Judith Willson: Crossing the Mirror Line
…In an attic room the uncles are inventing a new century with pliers and tin foil… (Common Things Explained)
I came across Willson’s poetry at WordPlay in Halifax last week. It is precise, economical and often leaves you standing, trying to settle into the beauty of the last phrase, afraid of missing the next. Her poems sometimes make me uneasy, thinking that I was standing somewhere solid, secure, I become momentarily less certain. This is a good quality in poetry.
The poem An optical experiment finishes,
Conclude the eye demands completeness. Conclude/ an image may remain for seventeen seconds on the retina.
Even longer. One day you will stand at the door,/ see yourself crossing a snowfield. Leaving no tracks.
One of the most accomplished poems is The invasion of China which takes its inspiration from the moment noted in the epigraph, “In 1573 Captain Diego de Artieda petitioned the King of Spain for permission to lead an invasion force of eighty men to China.” In two parts, the poem counterpoints the over exuberant bravado of the would-be coloniser, who wants, his ship heavy in the water/ all China in its hold, with the quiet contemplative figure of the magistrate (in China) who turns a mountain in his hand – it is a form of meditation to handle rocks – before, He picks up his brush, begins to write a path across the snow.
And how can you not love a poem that glories in the title, Extracts from three humorous stories in which citizens laugh at the small troubles of their lives.
I struggle to find any poems that I would describe as mis-steps, perhaps Dutch angles. When I came to the one titled The footnotes my heart sank a little thinking I was heading into the dull world of self-appointed-very-clever-poetry, instead the footnotes in this case are nonsense, deliberate and slightly surreal. Point made. No pyrotechnics. No grinding teeth. Next poem.
This is quiet poetry, full of authority that delights in language and telling the tale.