Michael Tolkien

This House My Ghetto (Seren)

(Publ. in Agenda vol.37 No.1 Summer 1999)     


  Peter Finch's applause for Jenkins as 'one of the wild men of poetry...a Mr Oblong in a square hole' sells him short, while the soberer blurb sidelines his eclectic materials as 'something he makes room for'. His outlook is humane, uncompromising, inclusive, and at its best his technique feels like a charioteer reining in fiery steeds. Narratives, like Odd Bird about a zany chaffinch, twist and turn without snagging on digression; and if he is a rebel he has a cause: keep your pores open or die complacent. He shares his outrage and only bullies when he trowels on the venom or squalor.

 There's range of subject and style. Childhood reminiscences are racy, though that tricky presence, the retrospective adult, is sometimes too dab-handed. A coolly understated love sequence exposes through images of immediate surroundings the gaps, including a cultural divide, that suddenly yawn under a heady closeness. In contrast he delivers welterweight punches at cure-alls and the sillier fanaticisms of mass leisure. He rattles off portraits of familiar people, eccentrics and imagined personas with tenderness, wit and apt shifts of tone. 'Waiting For the Train That Never Comes' dramatises in one focus every phase from youth to senility, and we can recognise our own obsessions in his aunt's

                      questioning doors to be let in

                      and clocks for never answering

                      and her grandson for letting strangers

                      use her home like some station.

 The title poem 'This House my Ghetto' is the monologue of an established immigrant who suffers alienation but understands why he's victimised. The poet distils here his own uneasy relationship with a disintegrating world. Landscapes that should be cleansing and uplifting, new homes that dehumanise, even skips of 'scraps and pickings' are at once tangible and metaphorical. Settings in which he challenges the torpor of TV with heartrending glimpses of innocence and defiance in war: Jasmina blown to pieces because she loved the snow and Vedran Smailovic, a cellist who

                      ... plays on streets where lame

                      buildings hobble before falling down.

  Jenkins is unfailingly himself. The discerning who take him on his own terms won't feel compromised.




Mike Jenkins