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
Parts of the main
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
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
Excerpts from reviews Outside Temple Boundaries
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.