard or overlooked. In this age of the shrinking attention span Lewis Jones is doing a job that needs doing.