Secular Liturgies Network and Forum

Our mission is to enrich societies with secular ethics and reflective practices, informed by the latest research, and expressed in liturgical events that include creative writing, literature, ritual and other art forms.

Poems by Jenny Johnson

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Jenny’s poems capture some of the poignant moments we experience in nature, moments which, on the one hand, are reminders of our alienation from the natural environment (and from one another) and of the inner unease and loneliness this causes, but equally, moments in which we humans uniquely create meaning from nature’s dynamic but unconscious processes.

We are moved to reflect on both the blessing and curse of human self-consciousness.

Jenny’s poems reflect her view that “everything is permeated by spiritual energy, even so-called inanimate objects.” It is a perception many have shared before. Perhaps when people talk of a universal “spiritual energy”, they are getting at the potentiality in all of nature, right down to the atomic and subatomic levels, for human generated meaning.

I hope this collection resonates with your experience as much as it did with mine.

Anastasia Somerville-Wong, The Editor


 

SHANKLIN RAIN

All this July day, soft rain has soaked

my orange American cotton:

I have walked through a chine

that is like a subtropical biome.

Under the platform’s roof,

the station clock makes dripping sounds.

A small woman talks to herself on a painted bench

to assuage the loneliness –

her voice, like that of a radio broadcaster,

switched on and off … and on …

Behind us, a waiting room is locked.

Outside, mist nets the east cliff;

while diesel and steam, with their different

rhythms and gauges,

take visitors, commuters, backwards and forwards

like a pendulum, a tide.

 

ON THE OTHER SIDE

On the other side of the track,

you pass through a second kissing gate.

Canopied by a beech, you negotiate the rising of steps –

the unevenness of five.

A six o’clock breeze punctuates your heat:

the moon turns half diaphanous.

On the other side,

old wildness comes in purples and golds; soft whites.

The crickets are in their grasses:

 branches embrace, safe within their archways.

A white bird glides over the water, moving west:

a black crab hastens towards an estuarial stone.

In your own good time, you will accompany this river, Isca,

as it falls into the sea.

“Not now,” you say aloud.

Later on, turning round in a homeward field – turning west –

 you notice those roses, those vermilion heads above the hedgerow.

From the other side of the railway track, they are calling you back….

You are warned.

“Not now,” you repeat.  “Not now.”

 

CAMARADERIE IN THE MARGINS

I rest in my sleevelessness,

watching the sea mist silver the sun:

two canoeists make for what is left of its reflection.

Young men sit in their fearlessness,

bragging about exam grades –

till one of them, desperate for balance,

indicates an insect on his skateboard.

“Come and see the ladybug,” he pleads….

Camaraderie in the margins:

I have noticed it before,

on the borders of lochs and forests –

 

even in dystopian twitchels and ginnels.

 

THE HOST OF THE HOLLY

To a host of sparrows, home is the holly bush….

By the end of December, between storms,

the twilight sound of it tastes like raisins, orange rind.

The following morning, each bird

claims its place on the neighbouring rooftop –

sensing the river, the Exe, which has risen with the downpour.

The plumpness that comes is an East Devon herring gull:

the purpose is to bully,

to usurp the community perch.

But the host is used to this:

its rapid wings carry it to and fro between ridge and ridge –

till the game becomes dull.

Whenever a bird flies solo from its line –

perhaps to alight on the cowl or the aerial –

familiar sidesteps close the gap.

In spite of the heft of her tartan trolley, her birdcage umbrella,

the woman treads quietly on the twilight pavement:

she approaches the feathery belly of the holly – its prickly guards.

An only child, she is drawn towards extended families:

she choreographs for community dancers:

her poems are appreciated most when read aloud.

(First published in Poetry Salzburg Review)

 

TEMPEST

This titan of a gale

makes pendulums out of shop signs.

The road’s bollards are disabled.

Lifted over the licked stone

by promenade gusts,

 flotsam is a kiosk – candyfloss, lollipops!

Beneath where it used to stand,

 a bomb, unexploded for seventy years,

silences at once those tidal spectators.

Electric flexes go wild in the heightened water:

sparks are launched into quarrelsome sky.

In response to this crescendo of extremes,

the town is alight with euphoria, with terror –

not knowing one from the other.

As the sea lays claim to the plains it once covered,

the people become eccentric; chaotic:

are seduced by the drama of it all.

After the panic, there follows the need

to control, to capture –

if only in pictures on the screens of their phones.

(First published in Poetry Salzburg Review)

 

CROUCH

Just before the black van parks in the square,

panic begins with herring gulls piercing the sky:

most of them no longer keep their nests

close to the sea.

The Harris Hawk comes complete with his falconer’s glove,

 with jesses attached to his brilliant feet:

the man has a dream about freedom from scavengers.

In intelligent bursts, the bird flies hither and thither

at the word of his master, the command to scare:

herring gulls, pigeons, are not to be devoured….

Prized for his performance, he dines on steaks.

 “Crouch,” cries the falconer.  “Crouch….”

All of his hawks have footballers’ names.

Children are amused: they are queuing like fans:

they long to touch feathers, the leather of the glove.

From time to time, this particular raptor delays his return:

he alights on an outdoor table, waiting to be photographed,

or makes for the indoor market, the souvenir stand.

Banished from the square,

from its human detritus,

the herring gulls move to the cliffs.

 

NOT KNOWING

“Life is no longer a feast of

distractions from death:

all I can sense are those

twin grizzly roads: at no point do they meet.

You are here, my friend, not only for tea and raspberries

 but also to make enquiries, to listen.”

 “Tell me what grows within your gray,” you say.

“A pink rose.” I surprise myself.

 “But I still don’t wish to live,“ I remind you.

“I don’t wish to live like this,” you respond.

It’s the not knowing I can’t cope with….

 “When I have done with both bone and brain,” I continue,

“will consciousness remain…?

What if it won’t? What will have been its point?”

“Does there have to be a point?”you challenge.

“This vision of parallel roads,“ I persist –

“roads without even one byway between them –

is anathema to me.

 Death has become a distraction from living –

from interconnection.”

“Though not for the rose,” you observe.

 

CHIAROSCURO

The moment July is in the ascendant,

an assortment of sky-lit tenants

needs to be hypnotised by the heat.

In the iced blues of January,

south-facing windows permit slanting sun

to investigate much closer to the ground….

 It alights on every cheekbone and pin.

Walking south-east along a three o’clock street,

those who once longed for the prime red-yellows of July

are quite astounded at themselves – at how soundly they are absorbed

 into that shadow play, that chiaroscuro.

 

Copyright © JENNY JOHNSON  April, 2019


Devon based poet, Jenny Johnson, was born in Bristol in 1945 and educated at The Red Maids’ School (now Redmaids’ High School) – the oldest girls’ school in England.  She has written poetry since the age of five and has also created eighty dances for circle dance groups: see www.jennyjohnsondancerpoet.net for a sample of her poetry and a list of dances and musical sources.

All the above poems are on a waiting list for publication in the magazine Sarasvati. Jenny’s work has been published or accepted for publication in magazines and anthologies including Poetry Salzburg Review, Orbis and Stand. A large collection of her poetry – “The Wisdom Tree” – was brought out by Salzburg University for use by students in the Department of English and American Studies. Jenny is currently writing a series of poems based on her own dreams.

“I believe that the media concentrates far too much on the negative: the latter needs to be acknowledged, but it also requires the positive in order to provide a balance.  From the friction between these polarities, creativity flourishes.” (Jenny Johnson)

JENNY JOHNSON (portrait by NAA AHINEE MENSAH)

Jenny Johnson

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