Withstanding by Helen Jacobs

ISBN 978-0-9941172-8-1 58pp

Once Helen Jacobs delighted in walking the hills, but now she can only get as far as the local shops, and the nature she loves is pressed into the tiny garden she tends.

It is here that she ponders the paradox of old age – a time of terrible losses and unexpected joys, and then finds herself moving one last time to a room with a view of the hills she loves.

Helen’s poems reverberate with the sound of feet – walking the slopes of great hills, skipping through leaves and dancing for the love of it. True to form, she ends with one foot stepping off again into the unknown.

A powerful final collection from a much-loved Canterbury poet.

NZD $25

Macaro Press

HOOPLA Series: http://www.makaropress.co.nz/makaro-books/the-hoopla-series/


Radio NZ Review with Greg O’Brien



Eastbourne Anthology

The following post is from the website:
Editor: Mary McCallum 
 Not long before Christmas last year, the people of Eastbourne (NZ) packed out local bookshop Rona Gallery to launchEastbourne : an anthology (Mākaro Press). The woman launching the book was former mayor  Elaine Jakobsson who writes as poet Helen Jacobs. Her poems ‘bookend’ the 300 page book, and Elaine had flown north from Christchurch especially to be there.

After Elaine’s launch speech, there were readings from the book, but the last to read was Elaine herself, and Eastbourne is the poem she read. For all who live here it is a taonga — a gift — something to return to as much as the place itself — and the perfect ending to this book of place.

I speak of Eastbourne with such warmth because I am the publisher at new press, Mākaro, and one of the editors along with Anne Manchester and Maggie Rainey-Smith. Helen Jacobs (now in her 80s) was one of our wonderful finds. The collection of writing — poetry, fiction and creative memoir by 96 different authors — and drawings by local artists, evoke Eastbourne of the imagination, taking readers into the place bay by bay, from Point Howard to Pencarrow. There is classic writing by writers like Katherine Mansfield and Robin Hyde, high profile contemporary writers like Steve Braunias and Lloyd Jones, and fresh new writing from talented locals and visitors like Avi Duckor-Jones and Sarah Laing.

Elaine Jacobsson was born in Patea in 1929. She came to live in Lowry Bay in 1954, and stayed in  Eastbourne for 36 years. Following an involvement in community activities and environmental issues she was elected Mayor of Eastbourne in 1980, and appointed to the Planning Tribunal in 1986. Since 1984. she has published six collections of poetry, the most recent being DRIED FIGS (2012).

Elaine/Helen’s work has been published in many magazines and anthologies including ‘Yellow Pencils’ 1988, ‘Oxford Anthology of Love Poems’ 2000, ‘Essential NZ Poems’ 2001, ‘My Garden, My Paradise’ 2003, ‘This Earth’s deep Breathing’ 2007, ‘Our Own Kind’ 2009 and in numerous Canterbury anthologies. She retired to Christchurch in 1994 where she has been active in the poetry community and the Canterbury Poets Collective. Visit her at helenjacobspoetry.wordpress.com.

What a pleasure it was meeting Elaine! And huge thanks to Robyn Cooper who looked after her so wonderfully when she came for the launch.

One of the joys on working on Eastbourne for us editors was the joy of finding writers from the past life of the community we hadn’t expected or known much about, and giving their work more time in the sun. Part of Elaine’s speech at the launch of Eastbourne is worth recalling for its acknowledgement of this:

By casting the net generously to gather in retrospective writers as well as current, prose writers of every category as well as poets, this book will have a wide and lasting appeal, and will convey something of the complex nature of writers within the same environment, and something of their attachment to living here, something of the nurse bed of their inspiration.

And it achieves more. In this age where all is floating in a cloud, dispersed in a sea of twitter, it brings together and gives anchorage to the writers — a tangible centring.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eastbourne by Helen Jacobs

It is to the island
and the coastlands
that the shifting light
tethers on a fluid line
weaving water and sand
and rock.

The point of going away
is always to come back –
thrice deny, and you
come back

to the shells of your sandheaps,
allow that there could be
an old spirit or two
or simply an old love affair
with the harbour playing you in.


Climbing to the houses
you look down to where
yachts gather, to the path
of the ferries, to all
the usual traffic on the rim,
and you are caught in
the particular pattern
of this moment’s water movement,
this wind flurry, this shadow
darkening green to grey,
and you cannot leave it
because the evening will be
different, and tomorrow will be
different, and the sky has
so many ways of passing before
you, and you cannot gather
all this into imagination so
you must stay.


The wide open coast lends itself
to the wind, moods of high spray
over the scrub and frayed flax.
You walk here with your ears wool-
covered, hands in deep pockets,
crouch into a rock or low bush
with your sandwiches.

But on the days of endless blue
there are three white lighthouses
to choose from, the sea a slow swell,
a fishing boat sitting distant,
and you walk to one lighthouse or
the other over sand, clay, rock,
rhythm your steps to a remote clarity
that you can only paint –
or stare at;
in the stillness of the sun
count seven seals, or the houses
on the other shore, and take home one
fingernail-sized shell to code it all,
this question of where the heart lies.

posted with the poet’s permission

Editor: Mary McCallum 


Dried Figs by Helen Jacobs. Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press (2012). RRP: $20. Sb, 60pp. ISBN: 9780986452918.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime in Takahē 79, August 2013

Dried Figs is the sixth collection of poetry by Helen Jacobs who is a long time member of the Canterbury Poets Collective.

Dried Figs is an accomplished, finely wrought gem of a book. It contains poems that pull you into them gently and quickly, and then as you proceed through the book you keep hearing echoes of what has gone before, and echoes of what is to come. The past and the present are two common pulses that beat through the collection, each one viewed from different angles each time they are approached or mentioned.  In the fine poem, “The Language of Poetry”, for example, the poet recalls eating dried figs:

It operates in the past now

the language of poetry,

and I eat dried figs.

In the poem, “Old and Older”, Jacobs says,

In my ninth decade

What more is there to say

About lost loves, lost physique,

Lost gardens and growing regrets.

Lamentation too is a constant and in “Lament” it becomes “summer hid in whirlwind and where were the days / of daisies dallying under warm sprays / wet and diving” and in “Counting Down” there’s “another funeral” where “I counted more walking frames.”

Jacobs works with histories that are known and histories that she takes and reshapes. She uses this material – for example, sitting in the garden, in the poem “Garden Seat” where she rests and contemplates the young – in a way that makes you believe a poet can reach into the past and make language and life new again seen through a prism and given new life. This is not easy, but Jacobs does it with lightness of touch.

Each poem in this collection is carefully paced and carefully placed, There are two sections: Counting Down and Maps; the first considers the past; the second considers the present. Knowing this, however, doesn’t convey the subtlety of Jacobs’ language or the ways in which her poems are so beautifully in possession of their forms. They occupy the space on the page with elegance and confident simplicity, as we see in the opening lines of “Maps”:

Here, and here, are where memories locate,

an occupation for sitting old,

recollections guiding the morning away

while the present quivers.

Jacobs’ material is personal, and any information she has included has been well observed so that it can arrive in the poem as an essential part of it. This makes her work insightful, emotionally astute, and it allows for a breadth of perception. I love the poem “Interval” which was written after the Christchurch earthquake on February 22nd and encapsulates the need to take every day as it comes and to try and retain a life as ‘normal’ as possible:

do daily what you have always done

perhaps the order different

but it runs on, as talk does,

and “Canterbury Plains”, which captures perfectly the changing seasons and the disappearance of ‘small life’:

The colours of the land are changing

Shades of ochre have turned to green

no corner is left for the wild ones

gone are the hidden, the unseen.

On a different note Helen Jacobs’ Dried Figs says much in a few lines. She writes of ‘God’s hand’ in the poem “God Being Audible” which makes our spirits lift, and ‘we look for revelations / in stones and river currents. / We read instructions in the cast of bones.’ Jacobs asks, if God’s voice is only available to the prophets. This prompts us to query whether in this modern day world we can still be in touch with the Almighty or have we been left to our own devices. In effect the poem achieves much in a few spare lines. Dried Figs does not cower in the face of ageing, pain, loss or difficulties. It is deeply hopeful, and the grit of Jacobs’ love for her city manages to seep through. In the final poem, “Some Other”, she sums up life and its ending in these succinct lines:

Does the butterfly in perfection for a day

ask more

seeking nectar after the end of flight?

And therein emerges neither answers to questions nor solutions to the problems but an idea that, with dreams and poetry resurrected in language and art, culture won’t be crushed.

This is a lovely book (beautiful cover; beautiful design) by an amazing poet. It is characteristically serious in mood, assured, wide-ranging in reference to life and death (and reflected in its cover and design).  The poems may be read as variations upon the main themes with their ideas and meanings a continuous journey and the possibility of discovery remaining open.

Radio New Zealand interview

Helen Jacobs will be interviewed about her new book Dried Figs this coming Sunday, 18th November 2012, by Lynn Freeman, at 2.30pm New Zealand time.

Follow the link to:


Dried Figs Book Launch

The book launch for the new Dried Figs poetry compilation occurred at the Christchurch Polytechnic Students Association Building at 5.30 pm on Thursday 24th October.

The poet Helen Jacobs (Elaine Jakobsson) was interviewed by Ruth Todd on the Bookenz Programme on Plains FM Radio 96.9 on Tuesday 23 October at 12 noon. The podcast will be available at

OR follow the link: https://www.box.com/s/ex1ev7o0plfklmj4en0n