A few teachings in advance of Lag B'Omer
Celebrating marriage

Dick Jones' "Ancient Lights"

7862238I've been dipping into Ancient Lights: Selected Poems by Dick Jones, newly-released by Phoenicia Publishing (the press which published my 70 faces last year.) Dick blogs at The Patteran Pages, and I have long enjoyed his work, so I'd been eagerly anticipating the release of his collected poems. The collection was well worth the wait!

I find that Jones' poems are so evocative that I don't want to drink the whole book all at once. I pick it up, read a poem or two, stop and let the images settle and percolate. Then I pick it up again.

How could I not love a poem which begins "This hole is a clean wound / in the hill's skull. Turf / whiskers the rim, bedding // stitchwort and herb robert..." ("Lead Mine, Swaledale") Or how about: "Post-coitum, he relaxes back / into rumpled sheets, cat-happy." ("Certainty") Or the entirety of Sea of Stars, which I first read in the pages of Qarrtsiluni and which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010?

Some of these poems are heart-wrenching in their intimacy. Like "Maisie Sleeping," which begins:

     Your soft clock
      scatters seconds like
      peas on a drum.

      A feather pulse
      stutters in your

Anyone who has watched a child sleep will resonate to Jones' words here.

Others sketch their unfolding on a broader canvas:

That was about as close as the war
had come -- censored letters, rumours,
like an invisible tide you can hear at the edge
of the world. Little to see beyond uniforms,

gas masks in boxes, gummed paper stretched
over windows...

("Flightpaths" part 2: "1940: A Dream of Aeroplanes.") What I love in these poems, I think, is some combination of their breadth and their restraint. Although the poems are drawn in fairly spare brushstrokes, their images expand to fill my reader's mind and heart.

I'll close this review by sharing in toto one of my favorite poems in the collection -- perhaps the most natural fit for Velveteen Rabbi readers, since it's a poem about faith. I could mention some of the techniques and turns I love in this poem, the plosives of "mortality / the cricket ticking," the string of ings in "touching, finger to finger / and breath quickening / to mingle"... but ultimately what makes Jones' poems work is his technique's transparency, atop a core of real feeling and real heart.


I believe at the root
in breath as a first
principle. Breath --

the intake, the giving
out -- is our signature
onto the air.

Next I believe
in the business
of seeing and hearing,

the processes of light
and sound whereby
we inhabit the cracks

and corners of the earth --
the guarded scrutiny
of strangers, the ear

cocked in a waiting room.
Incidental revelations,
accidental wisdoms.

As for mortality,
the cricket ticking
in the long grass

is timepiece enough
for me. Wound up
by the sun,

his spring uncoils
at night and
he dreams in black.

But, as a final article
of faith, I believe in
the heartbeat certainty

of two adjacent hands
on the parapet of
a bridge somewhere

touching, finger to finger,
and breath quickening
to mingle, and this

causing the sun to rise
and the moon to wax
and all the tides to run.

You can learn more about the collection, hear Dick reading some of the poems, read excerpts and reviews, and if you're so inclined buy the collection, here at Phoenicia.