David Gilbey Reviews Lisa Jacobson

By | 19 November 2014

The final section of South in the World brings us to a sense that beauty and belief persist beyond the ‘leaf litter’ of bureaucracy and a work environment of case studies, shared office space, routinized days of meetings and shifts. In ‘Spinning on a Dream Thread’ automotive technology and industrialisation don’t quite manage to choke the ‘celestial spiders out of the cosmos’. However ‘Dutch Tulip Bubble’ uses the metaphor of this exotic flower ‘in colours not yet invented’ as an index of desire – ‘[its] lurid / flesh-whorls … made women blush and men offer up / just about anything’ – damaged and destroyed by human negligence and interference. Parodying Wordsworth’s Leech-gatherer (itself a parody?), Jacobson sings the praise of compost (a metaphor for experience): ‘so many corpses buried soft / give rise to new growth, no thing lost’. This section underscores the subtle, fragile beauty of the ‘alphabet of mist … what’s left unsaid glittering’ and the final, fallible awareness that, although ‘You can be loved and still the centre / does not hold … the darkest tides recede.’ There are ‘pinpricks of light in a glassy sea’.

In a way, South in the World is an epic in miniature. Beginning with a playfully Miltonic Paradise Lost; moving through an antipodean, even Blakean Heaven and Hell (Innocence and Experience?); rejecting Slessorian (modernist, agnostic) bright instants (as in Five Bells or Out of Time – see ‘Holiday Season’) and Harpur’s latent dragonfly moment (see ‘Dragonfly’); Jacobson’s Persephone comes to embrace the ambivalence of her equivocal geography and occupy, albeit ambivalently, Demeter’s armchair wheelbarrow.

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