I’ve recently discovered David Jones – not the David Bowie one (that was my teens), nor the one from the 60s pop group the Monkees (childhood). This David Jones was a Modernist painter and poet, born in 1895 in Kent and died in 1975. In recent months there have been a couple of BBC documentaries about him because he served in France during the first World War, which is having its centennials. He sketched daily life in the trenches while he was in them and later produced a series of haunting paintings of the scarred landscapes. But he also painted post-war life in Britain, using original mixes of artist tools and media.
Jones’ most famous written work is his book In Parenthesis, a prose poem of novel length, described by T.S. Eliot as ‘a work of genius.’ Though his name doesn’t pop up with the War Poets, in some collections he is classified as one and this long poem is based on his experiences in The Great War, as it’s called in Britain. Like the work of other Modernists, Jones’ writing can be complex – the way the mind works – and obscure as the main character, a soldier, tries to make sense of his place in the battlefield and in life.
The Jones’ revival, as it’s being called in the broadsheets, actually started over a year ago, when several museums across the country had exhibitions of his paintings, sketches and engravings. But now his poetry is also enjoying a resurgence – Amazon has a waiting list for the reprint of In Parenthesis.
It’s never too late to discover a painter or writer. These works are from the past without a doubt but the experience of them is very much in my present. Their moving sense of humanity outstrips the politics of their day and of our own.