The Owl Inside by Ivy Ireland, Puncher & Wattmann 2020, was launched by Brook Emery at the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, Newcastle on Saturday 28 November 2020
I’ve known Ivy since she won a Young Poets Fellowship in 2006, and subsequently published her first chap book Incidental Complications. Ivy had a distinctive poetic voice even then. I remember, after a workshop, encouraging her to hang on to that voice when other participants, who had a particular view of poetry as only the personal lyric comprised of ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’, had been urging her to write more simply. I was pleased to see in her second book, Porch Light, that she had stuck to her guns and was still making fascinating poetry out of science, cosmology, abstraction and theory, and the way this meshed with the personal and quotidian.
There is a nakedness and openness about Ivy’s poetry, even more evident in The Owl Inside which I take to be both a development of and a departure from her previous work.There is a sense that the poet, the poems, are searching and seeking, and unsatisfied because they are not finding, not quite finding, something that is slipping away, just beyond reach, almost unknowable. The poems do not feel fixed and pat – there is no sense of self-satisfaction, no lecturing, no banal illustration of received truth. Ivy’s poems ask the reader to collaborate on an experiment which may, or may not, discover something.
Like the ‘something’ Ivy does, or does not, discover in the title poem when, while putting out the rubbish bin, she stands, ‘absorbing moonlight like a witch’. She seeks to record the sound of an owl only to discover, ‘once I had caught it, I realised I never would.’ Or, in the next poem, ‘Crossing the Sun’, in which ‘The mind cannot know / where to put this, only /the sacrosanct body knows, and not fully then.’ Or in the book’s third poem, ‘Spotted Pardalote’ where ‘This panorama is so close / to what you needed; /all this here is so almost there, / you might have arrived at / the pith of it.’ You all will have heard the qualification of certitude in ‘had caught’ and ‘never would’, in the body knowing but not fully, and in ‘almost’ and ‘might’ which deny the possibility of reaching ‘the pith’.
I know this is a reductive reading. I know this refers only to the first three poems in the book. I know this truncated launch speech fails to do justice to the range of Ivy’s poetry. Trust me. The Owl Inside is full of ideas, feelings, events, nature, ‘things and flesh’, to borrow a phrase from Linda Gregg whose lines introduce the third section of The Owl Inside. It is a book in which mind and body, the inside and outside hold hands.
The following quotation from the American poet Jane Hirshfield describes my thinking about poetry, and Ivy’s poetry in particular, better than I can myself:
Poetry’s words can be ink- and sound – stored stably, but the poem itself cannot. It is the score to a
music for which we are the instrument and audience both . . . The “meaning” of any good poem is
like certain chemical reactions: evaporative, volatile, and elusive. Its lines waver between what is
here and what is not, between what the grammar tells us of truth and the music’s alternative
promise . . . What surprises is what is “beyond grasp” . . . Good poems exceed their creators. They
are more capacious, capricious, compassionate, original, witty, strange, avaricious for beauty and
Ivy’s poems are that. I recommend them to you.
– Brook Emery
Brook Emery has published five books of poetry, the most recent being have been and are (Gloria
SMH, 2016). He has won the Judith Wright Calanthe Prize at the Queensland Premier’s Literary
Awards and been short-listed three times for the Kenneth Slessor Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
The Owl Inside is available from https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/the-owl-inside
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