Here are some reviews of my books and, where possible, links to websites where they originally appeared.
Return of the Long Title
The Mask and the Jagged Star
Reviewed by John Davies
First published Southerly Vol. 53 No. 1 March 1993
Jill Jones chooses suburbia. This could almost be the title of her book. She writes "i have agreed with myself to be here" and inhabits her own poems as naturally as they nuzzle along the mounds and ridges of a familiar, everyday landscape. We go to work. Backwards and forwards. Sometimes we go by a slightly different route, just to be a devil.
Jill Jones is too good a poet though to let Sunday mornings,
supermarkets, and vandalised telephone booths be a recipe for boredom.
She knows that life is rarely as dull as we would like it to be. We can
draw the curtains but we cannot hide. Normality is a barely balanced
equilibrium of tensions. We yearn for silence and are haunted by the
drone of lawn-mowers. We are tongue-tied
towards telling real stories
and our timing is bad, especially when we try to tell our stories "in cars with the engine running". Within this apparent normality an aroused self may assert itself or begin to float away in confusion
hanging around the front door,
a refugee on the verandah, pale face and misleading eyes
which leads, at best, to some kind of epiphany in the kitchen. Even there you may discover "the coffee had already/packed its bags and gone".
Friends and loved ones must be warned against a complacency they think they have earned.
you take black, one sugar, but don't tell me,
don't sympathise, don't make me laugh, don't pat me,
somebody else to forget someday.
In "The Administration of Winter", among others, Jones treats the poetry of our daily working lives. Is anything easier there? Unfortunately not. In offices "you dream of limbo, you dream of voodoo", surrounded by "thin young men who make decisions and throw no shadows".
When not jogging our memory of familiar rooms and landscapes and situations she is capable of a surrealist sprint, as in "Trying to steal the myth of lawns and fences", which features tame cockroaches playing piano accordions, radioactive toothbrushes, and a boat made "of feathers and small stones and flutes".
This is a rewarding book by a poet who knows it is a poet's job to define "a language for each morning, like this one".
Maria Christoforatos reviews Jill Jones
Struggle & radiance: ten commentaries
Wild Honey Press, 2004
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
on the lawn
tracings and tracks
a tiny park
the winking fishnet
get no younger:
goody two shoes reward
ache or Armageddon
cold fields, stars
rows of silver cars.
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.
a second happiness
that which is uncountable
those early hours
rascals of sleep
the tossing gowns
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.
I must have now
to see past these streaks
in which vision
a cotton that covers
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.
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
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.
the dark chatter
of which the street
What goes on
is not forever
Who is on the phone?
Is it history ?
Some kind of novel?
Anyway – a decision!
The poems gain a soothing quality toward the end of the volume; breathy, lovely turns.
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
bread, water, the green flesh leaves.
Orbits in which you find
fine burning sands
The charts of the moon
will find you.
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.
its short leash
dreams like crystals
changes in the light
thrown across rooms.
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.
Struggle and radiance: ten commentaries
Wild Honey Press 2004
April 2005 | Jacket 27
In the introduction to her 1995 chapbook Invisible Ink, Jill Jones wrote that ‘[p]oems are never unaccompanied, they’re practised in a context, a world. [They] are always working, not pure objects of contemplation... I’m interested in relationships between states, times and locales. Shifting borders. The openings and closures... The great themes, like the weather.’ 
Jones’ lucid inquiries into contextual weather have helped sustain her writing life for over a decade. Her new chapbook follows the publication of two longer works, The Book of Possibilities (Hale & Iremonger, 1997) and Screens, Jets, Heaven: New and Selected Poems (Salt Publishing, 2002) in which she refined her signature mode: a socially responsive lyricism that encounters and speculates on thresholds of place, atmosphere and human interaction.
Struggle and radiance: ten commentaries is a hand-sewn, carefully produced object from Wild Honey Press, Randolph Healy’s small but increasingly prominent outfit based in County Wicklow, Ireland. Over recent years Healy has published poets as diverse as Joan Retallack, Pierre Joris, Mairéad Byrne, Pam Brown, John Kinsella, Trevor Joyce and Ron Silliman among others, indicating a refreshingly eclectic editorial scope. And although it comes in at only 181⁄2 poetry pages, this compact book indicates a significant point of contact in the ever-increasing international reach of contemporary Australian poetry.
The book’s sequence of ‘ten commentaries’ reveals an especially meditative, at times melancholic moment in Jones’ oeuvre. Her observations on the ‘openings and closures’ of ‘unknown tracks’ are marked by spectres of mortality and transience, as ‘The mysteries / get no younger’ and ‘I don’t understand / what’s happening now’. A sign of the growing maturity of her work is the manner with which Jones faces such cosmic indifference and epistemological anxiety with hard-won, hard-edged belief, her ‘fugitive smile’ and ‘spittle of faith’ in ‘a star [falling] / past your window / into the alley.’
Her approach reminds me of a comment by the Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoschenko, who wrote that ‘[p]oetry comes in the act of anticipating the fact of possibility.’ Anticipation is intuitively, ironically proleptic in that it both foresees things in their absence and, in the very act of apprehension, presents them unwittingly into being. Jones charts the weather flowing from the gap between presentiment and ellipsis. Her poems not only anticipate possibility, the sometimes mysterious, sometimes abrupt edges of comprehension, but also anticipate themselves:
I am down and out
on the lawn
tracings and tracks
a tiny park
the winking fishnet
And above me
ganglands of galaxies
In the darkness
dogs and cleft air.
So what’s the Struggle and radiance about?
Loves. What’s left behind.
Coaches and ambitions.
The lost children of everywhere.
Should we be calling
The book is, dare I say it, redemptive in an entirely secular way, offering moments of existential clarity in unsentimental material observation. Jones’ work is also darkly humorous, cleaving advanced anti-romanticism to poetry’s struggle with boundaries between language, self and the world. This makes her work both precisely personal and sharply social:
...tired by scripted
and recent events
crass pillage of enlightenment
As if you could be free
like a colony.
In the words of William James, via Gertrude Stein and Lyn Hejinian, Jones’ poetry is ‘conscious of consciousness.’ It dramatises the desire to know, to share experience, while being acutely aware of the limitations of communication, the radiant impasse of reference.
Jill Jones 1995 Invisible Ink, self-published chapbook prepared for The Whole Voice Poetry Conference, University of Sydney 3-5 November 1995, p. 1.
Wordplay and Image
Review by Angela Gardner
Broken/Open, Jill Jones
Great Wilbraham, Cambridge UK: Salt Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1 84471 041 6 147pp
I approached Jill Jones’s latest book remembering, from encounters with her previous work, her ability to marry both abstract and concrete elements in wordplay and image. Broken/Open is arranged in sections each of which is interspersed with short poems originally from a sequence entitled ‘My Dreamy Epic’ first published together in the online journal Gut Cult. This interspersing arrangement seemed made for Broken/Open, tying it together in a particularly satisfying way, which made its previous life surprising. It was hard to imagine it anywhere but perfectly placed within the wider work.
In Broken/Open Jones again scans a landscape that is recognisably Australian. Sometimes the arrangements rest so lightly they appear almost inchoate yet it is a language that shimmers quietly over the explored landscape. Jones works across different scales – from the close-up of “the winking fishnet / insectorama” [‘Struggle and Radiance: Ten Commentaries’ p.17] – to the big issues, “Nothing knows / of the how / that ticks / that counts / on human mistakes” [p.24] so that these commentaries seem more like interior meditations. The poems are not driven by chance but by a concentrated knowledge that comes with steady absorption of the subject; an interaction that allows the subject to enter whether it concerns visits to the footy or the cricket, the Sydney Harbour or the bars on Oxford Street.
In ‘Driving Night Out’ Jones finds that the barbarians have much to be admired for and that they’ve been given a bad rap. Against a description of our angst-ridden society, ‘their verse / their surety of wild horses’ that contrasts believably and tellingly with ‘Dealers and bouffant guys’. In this poem she creates an inner Sydney street scene without distortion or cleverness. The poem is filled with a restless energy yet she is effortlessly able to offer insight.
The phrase ‘glance of the hand’ [‘The Dissolve’ p.7] revealed a subtlety of meaning – and this was by no means an isolated event. As I read, a phrase would glow and I would return to it. The ‘Commentaries’ give a kind of emptied space in the quiet of night to recognise ‘a spittle of faith / in love letters / vowels and kisses / of subtle dogmas’. Again a word stood out – vowel, provoking questions. Was this a sound, an avowal or an IOU to a creditor? All of these meanings worked in the poem and worked on me.
The poems have the ability to feel entirely resolved while remaining full of possibilities. Words or phrases are, they require attention because of both their resolve and their uncertainty; their ability to provide alternative readings and change the direction or add deeper texture to a poem.
Maybe this all sounds too cerebral – it doesn’t have to be.
In ‘Long’[p.94] Jones writes:
following a stir of dusk
a fleeting scroll
into nothingness and a thousand years
Three of the poems in the book came out of a project to write from artworks, others from this series are found in the chapbook FoldUnfold a beautifully produced limited edition published by Vagabond Press in 2005 as part of their Rare Object series. Jones’s ability to construct a very visual world suits her to this imaginative project.
These are not poems of flat endless horizons but of a more intimate often urban setting, reflecting the reality of much of Australian society. They are capable of contemplating both humanity and inhumanity. In ‘Refrains on Sand’ [p.46] we are given a list of excuses and apologies that, taken as a whole, is disturbing in the picture they create of some form of absence. It starts with a feeling of fluster which becomes more sinister as the poem unfolds. Reading it I feel complicit in the journey of disappearance that is intimated in the poem, a disappearance either of fact, or of self-effacement. Is this describing abduction or abandonment? Either can be read but neither is made clear. However the poem is clear in one aspect that either outcome is only possible if we allow it to be so by looking away. As the title of the poem suggests, relinquishment of responsibility allows repeating mistakes. Maybe an alternative reading of the poem’s title recognises the weak and transient foundation of the apologist. Through the familiarity of the words the reader is uncomfortably aware that the timeframe of the poem is here and now.
The violence of ‘Fractures’ [p.52] comes from its assured use of language. It starts ‘I have eaten words all night for years’. You know immediately that these are not wishy washy works but hard hitting front-line reports of a life explored, ‘holes made by language’ [‘Displacements – a week of conversations’ p.61], apertures created so that we can see beyond the immediate or see the immediate clearly. There is simultaneously an awareness of the interconnectedness of life and the needs of language, a poetry where emotion is integrated with the quiet power of the intelligence behind them.
This is a wonderful book full of cadence and meaning, rich and complex. I enjoyed it immensely and continue to enjoy it. Buy it and don’t leave it on your bookshelf. Broken/Open is about the struggle and radiance of living a life. Take it to the beach or to a café and watch the street life fold and unfold.
The Age, August 6, 2005
This year's Age Book of the Year shortlist offers a diverse range of high-quality writing. This is what the judges have to say. …
In 2005 the new poets of the '70s and '80s are now comparatively well known; even the emerging poets of the '90s have names. Newer and less publicised poets will regard the former as the establishment but in truth its hold is as tenuous as that of poetry itself in the Australian literary scene. Well known among whom and for whom? Wearing both my poet's and bookseller's caps I can say that there is an increasing readership for Australian poets and that contemporary poetry itself is buoyed by traditional poetry's status in the prolonged moral and political crisis we recognise as Our Time. The discipline of the bottom line, which apparently excused the majors from even nominal poetry publishing a decade ago, hasn't dissuaded the small presses, all of whom are hereby thanked and blessed. What can one say anew of the themes and styles of the 2005 shortlist that isn't already known of poetry at large? Perhaps, simply, reiterating a postmodernist axiom, language and not land is the site of this poetry and its abiding concern, and that subjects and subjectivities are alive and well. …
Broken/Open courts the great themes of modern poetry notwithstanding Jill Jones' obvious affiliation with "language poetry", a practice often implying the abandonment of traditional subject and object relations and the dislocation of syntax and grammar. In her case the celebration of language itself is variously grafted to her poems of romantic love, the experience of nature, evocations of the city. Writing that calls attention to itself by deformation of narrative or extreme elision often jeopardises the beauty of shape, sound and perception, yet many of these poems are riveting examples of poetry's pure pleasure.
Review of Jill Jones, Broken/Open
Salt Publishing, 2005
Jill Jones’ most recent collection Broken/Open builds solidly on the achievement of her previous work while adding a new tone and increased depth. Compared to Jones’ previous collections there seems to be a new insistence on the unstated, the implicit and fragmentary. Nature is foregrounded in virtually every poem and the political or social dimension of Jones’ work is perhaps not as obvious as previously. Nevertheless a powerful sense of freedom, of life’s beauty and pain resonates through these poems.
One of the most striking connections between this volume and previous works is Jones’ delight in the musical dimension of poetry and in music’s role in giving us a sense of what this life might be. The poems in this collection carry a rich musical presence – their sounds, the words and syllables that bounce around us and make the simplest act of living seem deeper and more satisfying. Perhaps there is also, implicit in Jones’ style in this collection, a vision of poetry as a kind of musical accompaniment to being. Whether it is that “Music loads the morning with legends” (“Heat in a room”) or “ways you still/hear the grass” (“Where wind falls”), music in one form or another is seldom far off in these poems.
What I have loved especially in Jones’ poetry, and find again over and over in this collection, is the way she uses poetry to create a free self - positive, humane, fully exposed to life. It is at this level that I think of her work as having a spiritual kinship to Frank O’Hara and early Ashbery – that beautiful rich innocence in which, using a contemporary unpretentious vocabulary, they were able to state the passionate exposure of living in a post-religious, post-grandiose world. Like Montale, another kindred spirit, Jones intuits that the tragic, the beautiful, the truly important will find their expression here in our everydayness. Some of the finest poems in the collection include brief concise depictions of such moments, as in the ten line “Speed of Breaking” where the poem alludes to a storm, a break up perhaps, where “Exhausted by my tongue, prone with excuses / I am staggering in the pattern of rain.”
The opening poem “Winged” sets the tone for much of the book. Rapturously beautiful, it encourages a relaxed flowing with it as it weaves its own reality – a world that is both physical and imaged as language, united by transitoriness, by the inability to limit or define:
it is raised up but not
the sides of the hour
it is suspended, it is surface
as though carried by water
or wind moves the parts of
less calculable than the tides
not boxed or protected
once they leave the soft throat
the twist of autumn trees
lets down the light, trust
in the chill, naked and right
that winter will always be spoken.
Whilst not really sure whether I grasp it or can construe its grammar, I get the sense of a boundary world that is not ours but still reflects us in its very strangeness.
One of the most important poems is the sequence “Limits we’ve shouldered”. Here the experience of love, rather than nature, is traced through a series of fragmented reflections and images. (“In retrospect it was gentle. . . bright as honey. . . awakening the ear, the mouth “ ) Images build on each other, set against each other, often using uncertainty in the construing of line breaks to invite more than one reading:
a self whose feet will run
the world’s promise of trees
As love poet, for that is how I read this, Jones delivers some powerful lines that capture the aching exposure of love, the vulnerability of our core being laid open:
As if born like babies
we are granted dusty flowers
like all the shunned words
The strangeness and disorientation often present in this poem struck me as a necessary fidelity to life’s openness, a valid and natural expression of a truth rather than any sort of trendy apeing of “post-modernism”, as such a style can sometimes seem. At times the listing technique and the disjointedness enable a shift in rhythm, a quickening of pace. One especially remarkable section [“Future and Stardust”], slightly different from the rest, joins together a series of one line aphorisms and observations:
A mesh that is not seamless.
These little dings and impossibilities.
Glow out of the big sky.
Innocence is a universe – but not sanctuary.
If friends crash and faces are hollow.
If the thrilling emptiness is just a biology.
Whilst there are many strong and moving poems in this collection, I found “Limits we’ve shouldered” the most compelling, the one that most powerfully confirms Jones’ significance as a remarkable poet. Jones’ commitment to the truth of the immediate, the primacy of the natural world, of our bodied selves and of tenderness, finds a strong voice in these lines:
What flowers, we don’t know yet.
What remains, what you touch.
It is like a photograph, you step into it.
It is like space.
At 144 pages Broken/Open is an ample and varied collection of poems. Arranged into seven sections, the poems are well ordered to highlight a sense of contemplative space. The section titles give a good indication of the range of Jones’ concerns: “Birds/Updraft”, “Down on the lawn”, “All that’s gone”, “As if”, “Shards”, “Seizures”, “Ecstasy on a verandah”. Perhaps it seems most appropriate to close the review with the last three lines from the last poem in the book, “Life in Autumn”. Their freshness, their delight in being, capture well the remarkable energy, the musical fullness and courage of Jones’ work:
Joyous dark, I am your boat and you slap me with sails.
To go onwards, maybe, despite and because, and the weather.
The pages colour with the various, speaking skin of it, life.
EILEEN TABIOS Engages Broken/Open by Jill Jones
(Salt Publishing, Camridge U.K., 2005)
A radiant lightness stubbornly permeates the poems in Jill Jones’ Broken/Open. For example:
Where Wind Falls
If you surrender details
they gather “a portion of the beauty”
in blue suburban clay.
In a clouded space
there’s room to step shadows
where wind falls under the sun.
Ways you still
hear the grass
strata, fine planes, slips of craft.
But light leans in from the
expecting more than
What do you need to know, to
land along the lines of its wounds?
Nothing is beyond question.
Or, this poem written “after An Exotic Garden Viewed at Different Levels, a painted door by Donald Friend, and in response to a poem on the same subject by MTC Cronin”:
Embellishing glass that reflects the green way, the blue light
On the surface of everyday is a dream garden, made in an eye, of six panels
Out into song memory, floors offer their patterns to the lush, leaf shadow colouring
The gold dark bird sings—remember how light came this way through tropics of longing
Walls belly out from closures, into world rot and growth snaking the pavilions of air
The strength is not a trick to the eye but a fantasy of fruitfulness
Past the heavy entrances we need to take, a cycle of making
When I wrote this review’s first sentence, I checked myself to wonder why I noted “radiant lightness” rather than “radiant light.” And, over a glass of wine last night (), I thought that I might have used “lightness” because there is something to the “-ness” component—a materiality of language (and narrative references!) facilitated by specific images for which mere “light” would provide erroneously the sense of disembodiedness:
The Madison by morning
still taps beer and music.
At an outside table
he plays air drums. It’s a great roll
on the nine am wind—a gas gas gas
—chasing the ale
of some long gone youth.
Cymbals, that great crash.
If only I could stand up
with my air poetry
quieter except for my hands
and a little wiggle of torso—
it’s a gas gas gas.
Yes, these are quite “bodied” poems, which is to say, they are in the world rather than presenting a more distant observant voice. Witness the second stanza from “I Was Walking”:
It’s the white day
smoke in the mouth
turds on the path
walking stick at the gate
intonation of pain
the redemption blues
Within seven lines, the poem moves from an abstraction (“white day”) to a sense of the physical (“smoke in the mouth”), then to something indeed quite physical if not visceral (“turds”); then after a transition that deftly manifests a pause (“walking stick at the gate”), the poem moves towards significance, towards a psychological engagement, and then something (“the redemption blues”) that hearkens a conclusion even as it remains open to multiple interpretations by referring to something outside of the poem (What caused the blues? What is being redeemed?).
I mentioned at the start of this review the “stubborn”-ness of radiant light. I didn’t consider this light transcendent, you see—more of a reflection of an admirably dogged alchemization of the blues into something without regret:
Life in Autumn
Reading skin, this old book of mine, this new.
When the prime minister’s teeth stare like a thousand grim moons.
An old Florentine bagpiper darts indoors, out again, into the midst of life.
Filmic days unravel my wound, like Montale’s arrows of love, the swimming.
Summer loses its sticky flavours, the last dribble on the chin.
A line has been drawn in the desert, and it blows us away.
The method is the question, so long as the notes with bluesy life.
For weeks all the poems were birds, now taking a dive.
Earthed in the morning, we try not to gush, but held. Particles.
Throw on a frock, sometimes the parade rhymes!
I have rubbed paint across my eyes and cry in messy colour.
After dark, I track my way home, this smell I recognize as life.
Words rain from my hair, flaky memory.
Further burnishing light into radiance are how some poems may approach the elegy but never lapse to it. This collection reveals a wise poet writing with much poise—a poet now making poems at the peak of her craft.