The Striped World
by Emma Jones
Faber, $24.95 pb, 55 pp,
It is fitting that ‘Waking’, a poem that links waking with birth, opens this inspired début collection from Emma Jones: ‘There was one morning // when my mother woke and felt a twitch / inside, like the shifting of curtains. // She woke and so did I.’ So the narrator-poet announces her arrival. The birthing theme continues in the next poem, ‘Farming’, in which pearls are ‘shucked from the heart of their grey mothers’. The same poem also foregrounds the poet’s interest in Ballard-like submerged worlds – oyster farms and shipwrecks, but also entire cities – and in the polarities of sky and sea. Indeed, this collection as a whole engages imaginatively with many dualisms: worldly/other worldly, internal/external, being/not being, self/other. Jones’s method is one of controlled playfulness, and despite many allusions to biblical themes and imagery, she avoids the didactic dualism of good/evil.
‘Zoos for the Living’ recounts the shifting of the town of Adaminaby for the Snowy River scheme, in doing so fingering colonisation while appropriating the Old Testament (think Adaminaby), Shakespeare, A.B. Paterson and The Beatles. Such a project could easily be overburdened with reference and with political posturing, but this poem and others like it work because Jones approaches her subject inventively and, often, with metafictional whimsy. Parrots are ‘clever ghosts, and blessèd among women’. A painting makes ‘the day in its own image’ (‘Painting’). The leitmotif of the (caged) parrot returns in ‘Zoos for the Dead’, Jones’s surrealist take on the removal of part-Aboriginal children, while the unnamed Jesus figure in ‘Sentimental Public Man’ provides a literal take on Christian imagery: ‘So I wore my heart on my chest, / all decorative. / And it flared like the hair of a parrot.’
This gifted poet creates a mesmerising menagerie.