Six-Count Jive by Rosie Johnston

A review of the poetry collection Six-Count Jive by Rosie Johnston.

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Six-Count Jive by Rosie Johnston is an elegant poetry collection that’s subject matter is post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse, as well as overcoming this. Each page is composed of a seventeen-syllable poem, or section of a poem, and these separate sections can both be thought of as separate pieces or as part of a longer, collection-length poem. The different sections within the collection come together to form a narrative arc—one of a person experiencing abuse at the beginning and then during the course of the collection finding a triumphant escape from it. Part of this collection is also about a character’s journey. As a reader I could feel the protagonist’s desperate exhaustion at their abuse and its repetition, as well as the contrast of their light-feeling liberation when they become free from it.

This collection would be very supportive and immediately understood by anyone experiencing or anyone who has experienced abuse. However, due to the accessible layout of the writing and the way that this allows you to really concentrate on what’s been written, as well as the considered, beautiful, delicate language and imagery used, there is plenty for any reader to take away.

The sparseness of language in this collection contrasts with, as well as helps to reflect, the heaviness of the subject. Subjects that are so hard to understand because they are so awful, like abuse or war, can be hard to write about because they can feel so overwhelming that there’s often no language to convey how terrible they are. Therefore, trying to write about them can become a secondary frustration, however the silence left by Johnston’s light touch reflects the corrosive silence present in abusive situations, allowing the subject matter to speak for itself. There is a fragility to the images used within Six-Count Jive, as well as natural imagery. One of my favourite lines within the collection is an example of the latter, when Johnston writes, “She lives in a glacier,” which perfectly reflects the main character’s isolation.

Six-Count Jive creates some order in writing out of the chaos of life. It also feels very healing, as writing often can be. It’s good that this collection came out of such a subject matter. It was brave of Johnston to write this collection. The lasting image of Six-Count Jive, the title idea of the jive—mentioned twice in the book—is it’s final, strongest, parting idea; despite everything covered in the collection, the reader is left with the idea of a dance, something joyful and freeing.

Setareh Ebrahimi performs regularly, and is a poet working in Faversham, Kent. She is the author of In My Arms from Bad Betty Press.

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