Anywhy : Jennifer Harrison

Book Description

Book Sample


Book Description

If birds could fly free from ornithological books
and from watercolour illustrations
if they could fly free from taxidermy
agitated aviaries and roseate oil paintings
they’d leave us more earth-bound than ever before
but we might find a way to rise with them transmogrified
and see for ourselves their world of ultraviolet night
Like the great grey owl, we might hear the scratchings of a mouse
running under deep snow

Jennifer Harrison’s Anywhy is exceptional. The depth and lightly carried learning of the author, as we embrace each poem, is startling. We are philosophically shaken. Her title Anywhy may suggest the cool shrug of ‘whatever’ but Harrison’s neologism is a steady-eyed consideration of the world: its ecology, its history, its fragilities and resilience. Her insight is subtle but never vague, inviting our imagination to consider the inner life of birds, the emotive pull of hardware, Emma Hamilton, a reverie at Blackwood Village (from which the title emerges), DNA or Absolute Zero. Above all, it scintillates with human sorrow and human response.

Harrison is a challenging and significant poet, the quality of whose work needs defining and celebrating.
Martin Duwell

With its subtle but inventive lyrical strategies and masks, poetry like Jennifer Harrison’s addresses poetry—which means it addresses us, quietly, as readers who enter its space as observers and who are active, and who feel its presence within us, not in our faces.
Philip Salom

ISBN 9781876044190

Published 2018
96 pgs

Book Sample

            July 2014

Avignon’s back door:
an errant bus circling the outer suburbs

of dilapidated houses
mosques, polite parks, pallid churches…

Then, the City of Popes grand square
Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon

its gilded statue of the Virgin Mary
singing solitary in the sun…

The square is waiting for its people
microphones, une marche de protestation

a rally for equitable actors’ wages
(politics arriving now, a trumpet blowing)…

I cannot fathom the brass speeches
but wave the flag I’m given…

In my pocket an Australian
two-cent coin, the frill-neck lizard

embossed into its coppery sheen…
I remember a school project—

the lizard basking in grassland sun
drawing from midday warmth
its sleepy torpor—how the lizard’s
frill prickles, erectile under threat:

ancient spines, cartilage deimatic…
And here in unfamiliar side streets

cafés pungent with liberal tobacco
red wine and pastry filigree

the scent of the night-to-be
hovers over music and theatre poverty…

What threat can there be?
What trepidation catches inside me

somewhere primitive and old, somewhere
deep inside a poikilotherm’s unseen cold?


Life spools backwards now
the expanse behind

damp and forest-quiet
peaty with leaf mulch

translucent moss greens
mushrooms like white ghosts

and neon species
of orchids, wasps…

Nothing is undone
by decay, ants, slugs

rotting logs, stag ferns
the accretions of

wet bark and litter…
Nothing is spoiled

or lightly regretted…
Fungi yellow with

age, autodigest
spilling black droplets

on a page of earth
or paper, forests

unevenly inked
as though hopeful of
spore coming late to
the poem’s terrain…

A slight mist lifts, falls
all evening: the

un-nesting voice
of Luce Irigaray

veiled without within
the heart does not lack a dwelling 

fugue words lingering
in time’s ‘meanwhile’…

Flock-wise, fungi feed
on the living wood

of the past, pale cups
swaying toughly on

blithe stems
cinnamon gills, poised

in breath, delicate…
Night pins my species

to essence, to tasks
of the sleeping word

and like a rough leaf
released by autumn

I settle into
presence, the desk now
a diminution…

There is no ending
to shadow, to the

nature that explains
us to the deep earth

and earth to our past—
our present poison

Absolute Zero

After ice covered the world, the sun melted aeons of cold
into the sea… The shore recalibrated… Mammoths disappeared…
Explorers etched a path to the poles leaving a scar of tents…

Ice closed in upon itself, clenching a fist each end of the globe
until day and night were balanced, acquiesced to moon and sun…
The planet’s lungs drew breath and sighed again…

Helium became a superfluid, able to climb walls of glass
against gravity… Then quantum theory, the laser beam…
And still the earth flinches back from the Absolute…

Tears unfreeze and fire learns—but the last blue dream
of winter is a private tundra so cold that even if we conquered
Mars we’d need a new Zero, ungraspable, unknown