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Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This review of No Shore Too Far was written by Roger Druitt for Perspectives, appearing in Volume 88 No 1, December 2017-February 2018. It is a wonderfully detailed and thoughtful review, and we’re grateful to have come across it.

No Shore Too Far cover image

What a truly amazing book – anyone who does not read much is encouraged to give it a try – something new in writing!

It seemed proper to read the whole volume of these poems before reviewing but this became ever more inappropriate the further one read. The soul just refused to read on, wanting more time to digest, reflect and re-create for itself. The theme of bereavement is of course one of the most poignant imaginable but these poems are not only about that. They make up a near complete compendium of all the questions that modern people ask about life issues, many of which are quoted from source and expounded through the verses, now[sic] viewed through that dread but ultimate truth of our own mortality. Although the poems are not long, they contain width and depth in their concise phrasing and imagery; treasures to be released to quiet pondering.

Jonathan wrote these as an agreement made with Jackie, his wife, before her death three years ago, prompted by a letter she composed to be read to her children after it. Her own death had by then become inevitable, and predictably close. She demonstrated thereby her vision that there just might be a life after death, within which one could reach and embrace those remaining here. The reader discovers gradually how Jonathan built faithfully upon this. His long study of Anthroposophy has equipped him with all the facets of the spiritual dimension of life and in this small volume he has married these to the many different emotions that arose out of his loss, resulting in this series of spiritual researches, always keeping within the realm of experience and colouring it with artistic feeling rather than emotion. Thus he treads ever cautiously between reality and wishful fantasy. The poetic medium turns the emotions into objective human statements that then function as windows upon the relations between the living and the dead. There is no dogmatism either way but the possibility left open that the dead might in fact actually be alive in a mysterious way. The poems do not try to offer a proof but they do function as substance for experience, trading this path that the world talks too much about without really wanting to follow it.

Here this path is trodden courageously, making this valuable material for anyone wishing to research this still fairly taboo area in a wholesome way. Besides the bereaved, anyone engaged in any form of counselling would certainly find the poems valuable, in content as well as method. The book is an effective approach too for other realms of human life, for the threshold of death runs not far away in everything we do. We can take courage too in the substance of this researcher’s work.

The book itself is a joy to hold, the cover smooth to the touch and beautifully designed. Within, the sheer variety of subject matter and imagery is likely to touch everybody’s experience somewhere. From gardening to philosophy, from marmalade to science, there are beautiful renderings of  shared items of life becoming parables for what is truly human in the love that bridges the two worlds.

Is a co-working between two souls across the river between two worlds here demonstrated? It is certainly worth everyone’s while to find out for themselves.

At the end there is a bibliography valuable to anyone taking life’s questions seriously. The final poem, ‘Farewell’, speaks the phrase “and thought by some as dead.”. This is the gentle way Jonathan floats his ideas; but another line could sound like a suggestion that we make a new beginning with the same partner.  Some might find it hard to imagine here that in the longer run this is unlikely and we may have to face never having exactly the same relationship again. Yet the penultimate poem, ‘Exploration’, prepares us for that: “we’re huge, as huge as each new thought that takes us to those billion stars”. But the poem that opens these last three and alo gives the volume its title, ‘No Shore Too Far’, this poem is a tiny but profound dissertation on Leibniz’ question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It gives a firm ground to all the issues Jonathan has touched, including that of ultimate existence and meaning to life.


Buy the book here…

More about Perspectives here…

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Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This review of No Shore Too Far is from Towards Wholeness issue no 149 Autumn 2017. Towards Wholeness is the journal of the Friends Fellowship of Healing, which in turn is an informal group of the Religious Society of Friends. Many thanks to Judy Clinton for writing this review.

No Shore Too Far cover image

Jonathan Stedall, who made documentary films for over fifty years, largely for the BBC, wrote this series of poems for his wife, Jackie, who died in 2014 from cancer.

The author describes these poems, which were written since the death of Jackie, as meditations on death, bereavement and hope. Some of the poems are deeply personal: specifically about Jackie, Jonathan’s relationship to her and the depth of his loss and grief. Others are reflections on where this bereavement has taken Jonathan in his thoughts and feelings about ‘the Bigger Picture’ – a deeper reality within which we live and die and where, he senses, communion with the departed is still possible.

I wept my way through many of these poems – not only because they resonated with my own experiences of grief but because they connected me to ‘the Other’ – that which is mystery and deeply loving and which we can turn to for comfort, inspiration and hope.

These  are profoundly spiritual poems, written in non-religious language (although within some of them there are religious references to different traditions). They contain a gentle questioning, a human fluctuation in spiritual certainty, searching and expression of human experiences of many different kinds. Underpinning it all lies a quiet knowing that there is ‘No shore too far’. I found this to be the most beautiful, moving and thought provoking book of poetry I have read in a long time.

The preface to the book and a selection of the poems can be viewed on Jonathan Stedall’s website: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk

Buy the book here…

Towards Wholeness is the journal of the Friends Fellowship of Healing, and all members receive three issues per year. For more information about the FFH please contact David Mason, 2 Fir Avenue, New Milton, Hants, BH25 6EX, david.mason1948@gmail.com.

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Event: Jonathan Stedall interview at the Bleddfa Centre

Jonathan Stedall, author of Where on Earth is Heaven? and No Shore Too Far will be at the Bleddfa Centre on the 29th October to talk about No Shore Too Far with Nicholas Murray from Rack Press; join them for a poignant and honest evening, leavened with humour and an ultimate sense of redemption. There will also be poetry readings and a chance to ask Jonathan your own questions.

Tickets £5 to include refreshments (£4 concessions) 5:00pm – 7:00pm.

For more information and to book, please visit the Bleddfa Centre website: http://www.bleddfacentre.org/events/no-shore-too-far/

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Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This thoughtful, constructively critical review of No Shore Too Far appeared in New View issue 84, Summer 2017, and was written by David Donaldson. We love how deeply he’s thought about it, and how clearly he’s expressed his thoughts. You can find out more about New View here.

No Shore Too Far cover image

In the last issue of New View, [Spring 2017] Jonathan explained what lay behind this recent collection of poems – for in addition to finding ways to cope with the death of his wife, it also provided an opportunity to articulate the essence of what he’d gathered from over forty years as a student of Rudolf Steiner and to do that in as simple and accessible a way as possible, something for which his experience as a maker of film documentaries had well prepared him: that ability to focus on the essence of a subject.

The poems, therefore, touch on a wide range of themes that will indeed be familiar to those well versed in Steiner’s work and do so in many ways that are clear “without pretension, that marry deep feeling and thoughtfulness, opening us towards a sense (so difficult to articulate) of another level of reality.” (Jeremy Naydler, as quoted on the back cover).

They range from everyday trials (News, for example) and poignant memories as in Marmalade:

But now there’s only one jar left,
and that I’ll have to keep;
for stored up there
is treasure rare
Which helps me not to weep.

To wide-ranging metaphysical perspectives, alluding to Leibniz in No Shore Too Far: This is a question so profound-/ it stops me in my tracks.

There’s also an acknowledgement that such pondering that draws my gaze/ beyond the hills/ to things we cannot see may become unbalanced:

I sometimes wonder
if I dwell too much
on what to some
must often seem
not quite to do with life. (Moving On).

This links with his self-deprecating lines where he compares his own to his wife’s very different kind of mindset:

A Cambridge girl herself
trained to spot flaws
in wooly folk like me. (Icy Winds).

While essentially agreeing with Jeremy Naydler’s assessment, I’d like to consider aspects of the collection that might be off-putting to those people Jonathan expressed a hope to reach in his New View article [Spring issue 2017]: “people who don’t have the time or inclination to read lots of books” but might be won over if the essence of a subject “is sincerely and simply expressed.”

There’s no doubt that these poems remain both clear in their general thrust and highly accessible throughout – whether dealing with humdrum details or far-reaching speculations about the nature of things. But there’s a monotony in the style and a use of rhythm and language which resorts to archaic inversions and clichés and poeticisms that can make the writing seem old-fashioned at times and therefore damages its accessibility not because the sense isn’t clear, but because it sounds as if it belongs to a different age:

And if I heed/what whispers thus/from lessons long ago/so grows the strength… (Immortal Life)

This smacks of ‘poetic’ not contemporary language. So also, for example:

The working of those spirits flawed (Trust) or

And all those scenes sublime (Insight)

Again: but they are toys when you compare/those rockets sleek.

Why not ‘flawed spirits’ and ‘sleek rockets’? Because the rhythm doesn’t work. But then there’s a choice between resting content with poetic inversions from 200 years ago or working harder at the choice of word if the line is to communicate a contemporary sensibility. After all, one isn’t working within a demanding rhyme scheme that could have justified such inversions in the past

The best of the poems avoid such archaisms but there’s a liberal sprinkling which, I suggest, doesn’t make for the contemporary accessibility the poet is hoping for.

Another point is the repeated use throughout of ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’. Such words are the death of poetry! Imagine doubting Thomas after placing his hand in the side of the Lord saying ‘Perhaps you’re now my Lord and God’ or ‘Maybe it’s true after all.’ So, for example:

Perhaps that god has come to us/and lives in eyes/of quite a different kind…/And maybe such a power as that,/which needs our trust to grow… (Vision)

or

Together still, united in our search/for what I sometimes call/a bigger picture:/a journey and a quest/that maybe never ends. (A Bigger Picture).

It’s a salutary exercise for any poet to deny themselves the indulgence of using either ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’ and working with the issue at hand to tease out a sharper and more authentic response. After all, the metaphysical issues at stake here have to do with touching into reality, touching the hem of the garment as it were, and ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ just won’t do!

But this is a beautifully produced book and at 147 pages there’s a wealth of material to dip into. It’s also worth mentioning that the book itself is described as ‘Meditations on death, bereavement and hope.’ The word meditation is important because, despite the stylistic issues I’ve raised, there is a depth of thoughtfulness here which rightly claims our attention. Here’s one to finish that has no maybes, and only one inversion which I won’t begrudge because it makes such a telling use of rhyme!

What we imagine/has a power,/that as we wiser grow,/could echo what imagined us/in ages long ago.
But we are free/what route to take-/it could go many ways./Creation that is fit to last/needs us to think and pray. (Imagination).

Buy the book here

More about New View here…