Supposedly, reference humour is the laziest kind of humour there is. However, that is not always the case if one combines references and humour, as Jenner does in Two for Joy. Use of the former are perhaps the most characteristic trait of his poetry. Indeed, one might easily accuse him of overdoing it. “Titov Dying”, for instance, is packed with famous people from the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, as well as allusions to Greek mythology:
Gagarin deserved it. Born Gorbachov’s month
he plagued me with his common touch
for moon-raced athletes burnt for silver
as they fingered the gold fleece now minted
on his returning body. His wife Medea was bad
as Medeas. But not cast off when they struck his medals.
While readers will most likely be familiar with names such as Yuri Gagarin, Mikhail Gorbatchev or Boris Yeltsin, they will not likely know what “waiting to test-fly; no longer Mig’d for wings or wrongs” means. MiG, in the context of Russian aeronautics, was the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau, which primarily designed fighter aircraft. Even then, a person well-versed in Russian history might be baffled by its juxtaposition with Greek mythology, and vice versa.
However, Jenner’s poetry’s main weakness paradoxically is also one of its greatest strengths. Reading Two for Joy is like being invited to a potluck dinner. The poems cover an enormous range of topics: Natural Sciences in “The Periodic Charm”; a variety of great names in Literature in the section “Swinburne Replies”; uninhibited references to sex in “Twenty Five Years On” and beautifully depressing elegies like “The Poor Obituarist” to name just a few. Once more, in terms of sheer quantity, one might accuse Jenner of overdoing it. Two for Joy has 163 pages of verse, and the great majority thereof fall into the same category as “Titov Dying” in terms of the difficulty of comprehension. Juxtapositions such as “vitner’s craft norths to our chalky palate” are hardly the most accessible of metaphors. Yet comprehension is not necessarily the point, as much of Jenner’s verse focuses on rhythm and phonetic stylistic devices like alliteration and assonance:
So they’d tear off their tags, corner them, burn
Those bolted to incorporate human torches. Those
who’d release them, small rats, on the streets to die.
“Burn those bolted to incorporate human torches” has almost rap-like qualities, and if one swallows the second syllable of “incorporate”, it flows both with elegance and power.
Finally, Two for Joy is poetry concerned with the dynamics of creation. There are three images or topics that function as the underlying leitmotif for the collection: science, fire and death. In relation to creation, science and death are synonymous with creation and destruction. Fire is an interesting link between the two: it destroys, but it may also be seen as the flame of inspiration, or the power of emotional investment in poetry. However, what fire does not destroy, it hardens: “what does not kill me makes me stronger”.
Jenner’s verse, then, is verse of power. For some, the richness of the individual poems may be overly hefty, and those readers will most likely not enjoy this collection. For others, the collection’s sheer richness and vigour will be daunting. However, each poem on its own is very rewarding. Some, like “The Periodic Charm”, are downright (and very structured) Easter egg hunts. Altogether, Two for Joy makes for excellent reading, which can be undertaken slowly in relation to the collection’s eight sections should the entirety be too challenging.