Interior Spaces: Reading Landscape through Jill Jones

By | 15 January 2016

Sensations like these are what draws me back to my photograph, to the memory of that encounter with the Nullarbor. It too was in the realm of the mundane, and yet offered something transcendental as an experience. It is tempting to suggest we might understand the place itself as driving this experience, cite it as heterotopic or somehow otherworldly. But to do so would once again enforce a narrative over the place, actively constructing it within an external system of thought. It would also privilege the place over the moment, and as such ignore the recognition in Jones’ work of the importance of the mundane encounter, that ‘this is where it happens, this is/ where it passes’ (2014: 109). Both of Jones’ poems represent a realisation from within the everyday engagement with place – in ‘Wind Shadow’, travelling by car, in ‘Golden Scree’, visiting (and cleaning – ‘I clarify with a jab and mop up/ my faith is in washing’ (27-8)) a holiday house. As mundane spaces, they represent something wider, the potentiality for this to happen at any time, in any moment.

Standing on the edge of the plain, my own encounter with such a space was overtly mundane. There was nothing to mark the moment from any of the other stops we had made in our journey. It was beautiful, but no more so than several other places we had broken our drive, and less so by normal aesthetic standards than quite a few. But it was a moment in which the place demanded a reconceptualisation of self, where it altered temporarily my consciousness of being-in-the-world. My consciousness of the place likewise shifted in feeling the power it had over me. Both self and place became permeable in making contact.

These moments of engagement between self and space also emerge in Jones’s latest collection, Breaking the Days (2015). The natural and physical world intrudes and recedes all through the collection, opening spaces which are alternately mundane and surreal, offering at key points heightened moments of engagement, each with a differing emotional tenor. There is a complex relationship between interior and exterior. The opening poem, ‘Lose your grip’, introduces this in the very first lines:

There are measures out there
beyond your door, you start counting
but lose birds past dawn
too many in that thankful way of abundance.
And, yes, they dance on wires and bark
bitumen and grass
you’ll never know them. (1)

As an opening, hinting at the danger and yet pleasure of moving out into the world, and thus into your self, the potential for the transcendent is immediately felt. Some are joyful, other poems feel darker, more despondent – one of the most powerful couplets is the opening of ‘Blossom’:

Smell the sky like a hurt
Blossom gone to ground. (7)

And yet again and again through the collection, mundane spaces seem to offer something of that permeation of place and self, the ‘double valency’ of the interior. Complicating this, however, is again the insistence on mundanity, often within domestic scenes. ‘Milky Way poem’ narrates in seven short lines the very simple recognition that ‘The stars are there.’ (34) Two pages later, ‘The growling horizon’ offers the experience of possibility within a night, ‘There’s always something/ to clean or renew.’ (36) In writing through the mundane, in emphasising points of encounter, Jones’ once again offers a representation not (only) of specific scenes and spaces, but of the power a space might have in knowing self.

In returning to my photograph, to my memory of that moment on the edge of an unexpected new world, this is an appealing way to understand a powerful and fleeting experience, a moment which offered something transcendental and unexpected, and which I doubt I will ever forget.

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