'Tell me, my dear' she waved me to a chair
and, as she waved, one of her breasts tumbled out of her nightie. 'Tell me,'
she shoved it back, ' are there grand poets left in your country? I mean
grand poets.... of the stature of Joyce or Eliot?'
Auden was alive, in Oxford. Weakly, I suggested Auden.
'Auden is not
what I would call a grand poet!'
Chatwin, Mrs Mandelstam
What makes great poetry? All poets have the potential to be great. Auden had
huge potential. However, sensing a subtle flaw in the gentle giant, Nadezhda
Mandelstam dismissed him. AudenÕs shot at the moon was a near miss, possibly.
Where does Mrs MandelstamÕs disapproval of such an august figure as Auden
leave a poet like Simon Jenner standing? A poet who 'paradoxically' wrote his
PhD topic on 'Oxford poets of the 1940s'. The blurb on the beautifully sea
green back cover of his third collection Two for Joy has the audacity to claim that it
'establishes him as an emerging major voice'. Simon Jenner was born in 1959,
by now, his major voice should already have emerged.
Perhaps it is nascent. A great poet can look inside himself for the capacity
for genius at any point in his or her life. Here in a quatrain from JennerÕs
Your world's hydroptic as
the petri dish
you hoard each
ubermensch pill in. Off-white
streptococci under your
glare, they breed the
What the hell does this mean? Throughout Two for Joy, the language is verbose and
obtuse. Colourful words with meaning as far out as streptococci do not carry
the emotional tone on their back, there is no resonance, there is no music.
There is death somewhere behind the lines, but it is difficult to find. Jenner's
approach to poetry is exasperating. If a poet reaches their fifties without
learning the art of writing clearly, perhaps they should not be writing at
Contrast Jenner's concrete breeze block with these easy going lines from
someone he admires, the aforementioned, W.H. Auden:
I'll love you till the
Is folded and hung
up to dry
And the seven stars go
Like geese about
There is a quiet grandeur to Auden, it is subtle, and to some, it remains
imperceptible. He writes with a simplicity a poet like Simon Jenner could
never achieve. I don't mean to be unkind. Here is a stronger moment from
Jenner's 'Flat 101':
They're washing out Mrs
An atomiser of holy water
the access stairwell is a
This is stronger because the words are cleaner and easier to understand.
Jenner is not cloaking his meaning behind his usual academic, pretentious
script, apart from the awkward sounding 'atomiser'. Furthermore Jenner is
very good with images: ice blocks turn up in North Greenwich, blue airmail
sheets are pressed in Cambridge, hungry ghosts tumble down a mountain in
Tibet. The problem is that Jenner's late boarding of the surrealist train and
impressive suspensions and resuptions of reality are not given
enough exposure. Instead they are buried in arduous and uninteresting poems
that never broach or reach a climax. That these images have been inserted
into the world is pleasant enough, sometimes their form lingers for a while
like the memory of a summer rose.
However a gaping chasm in quality exists between the Simon Jenner of Two
for Joy and the
work of the aforementioned 'grand poets' of Mrs Mandelstam marmalade filled
parlour. Here is a quatrain from her beloved T.S. Eliot:
He shall be washed as white
By all the martyred
While the true church
Wrapt up in the miasmal
Here difficult concepts such as death and the devil, love and sex, are
treated with a seriousness that comes from deep study of the lake of language
and human thought. Eliot's fine lines lead, they do not show. His intellect
is buried in the simple beauty of the words, a fragile beauty that Jenner
rarely shows an understanding of. Ultimately this leaves Two for Joy as an dissapointment, the
potential for great poetry is there, but it has been wasted.
By the time I reached the notes section [pp 167] I had had enough. The
constant dropping of meaningless names coupled with Jenner's transparent
desire to belong to club of dead poets who have ceased to be of
any consequence became tiresome. The note section is a mistake. I don't
want the ideas in the poems to be unpacked. I don't want their meanings to be
explained. I don't want know anything about 'The Bishop of Winchester',
'Uncle Charles', 'Peter Porter' or' Robert Nye'' I want the poems themselves
to express the ideas. Keep it simple, stupid.
Charles Baylis 2014