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The Blackcountryman poems of Jim William Jones Part 1.

Jim William Jones was a Black Country poet who contributed numerous poems to the first 25 years of the Blackcountryman from 1967 to 1992. He is perhaps best known for his dialect poems, some of which can be found in two small publications by the Society – “From under the smoke” from 1972 and “Factory and Fireside” from 1974, both sadly long out of print. His contributions to the Blackcountryman were however largely in standard English. Jim Jones was born in 1923 and died in 1993, and to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 30th anniversary of his death, I will post a number of his Blackcountryman poems over the next few weeks. Whilst his dialect poems displayed a gentle humour, those in standard English are generally darker and more serious in tone, and this will be reflected in my choice of those I include in the posts. I readily admit I am not a poet, but I find much of his work gracious and moving. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Chris Baker

The first poem is from the Blackcountryman Number 3,2 1970 and is entitled "Night Shift" which, as with many of his poems, gives an atmospheric account of Black Country industry, both the good and the bad bits.

Night Shift

Amongst the incessant din,

A deliberate power-hammer

Comes thudding in,

Beating the juice out of succulent iron.

Black, half naked Titans.

Rush plastic bars

Like hot sealing wax

Between gleaming rolls.

You can take a peep of hell

Through a tiny disc of glass;

See the restless Lucifer

Dancing in the pit of the cupola,

Bright enough to blind.

Out on a narrow rail,

Above the reek of the furnace,

One grabs out to inhale

The cool breeze of the night.

Sulpherous vapour,

Streaked with pungent bitterness,

Shudders the bright points of light.

The moon rolls out

From a drift of cloud,

Spreading a silver shroud

On roof sheets

Throwing shadows down

From the steel bars of dead cranes.

Beyond the gleaming curve of a bridge,

Lazy water blinks a thousand eyes.

The projectile roar of trains

Fills the deep bowl of sky,

And a distant bell tolls for the dawn.

The second of the poems is from the Blackcountryman Number 8.18.1 1974, and is a painful account of the aftermath of an industrial accident - "Compensation".


When the policeman came

I was frying egg and chops,

And singing the latest pops.

He cleared his throat and said

Jim was dead!

Killed by a falling billet from a crane.

No pain, he said.

Instant death!

My wide world shuddered and reeled;

The chops and egg congealed.

I sat a long time staring, without sight

I lay, unsleeping, all that night.

They were kind; the neighbours,

And my mother,

She cried at times I knew, hidden,

But not with me.

They would not let me see

The body in its box

“It’s best!” they said

“You would not want to see him dead

- the way he died—

Let him be!”

Then one day they sent for me

Down at the works.

They said there would be compensation

“A very tragic situation!

I’m sure you know how we all feel,

Jim was a good chap

Good at his job…..”

I answered with a sob,

To hear such praise

For him that lay in earth,

Cold in endless dark.

When the cheque arrived

My mother smiled, and said,

“Jim is dead; you are alive!

Now we must strive

To live on and forget -

At least to try.”

I do not cry; not any more

Tears will not come,

Nor will the smiles he loved to see;

For I am rich,

Richer than I ever dreamed,

When he and I sat and schemed

And counted five, or ten, or twenty

As our bonanza.

Now there are plenty,

Many thousands; one by one

To count alone

And weigh against

The many thousand kisses that are gone.

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