Developed from the ‘parallel’ poems of earlier collections – Friendly Fires (2005) and Pirate Rain (2010) – Jennifer Maiden presents her latest collection of poetry, Liquid Nitrogen. Liquid Nitrogen bends history, folds it on itself in pursuit of life-changing conversations. As in Freud’s Last Session, where Mark St. Germain has taken the liberty of scripting an alleged meeting between the legendary psychiatrist and C.S Lewis; Maiden puts Julia Gillard with Nye Bevan, Kevin Rudd beside Dietrich Bonhoeffer 20,000 feet above the sea amidst fears of another Fukushima, and Hillary Clinton in conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt. There’s a collision of the natural and near timeless – the animal kingdom and Chinese philosophy, and the contemporary – the private (personal) lives of politicians butting with their public personas. It is empowering to have policy and politics so brashly and personally bandied about. Maiden has these people on first name basis and manages a relocation of political dialogue to the realm of poetry. She reveals her practice in her poetry, in The Year Of The Ox, the first poem in the collection:
is disparate concepts combined in binary
structures: stress/unstress, iambe/trochee,
alternating syllables, stanzas, letters, space.
And leaves the marks of her construction playfully visible in the organisation of these elements. In George Jeffreys 13 she writes ‘streets were wide and distracted wildly, widely’ the image and its different interpretations wily. The George Jeffrey’s series of poems are quaint and thrilling, the gravity of the situation displaced by Maiden’s personability, her off-hand eloquence. Here Maiden’s parallel presentation of private life and public politics is at its best, the humble and horror in partnership.
In George Jeffreys 14 George observes with almost comic composure:
You’re also lucky
the Islamists did claim credit
for that exploding pipeline dear.
Through the collection Maiden displays an insistence to examine the act of the waking – ‘George Jeffrey’s woke up in Beijing. Loud dragons/were on the TV’ – and the display of people on television screens, their projected selves projecting and projected further still. Maiden juxtaposes the unseen moments of terror or uncertainty with the execution of a public showing, where Rudd, so recently unsettled in verse, is on a podium flirting like ‘a schoolboy with his/mouth full of cheap candy’. At the collection’s centre, Diary Poem: Uses Of Liquid Nitrogen serves as the lab notes from Maiden’s research. It is from here, in both directions, that the collection branches out, linked elementally.
Review by Dave Drayton