I must start the year by marking the passing of a friend, the poet Cynthia Jobin, who died peacefully the December past. Cynthia was a greatly talented poet, whose poetry touched those who had the luck to discover it. She was also, as I got to know through her visits to my site, and mine to hers, a warm-hearted and generous person.
Cynthia started posting her poetry on WordPress late in life after the death of her husband, some of which she had written earlier in her life and some of which was new. She was never picked up by a publisher, but she self-published a collection of her poetry a couple of years ago and was pondering a second publication when she learned of her illness. If proof were needed that in the great 21st century glut of self -published and online-published literature there exists some great undiscovered talents, then Cynthia is that proof. Although it should be said that she certainly had been discovered by those who regularly visited and enjoyed her blog, leaving sincere appreciations of her poems.
I know a lot of the people reading poetry or blogs about poetry online are aspiring poets – and I guess about half of those who read this blog are. They could do a lot worse than look to Cynthia as a model. Her poetry was technically and formally polished: the syllables well weighted, the rhyme impressive, sometimes virtuoso, the tension between natural rhythm of speech and the demands of a traditional form perfectly balanced. She had felt her way around several traditional forms, from the sonnet to the rondeau, and experimented with some lesser known ones to good effect, most recently the ghazal. Her language was rich, yet controlled, her vocabulary enviably wide; and she was at home in of a range of registers, from the mildly whimsical to just short of sombre.
It was obvious that she was well read in poetry, and her reading stretched far and wide, both geographically (as her use of the Arab form, the ghazal attests) and temporally, being at home as much with 15th century French poets as 20th century Americans. Like many of the best poets her influences were evident, but not overpowering, and of her own voice comes through, rooted in her own place, in her case northern New England, whose colours and textures she captures so well.
Her poetry touched people because it so well expressed those thoughts and feelings that are so hard to express. She was frank and honest on the hard parts of life, yet delicate too, never wallowing in sadness or grief, but acknowledging it. Her poems on the loneliness and sense of absence after her husband’s death were as affecting as Hardy’s. And she wrote inside other people’s experience too – she has a poem touching on Alzheimers which is the best I have read on that difficult topic. AS well as the deep stuff, she could capture more fleeting, marginal feelings – the strange mourning of an aunt you hardly knew, our strange feelings towards our pets and the foreboding of an oncoming winter; one of her poems on the latter was also a meditation on her sense of the approach of death.
But her poetry was full of joy, too. The joys of nature, of gardening, of reflection and thinking and wordplay and even of poetry itself. She did whimsy exceptionally well – even in many very good poet’s hands it can quickly grate, but she had a skill for it. I always learned something from reading Cynthia’s poems – a new word, or an unknown piece of flora or fauna, sometimes a poetic form, or, through reading people’s responses and her replies, a poet to look up. And from some of her poetry, I could even learn a little about – how to say – life itself, how to approach it, how to live it. The poem I have chosen to feature is a perfect example of that. ‘It’s Madness’ was inspired by a quotation from the Czech poet Czeslaw Milosz, ‘It’s madness to live without joy.’ I can’t quite believe I didn’t comment on it at the time – she was a more generous commenter than I was – but reading through her book recently, I saw it a second or third time, and it seemed a particularly apposite poem for the new year.
It’s madness to live without joy, to will
to wake and look forward to nil,
to drag a dull clod through the day
with little to give or to say,
to keep going nowhere, uphill–
That’s the first stanza. Please read the rest here… and stay a while to get to know Cynthia Jobin the poet, whose poetry will endure.
As for Cynthia Jobin the person, she is no longer with us and I will miss her. Although I only ever spoke to her online, I came to think of her as a friend. Along with the other regular commenter here, John Looker (another published poet), she made blogging seem like something more than an indulgent hobby. She was a thoughtful reader, a generous commenter (always replying to comments on her own blog as well) and a wise and witty conversationist. May she rest in peace.