Juanita CaseyBorn in 1925 and adopted as Joy Barlow (she was renamed Juanita by her uncle after his favourite circus lion), she was brought up in Southampton by a relatively privileged family. Her uncle, on the other hand, was a flamboyant and enigmatic Romany personality who worked in the circus and instilled in Juanita, with little persuasion, a sense of the fantastic and imaginary world. Horses quickly became important and her passion for everything equine remained throughout her life. She spent a lot of time travelling with New Forest Romany families and was well known for her waggon.

I had never read anything by Juanita, though she’s on my writers lists. A friend reminded me of her and I ordered all the books I could find – turned out to be seven total.

After reading only two of her poems, I fell in love with her writing style – such beautiful and haunting imagery. It was while reading her poems and short stories that I decided I should do an “author of the month” post – since there are so many Romani authors that are largely unknown. So, Juanita has the honour of being first!

Below are two of her poems and an excerpt of prose. Enjoy!

Kawlo

Look, the Gypsies!
The Gypsies are coming!
You whisper it
Behind your regimented gates,
Looking up the blue road
Across your crimped, cramped hedges;
The east wind whipping
Grey, snow-fringed shawls of cloud
over the common,
And thin cold crouching
Like a black and sullen dog gnawing
At the bare bones of the heath.
Black blame to the Gypsies!
Black as the crow, black as we,
Ringed round the orange fire.
Steal and snap like the fox, you say…
Then, like the orange fox
We’ll run our scorching brushes
Through the furze,
And set your nomansland ablaze
with snapping cracking teeth of flames,
And whipping, black-maned smoke
Crow-winged and black as we,
Dragoning into the black sky;
Old flash-tailed fox skittering by.
Where are they – we saw them –
You shout,
The Gypsies! The Gypsies started it!
And the common’s raked ribs are gaunt
And spiked like the charred blackbird
On the butcher-bird’s thorn,
Black as the thieving crow,
Black as we…
And on the blue road
Beneath the moon’s knife-sliver
A child has dropped a rag
Of Indian pink and threaded silver
And you say,
Look, the Gypsies!
But, the gypsies
Are gone.

Hath the Rain a Father? (excerpt)

A travelling man, he was; a travelling man, Romany same as us, they said. Only his heart was broke.
There was some trouble down the road that night you was born and the poor dear man mazed with it all. We had her up by us and our Len runs his legs off to get the doctor, but she didn’t want anything: she was quiet, no chavvy, nothing, no rousing her at all.
You couldn’t tell she’d gone, she was that quiet.And then a great star fell down on us like nothing we seen before or since; Benny said it was for a sign. No, nothing like it before or since.
We helped your Dad best we could, but he said he’d go on. He took the small horse and left soon as he’d buried her, and left us the big old mare with the blondy mane, she had her foal the selfsame night as you was born.
Both dropped together the same hour. He left her go and said he’d call again but he never come. He never came back at all.
And we was glad there was no one with a bebby along of us then, only yer Uncle Benny’s maid used to stop with us from Sussex way, and she was rearing her one on the artificial.
So we give yer old Blondy’s milk, cause there weren’t a cow then within miles of the place. Ar, good old mare she were, had a number of nice little horses from her. Best was from that black trotting horse your Uncle Jesse had for a while. Gor – couldn’t he go! Cause he’s not your Uncle Jesse in a manner o’ speaking, being no relation like in blood, but we’m all your uncles and aunties, my Dosha.

 

The Earl of Little Egypt

I have been gone
So long.
So long.I can no longer hear
The silence of my death upon the wheel’s mandala,
and the women with the raven voices,
and the topaz eyes of the leopards.

I have been gone
So long.
So long.
My bone is now buttercup,
My skull a chamber for the mole.
Where blows the cold ash from another’s fire,
The unborn fern coils in my hand of leaves.

I have been gone
So long.
So long.
My mind a monastic cell of chanting bees,
My ear the shell of a picked and hammered snail,
Yet like the wandering squeaking-moth,
My spirit flutters in the web of centuries.

 

Book list

“Eternity Smith and Other Poems” Dolmen Press, 1985

“Horse by the River and Other Poems” Dolmen Press, 1968

“Hath the Rain a Father” Phoenix House, 1966

“Juanita Casey – A Sampling” Proscenium Press, 1981

“The Horse of Selene” Dolmen Press, 1985

“The Circus” Dolmen Press, 1974

“The New Forest” (contributor) Phoenix House, 1966

 

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