On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

A decade or so ago, I was a member for two or three years of the Twickenham Stanza group of the Poetry Society until it ceased following the closure of Langton’s bookshop, Church Street, in which the group met. The quality of the poems we workshopped was invariably high. Among the members was the fine poet Paul McLoughlin, who was generous to me with his time and entertaining anecdotes. Sadly, he has recently passed away.

Paul occasionally mentioned the poet Brian Jones (1938–2009) – not to be confused with the Strolling One – and a few years ago, his own publisher, Shoestring Press, published a selection of Jones’ poems. I must get round to buying a copy. In the meantime, I recently bought a lovely copy of Jones’s Interior, 25 poems published by Alan Ross in 1969. There is something Larkinian about his poetry, though without the misanthropy or suppressed bigotry. More than anyone, though, his poems remind me of Dennis O’Driscoll’s: droll, acutely aware of mortality and on the nose.

A three-part poem ‘At the Zoo’ was always going to appeal to me, because I adore zoo poems, and zoos in fact, hard though it is not to feel simultaneously thrilled by proximity to the creatures therein and repulsed by their captivity. The third part concerns Chi-Chi, the giant panda who was brought to London Zoo from Frankfurt in 1958 and was a major attraction until her death in 1972, and opens thus: ‘This is the panda that wouldn’t be shagged!’. After a superb simile, ‘wondering kids hoisted like periscopes’, he elaborates on the panda’s situation and attitude:

This is the girl
who would have none of it, who let the world
proclaim and plan the grandest wedding for her,
who travelled in state and with due coyness
one thousand miles in a beribboned crate,
who ate well at the reception, honoured the ritual,
and when the time arrived for being shagged
chose otherwise, rolled over, went to sleep.

Anthropomorphic, to a degree, this may be, but it’s fine writing, with a deceptively easy rhythm.

The same panoptical and omniscient voice is at play in his poem ‘In a University Library’, the last two stanzas of which build to a mightily unexpected and extraordinary flourish:

So here I am, game for another try.
Across hushed floors, I follow appropriate rules—
check catalogues, use cards, go straight to a shelf,
extract one book with unambiguous hand,
pass girls with gentle faces and lyric hair

without a second glance, become a bulk
of silence at a table, open the words—
and Time leaps cartwheels and the blood runs loutish
as sunlight strokes the pages where they swell
in sumptuous buttocky mounds from the shadowed spine.

It’s a poem to which I can fully relate. Pre-computerisation, university libraries must’ve been even stranger environments than those I inhabited in the mid to late ’80s; nevertheless, the timelessness of being, in that perfect phrase, ‘a bulk of silence’ is marvellously depicted.

The masterpiece in Interior is ‘Death of a Cultured Golfing Motorist’. With a title like that, how could it not be? In seven intricately-woven tercets, Jones maintains the poise and tension of a tale which we already know will not end well. Here are stanzas 3 to 5:

And on the course was never such a day—
the ball sprang from the gorgeous woods
like a bolt of joy, hung in subtle flight

from wedge and spoon. The greens played like a dream
and light was dreamlike, reducing distances.
And driving home, he heard his car

croon like advertisement—the stubbed gearstick
floated between the ratios, the tyres
discarded corners with brisk disdain.

I won’t give away the brilliance of the poem’s closing couplet. For the anthology of poems about sport which I am slowly compiling, ‘Death of a Cultured Golfing Motorist’ is an absolute shoo-in.

4 thoughts on “On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

  1. Must look him up as well. Reading THE FOOTBALL REPLAYS by Wes Magee with a quote by Rodney Marsh “football in England is a grey game, played on grey days for grey people.”

  2. Great post. I can’t walk down Church Street without thinking of Langtons. Sounded a top group. Also, Brian Jones looks interesting, will investigate. Enjoy the football x

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