Jennifer Maiden returns triumphantly and with a diligence enviable to most poets. The Metronome is her third poetry collection in as many years, jam-packed full of her famed conversational vignettes.
Some time ago I reviewed Maiden’s Drones and Phantoms, so to discover another collection teeming with imagined conversations between historical figures was less about being disappointed with similarity and more about being thrilled at finding a poet so intent on developing her own trope.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – nothing quite compares to the experience of reading Maiden. She is so thrillingly imaginative and her self-reflexivity is charming and often brave.
The book’s very first poem ‘Metronome’ winks at us as if to say, ‘good to see we’re in this together’ as she deftly, subtly hints at her most famous style. “Binary metre belongs/to life’s basic history,” she writes, signalling her intent to thrall us with the binaries of her dialogues between anyone from Jane Austen and Tanya Plibersek to Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton.
Some of the book’s best poems, however, are the more conventional ones – those that dispense with Maiden’s famous conversations. ‘Lucky Cat. Money Cat Brings Money’ is a visualised delight of the ubiquitous golden motorised cats in Asian restaurants that morphs unexpectedly (for Maiden’s poems are seldom straightforward) into a parallel metaphor for capitalism. ‘The Stock Exchange belongs only in China./They love the shining chance of it,/and then the golden need for much/spurring and pullback, the antique/warhorse who needs tenderness,/’
It’s so easy to find yourself thinking you are reading about shop cats or the Yarra River when you’re actually reading about corporate greed or austerity, or immigration. And the whole delightful premise is both an exercise in and testament to Maiden’s terrifically clever use of language, which is not only intellectual, but funny, decorous, and sly. There’s even a poem called ‘Jennifer Maiden woke up outside the Fourth Wall,’ which made me belly chuckle to myself on the light rail – a feat not easily achieved with poetry.
Maiden’s collections have won the NSW and Victorian Premier’s Awards for Poetry, and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Literature among others, and it’s not difficult to see why. What we have here is truly accessible poetry that everyone can enjoy and no one need fear attempting. There’s no flowery verse or tricky corners, just a unique amalgam of social commentary and poetry, which feels at times less like reading poetry and more like a soothing Saturday lift-out from a moderate newspaper. The Metronome is another star in Maiden’s prolific sky that is not to be missed.
Louise Jaques is a poet. In 2016, she appeared as a featured artist at the National Young Writers’ Festival, and was shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize. In 2015, she was editor of the 29th UTS Writers’ Anthology, Strange Objects Covered With Fur. You can find her on Twitter here.