'Garden Of Clouds'

New and Selected 

Poems Peter Thabit Jones

The art and strength of poetry mean that all really good poems are deceptively simple, at least when first encountered. Deceptive because all truly impressive poetry is the end result of hard and often lengthy crafting. For many years, the poems of Dylan Thomas, someone with whom Peter Thabit Jones is well acquainted, was thought wrongly to be the product of lazy free association because of their opulent wordiness, when in fact they were the outcome of extensive word-research and re-drafting. Peter’s literary CV tells you that his work is not the result of leisurely inspiration but has been carefully and intelligently shaped. Take these lines from the opening poem in the collection, ‘Eastside Hill’

                “The patchwork of my fields steals the black breath of the grass

                 That floods the eyes of the refugee fox

                 The birds, disturbed, are the words of the wind

                 And the graveyard of the dead worship my silence.”

Such visual, emotional and descriptive wordplay is not achieved without thought, talent and devoted effort.


Deceptive too because poetry constructed to achieve a fluent effortlessness of style often reads too easily and it is only with concentration or subsequent re-reading that you notice the richness and fluency of the images and connections the poet achieves. Take that description of the fox as refugee or how a flight of birds disturbed become the “words of the wind”. In a poem about an aunt, Peter describes the house in which he and his parents lived as “scented with poverty” and in another cruelly gossiping wives 

                 “Nailing

                   The latest victim

                   To their cross of scandal”

At this point, we are only a few poems into a collection of sixty-nine and in addition to this consummate phrasing we realise that the poems deal with nature and human issues with extraordinary empathy and sensitivity. A snobbish unfeeling aunt, an over-worked horse, a damaged and distant grandfather, the natural injustice of a teenager with cerebral palsy, a wife scolding her drunken husband with “the wondrous weather of her words” – a cynghanedd chiming alliteration**. Take the opening lines of a poem about a widow,

                 “Something has left her and it’s bigger than her grief

                  More hurting than his wardrobe of stale clothes


                  The bathroom tap, she feels, requires fixing,

                  It’s dripping seems like weeping in her mind”

The poem recognises that there is more to grief than the obvious cliches of sadness and loneliness, the many faceted hole left in a life, the loss of meaning expressed by a stunning congruence of a dripping tap (which might have been remedied by the dead partner) and the weeping his death precipitated.


There are some powerful poems on politics and justice. ‘Soliloquy of a Leader’ is about an unidentified dictator, about demagogues of all political leaning, and is as succinct, angry and exact as Dylan Thomas’s ‘The hand that signed the paper’ in its condemnation of the marriage of power and heartlessness.  

                 “Now I am bored, my gloved hands are restless

                    I could redden all these towns with their blood”

The poem which follows it contains this chilling laconic observation

                 “The mathematics

                   Of fear

                   Killers equal

                   Victims.”

These poems tackle the dark failings and corruption of human existence with a measured balance of pity and anger.


Several poems honour other poets, Robert Frost, R.S. Thomas , Edward Thomas, Arthur Rimbaud and inevitably, the poet who thought himself a Welsh Rimbaud, Dylan Thomas, whose “circus of bad behaviour” is immediately identifiable in ‘Poet Game’.


Peter can embrace humour too, as in the poem ‘Elvis Lookalikes Competition’ 

                 “In their blue suede shoes, with their king-size dreams

                   These sleek, cool cats and fat, bejewelled snowmen”

Notice the clever double meaning of ‘king-size’ with its subtle reference to Elvis’s overweight Vegas years and there is a mass of Presley song titles cleverly tucked inside this poem.


Among the poets commemorated in the collection is the late Aeronwy Thomas in one of several poems set in Big Sur on the mountainous coast of California where Peter was writer-in-residence from 2010 to 2019. Appropriately enough there are tinges of cynghanedd chiming in this poem as in this line which mimics the sound of waves breaking

                 “A lap-lapping coll. . . apse, a lap-lapping coll. . .apse”

And later in

                 “The loud crashing crush-crush

                   The loud crushing crash-crash”

There is something deeply comforting in a poem which remembers a lost friend by describing the ocean breaking on a shore. It is a poignant eulogy with many beautiful lines, that closes

                 “Here in Big Sur

                   At this yawning edge of the world


                   With its last amens

                   With its first hallelujahs


                   And all the godly motion

                   Of all of the oceans”

These poems are unashamedly spiritual something which has been much out of fashion in modern poetics for some time and they are, to wring a cliché, a breath of fresh air. They assert that, as Vince Clemente says in his quote on the back cover, being is believing. They affirm our human connection with the natural world from which we have become so distanced and our fractured connection with one another. They are also rooted in the cultural preoccupations of Welsh poetry and its search to resolve the enigmas of life. I would urge you to read them.

Josh Brown

**Cynghanedd is the 700 year old traditional poetry of Wales based on strict rules of meter and using alliterative ‘consonant chiming' and both internal and external rhyme. 


The name translates as ‘harmony’ reflecting the musicality of its word play.

Born in Wales, Peter Thabit Jones is a bilingual poet, author, and dramatist. He co-produced a ‘walking tour’ guide of Dylan Thomas’s New York with Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy which has been published in print, as a smartphone app, as a podcast and documentary film. His first collection of poems, ‘Tacky Brow’ was published in 1974 and several collections and dramas have been produced in English and Romanian. His work has been published in numerous countries as diverse as the USA, China, Romania, Iran, Italy, Korea and Russia and translated into over twenty languages. In 2008 he and Aeronwy Thomas Ellis toured America giving readings and workshops. He has been a writer-in-residence in California, vising poet in Romania, has won numerous awards for poetry and written the libretto for an opera. Peter is the founder and editor of ‘The Seventh Quarry Swansea Poetry Magazine’. ‘Garden of Clouds’, a collection of new and selected poems, was published in 2020 by Cross-Cultural Communications, New York. For more information about Peter and his work visit https://peterthabitjones.com

Copyright and Policy Statement

Portsmouth Poetry is not a literary magazine, our primary purpose is to run projects and events and work with poets. We have the luxury to only publish reviews of poetry we particularly like and admire. We would never publish a review which criticises but those who are occasionally reviewed are poets we believe to be worthy of recognition. Any work reviewed here we believe you should read and can be confident you will enjoy.


The poems quoted in these reviews are the copyright of their authors and can only be reprinted with their permission

Previous Reviews 

2021

Click this text to start editing. This simple title and text block is great for a welcome or explanatory text. When writing, try to break things down to a few lines at a time.

‘Mixed Messages’ Dave Lewis

[Wales]

Button Text

Oliver James Lomax

'God Missed the Last Bus and Walked Home'

&

'The Dandelion Clock'

[UK]

Button Text

Poems by 

Tom Pennacchini

from New York City

[USA]

Button Text

Sunita Thind

'The Coconut Girl'

[UK]

Button Text

2020

Onkar Sharma

'Songs Of Suicide'

[India]


Button Text

Jericho Brown

'The Tradition'

2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

[USA]

Button Text

Joanna Lilley

'Endlings'

Fred Kerner Award 2021

]Canada]

Button Text

2019

Emily Priest

'Nicotine and Napalm'

[UK]

Button Text