Jennifer Maiden has been one of the most striking voices to emerge from a generation that included John Forbes, Martin Johnston, Robert Adamson and Michael Dransfield, as well as Joanne Burns, Pam Brown and Vicki Viidikas. In an era when the privileging of masculinity was starting to be called just that, women poets embodied in their work the changing roles of women.
The questioning critical voice in Jennifer Maiden’s first book Tactics (1974) is obsessive yet self-deprecating. Her elegant, assured language loudly signals a new talent, and her prolific and constantly varying output since then has shown this talent to be honed and always developing, often in unexpected directions – including prose fiction. In Mines (1999), her thirteenth volume of poetry, she reclaims specifically feminine language – “vaginal red” – and writes a new form of mini-sequence, which Maiden calls ‘cluster’ poems. These cluster poems have almost the same start or the same end, but the rest of the poem veers off each time, so the repetition is like a motif. These poems question notions of voice and time, as if revealing parallel or expanding universes. The paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, gemstones and the poet’s daughter are some of the actual inspirations in Mines, spinning the poems out into endless reflection.
As has become more common in her work, actual political figures such as Richard Butler (Australian Chief Weapons Inspector to Iraq in the 1990s, and former Ambassador to the UN) and Madeleine Albright also figure as pivots for broader philosophising. Maiden’s viewpoint is never singular, but always multiple.
The following selection of poems were published between 1974 and 2012.
Tactics, UQP, Brisbane, 1974
The Problem of Evil, Prism, Melbourne, 1975
The Occupying Forces, Gargoyle, Brisbane, 1975
Mortal Details, Rigmarole, Melbourne, 1977
Birthstones, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1978
The Border Loss, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1979
For The Left Hand, South Head, Sydney,1981
The Trust, Black Lightning, Wentworth Falls, 1988
Bastille Day, NLA, Canberra, 1990
Selected Poems, Penguin, Ringwood, 1990
The Winter Baby, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1990
Acoustic Shadow, Penguin, Ringwood, 1993
Mines, Paper Bark Press, Sydney, 1999
Friendly Fire, Giramondo, Sydney, 2005
Pirate Rain, Giramondo, Sydney, 2010
Intimate Geography: Selected Poems 1991-2010, Bloodaxe Books, Tarset, 2012
Liquid Nitrogen, Giramondo, Sydney, 2012
The Terms, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982
Play with Knives, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1990