Review for Outlandish by Jo Clement, Bloodaxe Books, May 26th 2022
Outlandish is a work of lyric sustenance to hungered palettes; as one with a strong familial root to regional dialect, I can assure that you, too, will find joy and ease in the speaking of these poems aloud, (my Midlands ‘Os sees your Northumbrian Hoss and we wave a greeting); for the rich joy and embodied power of Jo Clement’s voice, for the sheer love of bardic memory and speaking in tongues. As British Romani of contemporary years, I recognise the edge-dwelling motifs of a childhood between the estate of ‘Teesdale Erratics’, the state classroom, the formal riding lesson (singular), the open field; rag and bone old iron rounds, elders in the yard; the wagons and carts visioned in ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’.
Clement charts a course across timelines and between the subtle (unless you’re in it) divide between ‘Family Silver’ mixed ethnicity, class, culture, education, North and South; of a British Gypsy Child’s experience inside a shifting social construct; we (as a wider collective of contemporary British Romani, that is to say, family) each have our own understood spectrum of personal passing and immersion, and each differs, acknowledged with respect. I make this point to remind us all that ones ethnic culture must be entirely claimed to be honoured in the telling, lest anaemia pale the blood and the words, risk a real lack of meaning, life force bleeding out… it does us no good to walk around disintegrated and lost. Jo Clement’s work is a healing remedy to this phenomena, she claims us and requires us to be honest with ourselves, and in turn, validates our sense of betweenness, our feet in two worlds imperfectly leaping the cultural brook with as much pride and respect as we can hope for, to risk feeling, and all that brings.
In ‘Market’ the glaring eye of (contemporary) cultural appropriation touches young women older than their years, makes them outcast models for middle class brats whose carpet-bagging mothers cherry pick aesthetics through their privilege. The poems themselves, each a layered chapter of opening and persona; the powerful mother-luck of ‘Smithsong’, blessing babies with prayers, the promise of coins-in-hand to follow, and faith is never more personal than the artefacts of a life spent calling in good fortune. How Nature herself speaks from the prose of ‘Vault’ as a time-keeper, back and back further still. The wing-beat music of ‘King Faa’, making horses into Pegasus; the unspoken secret of ‘Cobsong’.
In Outlandish, Jo Clement is practically-nostalgic (in antidote to any notion of romantic-heritage); I find great joy in her charting the practice of craft-making to meet the needs of the Gorgers, forging a linguistic link-by-link map of (obscured if not hidden) British History itself, lived from a wholly unique ethnic narrative, that of the British Gipsies, Wordsworth’s pastoral speck, as figured in ‘Knots’. The hand-made baskets, pegs, flowers, rags make way for a new century and new ways to deal; horses and cars, scrap, copper, ceramic… (and if I had not hawked flowers myself at Hackney Wick, charmed a council trading officer as my license was pending, I’d have found another way to claim my inheritance, in the cards, across a palm, the sale of gold…).
In the poetry of Outlandish, Clement forms a soundscape of a world just beyond the ear of settled experience, and reading, having a keen ear for our people, the senses come alive; my ears prick-up fox-like, and I remember how my mother taught me the names of birds and hedgerow plants, how my great aunties told stories with great mirth, how my uncle washed over a basin in the back yard after a day of labouring. I realise now, through the reflections Outlandish provides, these are precious mirrors back into our collective memory; the collective memory of British Gypsy Ways… if you know, you know.
The cover image by Tim Walker of Delaine Le Bas, reminds me of a photograph of my own Romani mother in the 1950’s, wearing a similar embroidered skirt and waistcoat, the gold ring; some impossible echo of the handmade, the detail, the familiar strength in Le Bas’ direct gaze; here is a treasure in my hands, this is memory.
In the poetry of Jo Clement, I witness my own diasporic experiences, my incidentals and my blood memories, right here, in Outlandish, and I find I understand; I am understood, I am found.
Imogen Bright Moon, 26th May, 2022
To purchase your copy of Outlandish and read more about Jo Clement and her writing, please see the links below;