Book Review: Spring Journal

“there is no joie de vivre,
None at all. It is absolutely banned.”

Spring Journal, by Jonathan Gibbs, was inspired by Louis MacNeice’s long poem, Autumn Journal, which he wrote in late 1938 in response to the impending world war. I am not familiar with this earlier work. Gibbs’ offering is divided into twenty-four cantos, written between March and August 2020. It provides a response to Covid 19, England’s first lockdown, and the summer release that was not the hoped for return to freedom.

I was eager to get hold of a copy of this book as a sort of memento of a time I felt would be a significant life event, however the future pans out. On reading I realised it offered even more than expected, mainly because it highlighted to me how all appeared to enter that first lockdown as a country united to fight an unknown threat, but quickly divided into angry, polarised units of righteously indignant opinion on how others should behave.

“And its March coming in as the last daffs are fading
And the first nasturtiums coming, blithely ignorant of the farce”

The early cantos beautifully capture the early weeks of lockdown – the strange silence of streets devoid of people and traffic; the pause that felt as though the world held its breath, even as nature continued to bring forth new life, as it has always done.

When the impact of both the pandemic and the country’s response became better understood, sides were quickly taken. Focus shifted to anger, with many blaming politicians, as happens when it is not ‘their’ people in charge.

The author acknowledges his privilege. He remained healthy, not alone, able to exercise outdoors.

There is a reminder of the protests that happened about non-Covid related issues (how quickly we forget that which does not directly affect us).

“And if the pubs and restaurants go under, what about the theatres
And galleries and concert halls?
Will we stay at home and mutter nostrums
For the benefit of our four bare walls?”

As I read this I pondered the plight of those who would never use such facilities, through lack of means or desire. A journal will obviously be deeply personal – a strength in the window it offers. The author’s response, at first so familiar, was diverging from my own.

My reaction to this divergence slammed home when Gibbs wrote of a holiday in Greece, taken when released from the first lockdown. I was reminded of the angry tweets at the time from those who still never left their homes and expected others to do the same. Even when laws are not broken there can be a form of moral outrage honing in on what matters most to each individual. I remembered those who attended raves regardless, and those who have chosen to remain under personal lockdown throughout.

“don’t ask why our spending’s more vital than our earning
Or why the economy depends
On us giving out more than we can gather back”

The underlying concern, the gnawing anxiety over future impact, comes through strongly. As summer progressed the author wrote of the young people whose future prospects became ever more uncertain. There were musings on who will bear the brunt of what will be lost.

“everything we’ve grown up to take for granted
And are losing now to toffs and spivs
Who dress like lawyers and act like thieves
And know not to waste a good crisis.”

The final canto reeled me back in as the author reflects on the future, that man’s concerns are insular, that climate continues to change.

The journal is elegantly written and offers much to reminisce over and reflect upon. I shall now put it aside to read in future months and years when what has happened may be put into context of fallout, when we have moved on to whatever must be dealt with beyond.

“it seems we have forgotten how to shout,
Or have lost our voices;
Will we get to forgive ourselves our weakness,
Our failure to act on our justified doubts?”

We are living through ever increasing state intervention on day to day behaviour. This long poem offers a reminder of how it started, how as a country we acquiesced. Worth reading for the literary quality. Recommended as an encouragement towards greater critical thinking.

Spring Journal is published by CB editions.

Book Review: The Martian’s Regress

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch

“if the ultimate purpose of his race
was its own prolonged survival
if mere existence was in itself a success
if existence on its own was everything”

At some point in the future, the human race has irreparably plundered the planet it inhabits thereby destroying its life support system. Knowing that this was coming, preparations had been made. A select group travelled to Mars carrying specially developed seeds and other essentials that could survive the environment to be developed in the inhospitable new territory. Over time, these first martians and their descendants adapt and assimilate with the new order created. Their raison d’être is survival by whatever means.

The Martian’s Regress is a powerful long poem that tells the story of this new world’s development and how its inhabitants evolved across generations.

Divided into sections, an all too familiar one deals with the unexpected arrival of another rocket on the planet. The travellers who disembark display an

“old-world pallor
That caused consternation
A worry that such feebleness might spread.”

“At length, a decision –
The men were tied off
The women sewn up”

“Each incomer granted nothing less
Nor more than their natural span of days”

Meanwhile, a martian daughter is offered toys and beauty treatments, despite her obvious antipathy to such fripperies. Her future is made clear when she is handed over to a willing partner and discovers: ”‘the nursery – its row of empty cribs.”

More time passes and there is curiosity about what became of the old planet, abandoned so long ago. The protagonist of this poem, The Martian, boards a rocket and travels there. He takes with him basic supplies for the journey and a companion.

“She was made to be non-marking
Her body was wipeably clean.

That doubled height
Those gangly limbs
The overt femininities

All relics of an ancient era”

“As insects are content to possess a pared down intellect
She was content”

Sections of the poem cover the journey. Others provide background on how the colony on Mars came to be. Given the likely makeup of the original travellers, their priorities are not surprising however depressing this is.

The Martian arrives on the old planet and sets out to explore what remains. He enters a museum. Unable to make sense of the purpose of exhibits he rearranges them for his own amusement, breaking items at will. He enters a cathedral, light diffused by a stained glass window that he breaks to let the unfiltered sun shine in. He observes colossal angels perched on a balcony and pushes them to the ground far below, watching dispassionately as they shatter. None of this is done with a sense of ruination. The Martian cannot fathom any value in these things. He does, however, take away a crucifix to which a suffering Christ is nailed.

“Here was something the martian could relate to.
Due punishment was always worthy
Of prominent display”

The Martian and his companion come across a well with a sign seeking gold that wishes may be granted. The companion drops a bank’s reserves of ingots into its depths, adding jewellery, even teeth. To The Martian this is a harmless pursuit. Gold will not sustain him. I pondered what the companion may have wished for.

Although sections of the poem jump back and forth across a lengthy timeline what is being portrayed is an interesting and always accessible variation on a dystopian theme. By writing it as a poem, the story remains taut and reverberates. There is little that is uplifting in the behaviours portrayed.

Any Cop?: Challenging in places due to its content but written in a language that draws elements of humour even from dark places. A warning, if anyone remains willing to engage.