Jan Napier. Thylacine. (Australia: Regime Books, 2015).
Launch Address, 12 September 2015—Kevin Gilliam
The thylacine—a sleek, elusive and mostly nocturnal animal, with distinct dark stripes and formidable jaws for hunting and killing. The thylacine, now extinct. Last seen alive early last century, a captured animal, on display in a Tasmanian zoo. Though there have been alleged sightings across Australia, most notably for us in the South West, in and around Nannup. But today the thylacine re-emerges, in Fremantle.
Jan Napier’s Thylacine—still sleek, distinct, and at times, still elusive. Thylacine is a body of poetry that displays the very essence of a poetic reading experience. Here we embrace stunning imagery, precise diction and considered attention to rhythm. Additionally, the poems are imbued with mood and excellent closure. All of which create poems that are never static or domiciled, rather a text that paces its cage, reaches out, asks questions.
Today I would like to focus upon these three key facets of poetry—imagery, diction and rhythm—that all work to enhance the Napier style. These are poetic constants, choices that invite a reader into what will become a compelling reading encounter. Beginning with imagery, listen to these two lines from ‘Rain in Khartoum’: ‘In a city so hot that vultures debate shade’ and ‘Thin donkeys worship puddles’ (10). Here Napier demonstrates a braveness, a verbal audacity to combine and then challenge our thinking. Such strong associations and links. And from ‘Lemon Tree’, ‘fruit / hung in citrine bawdiness / against the shock of breathing green’ (19). Again, very visual and assured writing. And coupled with the closure of ‘breathing green’, full of wheeze and chordal implications. Another example, in this complete third stanza from ‘Morning Comes’, ‘Morning comes: / cold tea wafts / floaty as anaesthesia / defleshes the phobia of confusion’ (62). So very evocative. And this final example, from ‘Alzheimer’s: A New Word’, ‘A hand pats at thinning hair white as flour’ (57).
But poetry doesn’t rely entirely upon a metaphor, simile or a neat turn of phrase. Thylacine explores and embraces some wonderful diction and word choices. A couple of examples—from ‘My Mother’s Weather’, ‘no feeling but fumble / in fingers gargoyled to purple’ (51). And let’s not leave alliteration out of our tick list of poetic techniques. These lines from ‘Back Home’—‘I drive South through a night deckled with unscripted / diamonds and retreat to the city’s retro linear anality, my sins / of conviction absolved in mysteries of scaffolding and crane’ (42). Such bold word choices here. And, from ‘Something About…’, ‘the night: / its ill sewn skin seamed and puckered / the Moon a pale stigma in a sky / fleshed with an infinity of winter’ (39).
This final example links with the third of the poetic pillars; this being attention to rhythm. Thylacine contains poems with some very nuanced rhythmic moments. Here are the final two lines from ‘For Allan Marshall’—‘The boy sits up straight turns to the window. / The view back flips to bricks and cinder skies’ (43). With the internal rhyme in ‘window’, ‘bricks’ and ‘cinder’ working so well to add to the poetic glue. And a second example of rhythmic strength from ‘Heart’—‘Fingers gentle as bird shadows eased its hurts / soothed rawness with cobwebs and kisses’ (34). The consonant starts in ‘cobwebs’ and ‘kisses’ here softened beautifully by the additions of ‘shadows’ and ‘gentle’.
And of course, the true measure of any poem is to create an emotional engagement, a stirring within the reader, a palpable connection between text and understanding. The poems in Thylacine all make this pitch. When we read the closing lines of ‘Hand Me Downs’—‘It’s all forgotten in the ragged warmth / of moonshine and tomorrow’s cheque’ (54)—we understand that these poems embrace emotive material but never with an overly sentimental tone or sepia hued brush.
Thylacine is a carefully crafted body of poetry. The poems are a tribute to Jan’s quiet but purposeful manner and her generous and committed involvement to the West Australian poetry community. It’s wonderful to see that today the thylacine has re-emerged from extinction, a tribute to Jan Napier and her poetic intent. And at this moment I declare Thylacine thoroughly launched.
Kevin Gillam is a Western Australian writer with three collections of poetry.
You can purchase Thylacine via Regime Books, at http://www.regimebooks.com.au/jan-napier/, $19.95, : 9780987482181.