The Striped World by Emma Jones
The Striped World
Faber and Faber, Paperback, 55 pp., ISBN 9780571245383, Price: £9.99
Emma Jones has recently been the cause of some excitement in the poetic world. It is not everyday that a new poet gets their debut work published by the prestigious Faber. But the Faber name is something of a mixed blessing – the book may get more interest and publicity than if it were published by a small press but then expectations are higher, the critical pen sharper.
Fortunately there is much to admire here. At her best, Jones writes such succinctly beautiful phrases as ‘the window’s shaky replica’ and ‘…the painting leaned out, forgetful/ And made the day in its own image.’
‘Tiger in the Menagerie’, a short and almost perfect piece, takes up the theme of a striped world most explicitly. The stripes of the tiger and the bars of the cage merge into one another in a few strokes of brilliantly enigmatic and disquieting images:
“the bars were the lashes of the stripes
the stripes were the lashes of the bars
and they walked together in their dreams so long
through the long colonnade
that shed its fretwork to the Indian main”
Jones does this line of economical and vivid painting with a sure hand. Problems do however arise when she eschews pithiness for wordiness. While naturally the poem ‘Conversation’ is conversational, this does not excuse it for also being garrulous. The repeated ‘because…’ constructions (there are seven in this thirty-five line poem) and the frequent modifications of previously made statements quickly become tedious.
A self-conscious wordiness also results in her using unnecessarily abstruse words such as ‘antediluvian’ or ‘tutelary’, which draw too much attention to themselves. While Eliot could use words such as ‘Superfetation’ or ‘piaculative’ with aplomb, Jones’ equivalents are not employed with quite enough skill.
However such faults become almost irrelevant when one encounters poems of such scope as ‘Zoos for the Dead’, a work that won Jones the biggest poetry prize in Australia. While it is only eight pages long, it reads like a sprawling ambitious epic, flawed but masterly. It was apparently inspired by a news story about a parrot, the last living being to know an aboriginal Australian language. It reads rather wonderfully like a fevered dream and writes of tears and abuse without ever straying into mawkishness: “her tears they caught in little cups and analysed for misery’s sperm [...] and ate her last supper every night”
Despite some flaws, The Striped World ultimately proves itself worthy of nestling between the Faber covers.