Obituary of Jean Kenward | Poetry

My mother, Jean Kenward, who died at the age of 102, was a poet whose work, both for children and for adults, has been published in numerous anthologies. She also wrote children’s stories; the Ragdolly Anna series (1979-87) was dramatized in a popular Yorkshire television series starring Pat Coombs in the 1980s.

Jean was born in Pangbourne, on the River Thames in Berkshire, one of three children of Ruth (née Stone) and Harold Kenward. His father worked for Dunlop – he later became sales manager and president of the Motor Trade Association, and was knighted. As a child, Jean ran quite freely with her brother and sister: she always liked being outside. She began writing at the age of eight, while a pupil at the local school in Pangbourne, and studied in the late 1930s at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Jean Kenward writing in her garden at Chorleywood, 1962

During World War II, she served with the WRNS. She was introduced to David Chesterman by her father, his doctor, and on their first appointment she went blackberry with him. They married in 1945 and settled in Chorleywood, on the border between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. David worked first for Dunlop, then as a classical music promoter. Together they raised three children. Jean writes in his spare time, in the kitchen or the garden, and also teaches creative imagination at the Harrow School of Art.

Her poems have often appeared in magazines such as Country Life and on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Corner. She published several collections of poetry, beginning with Rain (1946), dedicated to her brother, killed in the war, and, for children, A Book of Rhymes (1947). Her latest collection of children’s poems, Horses of the Moon, was published online in 2021.

Jean’s poetry expresses a deep love of the natural world, but also a mischievous humor, often bordering on nonsense, like a poem about an old woman made entirely of string, or another about a man who did everything backwards. Some of the more serious reveal a mystical center, wondering about the mysteries of life, death and change (she once said that after death she could come back as a puddle) and about the value of human relationships. She loved the form of the sonnet, which came naturally to her. In children’s poems, rhythm and rhyme are always important, and there is often a hidden meaning.

The Ragdolly Anna stories by Jean Kenward have been adapted by Yorkshire TV for a children's series starring Pat Coombs
The Ragdolly Anna stories by Jean Kenward have been adapted by Yorkshire TV for a children’s series starring Pat Coombs

She once described herself as a loner: she was not the “adherent” type. But she had many close friends, of all ages, and kept up a large correspondence. When a guest came to dinner, she liked to discuss important topics such as “What is truth?” », with both seriousness and humor.

In her later years, when she felt that her imagination only grew stronger as her body weakened, she often quoted Tolstoy’s Prince Andrei (from War and Peace): “No, nothing is certain , nothing but the nothingness of all that we can understand. , and the splendor of something we cannot understand, but which we know is infinitely important!

David died in 2011. Jean spent his last years in a nursing home in Whitstable, Kent. She is survived by her children, Melinda, Danny and I, as well as nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Comments are closed.