A. B. Jackson
(Bloodaxe, 2015); pbk £9.95
This intriguing collection by A B Jackson journeys through the fantastical and the mundane with a somewhat counter-intuitive outlook upon both. Jackson approaches his topics whole-heartedly, allowing his reader to wrestle with his ideas. In some (most notably in “Inexpressible Island” and “The Find”) there might be an apparently graphic and crude feel to his poems that initially can be somewhat hard to digest. However, there is also beauty in the simplicity of his writing that invites the reader to accept the encompassing world they find themselves part of and thus to consider it more deeply. Furthermore, through use of well-placed ambiguity, Jackson tantalises the mind with new perceptions, all charged with exuberance.
There are three sections to this collection: “Acts”, “Natural History” and “Apocrypha”. This layout serves to highlight the varying topics covered. However, there is a general contemplative nature throughout which leaves the reader plenty of room for thought. This is something the poet exploits with his creative use of line and stanza breaks; through an attentiveness to the poems’ shape, particularly how they are broken apart and manipulated, Jackson encourages a visual acknowledgement of the skewed outlook he presents. All this space also allows the time to process the richly textured language and imagery.
Clouds were locomotive smoke,
camels or torn pillows,
science of moodswing or a god
in evidence everywhere, the veil
obscuring male from female. (“Ruth/I”)
In this particular example, through the use of Simeon and Ruth, Jackson considers the differing gender roles of men and women, and the impact of religion on their assignment. His clever enjambment emphasises the broken link between embodied, physical relationships and our connection with The Divine but “Ruth/I” also recognises the shift from religion’s traditional control to a contemporary and secular independence. “Apocrypha” challenges accepted ways, but also delves deep into the nature of man.
Although this section of Jackson’s collection is almost exclusively peopled by Biblical characters, it is the manipulation of these characters that leaves “Apocrypha” aptly named. However, despite the inversions of conventional perceptions of their biblically related content, they are oddly believable. Of the three sections, this one most closely relates to our modern world. Arguably then, “Apocrypha” perhaps best acknowledges the difference between expectations and lived experience in The Wilderness Party.
“Moses (XI)” is succinct in this regard, expressing indignation at the corruption in our legislative process and indeed at our society’s resultant conduct most poignantly. The poem addresses purity in our trusted democracy, including that of our own behaviour. Thus Moses appears as something of an antagonist, described initially as “horned” and “lantern-jawed”, these adjectives carry connotations of beastliness or even of the devil, supported at the poem’s conclusion when Moses leaves to execute infidels. The description of the people watching Moses’ descent from the mountain also adds unease. Described as fat-lipped or with speech impediments, the brutality these individuals faced and their notable imperfection are implied simultaneously. This then begs the question of whether these people should be subject to more judgement, or if the point is that there will always be a “greater” ruler inflicting beliefs upon them for the “better”.
This ethical weight (as put by Ahren Warner) gives greater depth to Jackson’s. Jackson’s perspective is enlightening, and provokes exploration and rediscovery of the familiar. However, the craft of this collection should be appreciated in its own right, and despite its dense undertones, there is comedic relief:
In a moment of erotic madness
I attempt puff pastry, on a pie.
You’ve gone walkies. A dead chef
turns in his grave, rotisserie
chicken style… (“Romantic Interlude”)
Yoked with an appreciation for the smaller things sprinkled throughout, The Wilderness Party offers a fine narrative packed with sharp examination of the sacred and secular parallels in contemporary life.