Jenny Joseph and ‘Is That the New Moon?’


Many years ago I used to teach the poetry anthology Is That the New Moon? Poems by Women Poets to my sixth form English Literature students. Edited by Wendy Cope, I imagine this was a coursework text, but I can’t actually remember for certain.

The poems collected were, and still are, dynamic and challenging. Published by Lions Teen Tracks in 1989, these were aimed at teenagers – Wendy Cope states in the Introduction girls aged 13-16, though I’m not convinced that was a sensible target audience, and she does additionally write I see no reason why it shouldn’t also be read by women, or by men and teenage boys – and they touched then on ‘issues’ still relevant and vibrant today, taking on a resonance in the contemporary light of 2018, not least in this popularly ascribed ‘Year of the Woman’.

But this isn’t my key reason for writing now. I am referring to this book on the day after the death of Jenny Joseph was announced. Her famous poem Warning is, not surprisingly, one of those collected in the book.

I had such fun teaching and working with students on this collection. One of my fondest memories is of the posters [they were much more than this] small groups of students produced for display to convey the significance of the poem they had chosen to study and exemplify primarily through a visual representation. If I can find the photos of these I will post at a later time.

The collection includes classics like Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, Grace Nichol’s Beauty and Sylvia Plath’s Mirror, but the poems I recall creating the most impact, for reading and study, were these:

Age to Youth – Judith Wright
Between the Lines – Carole Satyamurti
The Buddha’s Wife – Ruth Silcock
Comprehensive – Carol Ann Duffy
In the Men’s Room(s) – Marge Piercy
Kissing – Fleur Adcock
Malta – Helen Dunmore
Nice Men – Dorothy Byrne
Translations – Adrienne Rich
Warning – Jenny Joseph

For most of those recalling the passing of Jenny Joseph yesterday, mainly on social media, Warning is the poem they often cite and celebrate, and quite rightly so.

But there is another one from Jenny Joseph in the Cope collection, and I think it confirms what a feisty writer she was beyond the poem for which she will be most remembered:





Top Fifty 8: The Byrds – Ballad of Easy Rider, 1969

[Originally posted June 2011]


Like many, I first knew of The Byrds in the mid 60s through the singles Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!. I don’t believe I followed their music until hearing the beautiful Dolphins Smile on the CBS The Rock Machine Turns You On album, and then Gunga Din from the later CBS Fill Your Head With Rock album, influential compilations I have written about before.

Equally unsurprising is how it was the film Easy Rider that introduced me to the song and album of the same name Ballad of Easy Rider, not ‘unsurprising’ because of the obvious echoing, but because that film too was so influential on my teenage years and that revolutionary sense of yearning for some idealistic freedom and believing this was repressed by a brutal establishment. The film exploited that youthful obsession with a stunning soundtrack, a road-movie narrative that took in the explosive contrast between the communal joys and perils of such a search, iconoclastic acting from a spaced-out Hopper and satirical Nicholson, and the redneck ending of the fireballed chopper flying through the air to ignite a generation’s angst and anger against the hillbilly hicks who represented that repressive establishment in its dumbest, most ruthless form.

The story goes that Dylan wrote the following napkin lines ‘The river flows, it flows to the sea/Wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be/Flow, river, flow’ and this was given to Roger McGuinn to turn into a song. Whilst received, its a repeated enough tale to be taken as true and I don’t know any more than what I have read so won’t pursue. That McGuinn turned this into a beautiful if simple hippie anthem is enough for me, and it is a singalongsong I love to sing as I did today in the car when reminding myself that this album has to be in my top fifty, partly because it’s The Byrds and a prime example of their ‘west coast’ sound, but also because three songs from the album have always featured on any favourites’ tapes of harmonious music I compiled before moving on to cds, where they still appear.

The three songs are Ballad of Easy Rider, Jesus Is Just Alright and Gunga Din, the latter a Gene Parsons’ composition with his lead vocal. And what is surprising is how these three songs are probably the only ones I really know and yet they represent the whole album for me and it’s special place in my notional top fifty. Listening today I was reminded how superb the whole album is, with the Dylan cover It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, for example, and the Guthrie cover Deporte [Plane Wreck at Los Gatos] as well.

And now I’m going to have to go and watch the film. It still gets to me, after all these years, whatever its simplicities and manipulations. But the title track endures and it’s amazing how that naivety in the lyrics doesn’t date like the film nor other nostalgic dreams. Strength of a good song, and music in general.


Mr Fiction

camp david

Mr Fiction
is speaking

There is a
wolf at the door

he claims

It is making
fake news

gnawing at that door
we know

making a crack
we hope

It’s in his

he imagines
he defends

his mental

Mr Fiction
is speaking