Jill Jones - Michael Farrell

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Jill Jones - Struggle & Radiance

Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne
22.7.2004
book launch

Michael Farrell

The title of Jill Jones new chapbook of poems, ‘Struggle & radiance ... ’ evokes a measure of transcendence in our 24/7, 7/11 times. The cover image – apparently a representation of ochre— & the snugglepot punning gs of the cover font – suggest to me bushfire and the life after; this notion is supported by the wild honey of the publisher’s name (and once inside: poem IV, The Heat). Its subtitle, ‘ten commentaries’ undercuts this: drier, more detached, and sportier than the ten commandments. The politics of any text is contingent – but what about fun and happiness you ask? ‘Happiness,’ the third commentary, ends with one word: ‘‘maybe’’— doubly qualified by quote marks. ‘Happiness’ begins promisingly though with ‘Signs of heaven’ – transcendence after all? – maybe ‘maybe’’s not so contingent? Maybe reading backwards is asking for trouble? Ebyam.

‘I am living now’
‘tigress mysteries’
‘The day whirrs’
‘could be a perfect day’
‘fugitive smile’
‘the beautiful salt’
‘This is living!’
‘all that language’
‘with a crooked grin’

Life during drought-time. Hollering isn’t the only approach. Let’s go backward to commentary I: ‘A Vision’: what do we see apart from the word Yeats? Sharapova?

‘I am down and out
on the lawn
tracings and tracks
a tiny park
the winking fishnet
insectorama.
And above me
worlds, meteors
ganglands of galaxies.
In the darkness
dogs and cleft air.’

We could be anywhere as long as it’s Sydney, God. Almost paratactically, like a pensive Pam Brown, Jones subtly shifts the lawn from under our feet.

‘Is this what I look like
up there or
on Station Street
Railway Avenue
at The Royal
the 7-Eleven?

...

In the mind’s eye
the very thought of you.’

This is the negative domestic, the domestic taken out onto the streets— to ironise large claims, and to emphasise the power and importance of small ones. These are, I think, Sydney effects.

I hope Jill doesn’t mind me referring to the domestic – often a reductive tag – in relation to her poems, but I think the humanist-feminist point is to enlarge the domestic, rather than deny its presence in our work and lives. Of course other analogies could be drawn, such as the scientific / microscopic or the sapphic / fragmentarian, but these evoke worlds either too cold or too literary to do justice to Jones’ original post-modern lyrics.

‘More or less
interesting
depends on the weather.’

Again Jones emphasises contingency and a perfunctory attitude to both ego and outside forces. These are not, I think, Melbourne effects. She holds the world up like a fly wing to the light in a form of nationalism we can actually digest and prosper on. These are ambitious poems, if not obviously so.

‘A bee
visits each
dropped flower.
That struggle
that line it makes.’

(IV. The Heat)

It’s 3 in the afternoon and we’re not going home yet: here Jones alludes to the other tradition of the line: the Nietzschean or modern line, that has no home or final destination; each dropped flower a narrative of sorts.

Commentary ‘VII. A telephone, a saxophone,’ suggests attempted escape from the written and visual into the voiced or sounded, though the attempt is given up by IX[‘s] The hushing’: ‘(unable to speak the day)’.

From ‘A telephone, a saxophone”:

‘A star falls
past your window
into the alley.
And nothing else?’

from ‘VIII. Hazed’:

‘star dissolve
through the tense
atmosphere.’

and

‘Gazing out
at nothing
so clear

tonight.’

Jones could be Francis Webb’s friend who ‘pointed me to starry skies / On stilts of queer philosophies’. Two more quotes: the first from The hushing, the second from ‘X. A calling

‘Needs no announcement
no song
only I must
make its trace
along this arm
hand finishing the line’

and

‘because we have been patient
under heat and over dust
in our exhausted bodies
we are keeping on
their unknown tracks.’

Kevin Hart, from an essay on Francis Webb: ‘To be a modern poet, he [Heidegger] suggests, is to remain open to a new manifestation of the divine: [Hart then quotes Heidegger:] ‘The element of the ether for the coming of the fugitive gods. But who has the power to sense, to trace such a track? Traces are often inconspicuous, and are always the legacy of a directive that is barely divined. To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.’

This is a kind of religious poetry: transcendent in Levinas’ definition of transcendence as a turn to the other; but though Jones is serious, she’s not quite that serious: ‘no song’ also suggests to me the post-Mardi Gras aspect of ‘remaining open to a new manifestation of the divine’.

In our Deleuzian post-epigraph (Barthesian post-influence) culture, critics like to identify parallel or sister texts: from WB Yeats’ own insectorama, ‘The Cap and Bells’:

‘She laid them upon her bosom
Under a cloud of her hair,
And her red lips sang them a love-song
Till stars grew out of the air

She opened her door and her window,
And the heart and the soul came through,
To her right hand came the red one,
To her left hand came the blue.

They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.’

Would Jill Jones step up to the plate?