The Incident

The title poem of E.E. Jones’s first collection tells the story of an unremarkable day in August 1944, when nothing much happened: the weather was beautiful, a dog barked, and the women of Amsterdam went on making jam.

The Incident is a book about what we fail to see and what we ned to remember, about History and Fascism, what our times make of us, and the violence we allow to be done to others – minorities, refugees, dissidents, asylum seekers, benefit claimants. These are stories of solidarity and resistance, told with tenderness and fury and a passionate commitment to a world still possible – Sylvia Pankhurst and Kier Hardie, Auden and Erika Mann; William Tyndale and Nye Bevan, the Peterloo dead and the Belgian Resistance fighters who in 1943 stopped a train bound for Auschwitz. At the heart of the book is a series of portraits of remarkable women who tried to resist, like Rosa Parks, Sophie Scholl, Anne Frank, and Jo Cox.

Cover photo: Katharine Jane
Author photo: Katharine Jane

Sample Poems

Direct Action

the flowers have taken this town
and the birds are returning
singing their exiled songs

in many colours
the flowers have risen
not without cost

mourn for the fallen of autumn

remember with sorrow
the snowdrops’ fierce stand against frost

but the flowers are holding their ground
and the snow is retreating

the year is ours

Sanctioned

when they came for him
I was not there
or anywhere near

though I might have been
in the next street

or an adjacent universe

when he returned
defeated
clutching his crumpled form

what they wanted was
the patch of ground on which he stood

his morning coffee
his shopping list
his right to exist

all this they took
until he had nothing
not even the words

and I was not a friend or neighbour
but only another stranger
who read of his death in the paper
and signed the petition

I did not write to his family
or stand with a placard
protesting in shame
or even
(forgive me)
remember his name

The Incident

the fourth of August nineteen forty-four
was the most beautiful day

years later
someone remembered
how the dog on the houseboat barked
and the passers-by with their shopping bags
stopped and stared as if at an accident
then drifted away
shaking their heads

the sky was the same oblivious blue
the dog lapped from a bucket
it had to go on being Friday
and there was plenty to do

women of Amsterdam went on making jam

decades later there would be time enough
to remember and to make a shrine

A Poem on our Proud History of Welcoming Strangers

‘In the eleventh [year] of Elizabeth, one Cartwright brought a
slave from Russia, and would scourge him cruelly for which he
was questioned, and it was resolved that England was too pure
an air for slaves to breathe in...’
John Lilburne, 1645


now in the sixty-fifth year
of the second Elizabeth
it should be noted

that the title to the air is disputed
and the slave (most likely)
deported

as for the orphaned boy
who touched this shore
aged nine
fleeing the latest war

why he may fill his lungs
with English air
home
school
ten years or so

but when he is nineteen
may be required
to cough it up
sobbing
as they put him on the plane

since freedom to breathe our freedom
is no longer guaranteed

Salvage

to the memory of Jo Cox (1974–2016)


someone shattered your light
into fragments

fatal

but a crowd came

weeping
they gathered
each spark

they stood in the rain
cupping your light in their hands

as if guarding a promise

In Retrospect

of course
we’d have been for Alfred
and unity (not Mercian supremacy
or Little Wessex)

back then we’d have added
more clauses to Magna Carta
seen the point of the Peasants’ Revolt

we’d have stood with the Levellers in Burford
linked arms with the martyrs at Peterloo
Amritsar
Sharpeville
and Derry

we’d have been the only Chartists
in the village
the first to call out old Lord Macaulay
who (with Cambridge
Westminster
and the Privy Council
all behind him) decried universal suffrage
as ‘incompatible with civilisation’

we’d never have swooned into war
pro patria mori
or sat in the stalls at Olympia
praising the autobahn as we waited for Mosley
or poured over the blacklist
murmuring darkly

just picture us then
abolitionists
reformers
repealers
home rulers
suffragettes all...

naturally
times have changed

these days
you’ll find us holding the middle ground

the status quo
now
is basically sound

Reviews

‘A brave confrontation of inhumanity. Grim and thoughtful balanced by optimistic poems too: rich with “the heady scent of hope” or simply chronicling the day-to-day activism that can sustain it.’

Jo Colley

‘Jones writes with controlled passion about the injustices of the past and the present. Her voice is quietly persuasive, her lines short and spare, words and imagery chosen with precision and accuracy, re-imagining history in poems that are evocative and original.’

Deborah Moffatt