Silver Threads by Jade Kennedy (2012; Valley Press)
This slim volume of 21 poems, most of delicate length, takes the reader on a journey from shame and regret, through nights of guilt, dark fog and ice, to a resolution of forgiveness and getting on with it. By the end of the collection, we are awash in acceptance for sins that are left unspecified.
The author buries her meanings deeply within symbolism both readily understandable (“This well was built by my hands,/each stone laid down under a waxing moon./I am fated to drown beneath its brown shameful waters..”, from ‘Still Waters’) and more obscure (“I have a white skin of cardboard”, from ‘December’), leaving much of the work to the reader. This allows readers to take away their own meanings, which is preferable to poems that tell too much, that spell out each and every interpretation. A slight danger for the novice poetry enthusiast or the less literary-minded may be a sense of being closed out from understanding the author’s motives.
The opening poem, ‘The Lies I told my Mother’ is a personal favourite (I had a difficult mother), but the poet is redeemed, one hopes, by the Mother who urges the poet to let go of the most harmful regrets (“that which scars the spirit”).
Interspersed between the guilt and regret are fascinating descriptions of run-down seaside tourist towns (‘Sunshine’), ageing Hallowe’en props (‘Carved Smile’), and a vivid account of a typical boozy night on the town, seeking escape, anonymity and individuality. In ‘Gothic Undercurrents’, we follow urban drinkers as they “…follow/ the same faceless shepherd,/ lured into a pen that they believe/ cannot be labelled”, but they are sheep, “scream[ing]/ in individual voices” doomed to live “the same non-conformist story.” Ms Kennedy has a sharp eye for capturing the conformity inherent in striving for individualism in large groups; but there can be safety in numbers too.
Whereas the collection is riddled with guilt, the riddle is what the guilt is for; but at the end, the poet has worked out her feelings. As we follow her into self-forgiveness, she ties both halves of the collection together with ‘Yorvik’, which imagines lost Viking villagers as they stumble back into existence (“and come to the surface/ to be amongst the living once more.”) and process through “towns, cities and fields”. The author is amongst the throng, and so the dead wade into the surf to meet the Devil; or perhaps a more benign Deity: but all are “barefoot and chastised….with our hearts humbled”, so one assumes a sense of peaceful acceptance. The imagery of thrusting hands and crumbled ancient villagers dragging out into the light of modern day is appreciated by this historian! To keep her promise of salvation, the last two poems choose life and welcome the dark as just a passage from day through night, with a sky glittered by friendly moon and sparkling stars: “and show us all maybe, just for one night/ that the dark is just dark,/ no meaning to be found.”
This is an exciting first collection, with a style of writing more often found in the pages of Orbis. One hopes that Jade Kennedy has many more years to take us on a range of journeys.