A Bedroom of Searchlights
poems by Joanna M. Weston

Print: 978-1-77133-305-4
ePub: 978-1-77133-306-1
PDF: 978-1-77133-308-5

84 Pages
May 25, 2016
New Poetry All Titles


A Bedroom of Searchlights poems by Joanna M. Weston

The poems in this collection explore the life of the poet’s mother who divorced in 1939, at a time when a woman divorcing was still frowned upon by society. This collection draws a picture of the artist and single mother who struggled with poverty, war, and the realities of daily life, yet still found beauty and comfort in her garden, and her art.

“Joanna M. Weston's A Bedroom of Searchlights brings to vivid, eidetic life wartime Britain and an artist mother's gentle but indomitable grace and pluck as a divorced, single mother in an unforgiving era. Weston movingly weaves the Kentish countryside, paintings and sculptures, childcare and courage into a tapestry of flowers and aromas that enliven the reader's sensory memories. Memorable metaphors conflate war trauma, poverty, mothering and painting: “to shoot bouquets through/ a magnitude of armies” (Background of Flowers); “she laid children/ beside hawthorn hedges/ pulled them through/ with lavender lacing.” (Missing Children); (she) ate gesso/ and layers of colour/ before she turned pages/ sang a picture into dinner.” (Necessities). Grief is eloquently and sometimes obliquely expressed: “all of us/ loosing our motherhood/ into future wombs/ because we can/ no longer/ knit children” (Thread of Motherhood) and synaesthetically: “sunflower   tulip/ hang over her palette/waiting for red and gold/to cut grief in half.” (Two Ghosts). This poignant, soulful and tender extended elegy plays the heart like a harp and lingers long afterwards.”

—Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, author and artist of Dancing on a Pin

“In Joanna M. Weston's A Bedroom of Searchlights we meet Mother who painted in oils, played a spinet and sang, embroidered her daughter's dresses and fulfilled all her domestic duties single-handedly after her divorce at the outbreak of war. Weston's masterfully measured poems, create, piece by piece, a picture of Mother as intricate and strongly coloured as the paintings on her easel. Part lament, part love song, part celebration of a woman's heroism in the face of heartbreak … these haunting poems lead us back to Mother's life but also show us the way women's lives forge links to future generations. This is a beautiful collection which I enjoyed reading very much.”

—Pam Galloway, author of Passing Stranger

A Bedroom of Searchlights

Joanna M. Weston is a full-time writer of poetry, short-stories, children's books and reviews. She has published over 2,000 poems in magazines, journals, and anthologies across North America and internationally.  Her publications include a popular middle-reader, Those Blue Shoes, and a volume of poetry, A Summer Father. She lives in Shawnigan Lake, BC, with her partner, two cats, multiple spiders, a herd of deer, and two derelict hen-houses

A Bedroom of Searchlights by Joanna M. Weston
reviewed by Molly Cross-Blanchard
CV2 -Contemporary Verse 2 - April 4, 2017

In A Bedroom of Searchlights, Joanna M. Weston has interwoven violent notions of wartime in Britain with vibrant images of nature in order to elegize her mother, a diametrical woman, who “melts Neapolitan / between red lips” while the speaker merely “tongue(s) / plain vanilla.” The way Weston has interspersed the imagery throughout these poems mimics a speckling – or spattering – of paint on canvas, paying homage to the Mother’s hobby of choice. There is a deep admiration here for the type of woman who channels her rage against a disloyal husband and an unstable nation, allowing her anguish to “flower on canvas / as scarlet tulips.”


A Bedroom of Searchlights by Joanna M. Weston
reviewed by Diana Elizabeth Jones
Shawnigan Focus - December 2016

Joanna M. Weston, Shawnigan Lake’s internationally published poet, has written a hauntingly beautiful tribute to her mother, the English artist Ethel Jarmain. This latest poetry compilation, A Bedroom of Searchlights, is a natural companion piece to a previous work, A Summer Father, published in 2006. In that volume Weston explored the life and her relationship to her often absent father. John Jarmain, a Major in the British Army, was killed during the Normandy invasion when Weston and her brother were young children. At that point her parents were already divorced and Ethel Jarmain in austere post-war England struggled to meet the needs of her children, her grief and her art.

Now Weston has turned her incisive poetic sensibility on her mother. While at the one time highly personal, it is also a reflection on the burden of single parenthood—a daunting task at times when Mother is trying to be all things to her children while juggling her own need to cope with the death of love, for time alone and space for her own creative expression.  

Weston’s talent shines as she comes up close to her mother’s grief in For The Present when she writes …leaves the room to make tea/ her grief remains. In Interruption, we see the difficulty of a mother of young children banging up against a need to preserve some precious time for herself …the quietest place she could find/but the child came with dolls and chatter.

In From East to West Joanna Weston’s own childhood is expertly captured when she draws us close to the warmth of the English countryside in summer. . . above hop-bines/ pear and apple orchards/ winding down the lanes.

Another pleasure of this collection is journeying with Weston through her own “ages” from childhood in Child On The Chair to her own late adulthood in Mother Is My Age…her years are mine/her hands move in my hands/though she drew more than wrote/I meet her in the mirror

Carefully crafted and observed A Bedroom of Searchlights, INANNA, Toronto, is a treasure of poems, a perfect companion for some personal reflections on life and family.


A Bedroom of Searchlights by Joanna M. Weston
reviewed by Candice James
Canadian Poetry Review - July 21, 2016

A Bedroom of Searchlights is a work of literary art born of a mother’s passion for painting and a daughter’s passion for poetry. Joanna Weston vividly recalls her mother’s colours and textures in the medium of ink and paper. In the poem “From East to West” Weston blends the colours and sounds of humanity and locations into a poetic painting exuding her mother’s essence; and in “Forgetting” walks us up a spiralling staircase of imagery in the lines “his faced turned to sepia / created by too much holding / his voice a midnight ache”. The machinations of imagination brought into play when we try to grasp the full breadth and depth of a vocal rendering as a midnight ache, are spine tingling indeed. A glorious tribute by the poet remembering her mother; remembering her father.

The poem “The Storyteller” one of my favourites, is filled with surreal rivers of thought: “goldenrod tales flowed from her mouth / olive groves in Italy / rice in Burma”. Emotion spills from the lines “where the man she kissed / lay under rosehip and dandelion”. “Keeping” evidences that still in the poet’s memory are the poor days of yesterday’s childhood where her mother waited “for a tomorrow/ when art supplies / were cheaper”.

Weston, with an eloquent ease, uses colour, texture, language and lyric to weave melody and rhythm into a symphony of words. In “Necessities” we see that food and air are creation for artists and we glimpse the hefty effect Weston’s mother and her mother’s talent had on her in the powerful lines: “she sighed brushes into jars / breathed canvases to dry / ate gesso and layers of colour”; and “sang a picture into dinner / while I watched listened / and borrowed a pen”.

“Ever Present” brings the spectre of fear to life and then slays it with a timid yet graceful ease: “Fear stepped into sight / like an errant petticoat // but fled in the sunlight / with a flock of scarlet poppies”. In “Child on the Chair” mother and child reverse roles for a moment in time as age catches up with them and takes them by surprise: “our eyes meet / and we change places / for awhile”. And last but certainly not least, I must say the “Summer and Winter” is one of the bet poems I’ve ever read. Although short ( 9 lines ), it is power packed with a world of fabulous imagery and vocative language. A Bedroom of Searchlights is indeed a great read and a ‘must read’ !

About the Poet: Joanna M. Weston Born in England, she lives in Western Canada; married, 3 sons, two cats. A writer, knitter, and gardener, deer-herder, raccoon-watcher. She is a full-time writer of poetry, short-stories, children's books and reviews. She’s published internationally for many years in journals and anthologies and has a middle-reader, Those Blue Shoes, published; also and earlier book of poetry, A Summer Father (Frontenac House).

About the Reviewer: Candice James Poet Laureate of New Westminster 2010-2016, is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; a full member of League Canadian Poets; Director of Pacific Festival or the Book, and author of eleven poetry books: the first book A Split In The Water (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent Merging Dimensions (Ekstasis Editions 2015). Her Awards: Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award 2015; and Pandora’s Collective Citizenship Award 2015. Further Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice_James and www.candicejames.com


      she kept a ball of string
      in the kitchen drawer
      among chopping knives
      and meat skewers

      we untied every knot
      on every parcel
      winding the string
      onto the ball

      rough white string from Canada
      with brown paper
      held a blue dress for me

      thin string from New Zealand
      round a parcel of peanut butter
      and jam
      butcher’s cord
      from soft parcels

      we undid the knots
      small fingers
      more adept than Mother’s
      as we picked and pulled
      to find the end
      hoping that one day
      there would be no need
      to save string
      because of war

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