Feeling bookish

This Spring, I will mostly be plugging my new book. Forgive me. If you follow me for more general poetry news, there will still be plenty of that. The stream of ME ME ME announcements will soon dwindle but for now, here’s a short summary of both title and book.

It’s a plain-speaking book but not, I hope, a simple or crude one. A poet should be in the business of windows, not chandeliers. I want to look through a poem, not at it, to see the world more clearly.

My world may be different than yours. Mine probably has more boats in it, for a start. If Kith revisits the themes of my last book Navigation, that’s inevitable. I still live on a narrowboat, making my England both smaller and larger than that of the average bank dweller. My love life still mimics John Arnold’s description of war – “long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement” – and that makes for good raw material too.

One or two familiar faces resurface in the new book – the Shipwright is back, written with a kinder pen this time, and some old friends may recognise themselves – but I hope the poems are broader and deeper this time around. There is a little less bravado, but no less vim. There is still profanity, and sex in inappropriate locations. There is not much in the way of romantic love, nor much appetite for it. There is an occasional glance at the archaeological past, and a rediscovered love of the North of England, which I had to leave for a while before I understood how much I belong to it.

The quotation at the beginning of the book comes from Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s epic account of the Antarctic expeditions he made with the legendary Scott.

“Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, ‘What is the use?’ For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal.”

I don’t know if other people will like this book. Just now I feel a healthy indifference to opinion. That may change, but at any rate ‘those with whom I sledge’ will probably enjoy these poems: that is worth a good deal.

As an aperitif, here’s a poem commemorating a diary entry made by Gilbert White exactly 247 years ago. The journals of the great naturalist are very detailed in their record of animal life, but on April 5 1768 he wrote only one word. Literally, it means ‘nightingale’. To him, it meant something more – as the word ‘kith‘ does for me.

A nightingale for Gilbert White
April 5, 1768

The garden’s lean, but buds and shadows fatten.
A London smoke crawls west, and cucumbers
are tortoising across the sweat-sweet dung.

A nuthatch jars and clatters in the oak;
rooks get cocky in the Selborne copse. At last
the air is quick with bee-flies, kites and larks

and April falls across the parish like stained glass;
like rest for the broken-backed. The diarist
writes one word to stand for spring – Luscinia!

Colour blurs along the quickened hedge
into the woodsmoke hours. The nightingale
loops speechless syllables on every thorn.
Attention, after all, is prayer. Nothing goes unseen.


[Kith is published by Nine Arches Press.

Click here to order and here to see a calendar of readings around the UK]

Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

10 thoughts on “Feeling bookish

  1. Reblogged this on The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet and commented:
    Jo Bell’s a poet I admire. I may have more to say on this subject in future, but this reblog is really about Gilbert White. White’s Natural History of Selbourne is one of those magical books whose mundane title conceals wonders. It sits on my shelf alongside Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (and would probably be quite comfortable with Thoreau, if I could stand him). White’s gift was to observe with care, and to make us care when we read his words; his world was quite small, and parochial, but he gave us all of it. Here, in Jo’s poem, she gives me the cockiness of rooks, and makes me regret that I’ve still never heard the nightingale sing. She’s made me want to read old Gilbert again, and that’s all to the good.

  2. Both the quotation and the poem left me feeling strangely sad, despite their beauty. Sometimes I feel quite alone on my sledge.

  3. Dear Jo

    I’m unable to comment on your Facebook posts; I can either like them, which I do, or share them. You may have set it up this way, for those of us that follow you but don’t actually know you.

    That said, I’m very glad to be able to leave a comment here. I just love that poem! I am looking forward to buying your book. I’d also like to say ‘thanks’, for all your posts.

    Yours sincerely
    Mark Hutchinson

    1. Thanks Mark! Yes, not everyone can comment on my Facebook posts because it takes over my life too much if I engage in conversations all the time. So double thanks for taking the time to comment here!

  4. Make me want to pick up a pen and write. I’d like to read your book, and Gilbert White’s. I’d like to go somewhere asap to experience the gorgeous wildlife for myself (probably some considerable distance from Merseyside, or even the North west) if you know what I mean. Then I’d have a little write.

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