Rosie Jackson The Light Box Cultured Llama £10.00
The Light Box is a very handsome book. The cover features one of Stanley Spencer’s Resurrections and the print is good and clear with very little bleed over the pages. The poems inside are equally handsome and well written and Spencer features in those. Spencer put aside his first wife to live with his second, Patricia, in a ‘white marriage’, but persuaded his first wife, Hilda, to remain as his lover. And Hilda features in the poem ‘Hilda Carline Spencer’, and ‘The Apple Gatherer’ both of which are narrated by Hilda. Artist narrators also occur elsewhere in the book: Picasso, Georges de la Tour, Daguerre in Paris in 1839. And other poems are more directly ekphrastic as in ‘Recovery Stroke’ subtitled ‘after Grainger McKoy’s sculpture ‘Recovery Wing’, 2010’. As such, these pieces do grapple with the difficulties of representation, in the artists’ comments ‘straight to camera’ as it were, through Jackson’s projection of what the artists might say. Or, as noted above, Jackson imagines monologues about the artist’s lives. Jackson has a sharp line in persona poems: Her Uncle visits Vesuvius in one poem; Penelope muses on her life without Odysseus; John Donne arrives in Heaven; and Leonard Woolf, Eurydice, Lazarus, Mrs Thatcher and Margery Kempe all appear.
Love won, but all too often lost, is a constant in a number of these poems and Jackson writes about pain with some exactitude and wit. As in the ‘dream’ of the ex-husband who carries on writing letters to her even after her death, ‘And so he does not grieve at losing me,// but invites me to one of our long walks across the moor,/ describes the May blossom, sketches it for painting,/ the profligate beauty ripe, improbable,/ too rich for this world, too solid for the next.’ ‘Love Letters’. And there is a nice rhythm to all this. And the better poems in this book are when Jackson speaks straight to camera herself; where her poems are as well observed as the art she depicts: ‘a shadow in that land of shadows,/ rising till the darkness grew less/as if bleach had been spilt into the ground/ and black gave way to memories of blue.’ ‘Like Orpheus’. Or in the exquisite ‘Not Falling’ ‘The Sky full of swallows, red kites, jays,/ their feathers drifting blue and scarlet/ into our picnic laps,/ our tongues inventing new soubriquets.’ Here the lyric impulse controls both the vision and the trajectory of this short but beautifully executed poem.