One for Sorrow

Two for Joy, Simon Jenner (181pp, £12, Waterloo Press)

'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!'
      Š Bruce 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 ŌHis Rest':

   Your world's hydroptic as the petri dish
   you hoard each ubermensch pill in. Off-white
   streptococci under your microscope
   glare, they breed the obsessive's diseases

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 all.

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 ocean
    Is folded and hung up to dry
   And the seven stars go squawking
    Like geese about the sky

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 Brown
   An atomiser of holy water from above
   the access stairwell is a mop

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 as snow
   By all the martyred virgins kist,
   While the true church remains below
   Wrapt up in the miasmal mist

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