Ivy Ireland,’Porch Light’ in the Australian

Poetry from Ivy Ireland, Maria Zajkowski; verse novel by Jeri Kroll,  Australian Poetry: Geoff Page, July 2015


In a back-cover blurb, poet Brook Emery praises Ivy Ireland’s Porch Light (Puncher and Wattman, 72pp, $25) as: “Never obvious or contained… [it] is its own multi-verse of ideas, speculations and puzzlements.” This is certainly a fair, if not complete, description, especially of the book’s first section, Space Opera, where Ireland, in a related series of 24 poems, attempts to deal with nothing less than the place of human consciousness in the universe (or, rather, universes).

Her question, “How can I write / a lyric poem about the micro-needle in the gargantuan multiverse” is the central one. It’s a quixotic task (we are certainly a small needle in a large haystack) but Ireland’s efforts to address the problem are cumulatively entertaining…

…Among the more striking poems in Space Opera are earth-bound ones such as Strangler Fig and Mangrove Sutra. While quite a few of the poems here touch on the indifference, even mercilessness, of the universe, Strangler Fig brings it all up close.

“It is a necessary thing,” writes Ireland, “this taking over… / this clawing towards being.” As she puts it later in the poem: “First symbiosis, then slavery, the necessary / cyclical sacrifice.”

The poet then proceeds to personalise the plant further: “Imagine digging into my veins, strangler fig, / find a port for your primitive circulatory system, / adjusting your god-veins to the munificence of my viscera.”

This last image is typical of Ireland’s humorous and hyperbolic way with imagery. Like John Donne, she is a poet who enjoys executing great bounds between the separate halves of a metaphor…

Perhaps a little more mainstream are the poems in the last third of the book, in the section called Follies. These are generally one-off pieces, and among the most memorable (and the most orthodox) is the prose poem 54 Working Murderers. It begins with a remarkable quotation from the Newcastle Bulletin in 1836 describing a “high tea” given for the “society ladies” of that city in view of “54 working murderers” working on Nobby’s Breakwater. The epigraph finishes with a more-than-poetic flourish: “the sponge cake sweats in the afternoon heat”.

The poem, in turn, displays Ireland’s characteristic, quasi-scientific humour, as in: “Your tastebuds expound the new rancid cream to your synapses, which pass the dire message like Chinese Whispers through neurotransmitters to your cerebral cortex but by then it is too late, Mrs Smith is asking what you think of her recipe.”

Porch Light is a distinctive and strange collection…

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