Jenny Hamlett’s poetry is rooted in landscape, even her “Radiotherapy diaries” reveal without flinching the landscape of the body, of the mind and of the memory:
staggering under layers
of sweet Alice,
bursting with cross-bred ox-lips
Read here the longing to be free of the world of hospitals and out in the open land.
too long and too hard, forgot
to look for sunlight on the grass,
rippling beneath a green cathedral of leaves.
This is not merely a book of landscapes, it is a book of walking: Edale to Crowden, the Isle of Harris, Housesteads. As often, the ones which have an immediate impact are the poems describing places I know well. Jennet’s Foss, for instance, where she hears
echo between the rocks.
They speak also of history, these poems, as in Cressbrook’s Children, another theme I recognise, as I recognise Cressbrook, and feel the hardships these children suffered in the name of progress and the mill-owners fortune.
We’re that clemmed we steal turnips on Sundays,
one boy were beaten on the head. He weren’t the same – never.
Impossible now to visit these beautiful Derbyshire dales – Monsal, Lathkill, Tideswell, without injustice and industry intruding.
If I must pick a favourite, and this is hard, The Green Man (St Edith’s church in Shropshire) gets to the heart of a subject close to mine! The Green Men here are wooden roof bosses, knitting together the beamed ceiling:
I close the trees
together where each dark trunk meets
another. They curl into thickets
you can’t beat through.
A lovely anthology, well-produced by IDP, well-named: for surely this work is in itself a talisman against gloom and sickness, a work of hope and optimism. I wish it and her well, in all senses.
Jenny Hamlett has published two poetry pamphlets, the first Ring Three Times for the Kitchen Maid with Palores Publications 2001, the second Watching the Sea Four Ways with The Frogmore Press 2003. She has also published two children's stories with the Longman Group.
Her work has appeared in both magazines and anthologies and she been successful in several competitions including winning the Renato Giorgi competition and reading her poetry at Sasso Marconi in Italy.
She is the featured poet in South 39 (2009).
She gained an MA in creative writing in 1997 and enjoys attending the Poetry School and other workshops in Cornwall and beyond.
In 1997 she was Poet in Residence at Cassies, a garden on the Isle of Wight. The poems written at that time were presented on tablets and displayed both in the garden and in the Quay Arts Centre. This venture was supported by Southern Arts.
She was selected with three other writers to read for Carn to Cove, taking poetry and stories around rural village halls, and worked with them for about three years. Carn to Cove is an initiative of the Cornwall Arts Centre Trust.
She was a primary school teacher who later loved working as a creative writing tutor with two organisations in Cornwall, Link into Learning (Adult Basic Skills) and Gwellheans (support of people in recovery).
She is married with a daughter and a son, and is a passionate walker. Many of the poems in this collection have been inspired while she was walking.
Building Chapel Jane
They call it the thin chapel, Chapel Moen,
in their speech. They say I cannot lift its weight in rock.
If boulders are too big I will bring small stones.
I will carry them further. I will carry more.
They say, if I were a man I could do it, but a woman
cannot tend chapel. Eve must not slot herself
between men and God. They fling words
like mouldy apples as if I were in the stocks.
They have not thought – a woman gives birth,
is mistress of renewal. Let them shed me
like a snake’s skin. Here, where the world’s edge
plunges into the sea’s cold mouth
and streams rattle between twists of fallen cliff
my soul is with the stonechat on his open perch.
The name Jane derives from the Cornish moen (thin). The medieval chapel,
built of small stones, is on the wild north coast of Cornwall towards Lands End
On ear and ear two noises too old to end
Gerard Manley Hopkins
I remember her spinning climb
and the circle of her song
as she rose from the ripe corn.
I remember waking in the dawn,
in the grey light, knowing
the air was rustling and alive
with chatter, chirrups
and early morning arguments
as birds broke open night.
I remember their voices outside.
Now inside, only tinnitus sings.
Even speech is muffled and strange
like water mumbling in a sink.
If I could return to the green Down
where notes danced like sun
through the beech leaves
I would record the memory of lark song,
give it back to myself as a gift.
My dear sister, I write
so you may understand and know
the extent of our Matronalia.
My sorrow that you could not come
is like the wind in the reeds
lost and lonely.
It began with rain, pure sheets of sky
plunging into the fort,
both burn and sike running to overflowing.
I could see nothing of the goddess.
Lucina, blacked out by cloud,
gave no hint of her silver shine.
Morning and the sky cleared.
Day was filled with water-light
dripping from early primroses and half-opened leaves.
I could not find him. The men came, a solemn line,
officers and soldiers alike.
He was not among them.
I searched. I returned to the praetorium
I asked at the bath house.
I sent Candidus scurrying to the soldiers' quarters.
Nothing. It was as if Juno Lucina herself
had swallowed him. Then I heard
he was out hunting before dawn.
I watched the others feast and dance
but could not join them.
My sandals were soled with lead.
When at last he came marching
into the fort pleading the excuse
of three red deer
I could not speak to him. Without his prayer
our marriage is over.
There will be no child next year.
Farewell my dearest sister, most longed-for soul.
I am in turmoil, need you here.
To Severa wife of Aurelius from Lepidina no wife at all.
Matronalia - Roman festival on 1 March, where husbands prayed for the continuation of their marriage.
The Radiotherapy Diaries
I begin as the outsider
in a room
weighted down with daisies
staggering under layers
of sweet Alice
bursting with cross-bred oxlips.
Hope is an antelope
at the foot of the bed,
ready to spring away
at the first hint of danger
so I watch the windowsill
filled with get well cards
and let my husband's smile
lie here with me
in this room
holding sunlight like water in a glass.
This collection of poems by OUP member Jenny Hamlett is a sensory delight. She creates an almost tangible poetic realisation of the natural world she has experienced through her passion for walking, and she makes very particular references to places and people. Through her eye for detail you can imagine taking the steps she has taken - you can battle the ‘sea of gales’ (Top Withins, p12); experience the spring of ‘tough grass and wet sphagnum moss’ and taste the ‘burst of purple bilberries (Walking Wild, p24-5); smell the ‘green stink of the woods’ (Wolf, p31) and enjoy the ‘music of leaves’ (Jennet’s Foss, p29).
In her poems, Jenny’s encounters with physical elements are combined with an exploration of the past. The very paths she treads hold the echoes of history which she encourages the reader to listen for - so for example in Housesteads (p20-1) we hear the ghosts of the Romans who built them, while Cressbrook’s Children (p60) brings to life the children who worked the mill.
Often, Jenny’s journeys have inspired a contemplation of spirituality which extends beyond conventional religion, as in The Black Madonna (p38); while elements of magic or legend weave themselves like threads through the collection, from the talisman of the title poem (p9) through the mystery of Crystal Man (p22), the malevolent Green man (p27-8) and the myth of the Unicorn (p58) to name but a few.
In the midst of all these journeys there is a remarkable hiatus, a journey of a different kind, in The Radiotherapy Diaries (p42-52). They are not sentimental but powerful poems about Jenny’s battle with cancer. Sparse descriptions of hospital visits and treatment are as raw and bleak as the winds on the moors, yet that geography she so loves becomes a metaphor for, and a talisman of, endurance and defiance.
Throughout, Jenny’s love for the countryside finds its voice in her poetry, which is pure and unadulterated. It is not fancy, but beautiful in simplicity. You can share and enjoy that world with her from your armchair, but be warned: her poems also make you want to get out and experience it for yourself while you can – and her final poem, Listen (p71) about the glory of the Lark is the ‘gift’ she leaves us with as the perfect reason to do just that.