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Days Like These

Days Like These: New and selected poems 1998-2013

From early poems re-imagining Bible stories to new work influenced by her travels through Asia, award-winning poet Jane Williams’ keen interest in the connections between people pervades.

Days Like These offers readers familiar with her work a treasured collation and to those coming to it for the first time a tantalising introduction.

Here you will find sorrow and joy inextricably linked in captivating verse that is ultimately a celebration of the journey we share.

Jane's previous IP title was City of Possibilities, which was supported by a grant from the Australia Council.

JaneW
Jane Williams

Jane Williams is the author of four previous books of poetry and a collection of stories.

Awards for her poetry include the Anne Elder Award, the D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship, and the Bruce Dawe Prize.

She lives in Tasmania with her partner Ralph Wessman.

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ISBN 9781922120649 (PB, 126pp)
140mm x 216mm

AUD $25 USD $18 NZD $28 GBP £12 EUR €14

ISBN 9781922120656 (eBook)

AUD $13 USD $9 NZD $15 GBP £6 EUR €7
Reviews

"This is a social collection - its pages are peopled with vivid and tender portraits. Jane Williams is a close observer of humanity; she writes about the relationships between people, often the relationships between strangers. Public transport provides such correspondence, as do queues - in banks and supermarkets. She observes closely the effect one human can have on another, often without verbal interaction.

Williams' world-view is a compassionate one. She pays particular attention to the marginalised and disenfranchised and speaks up defiantly on their behalf. She glimpses into lives, predicaments, emotions, recording frustration, isolation and suffering as well as joy.

There is a compassionate radar behind many of these poems which notices and responds to those on the periphery: the child in the wheelchair, homeless people, refugees in detention, the young mother trying to cash her welfare cheque; in each case it's the specifics of the individual's circumstance that disarms, the detail that takes the reader close to the experience of the other.

Often it's innocence that these poems see in others. In 'Zoo', not only is the innocence of the weeping man revealed but also his awareness of the innocence of all the others in the world.

There is deep empathy and utmost restraint in this fine poem ['Which of us'] which, as do so many in this collection, taps into the junction where one person's raw humanness meets another's. To this end, everything works together seamlessly, aurally and rhythmically.

Many of the poems embody love, particularly love between parents and children. 'Embassy', a poem about the author's Irish father, is one of my favourites.

Many of the poems behave like short stories or photographs, in that they provide us with a fragment that gives access to a wider narrative. Jane Williams is dextrous at framing a scene, and a response: both hers and the reader's. 'The Wedding Party' and 'Bird vs Rat' are vivid examples of this.

Technically, verve and pace bind Days Like These together as a whole, give the poetry its pulse, and contribute to what author Cyril Wong, on the back cover, refers to fittingly as its 'act of testimony and gorgeous defiance'.

I'd like to consider finally the biblical poems that make up the bulk of the first section called 'Outside Temple Boundaries', poems that are written from the point of view of eyewitness accounts to events and stories in the Old and New Testament: Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, those who were present at the Stations of the Cross, God. These poems re-imagine spiritually or culturally mythologised stories and convey them via intimate and experiential voices. '11 Stations of the Cross' is a powerful and moving poem with universal themes about the way humans respond to the suffering of others, or indeed perpetrate it.

If I had to select one thing in particular that I like about the poems in this book beside the fact that they are all well-made poems, it would have something to do with their attitude. They observe people with a clear eye, and they care. I don't think its importance can be underestimated. There is a moral sentiment at work in the pages of Days Like These, an assumption that we're all, in John Donne's words, 'part of the main'. Importantly, when the opportunity arises, these poems skirt around cynicism in favour of empathy."
- Sarah Day, Southerly Link to full review

"Jane Williams’ poems ring out to capture, as she writes, ‘the pulse of every living thing’. Her words are at once tender but also courageously moral and rigorously reflective, even dancing along the brink of realities that language alone cannot decipher. Her poetry is both an act of testimony and of gorgeous defiance, full of introspective worlds that usher us towards a deeper humanity connecting us all."
– Cyril Wong, author of Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light

"Days Like These, Jane Williams's 'New & Selected' has a rather different trajectory. Twenty-three years younger than [Rae Desmond] Jones, Williams did not publish her first book until 1998. A relatively late-starter needs to make up for lost time and a well-edited New & Selected is often a good way to consolidate a reputation. Thus Williams's straight chronological ordering here serves her well.

Williams' first collection, Outside Temple Boundaries (1998), from which she has retained only eight poems, shows, in comparison with more recent work, a certain tentativeness of manner and a poet a little subdued by her influences.

From The Last Tourist (2006) onwards, however, Williams is the mature artist with a style very much her own (though her preference for minimal punctuation is widely shared these days).

Williams also has an unfailingly personal slant on her subject matter, along with a talent for evoking character and situation in a short space. In poems such as 'Thirst', 'The Begging Bowl' and 'To the Burglar Boys' Williams's concerns are often not unlike those of Jones, namely the almost-accidental by-blows of an otherwise prosperous society.

There is also, however, a welcome degree of humour in Williams's work, and an unapologetic celebration of life, most notably in 'Ag Borradh', dedicated to a man "back from the coma / which held (him) like worry // back from the fog ... / ... back to bud and to blossom ... / ... called back to the world / and its quivering song / praise the light we grow into / the dark we grow from". This balancing of light and dark is a mark of Williams's maturity as a technically versatile and forceful poet."
- Geoff Page, The Australian Read online

"It’s always a pleasure to discover the writings of a poet whom you have not read before. In Days Like These Jane Williams delivers poetry that wants to feel the ‘pulse of every living thing’; she is a writer sensitive to the world.

The image of the bell ringers as‘a circle of ten at the end of each swing’ who ‘stand together alone’ serve as a useful metaphor for the whole collection; this is poetry that both pursues and examines the ‘balance of things’, it delves into our contemporary sense of isolation despite our ‘togetherness’ and explores momentary wonder, it is concerned with faith and the narratives that underpin it. ‘The bell ringers’is the place where the repetitive patterning of life, the intersect between body and experience, sense and belief are written.

There is a sense of movement and development in the collection, attributable to, in part, the work being a review of the poet’s work to date. To refer to that bell ringers’ image again –it’s as if we are standing at different points in a room and interpreting subtle shifts in perception. This shift is apparent in the poet’s increasing employment of questions as a tool in the latter poems.

Judith Beveridge once noted in a review of Louise Gluck’s poetry that questions are ‘like nodes which allow for openings and possibilities, points of intersection between speaker and reader’, and I think this is true for Williams’ work. In ‘ Watching the wind surfer’, a poem about avoiding the ordinary and embracing a kind of celebratory abandonment, the poet asks ‘what happens next/ doesn’t happen outside the poem or does it?’ (p103) .

Williams is unafraid to examine the foundations of her Irish Catholic upbringing and to admit to hope for ‘ordinary miracles’. Though it’s a hope tempered with realism.

I was struck particularly by the terrific use of heart imagery throughout Williams’ selected works. Hearts are ‘petrified’, ‘frantic’, ‘transplanted’, ‘clockwork’, or ‘pure’. There is ‘the seascape of the heart’and ‘tortoise hearts…with their slow and steady beat’. Williams’ confident use of the heart as a central motif reveals a poet who uses emotional response as an entry point or conduit into the writing.

The narrator demands answers to questions of lost and found love, decisions made, possible futures, grief, life’s vagaries, and the art of survival. The work here is dense, intimate and relentless.

These are gentle and surprising poems, relating to family and the quiet observation of life as it happens. Poems such as ‘Thirst’, ‘When the world was lollies’, ‘After hours’ and ‘Visiting Daughter’ will make you smile. Yet to suggest that the writing is of the ‘everyday’, or quotidian, is to misrepresent Williams’ sense of wonder and her vivid engagement with the world. I particularly enjoy poetry that explores intimate territory – family, memory, love, moments of ‘small talk’ – and manages to surprise me. Who doesn’t like to rediscover wonder in the ordinary?"
- Kristin Hannaford, Cordite Link to full review

"Fifteen years and five collections – a further distilling of poetry already decanted by close and loving observation. Jane Williams brings a clear eye and a deep understanding to these poems, and the people in them are fully alive for us. If you look for poetry that speaks to the mind and heart in equal measure, which knows the moments of wonder in the least of us, then look no further, for this is the real thing."
– Ron Pretty AM, author of Of the Stone, New & Selected Poems

 

 

Links

See Jane at Queensland Poetry Festival 2013: Towards Profundity (Sat 24th August, 1.30pm) & Accent of Bees (Sun 25th August, 2pm)

Jane speaks at the Queensland Poetry Festival 2013 in an interview with Jonathan Hadwen about her craft

Jane's poem 'A note to the guest from housekeeping' (featured in Days Like These) featured in Bett Gallery exhibition

Jane's website

City of Possibilities

 

Sample

Aesthetics
at the market jewellery stall
someone lifts and steadies
her hands immobilises
the wheelchair she doesn’t
shout look mum no hands
a twitching finger is sized
rings passed back and forth
over the counter like potential
cinderellas like she is the glass
slipper when selection is made
it is purely aesthetic someone
says look the stone in the ring
matches the colour of her eyes

Sister leaving
my sister is folding
her life compacting
essentials giving
anything her arms
won’t hold away
my sister is leaving
bits of herself
with each of us
I have the hat stand
tv writing desk
and this cane chair
wound round itself
ribboned as a mummy
intricate display
of simulated strength
any corner will hold it
like a throne
the weight of any memory
break its hidden bone

Alms
she is walking toward you head bowed
hands forming a bowl shape as if to receive alms
only the closer she gets the fuller the bowl seems
her steps leave the ground and suddenly here she is
looking down
and you see she draws the same breath
shares the same pulse as the runty body
of the bird she holds and her eyes are tiny portholes
of light through which can be seen once upon a time
when you too took the long way around the ant hill
ate with the midnight mouse and suddenly your heart
is not in the cull and for the first time you find yourself
unsure reaching out making a wish
the light cutting off your hand
the bowl falling breaking taking flight

Endearments
they were above or beyond them –
Sweetie smacked
of her first husband’s amateur act
of his one time lesbian love affair
Honey risked one of them
condemned to wait forever
for the other to come home
the temptation to accentuate
a hard g at the end of Darling
was sure to bring out the prima donna
in them both
and Dear they were quick to agree
denoted too much of the yes man
until one day the heart-lung machine
clocked a rhythm too steady to be trusted
and that’s when she whispered him
that’s when she stroked him
all the way back
her sweetie honey darling dear

West coast – Ireland
it’s the wine flowers
those gorse covered hillsides
invasive and quick to flame
the optimism
of their coconut aroma
as grey clouds bear down
on an irony of postcards
it’s the man with the easy
lopsided smile
who gave up the drink
years back
who walks calmly now
the lanes of his village
who lulls the tourist
into grateful surrender
with the unhurried river
of his speaking
it’s the improbable walls
stones paired in perfect fits
the names of the fields
held in folklore
between the gaps
it’s the hush that falls
in certain pubs
the setting down of glasses
when even the tone deaf
feel a song coming on
it’s that unseen donkey
braying uneasy
a voice between clover
and brogue
some practical customary pain
we recognise as our own
caught as we are at the crossroads
between the wild and the tamed

The bell ringers
The church bells ring out caressing the stone.
A circle of ten at the end of each swing,
the bell ringers stand together alone.
In the chamber of ringing ­– language honed:
handstroke, backstroke – a balance of things.
The church bells ring out caressing the stone.
The call Look to! Treble’s going … she’s gone
eyes dance the rounds and the pattern begins.
The bell ringers stand together alone.
The church gardens blossom on blood and bone.
As hands work the ropes the bronze clappers sing.
The church bells ring out caressing the stone.
Somewhere a child knows it’s time to go home.
A single breath between each changing ring,
the bell ringers stand together alone.
Memory relives all the body has known.
The senses reach back, the spirit takes wing.
The church bells ring out caressing the stone.
The bell ringers stand together alone.

 

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