When I edited Black Inc’s Australian Poems in the immediate wake of 9/11 I was struck by how much our poets were alive to the impact of world-shattering events and how capable they were of finding a voice for the bewilderment of a terrible time. And no poet is more darkly informed than Jennifer Maiden. She can dramatise how political insights and intimations can twist and turn in a mind, and she can reconfigure worlds of feeling and reference into a poetic speech that is nimble, ornery, but in every way her own.
The play of the rhetoric of politics and history would scarcely matter if Maiden could not put a poetic shape, at once traditional and new, to her brooding. WH Auden was right to say poetry doesn’t make things happen, WB Yeats was right to say a poet has no licence to set a politician right — but the satisfaction of reading Maiden is that her poems come from a mind that has stared into the pit of politics and a heart that is troubled and full of feeling at what the mind beholds.
And so we have this new volume. The title is musical. “Metronomes,” Maiden says, “tend to lean to the pattern of two beats.” But she uses The Metronome By Jennifer Maiden Giramondo, 96pp, $24 this to create a set of poems that measure what she calls “the blood at the heart of reason”. And they are full of the shadow of what former British prime minister Harold Macmillan, that thoughtful old Tory, called “events”. Often they are dialogues between people from different periods, chatting about visions and happenings, failures and potentialities.
So in The Gazelle, the blighted UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (whom Maiden seems to
Jennifer Maiden’s strategy is one of encounters between the living and the mighty dead