Australian politics, society & culture

Poetry Masterpiece

Jennifer Maiden - 'Friendly Fire', 2005

Lisa Gorton

Short read400 words
Cover: October 2011
October 2011
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Marc Newson - 'Qantas A380 Economy Seat', 2008
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Rolf de Heer - 'The Tracker', 2002
Adrian Martin
Chris Lilley - 'Summer Heights High', 2007
Marieke Hardy

Jennifer Maiden’s fourteenth poetry collection is a masterpiece in the original sense of that word: fantastical, intelligent, unassuming and conversational, it gives full expression to her talent. In this collection, there are few borrowed or conventional elements; to a remarkable degree, the style of these poems expresses her particular vision.

Maiden takes imaginative possession of all that presents itself – on TV, at home, in the news, out the window. Her poems zigzag from public events to small happenings: from George W Bush to the sight of clouds over the Monaro. In this way, her poems suggest how what we might describe as important finds its place in the everyday, haphazard and provisional. They test how we allocate pity, for instance, to some categories of experience and not others.

Friendly Fire is remarkable for its independence and for its approach to form – taken not as a technical exercise or traditional achievement, but as a shaping principle of thought. There aren’t many poets who bring together poetry’s lyric, confessional and satirical modes as deftly as Maiden. Her ambition is not to be impressive but to be true.

—Lisa Gorton


from ‘Reflected Hearth at Bowen Mountain’

                        … The primary colours
of someone’s neighbouring TV
dance in an upstairs pane, vast glass
where worlds juxtapose unmoved.
                        If I lean forward
I am in the window, but the fireplace
with its stove and chimney dominates
as if the outside bush were made to frame it,
not just its reflection.             The tree boles
lean on the wind fully-charactered
like those by a river, like firewood
in this fire.             The sky is not grey but
colourless-cold and vibrant-cold with power …