Reviewing STORMLIGHT by Jan Woolf (Riversmeet Press 2019)
Accessible fiction with style allows the hidden light to shine brightly.
And so it proves with these stories, sourced from Jan Woolf’s private flame.
Now made public, released into the stream that entrances, Riversmeet Press
Sets words sailing in a beautiful book for thought’s game.
For Woolf is always playful; her wit and way with words sets banks singing,
As the song of inspiration flows for us, we see in these tales each bright catch:
Stories borne from retirement and life change, scenes from the political spectrum,
From the personal realm to the shared one, here are hearts and minds,
Like wild salmon, upstreaming fast currents and never of course turning back.
Each storm wields its light, either through attack, or cessation, as the characters
In these stories each have a means of control. They know their fate and fight it,
Or blithely accept life’s direction, as with the opening Icarus ramblers,
Where an enraged wife strifes her husband by hurling at him a steadying walking pole.
Women emerge through men’s mist, and here we witness Woolf’s wisdom,
As she traces the comic across the bewildering landscape of age.
There is humour abroad and in the home of the heart that she details.
There are the every day dramas and Soap Operatic Arias on each page.
In Beyond the Coin, Management Executives wilt before the power-point preen
Of progress, In Fugue the funeral of a respected Socialist sparks memories
Of former Spitfires and sets a commemorative cello’s comment poignantly
Into chase. Each vignette lands and charms, forming a much grander
Perspective as Woolf’s own progression as writer, activist, woman and definer
Of truth attains place. Yet this is a book of photographs too,
Snapshots from the life that’s she’s witnessed, some as they happened
And some of course forged by art. Eulogy for a Defiant Gardener stuns
As his time musing daughter sows tribute; over thirteen years, as narrator
She speaks to past, present and future and plants for a lifetime
The renewable fruit of the heart. With her working class father employed
By the english gentry, each stance of resistance ensures that those rosebeds
Of class are soon pruned. The garden metaphor roots the political weeds
Wound around us, with love and time passing chorusing behind the dawn’s
Bird spun tune.
The sentences celebrate elegance:
‘When I was thirteen and you forty four, I trod on a snail. I laughed when once
I’d have cried… You looked upset as you said, ‘They look like burned out tanks..’
One Summer evening rinsed in birdsong, I came to see you in the kitchen garden,
loving you as much as ever..’Mind you don’t stain them trousers,’ you’d said,
as I brushed by the raspberry canes, the fruit falling at a touch.’
As they subtly alter perception. They have the grace of a poem and the broad
Appeal of TV, as the stark Stormlight shines we are all too aware of life’s dangers
While still seeking sensation in these written lessons for what we have become
Or could be. In Babes in Arms, the borough of Barnet is seen as a tremulous
Enclave for encounters between youth and age in a stare off between a cinema full
Of young mothers and a female pensioner. The council fear paedophiles,
Even at this time in the morning, as societal fears and pressure assault a brave woman
Outraged and defiant before a false nomenclature. Admitted, finally, the story
On screen projects inwards, as the older woman remembers the abortion that birthed
Her life’s fate. And yet the telling prose remains calm. Woolf is in control at all stages.
Having reached a certain age she is sanguine when faced with the absurdities
Around hate. And so the fine details accrue; the story vignette The English Teacher
Is a dialogue poem. The Baton features Sidmouth as a site to anniversarise CND.
The first Brexit Referendum divides a mother and daughter in Poles Apart’s
Slick concision. Argument, fear and reason rumbling like thunder as it advances
Towards us to test the splintered temperaments of the free.
From the toilet bound Napoleonic visions of Ten in a Day, with its ‘flat as a fart’
Open humour, to Voice Over’s combustible tension as a frustrated actress gives way,
Woolf walks the world from funerary reflections on Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh,
Straight to Castro, portraits etched and rendered as each subject receives
Crafted cover and the numerous protagonists have their say.
If a poem contains a novel’s worth full of meaning, so these brisk
Yet elegant stories whisper in our ear and inform.
Conflicts in Lebanon all combine within Sugar Plum, a truly sour sweet
Telling, as Zeina’s abdomen houses secrets that are only truly unravelled in war.
And so Woolf creates work from the political storms she has lived through,
Casting art as her light source and her spotlight too on the wrong.
Whether it is the destruction of the socialist dream under the blight of Blair
In You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, the book’s closing playlet,
Or the elderly homeless couple in Christmist, each tale is a cry, scream
And song. From the playlet’s ingenious Science Fiction/Fact of Socialist
Decrepitude to contemporary parlance, I love you Babes mixes
With ‘ripples of breeze around the earth’. An ancient Holy Man welcomes death
In Navaswan, near exultant, while the Mother of World War One’s last survivor
Writes him a letter, as two centuries find connection and her redacted love tokens
Signal both one man’s death and truth’s birth. What do we do with the wise
At an unguarded time is the question. As rivering through these stories are the forces
And drives of the old. They know so much more than the young, and not just because
They’ve lived longer, but because in their living they knew what it was to be bold.
To have to make specific choices and face the spurious demands of an era
In which the left to right struggle was the kind of wound that won’t close.
Now as things slide, the bite of the night closes on us and Woolf,
In her howling is crossing field, battleground, stream and road.
These stories entertain, educate, encourage us all and enlighten,
In Riversmeet’s beautiful volume you can keep in coat pockets
All that the past is still owed. For there is honour in here,
The defiant Gardener conveys that. Here, too, there is power,
The harsh winds of fate and scars sewn. Along with a life fully lived,
Thanks to this most appealing of writers. Each wolf within’s howling also,
But having seen the world’s wreckage, Jan seeks repair and is calling,
As someone tells us a story they invite us in and are knocking.
Despite the seeming calm, storms are shining.
And while walls maybe shaking there is no need to worry.
Read and then ready yourself to be open. Time has tales
For the telling and there Jan Woolf is, at your door.
‘She steps back into the silence she has created..’.
Where rivers meet the land listens.
Here are hers and your stories,
Each animal solves its wildness.
It is the only way to learn more.
David Erdos, December 30th 2019
Book £10 from Amazon
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Pre-launch signed copies of Stormlight available at –http://janwoolf.com