Monday, November 14, 2016

'Always, Always this woman haunted him': on the poems of Jennifer Maiden

I wrote this review for the Wheeler Centre when Liquid Nitrogen was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier's Awards. It's sort of old now, but it came back to me during a brief exchange with Charlotte Wood and I decided to place it here, for posterity, and because, as Charlotte said on my recommendation that she read Jennifer Maiden's work:

Review of Liquid Nitrogen
Cross posted from The Wheeler Centre
This morning it was just me and my daughters at the kitchen table. They were filling in their lunch orders. The conversation turned to Julia Gillard, as it sometimes does. My daughters, like the rest of us genetically inclined to the Left, struggle to understand the unravelling narrative of politics of the last few years. For the first time, I showed them Gillard’s misogyny speech on YouTube. Then we watched Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation.
The immediacy and intimacy that technology has brought to politics reverberates in Jennifer Maiden’s astonishing collection, Liquid Nitrogen. The personal is political, but for Maiden the political is personal; she draws us into the lounge room of politics. Maiden unstrands the individuals from the state.
She returns to a motif she’s employed before, presumably inspired by Hillary Clinton’s confession that she ‘communes’ with Eleanor Roosevelt. She summons other political leaders and their ‘guiding spirits’ - Rudd and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gillard and Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, Bob Carr and Robert Byrd.
Basically, she conjures artefacts: Julia Gillard et. al, Maiden’s own fictional characters George Jeffreys and Claire Collins from a previous novel, her adult daughter Katharine, herself, Julian Assange, Florence Nightingale, liquid nitrogen, birds, dogs, the State Emergency Services Current Incidents site… The reader becomes an archaeologist, sifting out these artefacts and recognising the present for what it is: a series of objects, laden with meaning, and knitted together inside a giant web of information. I, for one, relished the project.
Maiden uses the term ‘weaving poem’, and I love this idea of form: a confluence of story, poetic imagery and current affairs, a sort of resting on the boundaries of consciousness, where the logic of story can tip over into the chaos of unfiltered information, so that the end product is not quite a verse novel, and is not quite not a verse novel.
This is poetry very much of its time, an organic, human approach to the world we live in, to the collective consciousness that is the internet, and the deeply individual, personal existence we each lead within this collective.
I have to say, from a purely fan-girlish point of view, my favourite poem is ‘Poor Petal’. I keep thrusting it at people and making them read it. I sit there while they do, part embarrassed, part proud, as if I made it myself. In it, Aneurin Bevan wakes up in Canberra, in Gillard’s lounge room, as she watches herself on the television. Here in the presence of her attending spirit, she is silent.
Her eyes searched his, but she had never yet
spoken with him, acknowledged his return.
He had expected speech but her sad eyes
as grey as baby sparrows emptily
flickered around the room…
…This woman did not converse, her flame
ate her within always. Always. Always
this woman haunted him.’  
(Jennifer Maiden ‘Poor Petal’)
Here, to me, Maiden finds the true power of her recurring motif. As I grow older, I find the ambiguity of power in politics depressing. Gillard – in poetry – is a way of exploring the vulnerable body that exists in politics. Her femaleness – like Obama’s blackness – brings the body into play. With the body comes the vulnerabilities of the body, the limitations, sex, death, ambivalent power. ‘Poor Petal’ reverberates with the same resonance as Adrienne Rich’s poem about Marie Curie:
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power
(Adrienne Rich, ‘Power’)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Sweet Valley High Fan Fiction Just Cause

For Sam
Jess heard sobbing in the bathroom.
'Liz?' She tapped on the door. 'Is that you?'
'Go away!'
'Not going to happen. Let me in, Liz. Is this about your fight with Todd?'
The door opened. Usually when Jessica Wakefield looked at her twin, it was like looking into a mirror, but today, Jess saw only Liz's blue-green eyes – the very colour of the Pacific Ocean – swimming with tears.
'Oh Jess, it's all my fault! I promised Enid I'd go to the pantsuit flash mob for Hillary–'
Jess wrinkled up her nose. 'Ew. I don't care what Hillary's politics are. I'm never voting for anyone who wears a pantsuit.'
'Oh Jess, you sound just like Steven.' The twins' brother Steven had worked on Bernie Sanders' campaign. When Bernie lost the Democratic primary, Steven had vowed never to vote for Hillary, even if it meant Trump won the election.
'Face it, Liz, lots of our friends voted for Trump.' Jess counted off on her fingers. 'The Patmores, the Fowlers, even the Egberts.'
Liz began to cry again.
'Sorry, sorry,' said Jess. 'You were saying about Enid and the pantsuits?'
'Well, I was all ready to go when Todd dropped by. He was really hurt and angry about me going. You know how he feels about feminism. I mean he believes in equal rights and everything. He just feels like feminism is, like, self-defeating. Anyway, he was all like, "and that pantsuit looks really ugly on you, Elizabeth" and then he left.'
Jessica gasped. 'How dare he? Everyone knows I can wear anything, even pantsuits! I mean, Liz, doesn't he know we dropped a whole dress size in the last reprint? Unless, Liz... you haven't been stress eating again?'
'Jess! Have you ever heard of feminism?' Liz rolled her eyes. 'Anyway, as you know perfectly well, I'm a perfect size 4. Blueberry muffins are your favourite breakfast remember, not mine.'
'So Todd left?'
'And, well, I just felt like I was betraying Todd. I was all ready to dance the routine, but at the last minute, I just knew I couldn't go through with it.'
'Haven't you heard of feminism?' asked Jess and laughed.
'Stop it. I mean feminism is important and everything, but this is Todd.' Liz looked at Jess pleadingly and Jess nodded. Todd and Liz had been together forever. Sometimes Jess even felt a little jealous of their deep connection, but then she remembered how fun it was to play the field. Who wanted to get tied down to just one guy?
'But what about Enid? I mean you guys go way back too.'
'I thought Enid would understand!' Liz sobbed. 'I tried to explain but she was with all her new intersectional-feminism friends and I knew they'd never get it! And now she's not returning my texts or my tweets. She didn't even comment on my facebook status where I compared the current political climate to the popular trend of dystopian Young Adult fiction.'
Jess shrugged. 'Oh, Liz, I hate to say it, but I think Enid's right. Chicks before dicks.'
'Oh Jess,' Liz began to cry again. 'This is the worst day of my life. I had a fight with Todd. Enid's not talking to me. Donald Trump's been voted president. And it's all my fault!'