Arnolds Wood is a
collection of poems written by Jeremy Hooker for his friend Les Arnold, who
died, aged 49, in 1992. The poems, thirty one in total - one sharp, untitled
poem on each unnumbered page - serve as a kind of communion between the two
men across the invisible terrain of the living and the dead. They are
intended to be read as a single 'movement', rather than as individual poems.
Honest and explorative, they sidestep self-indulgence and, within the poems,
we glimpse the vital presence of poet-teacher Les Arnold himself:
where we see
The place of communion, for Hooker, is the poem itself:
I want to
talk to is alive
in the detail
of his poems.
Hooker eschews the act of writing merely about Arnold, relegating him to past tense. Instead he
wants to 'talk to' him. Arnold
is the animating voice of his own poems and Hooker responds by seeking a
mutual 'location' to share in distilled 'conversation'(remembering that 'Con
- vers - ation' (from Latin) means 'to turn with' and perhaps, also, as Paul
Matthews puts it, 'to make verse together':
I could call
him out, ask
I am making
is a place he
As Hooker says in his preface, 'inevitably, [this poetry has] elegiac
elements; but elegy is not its main aim. I think of it, rather, as the
'space' between us. The space of the poems is the ground we shared, as poets,
as teachers, as men with a love of nature and landscape...'
Hooker, through the act of writing, is attempting an act of place-making:
What I want
to make for us
is a place in
The poems move through the seasons as they move through stages of grief. The
imagery in the opening poem is that of a chill February: 'The wind was cold,
and felt like snow'. This is the day that friends of Arnold plant trees, in
his name. The title of this collection, Arnolds Wood, has no apostrophe after 'Arnold', nothing to
suggest 'ownership'. The trees are planted for their own sake, in a spirit of
giving, to echo the quality of the man they commemorate.
Grief, and the voicing of grief, is acknowledged by Hooker:
that have to
be spoken ...
The need to express profound feeling is a primary act for the poet. In
Hooker's skilled hands, however, emotion never blurs worked-for depth. The
journey towards acceptance of loss also includes sudden re-emerged pain:
We get used
Then one day,
we do not
he will not
Inevitably, the sequence becomes a meditation on death itself and Hooker
doesn't shy away from dwelling on the questions it raises for himself and for
of oneself as absent,
in the world.
However, it is clear that the meditation leads Hooker to a quality of depth
that, though hard won, serves to better illuminate life:
To live for
I see we need
The word 'somehow', given its own line, hangs on the tongue - is almost a
hesitation, a bewilderment - and suggests the limits to human understanding
and the mystery of death that we must all live with. And yet it is through
death that life, as meaningful and precious, gets thrown into relief.
Quantity ('to live for ever') is not the point; quality is. Love.
For Hooker, Arnold, the inspirer and enabler of others, remains a teacher to
It is just
to make a
friend of death.
Arnolds Wood is a striking
sequence of poems that ultimately celebrate life in all its transience and
fragility. It is also about the enduring nature of friendship. These poems
carry a listening silence in their bones; it is what nourishes their marrow.
Yet the necessity for utterance is there, each poem a testimony to being
here. They acknowledge the intimate
relationship between form and emptiness. In this way, speaker and listener
are bound into a seamless whole.
 Arnold used this quotation by William Carlos Williams as epigraph for his
own sequence of poems entitled 'Shaker City' (in Shaker City, Stride, 1998). Arnold was deeply interested in the
Shakers, their pared down aesthetics, and 'the coherence of their lives
[which] serve as images of wholeness' (quoted by Hooker in his short essay on
Arnold's poetry in Arnolds Wood).
 Matthews, Paul Sing Me the Creation (Hawthorn Press, 1994)