Jill Jones Memes for Disaffected Teens or Introducing Aidan Coleman’s Introduction to Jill Jones’ collection ‘A History of What I’ll Become.’

Aidan Coleman was supposed to launch A History of What I’ll Become at the No Wave readings in Adelaide on the 8 July this year.  Unfortunately he had to pull out at the last moment and  Dom Symes bravely stepped in at the last minute to launch the book. 

An introduction for Jill should be as simple as uttering the phrase, “my next guest needs no introduction” and walking off the stage, but here I am using words in a more or less poetic way, to say what doesn’t need to be said. Some would argue that the essence of poetry is its ability to be at once both invaluable and to have no value at all: words that don’t need to be said are the most ‘poetic’.

To throw another lion amongst the sawdust of my introduction’s carnival of insignificance, it is true that nothing I say will really be saying anything that Aidan hasn’t already said far more eloquently in his introduction which you may wish to peruse, as I am now – tab open on my browser – in the Sydney Review of Books.

The problem with trying to pin down a lion or a poet’s work is that you’re always chasing, or being chased by what has come before, or what has come afterwards: you get stuck in history of what one’s work has or will become.

I once asked Jill for some thoughts about John Keats and she asked if I’d ever seen Mick Jagger reading Adonais (Shelley’s elegy for Keats) to a crowd of a hundred thousand people in Hyde Park as part of a memorial concert for Brian Jones. I hope that this anecdote will make more sense later.

I look up this video and watch it again, perhaps as procrastination, perhaps as inspiration: that Jagger as my talisman, his pompous fringe and diamante encrusted choker, might make the task/responsibility/honour of introducing Jill less daunting. At least because of social distancing there’s not a hundred thousand of you here. The story of the Rolling Stones sort of describes how I ended up here doing this: Aidan had already written his introduction, he got sick, the stone rolled a little further down the slope and here I am trying to gather as much moss as possible. I’m sort of like Ronnie Wood, I guess. Ok. Here goes.

Aidan begins his introduction by alluding to Shakespeare’s annus mirabilis of 1599, which I imagine Jill would have liked, firstly because who wouldn’t want to be favourably compared to the bard, and secondly because she is not the kind of person who can keep a straight face hearing of someone else’s miserable anus. Aidan then talks a bit more about Shakespeare which is a subject on which I know for a fact he has written a textbook. Shakespeare for me has always been synonymous with didacticism: history to be dissected, prescribed lessons to be learnt (or learned, I should know which way that is supposed to be spelled (spelt?)). Textbooks, are didactic. Yet, despite Jill being a teacher of mine for almost a decade, she is the last person I would ever associate with didacticism.

This reminds me of a podcast where Patricia Lockwood says something along the lines of, “I hate lectures, poetry readings, all speeches for that matter – I would rather you just wrote it down and let me work it out in my own time.” The irony of Lockwood’s revelation whilst a guest on the podcast was not lost on her – she laughs about it – nonetheless, it is true that Jill’s influence is best carried forward by us reading her poetry: finding the beauty in it the first time we hear it, yes, but finding something deeper, grittier, mossier, weeks, months, years later.

On Time (capital T), Shelley says (and I’m doing my best to refrain from doing a Mick Jagger impersonation):

………………………………….we decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms
within our living clay.

Jill though, unlike Keats, only seems to get better with age.

Since 2014 she has given us, The Beautiful Anxiety, Breaking the Days, Brink, Viva The Real and now A History of What I’ll Become. Aidan remarks on her being “prolific”; how such praise can also present as a backhanded compliment masking jealousy. “How does she do it?” he writes, most likely raising the tone of his voice, except I don’t think Aidan himself would actually say this and when I read it I hear it in the voice of the uncredited woman in When Harry Met Sally in the scene where Meg Ryan fakes the orgasm at the restaurant, who leans over to the waiter and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

“Five brilliant collections of poetry in seven years?” I imagine her saying to the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

In a much more sombre tone, Aidan talks about a poem from the collection called, ‘Mouth Form Flower’, an undoubtedly good poem. He makes reference to Jill’s ability to be open to chance, such that the language she uses is effective in replenishing itself. One phrase, one line only seems to reveal another to her and we watch this process, this ‘blooming’, unfold in front of us like the scene in Princess Mononoke where the deer god reveals itself in that magical forest and each step it takes brings forth a myriad of flowers.

For those of you who are less Studio Ghibli inclined, it’s like that poem by Kenneth Koch, One Train May Hide Another, except in Jill’s world, the trains never seem to stop. “Let a thousand errors bloom” is a statement about process as much as it sounds like an early Modernist translation of a Mittle-European poet, or one of the mistranslations of a Sappho fragment which Jill incorporates into her work. As Aidan writes, she is concerned with “the sound of sense” rather than sense itself. Not that common, boring type of sense, but something more fun and altogether daring.

However, the quote, which Aidan’s introduction takes its title from, “Let a thousand errors bloom” makes me think about something which doesn’t make any sense at all, and that is a speech by Bob Katter which begins, “I mean, you know, people are entitled to their sexual proclivities. Let there be a thousand blossoms bloom, as far as I am concerned.”

Katter then, seems to metamorphose instantaneously from a flower-child spinning around Hyde Park to the sounds of The Rolling Stones into a sort of demented Paul-Hogan-shrimp-on-the-Barbie-slash-Frankenstein’s-Monster character, saying, “But I ain’t spending any time on it because in the meantime, every three months, a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile in north Queensland.”

The following is a limerick I was inspired to write:

There once was a bastard named Katter
Whose opinions on marriage didn’t matter
He went on the news
Looking confused
Is he smart? Is he dumb? It’s the latter.

From a difficult person with difficult, outdated opinions to a difficult poem, Aidan broaches Jill’s plainly titled: ‘Difficult Poem’, which I decide I love. Aidan is keen to discuss about the poem’s allusion to “kennings”, a device which I had to look up, but I am proud to report is an Old Norse or Old English adjective-noun compound phrase: the classic one being ‘whale road’ which is Old Norse for the ocean. Rather than dwelling on these cunning, arcane allusions, I found the opening lines of this poem the most illuminating: it starts “(yeah like a…”

Simile is having a renaissance and Jill, ear to the tracks, always alert to the train that may be hiding another train, is wise to it. Consider these lines from a poem by Hera Lindsay Bird called ‘Hate’.

To hate is to glory in bygone hurts
Like an antique canon you never have to load
My hate is a genial hate, with ‘a modern vintage aesthetic’
like clocking someone with a non-stick frying pan

or

Hate is an emotional aristocracy fallen on hard times
It’s like eating nothing off a gold leaf plate
To hate is a cruel vintage festivity
Like a hand-made pinata filled with bees

In this context it is the sardonic, eye rolling aspect in Jill’s work that comes with the Kylie Mole-esque (or maybe its Chrissie Amphlett-ish) teenager-in-disguise propensity for saying “like” that makes this difficult poem feel as though it were the set up to a punch line. “Iced Muff” anyone? “Cute Plod!” No, it’s just “demotic puff”: a very sorry “fit of plum”.

Of course you can’t mention plums in a poem without summoning the ghost of William Carlos Williams, and Aidan, the Bill Murray character, studying the paranormal at Columbia University has evidently found his way into the depths of the New York Public Library with this one. For the record, I counted four other reviews which compared Williams’ work with Jill’s, so for the first time in this introduction I’m confident I’m not making this up. Though, from my own perspective, I’ve always associated Jill more with Paterson, than with the plums in the ice box: I sense the carefully crafted and hard won urban esoterica, the poet moving through an otherwise unremarkable space and finding the poetry in it. Perhaps ‘unremarkable’ is a too-damning indictment on Jill’s adopted home, but it’s fitting for what poetry is most of the time: holding the same things up to the same light to see if they appear different. There’s nothing new about invoking WCW in a discussion of Jill’s poetry and there’s nothing new happening in Adelaide, but here we are all the same making something, right?

At a certain point it all starts with and returns to language: the generative power of the written, or, as yet unwritten word, in Jill’s work. From Jed Rasula through Aidan, “The past can be viewed as a library of decaying texts – or compost.” Like Shelley’s “cold hopes” that “swarm like worms / within our living clay”, this is how history becomes A History of What I’ll Become – the poems themselves are not only generative, but regenerative. Like an urban sanctuary planted in the middle of a busy street where birds eventually return to.

As an appraisal of this very calm, Corey Wakeling once wrote “Jill Jones could be described as an ambient minimalist”. Yes, she could. But I think, what about Jill Jones the punk? 1) Dresses in black, 2) Writes poetry, 3) Has forever been anti-establishment  and, 4) Wears cool badges and broaches.

“I can’t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit”: a line Jill has seemingly gleaned from a placard, finds an easy home in this collection.

The function of a meme is to connect people by reminding them of something that they already have experienced. The “fucking shit” that Jill has protested and is still protesting is the same “fucking shit” that thousands of others my age are protesting right now. In amongst the superabundance of disconnected imagery that postmodernity hurls at us constantly, we ache for a something simple to bring us together, to let us know we’re on solid ground for a minute. It’s the forever search for the single image or phrase or movie reference that takes something from the past to help us understand the present.

Because, dear reader, the only way to get to Keats is through Shelley through Mick Jagger, and like I’m a sort of burly bouncer standing at the entrance to the club thinking about steroids, or a prop forward for the Rabbitohs, the only way to get to A History of What I’ll Become is through Aidan and the only way to get through him is through me.

I don’t know if I’ve helped introduce Jill at all really. Aidan’s review is online for everyone to read and you should read it. Jill’s book is available to purchase, which I highly recommend you do.

My angle, if this could be said to have one, is to show Jill in light of this present moment. Aidan’s introduction begins in 1599, which is a time that I know literally nothing about and tries to place Jill in a history of what has come before. My re-introduction hopefully grapples with everything happening right-now-immediately-in-this-moment: in the strange sort of tense that the title of this collection posits. My aim is to try and emerge from the sawdust, the blood and sweat of this carnival of an introduction, with evidence of something that Jill is perennially underappreciated for: and that is that her poetry is alarmingly, disarmingly, profoundly contemporary, fresh and spookily relevant; not just in content, but in spirit and in attitude.

I’ll always think of Jill reading the line “here at your bullshit festival” whilst onstage at Adelaide Writers Week.

She paused a minute just to see if she was getting away with it.

She was.

She is.

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Dominic Symes writes on Kaurna Country (Adelaide). His poetry has featured in Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Book Review, Transnational Literature and Award Winning Australian Writing. He curates NO WAVE, a monthly poetry reading series and is the reviews editor at TEXT Journal. He was selected for Cordite/AP’s Tell me like you mean it anthology and the Emerging Writers Festival in 2020. His Mick Jagger impersonation has been described as ‘on point’.

Review: Aidan Coleman on Jill Jones: ‘Let a Thousand Errors Bloom’, Sydney Review of Books: https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/review/jill-jones-a-history-of-what-ill-become/

A History of What I’ll Become is available from: https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/a-history-of-what-ill-become