I was recently sent this beautiful pamphlet of poems by Sheila Jacob. I have just started reading it, turning the thick cream-coloured pages with pleasure. The opening poem had me hooked, as the poet goes through a photo album full of happy memories, until she reaches blank pages when her father stopped taking photos. The last few lines are a punch in the gut: ‘as though Dad’s box-Brownie/ saw him cough into his handkerchief/ and clouded its glassy eye’ (Camera Shy). Another poem compares the poet to the son she could have been and all the things she couldn’t be to please him, because she was a girl. But the epiphany of the poem is realised when the father is angry for her bad Maths scores, and she can say sorry to her father, hug him, and do all the other things her non-existent brother cannot. True, he can’t fail, but nor can he laugh, run and jump, sip pop through a straw, or cry against dad’s shoulder. (A Boy Called Anthony). Her father’s early death affected her deeply, and she remembers the dreadful experience of watching him fade, and losing him, in poems full of loving details, focusing on things like a bird caught in his sickroom because he always had the window open. ‘Rulers and Jacket’ is full of wonderful but poignant tactile memories of his working with leather at Remploy, then when he became to ill to work, sewing leather at home to make a knitting needle case for his wife, patchwork bags, paw pads for teddies. This is just a taster of these loving, yet never for a second sentimental poems. Working class, Catholic background, I also recognise many of the details of Jacob’s childhood.
Although this publication is all Jacob’s poems collected together so far, I hope she will continue writing and in time, produce further pamphlets. I shall be returning to these poems for further savouring. These poems are assured, confident, and what I would call ‘the real thing’. It’s not just the preserve of big name poets to write movingly and skilfully. These poems had to be written. They are sure-footed and I feel enlarged by having read them, reliving their memories alongside the poet.
Thank you Sheila Jacob, for making a present of this book to me. I am honoured by your acknowledgment in the back, in your list of poets who inspire you. You have inspired me with these poems. Please don’t stop writing.