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Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Fox Petition - Jennifer Maiden - 2016 WA Premier's Literary Award (Poetry)

With yesterday’s review of poet Brian Blanchfield’s essays “Proxies”, and the recent announcement of the Western Australian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists, I noticed that I had already read and reviewed two of the five shortlisted titles, so why not tackle the remaining three and put forward my views on the strongest contender for the award. Of course my views are totally amateur, have no alignment to any judging criteria, they are more a case of what I enjoy reading. 

If you are at all interested in my thoughts of the two shortlisted titles I have already read and reviewed simply click the title to take you through to my thoughts. David Malouf’s “Earth Hour” also shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2015,  and Lucy Dougan’s “The Guardians” which appeared on the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award shortlists. 

Over the next three days I will look at the remaining three shortlisted titles, first up is Jennifer Maiden’s “The Fox Petition”. The title itself a pointer to the content, with the fox (the introduced to Australia animal) being a refugee, an animal scored, hunted, despised, a bio-security nightmare. The collection opens with a petition (hence the title) to allow desexed vaccinated foxes as pets. In December 2014 the Minister for Primary Industries passed a Pest Control Order for red foxes, which meant the keeping of foxes in captivity illegal. Poetry linked to a political decision? If you think poetry and politics don’t mix then this is certainly not a collection for you.

The seventeen poems in the collection vary in length from a single page to sixteen pages and are highly politically charged. Straight from a fox petition to Penny Wong and Gillian Triggs featuring as a female duet. For non-Australian visitors, Senator Penny Wong is a the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (one of Australia’s two Federal Parliament’s) and Gillian Triggs is the Australian Human Rights Commissioner. In 2014 Gillian Triggs launched a “National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention”. At a Senate Estimate’s hearing Gillian Triggs revealed that she was offered a job as an inducement to leave her post and therefore not present her report on refugee children in detention.

A highly charged collection indeed, protest poetry, activist writing and it is very interesting to see this collection shortlisted for a “Premier’s Literary Award”. But this is not just a collection of politically motivated poems, the politics is mingled with the ‘pastoral’.

Orchards
(Melissa Parkes’ parents had an apple farm in WA,
Julie Bishop’s a cherry farm in SA)
When she met the Christians Bishop had arrested
for protesting detention of refugees, Parke
wore a coat like apple blossom: pink,
white and green, translucently. Bishop
on the day the Bali two were transferred
to the death island wore a dress
the colour of cherry blossom, dark pink,
looked gaunt with anxiety. Politics
will pierce you with its empathy, if you
practise it successfully. Apple flowers
spread raggedly and openly, breeze
dapples through them. Cherry blossom
reblooms so densely, brilliantly, that we
plant temples to ensure its resurrection.

Again, for the uninitiated, Julie Bishop is Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the reference to the ‘Bali two’ is when she pleaded with the Indonesian Government to overturn a death sentence on two Australian citizens arrested and charged with drug trafficking, her appeals were unsuccessful and the two faced the death squad in April 2015. Melissa Parke was an opposition member who had previously raised concerns about the Government’s proposal to send asylum seeking children to Malaysia, she has subsequently retired from politics.

Very much like the Australian political landscape there are a number of poems that have long lines appearing to career out of control, but humour is includes with Sir Anthony (tony) Abbott and Queen Victoria appearing in discussions about the fortunes spent on technology for the eradication of South American fire ants, yet again an invader, a bio-security concern.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton make an appearance having a conversation in “Hillary and Eleanor II ; Maintenance Is Power”

‘It wasn’t about Benghazi, but I did
fall in love with the Arab Spring. You know,
I was in Chicago in ’68, still half Republican
                                but has campaigned quietly
for Eugene MacCarthy – I looked older
that I do now, sort of chubby, with big
specs’ – she mimicked them with her fingers –
‘and lines under my eyes. I actually saw
beatings and a toilet thrown straight
from a hotel window in the riots. I thought
opposing the dictators in Syria or Libya
a pretty safe thing to do in terms of ethics,
more simple than Iraq. I may have lost
sight of the complications after, not been
cautious enough in saving staff. I was shocked
when they tossed the Ambassador’s body
around as dead as smoke: maybe they
were trying to revive him, as they said?’

Even Rupert Murdoch and Fox News (the “fox” again) make an appearance, as does Charles James Fox, Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, an anti-slave, French Revolution supporter.


The theme of the ‘fox’ runs throughout the collection, in various forms, with the prominent theme being Australia’s stance on refugee treatment. For left leaning fans of activist and protest poetry this would be your tipple of choice, overseas readers, right side of politics leaning readers would probably find it either incomprehensible or offensive. But then again how many right leaning readers of poetry are there? Simply given the political theme I think the chances of this taking out an award that is named after the WA Premier, who is currently Colin Barnett, a Liberal leader, who seems to think killing endangered species (great white sharks) wins votes, and who has just recently said WA doesn’t need any enquiries into youth detention, is closing down remote indigenous communities has repealed progressive cannabis laws, and raised the age of consent for homosexual acts (against the advice of Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation and the Australian Medical Association). Then again, the judges may make a statement!

4 comments:

Katharine Toohey said...

The blogger is entitled to his own opinion of the literary and political quality of Jennifer Maiden's work, but the facts should be corrected. She has won many major awards for collections similar to The Fox Petition in political tone and subject matter. Her collection, Liquid Nitrogen, won the richest literary prize in Australia, the Victorian Premier's Award, chosen above prose works. It was also shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize, which would indicate that her style and subject matter do not baffle overseas audiences. Another of her recent collections, Drones and Phantoms, won the Australian Literary Society gold medal last year. She is the only writer to have won the N.S.W. Premier's Kenneth Slessor Award three times. If she did win the W.A. Prize, it would be for literary merit, and not a particularly unusual political statement by the judges. She may not win it, but - as the Literary Editor of the Melbourne Age Jason Steger, has written about her prize-winning capacity, 'She's got form.'

Tony Messenger said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. You are the first person to do so on a Poetry Review - something I do very infrequently and from the data, reviews that aren't really read.

I would like to note, the Vic Premier's Award, the Australian Literary Society, the NSW Premier's Awards ARE Australian Awards, and her shortlisting for the Griffin Poetry Prize was for the International Shortlist (so for non Canadian poets) and it was for "Liquid Nitrogen", not this work. Other works may be similar in tone, and I may be incorrect, overseas readers may appreciate the work - I have been incorrect many times.

Let's hope Awards aren't handed out based on prior "form" though, hopefully they go to the strongest work on the list.

I am not saying that she won't win it purely because of politics or as a political statement, I used the fact that it is the WA Premier's Award to highlight Colin Barnett's recent form for my overseas readers, most of whom would know nothing about him (Australian readers make up 8% of visits to my blog). And let's face it, Gillian Triggs, Penny Wong, Julie Bishop are not names that 92% of my visitors would know.

Having said that I do think there is another stronger work on the list. To be revealed in the coming days.

Katharine Toohey said...

Again, your literary opinions are your own. The point was that it would not be some unusual political statement by the judges, if she were awarded the prize. That was the reference to 'form', not -of course - that prior achievements would influence the judges. Your logic about the Griffin seems a bit obscure. Yes, their international prize is for international poets, not regional ones. It has no particular Australian connection, so Jennifer Maiden's work was chosen for an international readership. Given that, no Canadian readers or reviewers seemed to have trouble understanding it. You will find that the local and political references in Liquid Nitrogen are quite similar to those in much of her recent work.
Of course, the Western Australian shortlist is very strong, compiled from 2 years of publications, and any of the books would deserve to win.

Tony Messenger said...

As the poet's daughter you will, of course, have a different view than a mere reader like myself. "No Canadian readers...have trouble understanding it." That IS a big statement, I am sure there are plenty who have no idea who these players are. Again, Bishop, Triggs and Wong are no Gillard or Rudd. It appears as though we will have to agree to disagree.