Doing the Rounds: Audrey Ardern-Jones, Indigo Dreams

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The title of this debut collection refers in one sense to the poet’s career as a nurse specialising in cancer genetics. However, the cover of the book portrays a globe, and Audrey Ardern-Jones’s poems also encompass Poland in the second world war, a childhood in Africa, and travelling in India. 

Nearly all the poems are about people; and what shines through is the poet’s warmth and compassion in telling her stories. The collection begins and ends with poems that hark back to grim war tales from Poland. Agnieszka is mugged and injured by youngsters while feeding sparrows:

 

     as she lay on the pavement

     she thought back to her homeland

     a child rounded up

     trudging with the thousands

 

     on cobbled roads, unmade tracks

     holding her father’s hand

     bodies in the snow, Russian soldiers

     in grey woollen overcoats

 

     burning the ice with guns

     all this she told me, on the ward

     knowing my mother, like her

     escaped Lwów, kept going

                         (‘Doing the Rounds’)

 

The final poem refers to Russian’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and recalls the Soviet Union’s second world war crimes:

 

     history speaks

     of unspeakable atrocities

     of uninvited armies

 

     my untracked family

     from Lwów

     shot by Stalin’s bullets

               (‘4th March 2014’)

 

‘White Roses’ is for the poet’s mother, a villanelle that captures a lifetime’s pain – “she left without giving a kiss to her mother” -  with the recurrent line:  “no mementoes of her family to help the despair”. In another poem, ‘Night Terrors’, which is ostensibly about the poet’s own childhood nightmares, her mother cries out for help in her sleep.

‘Only Ten More Months’ is about letters home – to Africa – during the long months at convent school, with an autumn bonfire reminding her of bush fires: “I try hard not to cry as I lick down the edges of my / blue airmail letter card – it’s October, we’ll be home/ in July.” ‘Names From Another Era’ lists the African servants that helped the family in the house – Sofite, Macaroni, and Sixpence – and the place names that have changed in modern-day Zambia, from Abercorn to Mbala, and Broken Hill now Kabwe.

Africa has left her with vibrant memories, of hawk-eagles and black mambas ('The Tree We Left Behind'), villagers' beliefs, and "dust-driven whirlwinds ... women running//and shouting in Memba Chili mupepei!/ Chili mupepe! The dry heat, the drum beat, / the wind that zipped inside itself and exploded." ('I'm Listening to Forecasts of Violent Winds').

Ardern-Jones becomes a nurse and finds herself caring for a dying missionary doctor who tells her stories about his life in Africa. There is a spiritual link between them: “later that night I felt his presence / in my nurses room / he knew he was my first ever death”. (A Place in My Heart: the Missionary Doctor in the Ward’). There is the pride she takes in her job – ‘I Speak for Nurses Worldwide’ – and fond farewells to and memories of beloved elderly relatives, admiration for a supermarket eccentric, and a man from Sierra Leone who serves in a railway refreshment kiosk. These are observant poems of empathy, as you might imagine from a nurse, and there are many in this collection to make you smile.

The language of the poems is approachable, and they often flash with vivid images. A number of the poems have achieved success in competitions, and Audrey Ardern-Jones lists tutors and mentors that have helped her over the years. But her story and insights are her own; and a fascinating tale it is, too, warmly told. The poet is artist in residence of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and all profits from her book are being given to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

 

Audrey Ardern-Jones, Doing the Rounds, Indigo Dreams, £9.99

 

 

 

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