Blues in the Park is Robson’s first collection for many years. Moving, witty, wide-ranging and contemporary, it combines melancholy beauty, surprised middle-age and a compelling commitment to the Horatian virtues of friendship and family and hearth. Blues in the Park will be welcomed by readers of Jeremy Robson’s early volumes, as well as by all those who have heard him read over the years.
The landscape changes by the day, haunting our lives in many furtive ways. It’s not just the failing sun, the ghosts of darkening evenings creeping in that halts the step, not the steady drip of leaves from widowed trees, great oaks felled, the rows of shattered flowers gunned down by feckless winds it’s not just that: a season gone, a season lost with all its rainbow colours, autumn’s melancholy catalogue. It’s the human landscape, altering by the hour, by the minute, that makes one falter – the shrinking list of friends you’d meant to call but never quite got round to, the tables you can no longer fill, the dwindling cast at family celebrations, grave occasions, houses boarded up, their owners gone moved permanently on, letters Returned to Sender. The litany of loss. Grief always just a phone call away. Walking tonight, arm in arm in the park we love just before closing time, shadows are everywhere. Passing the animal enclosures, the children’s roundabout and swings, the spread-eagled oak, we finally reach the old Victorian bandstand from which, one glorious summer Sunday, to our delight, exultant jazz exploded. ‘The Humphrey Lyttelton Band’, a board announced, and so it was. Applause. A care-free crowd lined the surrounding lawn, danced and jived as we so often had to that same anarchic virtuoso, birds taking fright as his trumpet soared. Now, as we skirt the lawn’s damp edge, silence rules. The desolate bandstand seems bereft, no trumpet beckons, no ‘Bad Penny Blues’, no ‘Careless Love’. Birds eerily line the wooden rails, waiting for God knows who. Rain and darkness brew. The landscape changes by the second.
Those musty albums must have lain for years under the stairs. And what a rum lot of characters they reveal, posing for eternity. But my, how they keep their guards up high. Those starch-collared ancients, were they ever young I wonder? And those stately ladies at their sides, with their floor long touch-me-not skirts, a hidden armoury of armour beneath – were they? Who can tell. We know them only as Great Uncle this or Great Aunt that, stern, forbidding, formal as hell. Yet think of all the children they begot – seven, ten, a dozen, even more. They weren’t brought by the stork I’ll bet. And consider their names... Max, Amelia, Manny, Rose, Morris (known as Morrie) Girtie the Flirty, lovely Harriet. Go back a little, imagine them human, imagine them young, in love, cutting a dash, hot, finding a niche when niches were hard to find in starch-stiff Victorian England – especially since, it must be said, mostly they were a foreign lot. By and large, though, save for a few bad’uns I could name, their dreams came right just the same and they could proudly pose for those puff-chested photographs in black and white. What though, I wonder, would they say, seeing us now, long-haired, be-jeaned, dusting them down, we, the future they made love for, built for, prayed for – but proud of them all, come what may, and with them all the way.
for Anthony Harkavy ‘Play me’ invited the piano on the booming station concourse and play it with brio the pianist did, dodging the duff notes: ‘Georgia on my Mind’ as I recall, which wasn’t on many people’s that wet Monday morning. Gradually, improbably, St Pancras Station had started to swing, with one couple clinched in a dance and others gathering round appreciatively. A woman with a wobbly voice began to sing. Then slowly, as the rhythm rose and the jazz flowed, six tall young boys with grey college scarves edged towards the piano from the back, laying careful hands on it in turn as if the wood they were touching was holy wood. When, smiling, they turned away, the large white hearing aids they wore came startlingly into view, and the amazed throng parted for them like the biblical sea of old, having witnessed the surreal scene and understood. Clearly, those boys had heard a melody we could not, and suddenly the station was no longer cold, and there was more than music in the air.
‘These poems speak clearly and directly to my soul. Poems about poppies, jazz, conkers, people and places spring alive from the page, alongside affecting poems of love, loss and celebration. Robson’s vision is both gentle and steely, and on top of his ability to touch one deeply is a marvellous wry observation of the sweet, sour and savoury in life. I love this collection.’
‘Jeremy Robson’s new poems refer to the familiar and find wonder enough in earthly things. Healthily vulgar at times his poems, unafraid of sentiment, remain direct as a surprise while having a double satisfying focus which makes Blues in the Park as much for the study as for the stage.’
'the work of a poet whose experiences, transmuted into fluent accessible poetry, will strike a harmonious chord with many readers.'