Emma Jones’ debut collection, The Striped World, is an evocative and image-fuelled foray into contemporary America, sunken wrecks of transportation ships in the South Pacific, jungles, conversational subtext, tigers’ cages, the past, a world where the dead have casually risen… It feels like a debut collection in that its topics and themes are varied, disparate, sometimes, but it is also clearly a collection written by a skilled poet with a great grasp of evocative imagery.
A lot of the pieces are landscape based. Actually, that’s over-simplifying. Place plays a key part in many of the poems – be it an imaginary location, a described landscape, an abandoned city, a womb, a pearl farm… Jones creates strong and visible spaces peopled by knowable but (I think) always nameless characters. Throughout the collection, there is a lot about the sea (the poet grew up in Sydney), a few post-colonial pieces (the most striking of these being ‘Zoos for the Dead’, a poem using the image of an abandoned parrot slowly forgetting its few speakable phrases to illustrate the destructive and cruel domination of aborigine people in the 20th century), and many short, striking pieces that share ideas, share animals and share water.
This is a collection rooted in the real world, and in the world as a whole. The stripes of the title are seen in the tigers that appear more than once, and the falsity of mapping, recording land, is explored in several pieces, most explicitly in ‘Equator’:
He wrote in the log:
‘Today on course,
we crossed the line, with usual incident.’
He also wrote:
‘There is no line.’
It is a good collection, I enjoyed reading it. And I’m not just saying that for fear of pissing off another poet. Also, it won the Forward Prize. Should’ve mentioned that above.