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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018
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Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

Review of The Dog of Darkness by Noragh Jones

Noragh Jones, The Dog of Darkness, Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, U.K (2017). RRP: £10 / €12 /US$13. Pb, 47pp. ISBN: 978-1-910185-84-1.

The Dog of Darkness is Noragh Jones’ second collection of haibun, published posthumously. The collection consists of work published in haiku journals between 2004 when her first collection was published and her death in 2016. The collection contains twenty-six haibun and one haiku sequence and the poems are arranged in chronological order of publication. Also included is Noragh’s introduction to her first publication, Stone Circles.

Noragh and her late husband Ken were keen walkers and often went on pilgrimages to sacred places, where they gathered much of the material for their haibun. Their poems celebrated people and places they came across on their travels and the seasons and natural wonders they discovered. For the most part the haibun are delicate, well-judged and living primarily in their closely observed details. There is a fine sensuousness in the language.

In her first lengthy haibun, “War in Iraq” (p.11), Jones writes about a friend, Davina, who “watches the war and remembers her youth in Iraq of the fifties.” The poem proceeds towards a point of connection in a way that suggests the effects of the war on Davina:

She is sleeping badly now. Watching the war is making her ill. She has dreams of ancient days. She is riding with Ali across the desert to the site of Babylon.

In the title poem, “The Dog of Darkness” (p. 15), which describes the darkness which takes hold of a person who is “down in the dumps”, she depicts the dog: “Breathing your breath red-eyed, his padding footsteps, the unsleeping hound of hell.” One can see why Jones was drawn to this poem, where the landscape is full of old stone houses, high winds, rain and “demons / howling at the windows.”

Jones’ masterly command of atmosphere, description and rhythm is much in evidence in the haibun “The New Mailbox” (p. 18), about finding an old tin trunk, which the couple decides will make a nice mailbox that they call "Black" after the name stencilled on the lid. The haibun ends:

Back home I scrape Black’s trunk free of rust and give it a new gloss with two layers of Hammerite. We install it at our farm gate for future mail. But next day:

Monsoon rain
drowning out mail
Black is back

The haibun herald many of the themes in the collection: the backward glance, the awareness of the gap between aspiration and attainment, the tendency towards evocative description. In “Chocolate Wounds” (p. 19), for example, she writes about a visit to the fifteenth century Cathedral of Our Lady. In this passage she describes a painting:

We move on to Rubens’ triumphant Resurrection. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Crimson banners unfurled. Christ your General.

Sweet Jesus
God’s chocolate soldier
turned militant

The setting is brilliantly evoked, nevertheless the contrast between the poetry’s seemingly effortless formal control and the fixated detail is enjoyable to read.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Jones’ work is its range of tone. As well as the humour, there is powerful and evocative narrative in the haibun "Dark Odyssey" (An exhibition of war photographs by Philip Jones Griffiths, 1936-2008, p.25).

In his teens, Phil Griffiths buys his first camera, a Box Brownie, and joins Rhyl Camera Club. He learns deep looking. He learns to think visually and make hard choices. "I got all that beautiful landscape stuff out of the way in North Wales and was ready for the rest of the world."

For me, the cohesive factor of this stunning collection was that the haibun were of such diversity, each with a new adventure, linked by the common factor of them all being interesting and rewarding. You can plunge in at any page and surface with a gem.

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