Maria Christoforatos Reviews Jill Jones

26 November 2004

struggle_big.jpgStruggle & radiance: ten commentaries by Jill Jones
Wild Honey Press, 2003

As I sat reading Struggle and Radiance in my local laundromat and occasionally looked out at the pub or the tendrils of exhaust fumes across the road, I found there was plenty that was unapologetically radiant in these poems and the word ‘struggle' in the title suggested an unnecessary weight or polarity to this collection.

I am down and out
on the lawn
tracings and tracks
a tiny park
the winking fishnet

The mysteries
get no younger:
goody two shoes reward
or famine
ache or Armageddon
cold fields, stars
rows of silver cars.

            (‘A Vision')

The poems are light in a manner that do not deny the mundane, the difficult, indeed these elements are the axis of the volume. Transcendence, and occasional resolution are not reached without a corresponding obstacle or fraught apprehension. The poems impart a sense of a character that is a witness to yet untouched by despair, perhaps the philosophical (yet not stoic) eye that sees and saves itself.

Born from my head
tigress mysteries
casual salvation
a second happiness
that which is uncountable
those early hours
rascals of sleep
the tossing gowns
heat awakes
the dawn roar.


The volume itself is soft, slender and hand sewn, and the cover artwork of swirls and ridges of colour is to be noted as striking and satisfying. The words between the covers are jagged, staccato or alternatively, depending on your view, succinct and concise.

Moments of feather-light juxtaposition startled and pleased me. The non-preaching cynicisms that are an undercurrent of the poems are perhaps what the speaker wished for us, as reader, to interpret as struggle. The rapid, clipped, almost anti-rhythmic use of language and format, coupled with abstractions, presented a difficulty in terms of extricating a tone or finding a reflected self.

What sort of eyes
I must have now
to see past these streaks
of eden.

Black outlines
in which vision
a cotton that covers

            (‘Colours Swim')

There are fine, strident moments, again with ‘Happiness' as example:

‘This is living! Even if / I never wanted it / the human romance / all that language / even the steady money.

‘You'll never get / away with it.' / A poor ruler / my crown my heart / softer than rubies / with a crooked grin /’maybe''

Summer infuses these poems, particularly the tender lines of ‘The Heat': ‘A bee / visits each / dropped flower. / That struggle / that line is makes. Nothing knows / of the hour / that ticks / that counts / on human mistakes.'

In ‘Driving Night Out', excerpted below and one of my favourites, we come to one of the few poems that insert something definite of the speaker, who is otherwise in the background, or implied as a bemused narrator. I was about to say ‘not adequately' inserted but such is not an accurate assessment. There is plenty of room within these poems for our own swollen personas to fill in the gaps and this may be desirable. However, as stated above, I do not perceive evidence of reflection, though there is a sense of almost being subsumed by the serrations of the writing.

You pray for the barbarians
their knowledge, their verse
their surety of wild horses

O the angst of insurance and facial hair!
O the desire for it all to mean nothing!
The zero within the frame.

Dealers and bouffant guys
fuck wheels
with drink and our lip gloss lies.

There are remarkable silences in this collection, and the speaker acknowledges these. The unstated left perturbing echoing spaces in the poems, however the poet is to be credited for this effect, for otherwise, due to the format and often depersonalised voice, the writing could be assaultive or too heady.

Another favourite:

Belonging with the night
the dark chatter
of which the street
is unaware.

What goes on
is not forever
Who is on the phone?
Is it history –
Some kind of novel?
Anyway — a decision!

            (‘A telephone, a saxophone')

The poems gain a soothing quality toward the end of the volume; breathy, lovely turns.

Let's not take the poison
Lunch is enough, sun and tannins
the plans on a table
a memory only of winter
as if it gave you hope.

Dry your tears
take this
bread, water, the green flesh leaves.

Orbits in which you find
ancient storms
fine burning sands
The charts of the moon
will find you.

            (‘A Calling')

The striking consistency in these poems is the subtle authority of the narrator. Reading and re-reading these poems, I increasingly gained a sense of the speaker and beheld a measured, composed voice, an unwavering character amid turmoil and modern refractions. Although I personally do not subscribe to the theories of post modernism, I perceived that the speaker approaches the poeticised world in such a manner. For those who are so inclined, there will be plenty to ruminate upon and empathise with in this volume.

Still, there was something curious about this book, deceptively hidden beyond the fingernail-thin spine. Each time I opened the book, it was as though I was reading the poems for the first time. This is certainly a kaleidoscopic quality that contemporary poetry can have, though generally at not such short intervals between readings. Perhaps it was my state of mind at the time of reading, or perhaps the aforementioned silences allowed for renewed meaning.

What is given away
for free
within time
its short leash
dreams like crystals
changes in the light
like kisses
thrown across rooms.

            (‘Doubting Sleep')

I will continue to dip into this chapbook when I am searching for knife-like worldly insights that whip upon mystery just long enough to lament for its decline.

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