Wide River by Jane Frank, Calanthe Press 2020, was launched by Nathan Shepherdson on 16th August 2020, at the Under the Greenwood Tree Bookshop and Art Gallery, Tamborine Mountain, Queensland.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land the Yugambeh people, and acknowledge the Elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to thank Jane for the invitation to launch Wide River today, and for Under the Greenwood Tree Bookshop and Art Gallery on Tamborine Mountain for hosting this event.
In our little ark of books, a pair of river quotes …
.No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.
When I look back
I see forward. I acknowledge
the river and its baptismal font.
Baptism’s a beginning
but all rivers move to an end.
Passage is the definition
although repetition is what carves out their beds.
Embedded in that thought
the river’s blessing locates itself
as portent as well as parable.
– Tom Shapcott, ‘Thirteen ways of remembering the river’ (12)
I’ve specifically cited Tom Shapcott’s work because I think there is a natural empathy between Tom’s work and Jane’s work. Although Tom lived in southern states for decades, he was often considered (and proudly considered himself) a Queensland poet. Of course, Jane has been shortlisted twice for the Shapcott Poetry Prize, which is a notable achievement. But what I see in both poets is how they seek the lyric via the local, then apply a wider philosophical eye in what they perceive and record. In her foreword, Jane states her poems are a ‘wide river carrying images’ – this idea is enhanced in the opening poem ‘The Mary’:
…………………..of the wash of years
…………………..…………………………….the need for deep reserves
“The need for deep reserves” formed a personal reality for Jane with the death of her father Lex Frank in 2017. Lex was a highly regarded watercolour painter, and alongside the river, his is another strong presence that flows though this book. Watercolour as a medium requires patience and is difficult to control – a simple life metaphor in the very act itself – transparent colours that set like memories, or that set like words holding images in a poem – both processes inhaled into paper.
We see Lex, “in old corduroys”, “squinting at sardined houses”,
explaining … the way
fog would pool at the lowest point and the hot air
that would hang low and suffocate our days’.
Then in later years how he
laughed joyfully at our madness.
– Mort St, Paddington .
In contrast there is the poignant recall in the poem ‘Rearranging the Paintings after they Return from your Retrospective’ – a beautifully constructed capsule of resolved elegy, which opens:
I can already hear nails
hammering in my head.
as Jane sees herself …
taking a painting …
… and placing it in a space where
it speaks the right way
continuing on to where …
Home becomes a haven again
of interlocked polaroids
I confess an innate insight on this topic. Jane and I are both the children of artists. My father Gordon died just over a year ago. It is a comfort to see and to contemplate the vertical evidence of what they saw – actual or abstract. As in Jane’s poem, their speech is visual, and we never tire of listening. Travelling back, distant from the loss, thinking on our childhoods, we were fortunate to receive the unconscious gift of observation we now apply as poets. Words in black and white in Jane’s book are in fact tickets for our ascent into colour. Art and poetry are the ideal translators of each other.
The time that’s above our heads and below our feet swirls in contrary directions. As observers we are also observed. Reminiscence will always fit itself out for its own future. The comparison between the now & then is compressed in the life of a child. In the dreamy static of ‘2am, Beach House’ Jane talks about taking her son
… up to Bartley’s
Lookout where stars chiselled
messages on the wide sheet of river /
It’s a powerful image, later anchored in the quasi- somnambulism of
the small events and
family dramas that punctuate days,
sleep like that elusive closing line in the long rhymeless poem of summer.’
One quality I admire in Jane’s approach to writing, is her ability to both imbue and take poetry from the domestic – whether it be a person, object or concept. To leave the domestic intact as the domestic, as a thing in itself, to respect it, glean ideas from it, but not necessarily interrupt it – yet leave a body-weight of words and thoughts as a consequence of her quiet interaction. This is actually a difficult thing to do, to extract or alternately add significance to the apparently ordinary. It’s easy to put a banana in a cloud in a glovebox along with two tickets to the opera, but not so easy to capture
the mosquito net’s oatmeal
exquisiteness against the
darkness, the growing hum of
everything outside it.’
– Taken Back
Or as readers of the only prose poem in the collection, ‘Survey’, we will become the clipboard as we witness the inner response in the conversation Jane is having with herself, but not with the ‘young man’ performing the survey at a university pool. Jane doesn’t tell him “that the silence of swimming is not nothing”, or that the physical act of swimming,
is a friend that unspools my clogged head so sentences
appear already formed on a deep page.
Jane also neglects to tell him that she swims “to find a softer understanding.”
I think it’s time for us to engage in a ‘softer understanding’. Whether it’s the pool, the river, or the brush head soaking up watercolour, our primary life-giving compound permeates these poems. Poetry assumes liquid forms simply because we read it.
To finish I’d like to read the last stanza from ‘Fulgurite’, which given our current self-conscious and self-regulating circumstance, perhaps acts as a porous mirror – and perhaps is a kind of permission to ask, whether words find the meaning, or does meaning find the words?
you knew what came after
would be different, altered
unable to be as before
the uncertainties of the past
somehow beautiful, and gone
As we’re still here, please join me in congratulating Jane, and welcoming the publication of Wide River.
– Nathan Shepherdson
Nathan Shepherdson is the author of five books of poetry. A new title How to Spear Sleep, will be published through Shearsman Books later this year.
For details on how to buy a copy of Wide River go to https://janefrankpoetry.wordpress.com/wide-river/