Last week, as Richard II Live from Stratford-upon-Avon unfolded, there were several moments when I thought of my English teacher at school, the late Brian Jones. Mr Jones, as he was to us in our mid-teens, was a cool poet who had even been on television. He was also, as I hope we recognised then, a gloriously inspirational teacher, and his classes contributed hugely, vitally, to my love of our language. Which, give or take a twist or two, runs right through to my work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I lost touch with Brian after school, even though, as I chronicled in a blog post back in August 2009, I tried to find him again when I produced a film of The Waste Land in the mid-1990s. My post was written after I’d read Paul McLoughlin’s Guardian obituary, and remarkably the comments to it (which are still archived on this site, even if the formatting is a bit awry) became a small memorial to his influence on many, many others. So now I am delighted to highlight the news that a new edition of his poetry, for so long out of print, has been published.
Brian Jones: New & Selected Poems has been edited by fellow poet Paul McLoughlin, who also contributes an introduction, and is published by the Nottingham-based Shoestring Press, from where it is available at the bargain price of £14.50. These are their words about Brian, with which I heartily agree:
Brian Jones (1938–2009) published four collections with Alan Ross’s London Magazine Editions, a pamphlet for Tony Ward’s Arc Publications, a collection of verse for children with Chatto & Windus, and three collections with Michael Schmidt’s Carcanet Press. Where the reputations of Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison and Douglas Dunn thrived, Jones rather slipped from view, partly through the unease which is a persistent feature of his work. His is a secular voice that deserves comparison with the best of British poetry since the nineteen sixties. This New & Selected Poems is a welcome re-presentation in selection of work that has long been out of print.
At the Wikipedia entry for Brian there are the following appreciations of his poetry:
Jones believes that poetry need not surrender to fiction all the stories that need telling, but his poems retain the tightness of verse and the authority of good cadences. There is as much truth to surface detail in his work as in any recent novel, with a good deal of eloquence added. – Peter Porter
It is his concern with truth-telling that unifies Brian Jones’s work and gives The Island Normal its strength, a poetry austere without coldness and colloquial without slackness. Why is he so little known, so rarely discussed? – Grevel Lindop
[Jones’s] leveller-like anger at England’s waste of human potential arises from a deep love of his inheritance and a real fear for its future. [He has] provided us with fine poems and a continuous thirty-year commentary from the backroom of the dispossessed. – Peter Bland
Copies of the collection are also available from Paul McLoughlin (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2 Lansdowne Road, Hounslow, Middlesex TW3 1LQ. Do please consider buying a copy.
There is one sad footnote to this announcement. Brian’s widow, Noëlle Soret Jones, who contributed so warmly to the blog comments mentioned above and who later I was delighted to meet at a memorial event, died in September.