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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

While all this is going on by Jill Jones

Rain comes at last over the quarry sides on a day grey as sandstone. I reach across the skin of the house but can’t find myself within. The gate still sticks although the maple tree has healed itself. Drugs pass across the road hand to hand. Somehow we all began to sound like the shadow. Rage pelts trees all along the valley. The sky isn’t finished with us, not till the curfew. We realise there are words inside words.

Windows blink, murmuring diamonds, and cast-off sounds twist dreams.

You say: ‘There are languages I regret not knowing’. Everyone is working to the measure. How large it’s become. We knew it was all over after the cops had gone. Each second has a guard. Unseen presences kick leaves and lever windows. We painted our bars dark green where letters were torn. It isn’t the time to hate. We accept night and its measure where corners bend and rooms rise up holy and self-contained. We don’t always understand the noise, but take comfort in storm light. Air is transparent beyond the hill, towards the bay. We are washed in salt and amusements, immersed then drawn more slowly as our selves. Drops of mosquito poetry climb my arms but my blood is elsewhere, serum with the droning and diving world. All I want is a breeze at an open window, to watch a raven lift, black, shadowed, astonished.

[Originally published by the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre:]

Jill Jones says: The origins of the poem lie in a poem I wrote quite some years ago, around 2001, which was essentially a disjunctive succession of lines, observations, overheard phrases and happenings in my street, in my house, ending up with ‘the poet’ working. They were all pretty factual in their own odd ways. Some of the lines included, ‘Drugs pass across the road from hand to hand’ and, ‘no-one on the radio, the door of the nation closed/ and poets make words of little boats’. This was a reference to refugees being excluded from this country, the shameful Pacific solution.

The poem's original title is lost to me but one working title was ‘But Who Is My Enemy?’. It began around a time I was re-reading Shelley, the political Shelley, and there's a reference to a portion of ‘Ode To the West Wind’ in it, ‘from whose unseen presence the leaves dead/ Are driven’.

I played around with the poem for some time, maybe a couple of years, on and off. I may have even submitted it somewhere, not sure. It was never right: a bit too much detail not doing a lot, and it looked lumpy on the page. But there were things in it I liked. A couple of years later I wrote a series of lines in a large notebook. It was around the time of 2004 Australian Federal election. There are lines such as ‘Somehow we're all starting to sound like the shadow’, which is the first line in the notebook, and ‘It's elbows and interest rates and the beautiful soft furnishing of night programs’, or ‘Windows blink, murmuring diamonds, cast-off sounds twist into my dreams’. Looking at this now, I think I may have been watching TV as I wrote some of them. I see from the notes at the bottom of the page that I planned to write something titled many things but including ‘101 footnotes to a lost text on war’. Somehow, in a move I don’t quite recall, I decided these lines and the other poem, and a few other orphan bits and pieces, might work into something. I wrote ‘101 lines on a spring campaign’, I think I called it, mixing up the lines, getting together 101 of them. I was trying to get the poem to move between the very particulars of a place to the over-arching political state of a country. But it was always a bit uncooked, over-reaching or under-reaching, I don’t know.

I did send it off somewhere but it got the inevitable arse. It became ‘62 Footnotes For a Lost Text on the Spring Campaign’ for a short time. I left it for a bit. Then, one day, playing with it on screen, I ran it all together as a paragraph. It seemed to work with much, much pruning. The currawong in the last line became a raven (an Australian raven) because I suspect that's what it had been all along, a big black raven. I sent it off to nzepc for an online anthology and it came out in three paragraphs. I don't know if that was something to do with a coding error or whether someone there re-edited it like that. But I kind of liked it, and accepted it. The discarded lines have mostly found their ways into other works, or await their turn (maybe).

Thanks, Jill. Someone asked me today, When do you know when a poem is finished? And I replied with the 'abandonment' quote. But this poem's journey is a real living example of the twists and turns in the birth canal.

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