Cherish, wonder and the want to protect: Angela Costi reviews ‘Green Dance’ by Jena Woodhouse

Green Dance – Tamborine Mountain Poems by Jena Woodhouse. Calanthe Pess, 2018

Some of us are fortunate to have experienced those places where nature awakens us to become its disciple. A pause on a mountain top or a walk in a rain forest compels us to contemplate our humanity. However to write about this experience without undertones of politics nor activism, rather with precise lyric and evocative tone is what Jena Woodhouse has undoubtedly achieved in her most recent poetry collection, Green Dance. Through her lens, she amplifies the micro of our natural world in such a way where you can’t help but cherish, wonder and want to protect what we have left.

 Woodhouse’ forward to the collection provides the context for the poems having a strong place-based theme. She refers to visits and stays at Tamborine Mountain, South East Queensland, and specifically to Abydos, a rainforest retreat, which was the home of the esteemed poet, lecturer and opera critic, Valentine Vallis – her friend and mentor during her undergraduate years. Abydos and its natural surrounds are the creative impetus for the poems. In the forward, Woodhouse describes a local community, poetry project she was involved in, which provides insight into her writing process for the poems in Green Dance: embedding poetry in landscape – rekindled the intense affinity whereby spirit responds to place.

 Although Woodhouse is an author of great genre breadth with seven publications, and a list of poetry awards and international writer residencies, she is deservedly acknowledged for her poetry dedicated to the natural world. Just like Judith Wright (who was also a resident of Tamborine Mountain), Woodhouse pays homage to the common cicada in ‘Cicadas, Abydos’. In this poem of praise, there is a build of words to describe the awe and supplication these insects evoke:

 Silence is the after-note
of sound. From this contracting point
the ripples travel out again –
the dirge, the dervish spin, the roar,
the soaring, thrilling Orphic chant,
until the senses swoon, entranced,
the body longs to reel and dance,
or genuflect in awe before the mystery.

 There is an ‘apotheosis’ reached by listening and documenting the mystery of sound of not only the cicadas, but the mountain itself, as found in ‘The House on the Mountain: 

the forest heaving in vast eddies, shivering
in floods of air; resolving force
in complex choruses, rephrasing sight
as sound. The native instruments surround…

 A confidant metre and rhyme, play with alliteration, and reverence for word enables Woodhouse to share the offerings of Tamborine Mountain’s inhabitants. In ‘Cicada Colony’ she returns to the cicada’s song and their home to give witness to miracle:  

… their brilliance of tone
resounds and ricochets, intones and rounds
tree-sibilance…

We crane at phraseologies of fronds
that cartwheel into sky, slim-columned
palms, and huge green hands of giant
stinging trees…

 

……………………………………………………..The words for awe
and fear were not invented here, this universe
was set in train millennia before our time.
We stumble under language-trees attuned
to darker lores and rites, conditioned
by smooth surfaces and glassy light. 

The poem that truly embeds itself with the environment is ‘Green Dance’. This is the poem that ties the collection together and is glorious in its detail of each and every aspect of Tamborine Mountain, as well as the spiritual impact on the poet, an in turn the reader. It is difficult to find a line or two to highlight as ‘Green Dance’ is like a symphony, still it ends so well with:

here it is higher, clearer, lighter,
easier to breathe.

The collection also houses a number of poems devoted to dissecting Abydos itself – where Woodhouse explores and interrogates the origins of the word and its meaning to the place. In ‘Abydos, a Town near Troy’, Woodhouse demonstrates her knowledge of Ancient Greek mythology by enacting the tragedy of Leander and Hero. The poem is true to the myth as well as to the structure and discipline of narrative poetry:

As the lambent summer waned in Thrace and Troy,
the waters of the Hellespont seethed treacherous and wild.
Since Eros toys with one and all, blinding lovers in his thrall,
Leander strove, defying hazards, heedless of the elements

The intersection of myth and mysticism abounds throughout the poems dedicated to Abydos. Whether its ‘Richmond Birdwing Butterflies’ or ‘Regent Bowerbirds’ or ‘Currawongs and Magpies’, Woodhouse is interested in unpacking their essence and resonance. In Green Dance, Woodhouse finds a place among such poets as Judith Wright and Mary Oliver, renowned for immortalising earth, nature and species in their poems.

 – Angela Costi 

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Angela Costi has four poetry collections: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014). Her full-length play, Shimmer, has been remounted at several South Australian secondary colleges, 2016-17. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia and overseas, including Hecate, Southerly, LINQ, Meanjin, Tattoo Highway, Alternative Law Journal and Peril. In 2009-10, with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, she travelled to Japan to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and the Stringraphy Ensemble. Her essay about this collaboration, and performance text, A Nest of Cinnamon, are published in Cordite, 2009 and 2013.

Green Dance – Tamborine Mountain Poems is available from https://www.shop.slq.qld.gov.au/books-all/Fiction/green-dance-tamborine-mountain-poems

 

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