Jill Jones, ‘The Beautiful Anxiety’ in Rochford Street Review

Infused With Possibilities: ‘The Beautiful Anxiety’ by Jill Jones

Stu Hatton, Rochford Street Review, 3 April 2014


When or how can anxiety be beautiful? Consider the possibility of a trembling current within all things, like the flickerings of light and water; the pulse of language becoming elevated; an overload of images; the meshings of city temporalities; tinglings and scratches of affect; the moment’s anxious possibilities for birth, death and rebirth. Jill Jones’s latest collection reaches towards all of these, and is informed by them.

The book opens with the sequence ‘My Ruined Lyrics’. The first poem is entitled ‘Hold On’, the second ‘I’m Coming’. This may well be a nod to the Sam and Dave soul classic ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’, dividing the song’s title over two poem titles. There’s a hint of Dorothy Porter in the sparseness of ‘Hold On’ and ‘I’m Coming’, although Jones’s instinct is for subtlety and suppleness, as opposed to Porter’s tendency to go for the jugular. ‘I’m Coming’ also has undercurrents of the detective on the case (of love), one of Porter’s favourite motifs. Nevertheless, Porter and Jones are very different poets, and considering their respective oeuvres, I don’t think any particularly meaningful comparison can really be made.

‘Wave’, by its halfway point (at its crest?) is unmistakably recycling itself; it allures in the ways it permutes prior words, phrases, and images. But on a closer look the poem had been doing this from early on, beginning with recurrences of ‘the traffic’ and ‘the sky’. ‘The traffic begins its wave’ morphs into ‘the hours begin to waver’. The poem’s closing morph, ‘each ticket is beautiful within its own exhaust’ perhaps stretches the trick to breaking point (though perhaps this is fitting for the endpoint of a wave). It’s a delightful poem.

Things often talked and danced around seem to congeal in ‘The Weight’, which fires jumpcuts of always-on city living: bland consumerism writ small (and yet admitting a certain wonder):

how cold the upright steel how cold
the headlines pile up just like saying
there’s less difference now
though bread seems various at a distance
packets are wondrous as we attend
within the fleeting

‘Some (…… ) Time’ includes ‘a fragment from a fragment of Sappho’. The parenthetic ‘gap’ in the title would seem to be a space left open by (or for) the future, since translations of the Sappho fragment in question (number 147) contain the phrase ‘some future time’. Jones renders the fragment as ‘some future time / will think / ?’. The latter part of fragment 147 might be translated as ‘someone in / some future time / will think of us’. So Jones has fragmented the fragment (as noted) and torqued it into a question—one which seems to allude to anxieties over current events and where they may be headed. Such questions hover over a number of poems in the collection, interwoven with the personal, the social, the environmental, the beautiful (not that these are discrete categories, of course).

Futures and futurity reappear across the collection’s three sections, as suggested by poem titles such as ‘What’s Coming Next’, ‘The Future’, the aforementioned ‘Some (…… ) Time’, and ‘The Futures’. One way of thinking about anxiety is as a mental/affective projection of the future that intrudes upon one’s awareness of the present moment. To oversimplify Derrida (see, for example, his 1998 essay ‘As If It Were Possible, “Within Such Limits …”’), one might consider two kinds of future or futurity. On the one hand there is a future that is relatively predictable and calculable, as in the realms of weather forecasting, economic modelling, or seemingly straightforward inductive reasoning, like the idea that the sun will rise again tomorrow morning. Then on the other hand there is what Derrida calls l’avenir: the realm of the completely unforeseen, indeterminate, incalculable … or indeed, messianic. Does anxiety tap into this kind of incalculable future? Or does it always hinge upon a predicted possibility, rather than the unforeseen? I’m not entirely sure (and I’d resist having to decide under such binary terms), but the thematic futures recurring through The Beautiful Anxiety had me thinking along these paths.

The following lines from ‘Impermanent Tenses’ exhibit a beautiful indeterminacy (which Jones’s work often tends towards):

Life takes place
on planets sleek
we travel
our uncertain seats

Here the indeterminacy is accentuated by form: unpunctuated lines, with linebreaks that seem playfully ambiguous. Should the reader flow on with enjambment, or jump-cut, e.g. from ‘smoky’ to ‘we travel’, or from the latter to ‘our uncertain seats’? Are the planets smoky, or are ‘we’ smoky, or both ‘we’ and the planets? Hence the stanza is infused with possibilities, where two seeming forks in a road might be followed at once, or alternated between. Stanzas such as this offer suggestiveness, polysemy, echoes, image-hauntings.

Read this review in Rochford Street Review

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