As readers of this blog know, although I enjoy poetry I’m not confident about reviewing it, so it is with great pleasure that I introduce Amber Beilharz to you as Guest Reviewer of Jennifer Maiden’s new collection, Liquid Nitrogen, published in the Giramondo Shorts series.
You might remember my serendipitous discovery of Amber after a Wheeler Centre event. She is a poetry editor at Voiceworks Magazine, she blogs at Metre Maids and tweets @velvetbrownfox. Her own poetry has been published in Verge, Voiceworks, dotdotdash, Verandah and antiTHESIS. (There are links to some of her work on the About Page at Metre Maids, and I recommend that you listen to her reading of The Moving Theatre, which will make you think differently about an everyday occurrence, as all good poetry does.)
Anyway, when a publisher or two sent me some poetry collections, I contacted Amber, who very kindly agreed to write a Guest Review for ANZ LitLovers. And here it is!
The latest offering from Jennifer Maiden is her 2012 Liquid Nitrogen published with Giramondo Press. A contributing Australian poet since the late 60s, Maiden has published 16 collections of poetry. Maiden has also won many awards and accolades: the Age Book of the Year (2010) for Pirate Rain (Giramondo) and shortlisted for the QLD Premiers Judith Wright Calanthe Award. Maiden has also been awarded the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Poetry and the F.A.W. Christopher Brennan Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Having been writing since the 60s, Maiden’s voice and work has travelled through political movements that changed the way we walked and how the earth constantly spun with possibilities. Because this collection is quite extensive, I will only touch on key pieces that sum up the resonances.
This latest offering, Liquid Nitrogen, wheels across cultures, modern figureheads of countries, focusing on the political landscape, current and posthumous. It also makes reference to those who have forged their name and ideals and become part of our social history. This collection is certainly food for thought. They are sequence poems of verse essays which parody and philosophise, two difficult approaches to achieve in poetry but Maiden is a maestro! The poetry involves multiple dialogues, internal questioning; the poetry to itself and the reader’s conscience, as well as the subjects, their motives and societal placing. Liquid Nitrogen shows us how to question ourselves and those who are our voices/faces for supposed change.
Liquid Nitrogen is nitrogen in a liquid state. LN is an extremely cold substance that when boiled heats instantaneously. It’s also an odourless and clear liquid, which means it’s a bit of a dark knight on the chemical scale. It is also a perfect element to represent Maiden’s collection which is fuelled by debate and weaves across modern and historical icons. Liquid Nitrogen is a series of character sequences. The poems interact in layers; the playful interrogation of politics and politicians, social dialogues, through to leaving lasting effects via current dramas, public as well as the private and the personal.
Maiden includes herself in her poetry and I think her own experience brings an authenticity to the charade. Maiden’s personal voice is prominent in her first poem, ‘The Year of the Ox’ which pairs Chinese Horoscopes with posthumous characters and current day faces. These long sequences introduce Maiden and then her daughter, who is the Year of the Tiger. This suggests incompatibility in signs. Then she references influences like Homer, Joyce and switches to current icons: Obama, Tony Blair, Hilary Clinton, an Eleanor that I presume is also Eleanor Roosevelt. Other characters of mention are George Jeffereys, Clare Collins and Florence Nightingale. The Horoscopes gives the poetry a platform to be absolute and natural, conversational and personal. The Ox like its character traits is always pondering and the observations in these poems are also remarkably similar to the intense gaze of the Ox. It’s no wonder the vignettes of these characters are clear, as the Ox is renowned for having a great gift for remembering. This lends well to the political slant in re-enacting events and world crises. So many characters in one body of work suggest numerous spaces, faces and conflicted interpersonal relationships.
Maiden’s poetry distinctly reminds me of Pam Brown’s satirical work. In the following George Jeffereys is talking:
the Year of the Ox is almost over, planned
to ask the women to Chinatown, wondered
what Florence would make of the fireworks, she
such a delicate, powerful porcelain dragon: you…’
The lines are quite lengthy which represents the tone of the piece, swaying between the whimsical and cultural, whilst also coming across as a speech or an argument. Especially the way Maiden breaks her lines at key words such as ‘you’. Another great image is: ‘Clare, who brought her ghosts / with her always, knew them peaceful here, / but she herself was restless until now. Now, / the cold chiaroscuro autumn moon / sealed the pre-dawn windows against fear…’ What beautiful, haunting lines. Considering Clare Collins’ background as a child murderer, Maiden shows the delicate, soft side of someone, who at the end of the day, is human and has flaws, too. I also love the lines:
‘The ox wakes and unbends her strong
knees that snap like rifles, moves along
her furrow with a firm step then
a neutral one in a digital pattern: iamb
then trochee, a digit and a cipher, pattern
Followed by the underlying focus in these lines: ‘…Memory: / essential to human identity and clearly / in nature digital and binary.’
‘Coal’ is a poem which is prefaced with the sidenote: When asked if there was an example who had inspired her as Dietrich Bonhoeffer inspired Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard replied, ‘Nye Bevan’. Gillard’s inspiration literally lives with her as if he’s living. This creates a great dialogue between Bevan’s working class, social justice, son of a coal miner ideals and the irony of Gillard’s political opinion. Where ‘He adored all mountains, felt delight / at Canberra’s closeness to them.’ Gillard ‘disturbed him, however: he recognised / the defensive studied affability…’ There’s also a wonderful poem where Rudd is on a plane with Bonhoeffer who sympathises with his position.
The poem I most enjoyed was ‘George Jeffreys 13: George Jeffereys Woke Up in Beijing’ where ‘Loud dragons / were on the TV. It was the Year / of the Dragon’. Clare Collins ‘had / muttered herself fully awake.’ They have a conversation about the God of Dreaming, Duke of Zhou. Jeffereys compares Collins hair to ‘rainbow on silver from foggy / smoggy ghostly window light’. They meet a Dissenter who’s ‘just / out of prison and everything had to be / the soul of caution.’ Jefferey keenly observes the Dissenter’s face as reminding ‘him of Confucius’s insistence / that kind-heartedness was what mostly / matters, that rituals and hierarchies serve / as a means to that purpose.’
Poems become expansive halfway through the collection, these pieces unstitch prior conversations and references, revealing threads. In ‘Diary Poem: Uses of Liquid Nitrogen’ Maiden pulls the focus back onto her own opinion. This diary poem is a beautiful list. I love the lines:
‘I may describe
a beautiful experiment in magnetism
and quantum physics in which a disc
magnet covered in shining ice has
been frozen in liquid nitrogen and hovers
in free air above a magnetised plank
and behaves as the owner wishes.’
Also, these lines: ‘Liquid nitrogen / – the use of the frozen suspension which is risky / but also fecund and has beauty – is how’ followed by ‘Liquid nitrogen / as in the poem provides the frozen dream / in which the two can talk again, inspirer / and inspired’ which is a complete summary of this collection. Having not been a fan of politics or satirical poetry, I did enjoy dwelling in Maiden’s voices. When you read this collection, you too will become a player in the game of state-affairs and be reminded to think about the world outside of us.
© Amber Beilharz
I am in complete awe of someone who can write a review like this about such complex poetry, thank you, Amber, you are a star!
Please share this review using the social media buttons below so that other lovers of fine poetry will find it – because poetry deserves more recognition than it usually gets.
Author: Jennifer Maiden
Title: Liquid Nitrogen
Publisher: Giramondo Poets, 2012
Source: review copy courtesy of Giramondo