JO REED – ‘STONE VENUS’ (VALLEY PRESS)
REVIEW by STEVE RUDD
A lifetime in-the-writing, this sumptuous collection of thirty-eight poems delights the senses whilst fortifying one’s imagination. Proving herself to be an artiste in every sense of the word, North Yorkshire-based poet Jo has evidently – and wisely – invested eons of quality time into the crafting of the material which dominates her very first book of poetry.
From the reflective nature of opening masterwork ‘Embarkations’ (‘… an old life pours down steep stairs’), the reader is lured onto a journey of the most formidable and hypnotic order. Taking her audience figurative and geographical places not usually courted by fellow poets, Jo transports all those who are lucky enough to read her entrancing work. Whether she’s focusing on ‘fox-trots with Eros’ in ‘Piccadilly Circus’, or entering ‘bleak palaces on the arms of Poet Princes’ in the Egypt-anchored majesty of ‘Life Class’, you can be assured that Jo’s detail-laced writing is destined to move you on every level.
It’s clear to read that Jo’s experienced a remarkable life less ordinary. She’s lived all over England for a start, having been born in Durham, before spending time in Norfolk, Surrey and Lincolnshire. Currently calling the seaside resort of Scarborough ‘home’, she wields that ever-so-rare knack of pitting people into arresting scenarios, painting lavish pictures with words that seem to be very carefully chosen by default.
One may be reminded of Dorian Gray’s fate as they lap up ‘Vanity’ (‘… you bared lupine teeth into the smiling surfaces of silver teapots’), before the short but perfectly eloquent ‘Woman Drinker’ coquettishly threatens to stall readers in their tracks given its succinct brilliance, ‘A glass fan reflecting the glare of all who desired her’. ‘Suffolk Romance’, meanwhile, stops time ‘as green horizons wash velvet over the village’. As if to purposefully counter such ruralised innocence, ‘Two Crows’ (‘… entwined in anger’) promptly manages to startle, its descriptive focus utterly compelling in tone. ‘Hill Farm’ goes on to prove to be the most haunting poem on offer, the brief beauty of ‘Making Silk’ hankering after the collection’s ‘Most Magical’ title.
All poems sit beside one another as though their order evolved organically over time and through space. Not a single word is out of place, as reminded when the breathtaking power of ‘Violin Section, 1941’ proceeds to glue readers to their respective seats with ‘music perverted into an instrument of death’. As stark as relevant language allows, Jo never shies away from being brutal when she needs to be in order to heighten the emotional impact of her poems. Refusing to sentimentalise her work for the sake of doing so, her extraordinary poetry remains true as a direct result of her searing honesty. Far from being enslaved by the language that she so clearly adores, Jo uses the English language to her own ends, her energising mastery of wordplay guaranteed to delight readers of all ages.
Having recently completed an MA in Creative Writing, it’s heartening to see that her talents have been brought to the literary fore with this genuinely stunning collection from ‘Valley Press’. Reeling from the strength of material within, let’s hope Jo succeeds in collating supplementary material – old and new – for publication in the near future.