Sydney poet Jane Gibian’s work offers the fine rich silt and lace of urban dreaming. Her poetry traverses the inner-landscapes of contemporary urban existence, interlacing a meditative poise, an intellectual and emotional depth free of pretension or affectation, dry humour, a quick and sharp wit, and an equally sharp and poised eye for detail. Gibian’s world inhabits the edges of a modernity run wild, beyond itself. Her work is marked by its ability to enter into experience with the clarity, lucidity and most of all, the open honesty of a mind freed from its burden of dissimulation and ego, leaving the rough and confused edges of the world to gather a stark truthfulness plainly spoken.
Gibian’s work is the slow progression of detail, the unfolding of the phenomenal world into its intricacies, often leading to the uncertain moment of the self arriving from its journey through things once more to itself:
On this slate-grey
the lake is
a churning sea
choppy & clouded,
the tortoise tower
rising still & ghostly
in the distant centre;
too cold now
on the concrete
their leafy fingers
through the soupy
green water. In this
ask yourself: if
what would it grow?
Not a word is wasted. Every gesture brings with it a “thickening of chords”, wherein the depth of the world, the tight bud of its intricacies is closely followed, while uncertainty and the meaning of things becomes immense. Many of Gibian’s poems develop contrapuntally, drawing a sensual delight in the world’s fecundity into a deepening sense of its mutability. What sets Gibian’s work apart is its strange, subdued music that is able to manifest the “uncertain secret” of the moment of consciousness.
Gibian’s poetry moves lightly, almost haunting the solidity of the world as it engages its natural and urban architecture. She is a deft operator of language, her smallest movements moving out in tides that slowly engulf the reading and the reader, catching us unaware if we do not pay close attention to her wile, or are too readily soothed by her music. Years ago, at a reading she once warned the crowd that the following poem was short, so “you’d better pay attention.” It was good advice. A touch of languour, an occasional malaise, moments reluctantly surrendered to joy, the world’s immensity caught in its details, and an unearthly music form the better part of Gibian’s so far small but remarkable oeuvre.
Now your tongue forks into four:
one part for being good-natured
one for lamentation
the third part of irony
and the last for an imaginary language
(‘parts of the tongue’)
After the funeral
Parts of the tongue
slow-motion love affair
poem for dissolution, poem for distraction, poem for retrospection
The Body’s Navigation. Five Islands Press, Wollongong 1998.
Long Shadows. Vagabond Press, Sydney 2005.
Some poems by Jane Gibian on Jacket magazine, the international poetry journal edited by John Tranter.
Some more poems by Jane Gibian on Jacket magazine.