Wendy Klein finds Rosie Jackson’s new pamphlet carries all the weight of a full collection

jackson groundWhat the Ground Holds
Rosie Jackson
Poetry Salzburg
ISBN 978-3-901993-46-6
40 pp   £5


Produced as a 42-page pamphlet, this short collection carries all the weight and strength of a full-on book. Like the first tang of pomegranate seeds, their liquor, their hard core, Rosie Jackson’s imagery ambushes the reader from the first page, the first poem:

…the trick of memory,
not knowing if you’ve imagined
the shape of a mother,
the flimsiness of a dandelion seed
the joy of a feather.

 Rosie Jackson takes the myth of Persephone, gives it a good shake and gems fly out: Everyone forgets the dress my mother made: / raw silk, its red the ember of dying skies. (‘Persephone Blames the Dress’), and her mother Demeter: I spend my days sewing; fine golden stitches that shine in the darkness / … pictures of plants she might have forgotten – thistles, acanthus / to be ready for her when she returns. (Note, I have erased the word if from my vocabulary). And in closing: I am done with all those seeds which breed loss. (‘Demeter takes up Embroidery’).

An overlapping of the mother/daughter theme in classical and modern mythology emerges as this poet explores her own family dynamics. The underworld becomes the mines, visited with her father:

where boys stripped to the waist
are casual smudges of charcoal
on half-lit walls

where tiny passageway
are lungs coated with soot
and the black roof rains phlegm,
                                      (‘Visiting the Underworld, 1964’)

Meanwhile …upstairs, somewhere over our heads, / mum cooks Sunday roast, chops mint / says grace before dinner. This overlapping branches out to the second world war, the death of an uncle who the poet imagines in front of Joseph Wright’s ‘Eruption of Vesuvius’: …doesn’t read the clouds / as shadowed angels holding up the light; but is carried from the battle field

as if death has made his youth as heavy
as a cross. Mum stayed puzzled by the loss.
She kept his spectacles on the sideboard for years
.                            (‘My Uncle Visits Mt. Vesuvius, 1944’).

The ‘mum’ is fleshed out after her death with searing honesty as the poet ponders all her years of domestic duty then thinks of

…all the things she touched
those last forty years

and all the things – a man, a child, a glass of wine –
she didn’t.
                          (‘My Mother’s Engagement Ring’).

These poems range across responses to paintings and painters (‘On Visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico’) to the deaths, one guesses, of friends (‘When the Sun Turns Fickle’), and the marvellous title poem, ‘What the Ground Holds’: In the time it takes me to type her poem / she is gone,… The wonderfulness of real books is celebrated through bookmarks and finger-marks in ‘What Their Books Yield, or Why I Am Not Buying a Kindle’. The relationship between Leonard and Virginia Woolf is illustrated in ‘Leonard Woolf at His Desk, 1940’. The last five poems evoke Stanley Spencer, a triumphant ending where she nails Spencer perfectly through his wife Hilda describing his painting, ‘Village Life’ in which a child points: to the skies opening, the radiance coming through, / even the washing rising / like the undergarments of angels. (‘Hilda Caroline Spencer’). Everywhere this poet bridges the gap between the ancient and the modern; between the real and the imagined. Although many of these poems are saturated with death and loss, they are assembled with utter beauty, both original and controlled – a truly remarkable feat. I am watching out for Rosie Jackson’s full collection later this year!


U.S. born Wendy Klein, a retired psychotherapist, is published in many magazines and anthologies. In 2014 she was the winner of the Buxton and the Havant Poetry Competitions, and also the Cannon Poets ‘Sonnet or Not’ Competition, and the Cinnamon Press single poem competition. She has two collections from Cinnamon Press: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013). Along with translator, Jan Teeland, she has published strata (Shearsman Press, 2014), a book-length single poem translation by the avant garde Swedish poet, Helena Eriksson, to be launched at Swedenborg Hall in London in March 2015.