Monday, December 23, 2013

Not to forget last year's book

While I'm looking forward to the progress of The Beautiful Anxiety, I don't want to forget my 7th book, Ash is Here, So are Stars, which was published late 2012 by Ralph Wessman of Walleah Press, and to whom I'm thankful for taking a chance on this little book.

And it is a book I am fond of. It was born of a more specific project than The Beautiful Anxiety, in fact, developed from a manuscript which was shortlisted for the 2011 Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. To that idea I added three slightly older poems which had not found a place in a past book. It gained a few good reviews, mainly online, but seemed to pass most people by. I suspect this was due, partly, to issues of distribution. Although these days you probably won't find it in a bookshop, now it is available easily online, including from The Book Depository, at a decent price, as well as from the publisher if you live in Australia, or overseas.

Interestingly, this time around, mostly the reviewers got it, in a positive way. Ali Alizadeh had it as one of his Best of 2012 at Overland and said: "It is not only due to the freshness and intelligence of her very modern voice, but also due to her ability to produce so much consistently outstanding, original and incisive poetry, that I feel Jill Jones is one of the best poets writing in Australia today. In Jones’s oeuvre, quality and quantity are not at loggerheads; and her latest full-length volume ... is a collection of terse, evocative ruminations on contemporary life that turns linguistic conventions into malleable matter for Jones’s unique engagements with reality."

Michael Farrell commented
on the speediness of some of the poems, yet ended up liking the longer ones even more. He said: "The book ends with three long poems in a section titled ‘Hang the Ash!’. These are, I think, the book’s best poems; they function at a different order from the shorter poems. … ‘Where We Live’, extracted from its original context of a collaboration with photographer Annette Willis, is the payoff of the book. Even without visual reference there is a strong sense of framing, of a focal point for the subtitles, prose and verse that make up this poem. Though I feel like I know this approach from Jones, what I think of as her geopoetic affect, the poem reads like a peak of this take: ‘Heaven, if you look up, isn’t as black as it used to be’. She even manages to do something new with ending the poem on the word ‘light’: the use of repetition makes the light meta-critical rather than faux-transcendent."

In her review in Cordite, A. Frances Johnson noted that: "Jones’ polyphonic, visual, ‘broken’ language draws fierce attention to the way language constructs meaning: life’s stages, love, death, past, future, culture, place. But there is a driving emotional core at the heart of this fine collection that anchors formalism to universal human desires for narrative and insight. The beauty is in the lack of resolution between these two impulses."

Lucy Alexander in Verity La
, also remarked on the speed of the work, saying: "The poems come in fast – they swerve, they flash you with the scent of ‘Blood Bones & Diamonds’ they catch you, distracted by their songful voice and plunge you among the lanes and backstreets of the city. They turn your eyes to the graffiti on the walls and make it meaningful, then up to the ‘ghost moon bitten apple’. Jones writes better lyrics than those pretty boys with guitars strapped to their groins. But there are also poems here that move at walking pace: that grieve and grieve again for that ‘you’ that puts the poet in perspective."

As I noted, the book was pretty much ignored by mainstream print media, where I've usually had some notice, but it received two mentions in print-based literary magazines. One mention of it made it into an overview article in Westerly, thanks to Michelle Cahill, who noted: "Jill Jones's urban dystopia Ash is Here, So are Stars is rife with cops, bailiffs, the ministry, the extras, speed cameras, dud freeways, libertarians, mimics, and arsonists. Not all the poems are anarchic, but the free play and associations, the rhetoric of an anti-poetic language is more than quietly subversive. Jones writes in hieroglyphics, inventing a code that exposes the debacles and corruption of contemporary life, of the literati, where 'Each word is a tip off' and 'Each translation a form of waiting.' Irony and anger walk hand in hand with interrogative poem titles and their indicative mood: 'There were votes in airplanes & trampolines, teacake/for dolphins & yogis.' " - 'Aspects of Australian Poetry 2012', Westerly 2013.

And another longer review in Southerly, from Nicola Themistes: "Jill Jones ... demonstrates her ability as a consummate stylist in her latest verse collection, Ash is Here, So are Stars. ... There is a certain freeflowing energy to the tone of these works, but one carefully constructed and grounded in a consistent mode of linguistic and conceptual play. I am reminded of Lyn Hejinian’s poetry in Jones’s artful execution of sentence structures and the ease with which she delivers abstract phrasing ... Jones has a measured voice, gripping but subtle; a careful and experienced voice that revels in the depths and ambiguities of language, in the flux of concepts that seep through the imagery; and a voice which luxuriates in a consistent flow of rhythm and sound. Among the jewels of this collection is the long poem, “My Fugitive Votive” which, like Milton’s “Lycidas”, delineates a fertile landscape of the poet’s sense of her own art ...".

A listing: top Australian literary titles

And here's a curiosity. The Copyright Agency has a program called Reading Australia, and as part of it they released their 'Top 200 Australian Literary Titles'. And my name appears not once but twice. First, for an older book of mine, Broken/Open, and then as co-editor with Michael Farrell, of Out of the Box.

The full list is available on the Agency's website. Lot's of classic and contemporary Australian titles to consider.

New book: The Beautiful Anxiety

Early next year (though it is out and about now) I publish my 8th full-length book, The Beautiful Anxiety.

As the back cover says:

The Beautiful Anxiety continually breaks across boundaries of the intimate and the global in an invigorating and unsettling mix of materialist and speculative writing on the interconnectedness of life amidst the environmental and cultural turmoil of the 21st century. The poems are in turn provocative, tender, impatient, playful, and swerve through the world, awake to its lostness as well as its ‘flesh and spark’.

As well as being a work focused on the material, it is, in an odd way, a metaphysical work. I know that one is not allowed to talk in such terms these days but I've never been one for doing what I'm supposed to do. I've also taken a chance on using the word 'beautiful' in the title, for which I also expect to be castigated by the poetry and theory police. If one has always been a maverick, one may as well continue being so. No matter. I presume readers see past all that burble and will make up their own minds about it, and, I hope, some will like it. It's been a book long in the making; a few poems were published almost a decade ago. On the other hand, a few poems were written late last year or early this year.

And some readers have made some kind comments on the book:

“This is surely a break-through book. Jill Jones has compressed her lyric awareness into an exacting and low-key brilliance: alert, astute, unsentimental, and with a linguistic intelligence so sharp in its inner and outer registers I kept asking myself: how is she doing it? There is incisive balance between the sensory and the fugitive, yet her images and figures are so crisp they feel more real than so-called reality.”—Philip Salom

“Jill Jones’ The Beautiful Anxiety, dedicated to the memory of her mother, joins elegiac witness to ‘another flow’.  Her sparse, 'ruined lyrics',  'barely words', expand into 'something planetary': 'figures/atoms/curves/droplets'. Sensate poesis unfolds 'genres of dust', 'the clash of pasts'. With Jones as our guide, we search 'the ephemeral world' for a 'green name': 'awakened/again we walk in the depth/of field'. The ghosts of Voss and Messiaen appear; 'a fragment from a fragment of Sappho' brings 'possibles, rain on earth'. Dreams, signs and portents are 'not like your mother/said'. The Beautiful Anxiety dwells in the imminence of loss, its 'vast frontier' and scope. And if you think the work of mourning is done, 'Urn' replies, 'I don't know/where to put you': 'Never end, never end'. As Jones writes in 'What's Coming Next': 'All bets are off./You have to go through it'. You do, and you'll be glad you did .”—Kate Lilley

“Jill Jones’ poetry attains a Newtonian clarity by occasioning objects to collide with displaced emotion, breaking new ground through the estranging effect of coupling wonder with wryness. This book is an intense celebration of that subcutaneous disturbance often only present in the most acute poetic sensibilities.”—Brian Castro

My thanks to David Musgrave and the team at Puncher & Wattmann for taking it on and making a beautiful space for the words.