Parts of the Main

StylusLit Review by Alison Clifton

The late British poet Geoffrey Hill once remarked that “difficult poetry is the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing that they are intelligent human beings.” Hill’s poetry was often labelled “difficult” due to his penchant for unusual words and obscure historical events. By contrast, Jane Williams’s Parts of the Main is “difficult” even as she avoids archaic language to achieve a primal simplicity of statement. Her plain-speaking, highly-palatable style is the very thing that renders her poetry “difficult” as it is coupled with often disconcerting content.

Williams’s subjects find their worlds at once confronting and comforting. Both drowning and waving, they suffer and surface as their voices intermingle with the voice of the poet. Williams does not presume to speak for others but she does, albeit hesitantly, speak up for others. This hesitation apparently rise from a determination to avoid appropriation; its counterforce is the compulsion to write empathically to render worlds in words. Read more


Australian Poetry Review Review by Martin Duwell

Jane Williams is one of those poets whose work becomes progressively more engaging and interesting as years, and books, pass. There isn’t much in her first book, Outside Temple Boundaries, that prepares you for how good Parts of the Main is, but then twenty years is a reasonably long time in a writing career. As poetry, these poems are not especially ambitious or experimental – by which I mean that, a few lines in, you know, at least generally, where you are, even if you hope that the direction the poem travels will not be predictable. In poetry’s house of many mansions these belong in the wing kept aside for calm, free verse meditations usually hung on some item of personal experience. But they do have threads of obsession that animate and unify them. And the most important of these is an interest in other parts of our lives, other directions our lives might have taken, those times we can be creatively lost, and how we can gain any sort of perspective on this thing called “our lives”. Read more


Cordite Poetry Review Review by Daniela Brozek Cordier

Poetry is a powerful medium for expressing how we know the world, and we owe it to ourselves not just to look back at the poets of the past, but to question why poets might be drawn to particular forms in our own time. What do their choices tell us about the world we presently inhabit? Williams’s works have significant ethical dimensions. They strive to present the world in ways that might help us better understand it, and they call upon vision to help this process. Read more



Days Like These – new and selected poems

Text Journal Review by Dan Disney

Jane Williams’ exploratory texts are testimonies: these elegies, odes, epistles, and exhortations work in quiet ways across vectors of identity, place, and memory. Williams persistently apprehends landscapes populated by protagonists who often seem to only half-belong but, nonetheless, ‘know all the right moves’ (38). The title of this New and selected poems announces a preoccupation both diurnal and otherwise: echoing Lennon’s ‘Nobody Told Me’, Williams’ complex snapshots tell of the poet-as-antagonist, a roving persona only sporadically in love with the real and often instead equally bemused and bewildered by many of the co-residents, many of whom find their way into her texts. Read more


The Australian Review by Geoff Page

… Williams did not publish her first book until 1998. With only four collections so far, some may say this collection is premature but they would be wrong. A relatively late-starter needs to make up for lost time and a well-edited New & Selected is often a good way to consolidate a reputation. Thus Williams’s straight chronological ordering here serves her well. Williams has an unfailingly personal slant on her subject matter, along with a talent for evoking character and situation in a short space. Williams’s concerns are often the almost-accidental by-blows of an otherwise prosperous society. There is also, however, a welcome degree of humour in Williams’s work, and an unapologetic celebration of life, most notably in Ag Borradh, dedicated to a man “back from the coma / which held (him) like worry // back from the fog … / … back to bud and to blossom … / … called back to the world / and its quivering song / praise the light we grow into / the dark we grow from”. This balancing of light and dark is a mark of Williams’s maturity as a technically versatile and forceful poet.

Southerly Review by Sarah Day

Certain things can be said about Jane William’s work as a whole. This is a social collection – its pages are peopled with vivid and tender portraits. Jane Williams is a close observer of humanity; she writes about the relationships between people, often between strangers. She observes closely the effect one human can have on another, often without verbal interaction. William’s world-view is a compassionate one … Read more


City of Possibilities

Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene Review by Zvi A. Sesling … I found this book interesting not only because it is from “down under” but because it does not have the pretentiousness that many American poets seem to have. It is also a thinking person’s read.

The Canberra Times 13th August 2011 Reviewer Geoff Page

Williams is a poet of the world and of personal experience. Her poems have a “lived-in” quality and typically sustain a nice balance between the optimistic and the pessimistic. They evoke relationships which have both their good and bad dimensions — which have , as she says in “Loopholes”, “loopholes she can live with”. In “Valentine’s”, for instance, Williams offers us a portrait, from the male point of view, of a woman who has been abandoned. He “remember(s) her as / sensuous and soulful/ the face at turns / beguiling and disagreeable / an overripe fantasy life / on the whole / she’d pulled her own weight / a hit and miss cook / the heart willing but infantile / almost conditional / too much in the end / like the real thing.” It’s a neat twist, the male in the grips of a candle-lit Valentine’s Day idealism regarding his girlfriend as having “an overripe fantasy life” — then dropping her because she’s too much “like the real thing”. It is this “real thing” which gives Williams’ relatively straightforward work its real and distinctive punch. Williams’ poems are curious, watchful; they care about people (both those whom the poet knows intimately and those whom she notices in the street or in coffee bars). “Dad and the kids” is just one such poem. A separated father, “a versatile actor” who “could play the part — part time”, desires to be remembered for “the fun he could have been” while his kids would much prefer “Not the movie just the ordinary everyday real thing”. “The heart’s departure point” is a longer, more ambitious poem with a comparable ambivalence. Here, a female narrator looks back over her relationship as a whole, noting how, at first, “We compared scars and found them kindred”. Later, “everything stopped working the way we imagined” and eventually, at the end of two closely-detailed pages, the narrator says, a little ruefully: “The body knows how to grow scars, they are proof of its intent to survive”. This may sound despairing but through most of City of Possibilities Williams’ poems are more a joyous embrace of reality, with its range of experiences and intensities, pleasant or painful, than they are a lament or a disillusionment. If a reader’s life happens to be in a “bad patch”, as they say, he or she might well use the poems here as a sort of “Self-Help” book. They are much more moving, however, and more vividly written, than that comparison might suggest.

Begging the Question

Excerpt from Launch Speech by Tim Thorne,

10 April 2008, Hobart Bookshop

Jane Williams’s poems break out, and for this we should all be grateful. They break out, first of all, from the confines of the ego. This is one of the most life-threatening forces working against contemporary poetry. That is not to say, of course, that there is no place for the presence of the poet in the poem. Jane is very strongly a presence in her poems and they are the more interesting for that. She is, however, their cause without being their reason. These poems are always reaching out: out to other strongly delineated individuals, to friends and family, to history, to the physical and social worlds she inhabits. They also break out from the confines imposed by safe, politely understated diction. Her tone, while always spot-on, is variously modulated. Because she has the ability to pitch her language so accurately (in other words, she writes with her ear — by far the most important organ for a poet) she can tackle the poetic presentation of a variety of situations, characters, events and settings. So these poems also break out from the constraints imposed by what sometimes appears to me to be a consensus, even a conspiracy, as to what constitutes proper raw material for poetry.

The Last Tourist

Reviewed by Geoff Page The Book Show ABC radio
That poem, “Emissary“, is one of the most characteristic and memorable in Jane Williams’ second collection, The Last Tourist. It has the intense emotion, often accumulated from the recitation of successive sacred or profane objects or memories. It has the willingness to take risks — of either obscurity or melodrama (neither of which she succumbs to here). To judge from her poetry, Jane Williams (born in England in 1964) is a poet who has lived life to the full, who has almost certainly kept a journal, who has steadily worked on her poetic skills so that what for many people remains merely an intense personal record becomes for us readers something much more universal. “Emissary” itself is full of telling details: “the lean years of porridge and prayers / for the poor”, the “just looking in the corner shop”, the “days divided between the publican and the less fortunate”. On the other hand there are the unelaborated references to the “Estate agent” and the “chicken farmer” — which may or may not be the successive occupations of her father who seems at some points to be speaking the poem — the same man who talks confusingly at the end of the poem of how the poet might lead them: ” out of the life he led and deep into the fog of our father’s dreaming.” If there is some difficulty here, there is none in recognizing the on-going force of the poem as a whole. It’s significant, too, in this poem that Williams says: “Leaping into love this way time and time again you  concluded it is always worth the risk”. In “How the heart works” quite near the beginning of the book, she divides love five ways: “Sweet; sacred; sacrificial; brave and unconditional” and writes a section on each. Something of this same intensity is seen in the last five lines of her poem “Ways of seeing”: … the way a lover’s breathing erodes you until you become that breath the way make-up draws attention to your tears the way your tears draw attention to your nakedness the way truth blossoms in the absence of light and beauty is as vulnerable as a fontanelle under the kiss of god It’s worth pointing out to listeners, however, that this poem —  and nearly all of the poems in The Last Tourist — are unpunctuated. At one level this technique can work quite well, suggesting how the syntax of life is not a simple matter of full stops and commas. Over a whole book, however, it can also feel like a mannerism picked up in early career and, rather sentimentally, never abandoned. Most experiments with punctuation — or the lack of it — were made many years ago (see Guillaume Apollinaire and E.E. Cummings) and don’t prove anything very much these days. It may be churlish, though, to voice such reservations because, clearly, the work is all part of a package. Without the punctuation (or lack thereof) we mightn’t have the freedom of emotion which is a feature of nearly every poem. Jane Williams has a way of seizing on some particular and making it more widely relevant: the grief felt by relatives and friends after a motor bike accident, for instance; the haplessness of the woman who, abused as a child, concludes “the test results prove once and for all / the only cure / is to fall in love with the disease” — or the loneliness of the newly-abandoned woman who discovers that for all her good sense and courage it’s “his name   the weight and cut of it / lodged in her throat insoluble as granite // the awful feeling that if she swallows / some day soon the sky will fall”. Jane Williams’ The Last Tourist is not just another example of how many accomplished poets live in Tasmania these days. The book’s also an example of what can be done with the kind of poetry many people, particularly young women, write in their journals.  As Jane Williams demonstrates, with the addition of craft and the advent of maturity, it may be profitably turned into something no less intense but much more finely-shaped and comprehensive in its appeal.
Westerly 51 Megan McKinlay
The Last Tourist draws on motifs of journey and transition to explore a wide range of experiences and states of being. With a deft, restrained hand, Williams effects a seamless movement between the visible surfaces of the everyday and the startling depths beneath. Whatever the objective reality Williams is writing about, her eye is always on something larger.
Australian Book Review August 2006 Rose Lucas
The Last Tourist takes the reader across a number of borders and boundaries-of geographical place and culture, the past and the present, love and its possibilites, and the irrevocable tides of loss. On the brink of the articulations of the poet, the traveller faces the world that is knowable only through the slippery point of perception. Not only are the peaks and troughs of drama and adventure memorialised in the processes of recollection, but so too are the possibilities of future…



Outside Temple Boundaries – Excerpts from reviews

Five Islands Press New Poets 5, 1998.

Cordite 6&7 2000 Elizabeth Treadwell

The book opens with a short series of three poems, starring Mary (the Virgin); poems which recall W. B. Yeats’ ‘The Mother of God’ via their evocation of sharp, clear cries from an interiority that is at once highly mythic and plain as your next door neighbour. Beyond character, though, Williams’ writing seems to me to be concerned with patterns, and most importantly, with the blank spots between ourselves and our ways of thinking-or trying to think. Clearly, prayer matters to this writer, and is central to this book, though quite satisfyingly problematized – and the problems lovingly, crisply rendered

Southerly 1999 Greg McLaren

One of the collection’s more exciting features for this reader, is the poetic approach of ’11 Stations of the Cross’. Some sections of this longer poem appear to borrow from, or are reminiscent of, the haiku tradition. These pieces are impressive for the way their fragmentedness alludes to what follows: there is a sense of foreboding and movement in them, as well as sudden, crystalline insight traditionally associated with haiku. Williams wites so convincingly and authentically of life’s spiritual dimension.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s