There’s no stillness to be had. ‘I would walk barefoot
through the world, to find an uninfected spot.
I would build my home on some wave-tossed plank,
drifted about on the barren, shoreless ocean.’
– Excerpt from Unhappy Fortune by Jill Jones (2020)
As I sat behind the comfortable four walls of a well-heated, well-caffeinated suburban office, I received an email from Jill Jones. We hadn’t seen each other since quarantine though we basically live on the same street. She just had a Zoom launch of her new poetry book, A History of What I’ll Become.
Everything sings if you listen hard.
– Excerpt from With Blue and Yellow Wings featured in A History of What I’ll Become by Jill Jones (2020)
“There was a definite vibe of attentiveness and there-ness, nonetheless, and people could come and go [from the launch] for a short break—maybe a drink, the doorbell, the loo, the cat wanting go out—without feeling as though they were disturbing anyone,” Jill writes of her launch.
Much less stressful than the sponsored wining and dining of a traditional book launch held by a publisher, I thought, much less networking, more room for the stuff that matters, which in Jill’s eyes is strictly the stanzas that fall so effortlessly onto the carefully curated Japanese paper she purchased from a stationary shop in Melbourne.
I imagine her at peace, tending to the garden, the magpies warbling on the thrumming powerlines, away her boxy office at the University of Adelaide. She is only a bus line away from me.
The poet should even act his story with the very gestures of his personages. Given the same natural qualifications, he who feels the emotions to be described will be the most convincing; distress and anger, for instance, are portrayed most truthfully by one who is feeling them at the moment.
– Excerpt from Aristotle’s Poetics’ (Aristotle, 335 BC)
This year, we had to adapt to a new normal within the poetry community. How can a poetry reading take place without a dim lit stage, echoing acoustics, a soft-spoken stranger delivering their most intimate musings of love and desire, I sadly fathomed. For me, poetry had become too much about performative, less about the peace Jill had cultivated amongst her magnolias and cups of empty tea on a hard-oak desk. Papers stacked up high, photographs of salt plains and resting wildlife. Poetry was not a product for her, rather something intrinsic, second breath.
As the months rolled by, the community that once sat in stuffy cafes on wine stained pleather seats to hear musings on bicycles in experimental iambic pentametre now Zoomed, had cautious cups of coffee, pints of beer standing up at The Jade.
I never felt closer to my friend Dominic Symes in Phnom Penh. We organised our poetry night together, looking into each other’s eyes through a blurry webcam. I felt the passion for keeping the art alive as we edited clips from poets around Australia. Their names no longer on A4 posters as we sat outside smoking at The Wheatsheaf Hotel. Now, they were almost robotic ‘SBrockPoems2020NoWaveMp3file’. As we Zoomed our poets, in dressing robes, gym wear from home workouts, neighbour Rottweilers howling through thinly insulated windows children wandering in and out of un-vaccummed studies with family photos nailed to the walls, Jill’s way of writing made sense to me. Attentiveness, thereness, something I couldn’t really appreciate when I sat in front of someone on a stage. They seemed so detached then, an otherworldly creature spouting things that never would cross my head. Seeing them create art in such an intimate setting, second breath, drew me into the beauty of poetry again. Words didn’t need to be amplified to be heard.
I wake up this morning
from the thick weave of branches.
– Excerpt from Improvising: Full of Indirection featured in A History of What I’ll Become by Jill Jones (2020)
Today I sit in a bar with my friend Alex Sutcliffe. I show him something I’ve written about my weakness for a man with a moustache. Out of character, but 2020 has brought an onslaught of changes for me; appreciation, a better sleep schedule, a gym membership.
“Are you gonna submit this anywhere?” he asks, cigarette between his teeth, mass of wiry hair knotted on the top of his head. He shows me a picture of a galah eating his house as I consider my answer.
Before this year, I would have jumped at the opportunity to have my name in the margin, another result for Olivia De Zilva on Google. But I think to myself, second breath, peace, Jill’s contemplations, fears and anxieties scrawled down in a ball point pen entirely for herself. Seeing my favourite poets in intimacy; ripped t-shirts, dirty glasses, working on their art with The Bachelor on in the background.
“Nah, this one’s just for me.”