Feb 8 2023
In the Light You Will Find the Answer: Brian Docherty reviews Rosie Jackson’s collection LIGHT MAKES IT EASY
This recent book by the widely published and prolific author Rosie Jackson starts with a Lockdown poem, ‘Lockdown as a Kind of Pilgrimage’. The poem is a meditation on the changes in the author’s life, reflecting on journeys made, for instance, to India, and now no longer possible. (And, at the time of its writing, who knew if Lockdown might still return?) The poem poses the question
How can a time of suffering feel so holy? Surely we are being asked to go inwards,
Some people might say Creatives have coped better than others, going to “the deepest source”.
The collection includes some finely detailed ‘Nature’ poems such as ‘A Charm of Goldfinch’, ‘Snowdrops’, ‘Foraging’, and ‘April is the Cruellest Month’. Fortunately Jackson has the vision, experience, and craft skills to carry this off, starting the last one with “I Always Knew Weeding Was a Fascist Thing”. The poem concludes, in relation to prunella vulgaris (known to gardeners as self-heal, heal-all, or heart-of the-earth), “I discover their native name is self-heal, as edible / and miraculous as as any wounded thing could wish for.”
‘Cloistered’ takes up the theme of Lockdown as voluntary imprisonment, as an anchorite. Perhaps Jackson had Julian of Norwich in mind; the poem concludes “and its only day forty-one”. ‘Where Bluebells are Thickest’ could be another Spring poem, but Lockdown possibly comes in again, as we see in Stanza 2,
Thin drifts of clouds remind me of friends I’ve lost this winter, the way each year bowls out another couple, wickets toppling after too few sixes.
‘Of Tears and Things’ transports us back to a girls Grammar School, undated, but let us assume the Sixties, as the requirement for O-Level Latin was still in force then. It starts with a Latin phrase many readers might be familiar with, “Amo, Amas, Amat.” It mentions Miss Long who was obviously an inspiring teacher and one “whose fiancé had been killed in the war” (Second World War, I presume). ‘Under Every No’ moves us on to Summer in the present day, and the “new man” met briefly in ‘A Drop in Temperature’,
My man suggested we take our daily walk down Tuckmarsh Lane to track the first swallows,
But the narrator would rather be an ostrich, and see nothing. The poem finishes with a recollection of the myth of Pandora’s Box, and the importance of hope. Lockdown is not mentioned here, but ‘In This Period of Strange Calm’ opens with the lines “I have become a distant witness / to other people’s suffering” before translating the reader to ancient Greece, where a woman “with simple ideas about goodness” cannot understand “the necessity of sacrifice / to appease the gods”. What we want, the poem concludes, is “signs she has been heard”.
‘Because These Days are Dark’ starts ‘”I need to travel where there are no walls” and ends with the plea
But lift me from landlock, deliver these months of grief to the tide.
There is a sense of movement here, as in many of the poems, such as ‘Getting My Bearings’ and ‘Paintings with No Perspective’ where an endless Groundhog Day is envisaged as a post-Cubist painting, where the narrator sees herself as an experiment , “trying to loosen my grasp on the world without / becoming untethered.”
‘In Which I Ask Forgiveness of My Body’ dramatises a state of affairs familiar to those of us who are older (but not yet old). Youthful excesses? Not Guilty. Stanza 4 could be a wish for reincarnation in a new, younger, body, but the final stanza reads
Oh body, there is no health in me. Teach me your uncomplaining love, your path of selfless service, even as you fail.
We move on to Autumn, where the narrator’s son
forbids me to talk about the love on my life, a man I never met, who set up an ashram in India.
This may or may not be personally true – and your reviewer is feeling our old friend the Unreliable Narrator giving us a nod and wink – but the poem evokes the Sixties and moves on. ‘After Crossing the Styx’ provides an answer to the old question, “who pays the ferryman?”, but this is a poem of doubt rather than faith, and also one of acceptance. Its last three couplets are
which spills out stars, sonnets, sentences. Perhaps you wait, on the silent water, for that somewhere better you have always dreamed of, lived for, but the ferryman steers you to marshes where you must relinquish all your thoughts of heaven, and let everything go. Everything.
This is followed by ‘The Chinvat Bridge’ . The poem is meditation on an important concept in Zoroastrianism, the ‘sifting’ bridge between two worlds, that of the living, that of the dead. In this tradition, people are lured over by their favourite music. All that can be heard is the barking of guard dogs. The poem finishes “Music won’t drown it”.
The book’s final poem provides its title, ‘Light Makes It Easy’, but nothing in this book is easy. The opening lines are
You’re moving at last. It’s a place you saw once, in a dream: blue sky, white house, long slope of grass.
This seems both literal and metaphorical, a new house; but in both cases things must be left behind even though “You’ve never / been so ready to let go”. A few lines later we are told “You know now you are mortal”, and the poem ends with
a foretaste of the afterlife, like something you glimpsed once in a dream - a blossom of rain, petals falling.
This book starts and finishes with Lockdown poems, but presumably Jackson was writing other poems during this period, and the 28 pieces featured here are a selection from this work. Light Makes It Easy is a cohesive but varied set of poems with several themes explored. Your reviewer would not be surprised if Rosie Jackson already has her next book prepared for publication.
One Last Thing (as Steve Jobs used to say). Indigo Dreams are to be commended for giving us a well printed, attractively produced pamphlet with no typos observed by your reviewer. This text has been referred throughout as a book, but as reader will know, the legal definition of a book is at least 48pp with a spine. Unlike most pamphlets, this 32 page work is perfect bound with a spine, not stapled. At £6 what more could you want? Highly recommended.