With a title that speaks to alternative and unconsidered perspectives, it is fitting that many of the poems in Russell Jones’ first collection, The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping, challenge us to re-examine what are best described as everyday truths.
In ‘God Has Still Not Appeared to the Birds’, the speaker contrasts the nonchalance of breaking eggs with the urgency of tending a young bird injured by flying into his window, leaving the reader to consider at which point on the scale of life morality influences our actions. Meanwhile, ‘Sendai-shi’ is both a gentle and blunt reminder of how, as humans, we must learn to forget in order to progress, but that, in forgetting, we are often doomed to repeat past mistakes. The final line of the poem very much embodies this paradox. In the wake of tragedy we are told ‘the city regrows, recovers, and learns to live on’; a celebration of human tenacity. But it also shows us how unable or unwilling we are as a species to change in the face of adversity, that our strength is also our weakness. Fittingly, ‘Gaze’ observes that, though we can witness light from a dead star millions of miles away, we are incapable of witnessing our own past. By doing so, it demonstrates a recognisable feature of our daily lives; that is, our ability to recognise and solve any problem that is not our own.
Jones’ influences are varied and apparent throughout the collection. ‘House plant’, in its fruitful bounty and neglect, invokes Seamus Heaney’s seminal ‘Blackberry-Picking’, while ‘Last Stop’ speaks in its way to Edwin Morgan’s ‘In the Snack-bar’. Norman MacCaig’s influence is particularly felt in Jones’ poems ‘Nan, come from the water’ and ‘Hanging Out the Washing at Night’. This intertextuality reads as a promise: I know where I am coming from; I know what I am doing.
This is apt as Jones is a poet who is not afraid to experiment with persona and structure, introducing the reader to a multiplicity of narrative voices and poetic forms. In this collection we are given blank verse, sonnets, haiku, concrete poetry, ghazals, found poems, list poems and even a table poem, from the mouths of cats, dogs, drunks, men, women, ghosts, and paintings, all clambering for their space between the pages, surrounded, as in life, by the complex matrix of global, local, and personal events that continuously harass and overwhelm us. T.S Eliot believed that ‘novelty is better than repetition’ and, for the most part, that is the case here. Not all of Jones’ experiments with form are successful; ‘26 ONE WORD POEMS’ and ‘Star’, for instance, lack a strong relationship between form and content. The structure of ‘Tower’, in contrast, creates levels of depth and meaning that would otherwise be lost. Written across two pages, the reader is instantly confronted with the two towers of 9/11. While some sense may be gleaned from either ‘tower’, both are needed to fulfil the duty of communicating the poem. Furthermore, the effort to cast your eyes back and forth across the pages without missing a line recreates the sense of bewilderment felt as millions looked to one tower and then the other, from first hit to final dust cloud. This is a poem that could not be written in any other way.
Diverse, innovative, and brave, Jones has produced a collection that is introspective, observational, philosophical and conversational. And just as ‘no slim telescope will show it all’, no single collection will fully encompass what Jones can offer as a poet.