Carole Hodgson Sculptor, discusses Jim Neat.
This extraordinary book fascinated me from the moment I picked it up and, glancing through, felt it was like one of my own intimate sketchbooks, with each page giving greater status to the whole. But I was unprepared for such a shocking story. How could anyone have such a hard life and keep going? The poetic accounts of what Jim did or did not do, page by page, stand alone; alternatively they can be read as part of a unique historical record.
The intensity of the narrative, distressing as well as informative, held my undivided attention. I could hardly put it down and read it in a few days.
recommending Jim Neat the very same day that he received the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for his latest collection, 'Reckless Paper Birds.
Mary J. Oliver set out to write a small work of art of a man's life.
Through poetry, photos, postcards, prose and diaries, she has succeeded. With her pared-back approach, Mary has done something difficult: condensed a life and given us his essence. Her father was dealt an unfair hand: "I'm a hobo, destitute drug addict, ex-convict ...". She portrays this man down on his luck, whom she hardly knew, with extraordinary compassion.
A beautiful study in how to write a small work that leaves a large impression.
Amy Spurling - journalist and writer
Jim Neat immediately absorbed me. I read it almost in one sitting, crying when Lizbietta dies and smiling at other parts, like the amazing recovery brought about by Frank Schofield and Dr Fletcher. ...a brilliant stirring mixture of a whole history that I totally loved. I want to read it again straight away.
Karin Andrews Jashapara – Puppetteer and Artistic Director of The Play of Light Theatre: playoflighttheatre.co.uk.
I have just read Jim Neat for the second time and thoroughly enjoyed it, even more than the first read. It really gripped me and I was caught in the storyline by the simplistic but clever use of his language. The variation of style including prose and poetry was appealing and helped me to focus on the reading more than usual. I have been unable to study texts or tv programmes whilst in lockdown (as I know others have). I shall be reading it again in the future.
It’s been some while since I have read a book from cover to cover without being able to put it down.
In Mary J. Oliver's, Jim Neat, I found myself absorbed to the point of pausing all incoming communications.
I followed Jim's story - a narrative that seamlessly glides through episodic installments, confessional poetry, case history, letters, unsent postcards, diary entries, pioneer archives and judicial injustices that contribute to both the man and a life that is quite extraordinary.
Mary’s research and writing of the book took over 10 years, and her ability to condense the narrative down to 145 pages is quite remarkable.
The text flows with the ease of a novel, while all the while one is reading fact after heart-wrenching fact as the most uncanny events push Jim into circumstances that the majority of us would not recover from. His enduring ability to bounce back is staggering and lies in his passion, honesty, and a belief that 'True Love' must be protected at all costs. Buy this book, read it, and you will not be disappointed. If anything, you will be left wanting to know more.
Roz Hopkinson, Artistic Director at STANCE Theatre Company
Yesterday and into the night I read your book, Jim Neat. You pack a lot into such a small book! It's a fascinating story of a sensitive, intelligent Everyman during difficult times. Jim makes some bad decisions but many people care about his well-being. Queenie, Dr. Fletcher, Prof. Schofield, your mother, Kate, and others.
The poems and prose poems are wonderful. Jim's 1982 letter to you is deeply moving. There are many other similar moments. Jim's letters from Algeria, Siracusa, Bari, and Milan are also fascinating. The book is a condensed epic!
Clarence Major, American artist and writer
Jim Neat travels the real-life journey as excavated by his daughter, artist and poet, Mary J. Oliver, in this courageous and intimate book. Its prose and poetry, alongside photographs and sketches, place a life in the context of its time, beginning with Neat’s incarceration, to World War 2 and then on to the poet’s own surprising journey.
A tale of a daughter’s search for her dead father’s past could be enough for any reader but it becomes quickly apparent that this journey is just as much about disclosing truths as it is about erasure. Letters carefully edited with strike-through texts reveal the bleak and often painful realities of its time not just withheld from family and friends but from the self. Details unfold chronologically with frequent flashbacks that flow like an epic film. When Neat’s brother-in-law arrives home from WW1 eyes bulging, arms, legs, head jerking, he can’t get out of the front door, scuttles on all fours behind the settee, mouth opening, shutting, opening, Neat’s sister advises, Best you go on home, Jim and in those few lines we see the toll of war from multiple perspectives.
Characters appear and disappear, some with lives so brutally marred by their times your heart will break open and then mend itself again as the book moves through Neat’s life contrasting the dark corners of human history with the joys of love and the passion of a man who reinvents himself in every chapter.
There’s a Dr. Fletcher, one of the heroes of Neat’s life who through the profound and patient methods of creating a safe space for Neat at Whitby Hospital to unburden his trauma through gentle conversation, writing and meaningful work create a haven without drugs or forced treatments and an opportunity for transformation.
There’s Queenie, Neat’s sister and lifelong friend whose own colorful personality leaps into the frame and stays alongside other key figures as Neat’s life unfurls.
Because Neat’s mind and depth of perception convey his own experiences without pretense and Oliver’s sensitive and sculpted prose and poetry know just where to take off and where to land, you will find yourself slowly turning Jim Neat’s pages back and forth as you live each sorrow and joy of this astonishing and lasting work.
Lois P. Jones, author of Night Ladder & poetry editor of Kyoto Journal
Hi Mary, Recently I got stuck in Toronto in the snow and ended up in a hotel not too far from the old Gaol that made me think of Grandpa and your book. It was such a fascinating read – such hardship explains much. Harrowing. But a brave and elegant hybrid of poetry and biography that blurs many boundaries.
Professor Frank Neat, World Maritime University, Malmo University,
Grandson of Jim Neat
Mary J. Oliver’s style of writing is reminiscent of W.G. Sebold. The absence of Oliver’s father is made very present in the relationships that she found along her journey. It shows the therapeutic possibilities of tracing the uncertainty of memories which allow for the rewriting (righting) of the relationship with the absent parent.
Dr Salma Siddique, clinical anthropologist and psychotherapist
Mary J. Oliver’s decision to write a ‘narrative poem’ rather than a conventional family history is crucial to the book’s success. Spare and concise, with many voices speaking in different genres, the personal story steadily expands with historical significance.
While there are echoes in the title of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, the bleak days of the Great Depression in western Canada and the rise of Fascism in Europe are also powerfully evoked.
I like the way documents – letters, photos, etc – are reproduced raw. I don’t know if they are all authentic or if in fact the book is mostly fiction, and it does not matter.
I wish Sinclair Ross could have lived to read this story. It would have impressed him a lot in his life-long dedication to more spare forms of writing.
David Stouck, Prof of English Literature, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver
Comment from Jay Coleman, guitarist: 'Having heard you read from 'Jim Neat' at St Just Library last night, I’ve been having a good look at 'Bliss', such a lovely poem with a great story, a strong sense of character and imagery that lends itself well to a sort of low key finger-picked acoustic ballad. Which is the route I’ve been going down.
'It would be an honour to play along to you as an acoustic accompaniment. And the letters lend themselves to lyrical/musical content too. Either way I wouldn’t want to detract from the words of the poem(s) or the story. Hopefully it would be a good additional layer to the original intention of your book.'
Jay Coleman, Song Writer
Comment from Clare Owen: Heard @mjoliver4 reading from ‘Jim Neat’ @NCornBookFest today. A fusion of one man’s history & his daughter’s imagination; poetry, photographic images & fragments of prose. I’ve never come across memoir approached like this. Bought the book, 30 pages in, & already blown away ...
Clare Owen, Author
Comment from poet Abigail Elizabeth Rowland: The Morrab Library was the venue this morning for the launch of our local Stanza group’s anthology of poems inspired by Cornwall. Also readings from Mary Oliver’s excellent new book, Jim Neat. Fantastic writing and a wonderfully compelling story. Don’t miss your chance to buy the book.
Abigail Elizabeth Rowland, Writer and Poet
Comment from Julia Webb-Harvey: I heard Mary J. Oliver read from Jim Neat at North Cornwall Book Festival and have just devoured her book. She describes it as a long narrative poem; I wish it could be a play. I hear so many voices, so clearly. Wonderful, wonderful work.
Julia Webb-Harvey @juleswh
What empathy! The hardship of people’s lives, distance, love. Love mainly. Each separate part captivated me completely. I was perfectly in control until I read the simplest of sentences, that was so loaded.: ‘Within an hour Mary was conceived’: an infinite instant linkingpast, present and future. The moment I read it I was THEM and sobbed for ten minutes. It felt as if I’d lived through their story in some other life. There are thousands of immigrants and desperate people not far from here, always have been, always will be … this is just one … it overwhelmed me. Thanks Mary.
Francesca Ausenda, artist and photographer
Thanks for great reading Mary; can’t wait to get my hands on your book.
Kate Jones, Owner of Daisy Laing Gallery, Penzance
A heartfelt thank you to inspirational poet Mary J. Oliver, for giving us all her debut Jim Neat: The Case Of A Young Man Down On His Luck. The book opens up the multi-layered possibilities of memoir, documentary, fiction and poetry as she explores the mysteries of her tragic father's life. I've been privileged to read it before publication and after: it is a testament to committing to your instinct, to digging to the truth in whatever form is most appropriate, and to one woman's handling of the ethical issues associated with writing about family. It's also a beautiful read.
Cathy Galvin, founder of Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award; the UK national short story organisation; Word Factory, and its mentoring award, The Word Factory Apprentice Award; and curator of the UK’s first literary festival focussed on citizenship: Citizen:
The New Story.
A fascinating true story. I think it would make an amazing epic movie (or TV serial).
Christopher Morley, artist and writer
I read this memoir in a two hour sitting before bed. I couldn’t put it down! I cried. Such a beautiful, powerful, complex, moving story so carefully and poetically woven. A haunting, tragic love story at its heart. I hope it’s widely read and celebrated. Thanks for bringing it into the world!
Rebecca Promitzer, film producer and writer
An incredible story. Couldn't put it down. Unforgettable scenes and testimonies... Glimpses into a forgotten and harsh world where personal stories play out and leave only delicate fragments for the future to put together. An extremely moving and compelling read.
Mary Acheson, teacher
Compelling and breathtaking - in its scope and in its intimacy. Once I started this journey, I had to continue reading to the end. Spare and concentrated - not a line that is superfluous. While the subject is 'Jim Neat', I was drawn to the emotions of his daughter, the author, who comes into her own in Part 111, 'Found'.
Jenny Headlam-Wells, Labour Party Councillor for Kentish Town
This is an extraordinarily tender, yet unflinching, tale, beautifully written in prose and poetry. My heart broke for Jim Neat’s tragic life, and sang for his brave triumphs. Simply lovely.
Poetry Cafe was the perfect cosy cocoon for Seren Books’ excursions to faraway places with Mary J. Oliver's Dad (Jim Neat: The Case of a Young Man Down on his Luck), signing up to sail for South Africa, stowaway-ing off to Oz, finding love in Saskatoon, brought to life for us through Amy Wack's wide-ranging, delving-deep interview questions. Excellent event!
Anne-Marie Fyfe creative-writing teacher, arts-organiser & former Chair of the Poetry Society ,
The poems are incredible. A wonderful, engaging read. It gives depth to his life and ours.
Caroline Neat, Jim Neat’s grand-daughter in Canada
Jim Neat is top of my ‘must buy, must read’ list.
Geoff Cox, writer and film maker
It’s like a sauce that’s been deliciously reduced.
Deborah Came, magistrate
Had to read this from start to finish today. Great work.
Soo Finch @soopoftheday
I felt it read as a quest to honour the humanity of those the author was following, people doing their best by each other in very challenging times; an inspiring and compassionate account, much needed in dispiriting times! An act of devotion!
I just love this book; the poems, so beautiful, so interesting, so fascinating. Sad but full of love. The reader wants to meet Jim ... this story gives him back his life.
Birgitta Lundmark, Swedish Lawyer
A lovely, engaging reading, local and international in scope, a pleasure to experience.
Tim Ridley, artist