Through My Father’s Eyes, Collected Poems by Sheila Jacob / Review, Interview, Poems
” . . . Two months later
you were hurried to the hospital
and died within the week.
“I stuffed your letters in a drawer
and found your fountain pen,
the ink inside still wet.”
excerpt from Letters From Home in Though My Father’s Eyes
I am often hesitant to review and recommend self-published books. Sometimes it seems that however talented and well-intentioned the poet, their collection needed another eye, an editor. We all need one frankly. Having said that, I am pleased with Sheila Jacob’s book as I knew I would be. Sheila did invite feedback from an editor and other poets before finalizing this volume, which I have now read twice and with great pleasure. Such is our humanity and the power of poetry that we can touch hearts across 3,500 miles and the wide Atantic.
Sheila, whose father died when she was thirteen, and I couldn’t be closer in terms of time (I’m a bit older than she is), roots (working class), and parents born on the cusp of or not long after WW I. Our parents were the hard-worked people of the global Great Depression and WW II. They were people who who kept their pain private, lived in gray cities, walked hard streets to work in factories and knew how to squeeze a penny. These elements are one reason why Sheila’s poems spoke to me, but I also know that her poems – this collection – will speak to anyone who values fine poetry as well as their own roots and their own loves and who have had to come to terms with loss and grief. Who among us has not? This small volume is a victory over sorrow and confusion and it brings to life one father and his daughter in all their loveable complex humanity. Recommended. / J.D.
The Doctors said I was a goner. You know the rest,
duck, an Irish nurse slipped a Lourdes medal
under my pillow and hours later I woke up, found
I could breathe on my own and talk.
You used to love the story.
Ah, yes, I see, perhaps I did make a meal
of it, ignored how I felt living through
the Blitz and coming home on leave
to streets of rubble.
I was loaded with memories
you were too innocent
excerpt from War Record in Through My Father’s Eyes
The poems and excerpts from poems in Through My Father’s Eyes are published here today with Sheila’s permission.
JAMIE: Not to diminish the extraordinary quality of your work and how meaningful it will be to others who read it, but writing these poems must have been cathartic for you. Did you come away from the writing feeling healed?
SHEILA: Yes, I did feel healed. Putting words on paper and clarifying my thoughts helped me make sense of my dad’s death, my reaction to it and my overall relationship with him. It enabled me to continue the grieving process which didn’t really begin until I was an adult and had left home. My parents, aunts and uncles, were from the post-war stiff-upper-lip generation who refused to dwell on grief. After Dad’s funeral they carried on as before with very little show of outward emotion and I was encouraged to do the same. My mum had always been a reserved person; she retreated into herself and never spoke to me about Dad even in the most general terms. I was angry and bewildered at the time though now I understand that it was the only way she could cope.
I suspect there are poems waiting to be written about my mum’s experience: written, hopefully, with the generosity of spirit I didn’t have as a teenager and young adult. And I’m still writing “Dad” poems. The past never stays still.
I also found it necessary- and therapeutic – to explore my dad’s boyhood, which seems to have been a happy one despite financial deprivations, his love of football, and his time in the army during WW II. This gave me a fresh sense of belonging to and being rooted in my Birmingham past.
JAMIE: I seem to remember that you mentioned having stopped writing poetry for years and then started again. What triggered your reengagement with poetry?
SHEILA: This began in 2013 during an episode of depression. I consulted a clinical psychologist, a most remarkable man with whom I am still in touch. He’d encountered the work of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath in his professional capacity. When he discovered I used to read and write poetry, he strongly encouraged me to start again.
I remember how I‘d been seeing him for a few weeks and he suddenly said “Write a poem on the sessions so far.”
I cobbled something together for our next appointment and also dusted off my poetry library, mostly collections by Gillian Clarke, R.S.Thomas and T.S. Eliot. I continued writing, for his eyes only at first. This gradually expanded. I read a lot about poetry as therapy and wrote a small piece about my own experience for Rachel Kelly’s Blog. Rachel is the author of Black Rainbow, an account of her long struggle against depression and the positive part reading poetry played in her recovery.
I found a website called Creative Writing Ink and took a beginner’s poetry course with a perceptive and experienced tutor, an Irish poet, Eileen Casey. Her feedback was invaluable. I began subscribing to various poetry magazines and, eventually, submitting.
JAMIE: In what ways has involvement with online poetry groups been productive for you?
SHEILA: They’ve helped greatly with the quality of my poems. I tend not to write one word when ten will do. I’ve learned/am learning to be more economical and precise with my use of words. My poems are still on the long side but I write in a narrative style that I think lends itself to the longer poem. I’m not a great lover of form but I’ve written sestinas, non-rhyming sonnets, tankas, cinquains and, of course, haiku which really concentrate the mind. I pay more attention to line breaks, line lengths and stanza lengths. I never used to edit my poems let alone re-edit them. Now, I often leave troublesome ones to cook for months before I return to them.
It’s been enriching to discover the work of a wide variety of poets, living and deceased, and to explore different subject matter. I’ve done courses in ekphrastic poetry, poems of trauma, poems of protest, and poems of place. The most recent course I did was with Jonathan Edwards’ for The Poetry School where he asked us to “step into someone else’s shoes” and write from the point of view of an animal, a building, and an inanimate object, amongst others. I found this very enjoyable and liberating.
The second benefit of poetry groups is the undoubtedly the fellowship. I’ve received valuable, constructive feedback, I’ve met poets from all over the globe, read styles of poetry I wouldn’t otherwise have engaged with and formed lasting, supportive friendships.
JAMIE: You chose to self-publish, which is something a lot of readers are contemplating. Why did you do so and what was the experience like?
SHEILA: I would have preferred to publish my chapbook with an established poetry press but the ones I submitted to didn’t like my work well enough to take it on. I have no hard feelings about this. Maybe I should have tried more publishers and waited longer for submission openings but I’m almost sixty nine and didn’t feel that time was on my side.
There was also an emotional element involved. I wanted closure from this particular set of poems by sending them out into the world sooner rather than later. I’d worked hard on them over the years and felt there was a niche for them somewhere in the poetry world.
I did a mentoring course with Wendy Pratt, a lovely lady and a very fine poet. I sent her a proposed collection to critique and she immediately suggested that I should focus solely on the poems about my Dad. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to self-publish. I also had a lot of support from a Facebook friend Jenni and a local poet friend David Subacchi who has self-published quite a few books and encouraged me to “just do it” without worrying that they weren’t “proper” poems or that it wasn’t a “proper” book.
Once I felt that the poems were as good as I could make them the actual publishing was very straightforward. I contacted a reputable local publisher, David Bentley, whose ideas on layout were useful. He suggested using a thicker, creamy paper to correspond with the memoir theme of the poems.
This wasn’t a cheap process but I had money saved for it and wanted to be in control of the proceedings on the ground rather than through a computer. If I self-publish again I may well take a different approach.
To purchase this little gem of a volume, contact Sheila directly at email@example.com
The Power of Flight
After you died
the echo of your cough
roamed the house.
When a dark shape
filled your bedroom’s
I ran to tell Mum,
who ran next door,
both of us unnerved
by the bird’s frantic
tumble of feathers
and whirr of wings.
It’s just a young one
our neighbour laughed
and calmed it with a lift
of her hands,
steered it towards
the power of flight,
the possibility of song.
A Boy Called Anthony
Anthony would serve at Mass, ring the consecration bell.
Anthony would play 5-a-side football, win gold trophies.
Anthony would pass his 11-plus, go to St. Philip’s School.
When the midwife cried “It’s a girl” Dad searched
for new names, called me after his favourite sister, he sang
pat-a-cake and bake it in the oven for Sheila and me.
I couldn’t be an altar boy but knew the Latin responses,
couldn’t play football but watched with Dad at Villa Park,
passed my 11-plus, went to St. Paul’s where the nuns taught.
When end-of-term results grew worse, Dad grew angry.
I scowled, sulked- I’d tried my best, just didn’t like Maths.
You should have been a boy called Anthony, Dad snapped.
Anthony would have excelled in Maths, Physics and Science.
Anthony wouldn’t have answered back, chewed his nails,
muttered bloody hell, been sent to his room in disgrace.
Anthony, I realised then, would never fail or win, Anthony
couldn’t drink dandelion-and-burdock through a straw,
Anthony couldn’t laugh, skip, scrage his knee and bleed.
Anthony would never run to Dad, blurt out I’m very sorry,
I promise not to be rude again. He couldn’t hug Dad, weep
against Dad’s shoulder, smell the Brylcreem in Dad’s hair.
Don’t forget it’s nearly Father’s Day
As if I could forget how it fell
two days after they lowered
his coffin into the earth
though fifty-odd years ago
I was spared online adverts
for Ben Sherman socks
and flagons of Dior Savauge.
As I’d have offered such gifts
to a man whose socks
were hand-knitted, darned
at the heel with love;
whose favourite cologne
was pure Welsh water
splashed from the cold tap.
As if I wouldn’t make each day
a day to remember had he lived
He’d be a frail centenarian
I’d cosset with chunky scarves
and camphor oil; open the old
draughts board knowing
he’d outplay me every time.
– Sheila Jacob
SHEILA JACOB was born and raised in Birmingham, England and lives with her husband in Wrexham, on the Welsh border. Her poetry has been published in several U.K. magazines and webzines. She recently self-published her short collection of poems that form a memoir to her father who died in 1965. Sheila finds her 1950s childhood and family background a source of inspiration for many of her poems. You can connect with Sheila by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent in digital publications:
* Four poems , I Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019)
Upcoming in digital publications:
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review (July 2019)
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 2019)
A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraire, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale Press, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.
Email me at email@example.com for permissions, reprint rights, or comissions.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton