Interview with Jill Jones

Breath, the hours:
Jill Jones' poetry and Annette Willis's photography


Photo of Jill Jones
by Annette Willis 2005


For more poetry

Jill Jones

Jill Jones

Traverse: songs

To tell at edges

I tell myself on edges, rocked water.
Fog memory curves from the shell.
My remarkable heart murmurs
brain noise, like mediums, spirit and cell
under skin, breast and down
scripting air loops into skeleton.

I've re-worked time, scribbled waves
on rocks in star-wobbled courses
sung light storms from hope
chilled whispers to curled toes
in isolated pools, fish darts —sense them!
align with the ever-plaint of sea.

A gull's sigh into the white rise
breaches my language in one cry.

Aoraki hidden

Today there is no sun.
I've lost count of layers to the sky.
Finally here, covered in water on valley down
my eyes have no remedy
against crowded distance or the wind
that makes up all its sound.
We may have wished the mountain open
the face something to easily reckon.

And we can't count layers to the rain
around us air not yet frozen
or space above which can't be seen
though its movement is a hard return.
Somehow we stand, do not mind
clouded pattern, the hidden peak, the wind.

The traverse

Each day fills full
heaves a word past blot
with much to tell
on each strange street
not without love
nothing will tell
on our groove
until we can be still.

Forget how to time
night's wee tomb
or what is home
must be warm.

We can't say one
but picture stone.


That talk about morn
each day's small pain
too late to return
to mistimed noon.
Strange how we burn
skin to rosy bloom
the holes in the sun
turn age to crime.

If only we'd seen
the leaf's green hem
without heat's harm
in a car's long dream.

No cloud obscures
the drape of flowers.

Out of the car park

Do structures bring together
in high lights or dark
an overlap of foreign affairs
and trade in failure?
The mesh over the car park
entrance catches the brown leaves, but
lets cars go forward.

What do we expect, a political voice?
When the glass is half full, who's
tripping on the level playing field
keeping a little shine on the ball
less spin or a medium pace
anticipating the gaps, the stamps
a big boot, no support?

Dream horses

Where are your eyes?
Nothing has prepared us for this.
What is earth?
There's a pain that remembers bone and horn.
Is the sky above?
Only figures in a landscape.
How fast with the wind?
Even the broken floats in dreamland waters.
Do you remember when?
You will know when you see us.

Will you take us with you?
Born into the boundless plain.
How long have you been here?
Our names were once Surefoot and Swift.
Do you think we will be happy?
Dream horses do not need your eyes.

— after Clay Horses by Sidney Nolan

To be seen again

Suddenly — within a moment which gives back
all my white secrets, of disfunction and the lone
of voice I used. Quit exculpation!— I hacked it—
the sawdust lines that part of sticking brain
with its keys — yes, she walks by and smiles a bit
could not be surprised — how is it? Uncontainable
needy, all my revisions, hers, theirs, all my backflips.
I can't pretend I'm just a table

as I've never pretended I fitted those loose
areas of life round kitchen settings of others.
What would I have rathered — of course, not the truth
which dissembles as it moves across the waters.
I might want to ask for some things back.
I could not expect any special orders.

Flying against the odds

My clumsy game takes place between a smudgy breeze
and the cut-up mornings, dreamt in herds.
As if I could cancel wherever I've trod
while black grubs, mosquito heat, the dried up sod
falls away from roots, if that seems too extreme
I'm filled up with all the wrong things, dulled in slats
a request for more slackened hair-dos, an ice-blink
sinking like an unloved computer (so I sighed for thee)

seated with a mighty heat, as the city's spume and offence
flusters at disorder with its clipped grey wings. Make it stop!
I know this is a dissatisfied world and faith's against all odds
but that over-riding of it, too, extends heaven's insane
dangling, like a pain beginning, or exquisite
I roll on the train, with every gadget and pittance.

Lacking sleep

The morning begins in clay
there's no sleep to out slumber
benign weariness, or tell where path
might create more than traffic twist
so I may avoid the steely turn
or remove rust coat in the held tumbler.

Chemical gutter in full green wrath
and storm heavy in sky amethyst
fills my way stem to stern
as the scratch of minutes muster
their sway within my thin amplitude
leaving to no time for refining day.

Although this isn't to flag a hard mood.
All to have, and need, is cloud lustre.

Far-off blue

Here's a heat that's borne
far from the clouds, down
where images are blown
among horizons, onto noon
where waves finally crawl
on street glass and frame
over skin remembered cool.

We edge a little, some
glint in the blue spar
or fade at the doors
opening breathy disrepair
wait for the hours
dreamt cold as we rose
clear and far off paradise.


Bats are hunting fruit, their hacking noise
and a painful ache. I don't know the fruit
they seek, something from a gum maybe
further up the street. And footsteps
a clack of trains and underneath
my working breath, painful too
my muscles pinched into my spaces
neither hollow, nor filed out, but stuck.

Trains carry the lonely and planes. Loss
spreads like highway, wings, disease, excuses.
'I have to go' and people go. I have gone.
One day I shall already be gone. But the tree
still breathes, kerchak kerchak, as if bats
are feeding their god in the guttural dark.

Wandering as method

I thought of that city, a place I couldn't have foreseen.
Your unknown arms formed along its infinite.

See how I filter my blindness, as though it strain
to the very thought of you, as one who's never been
visualised amongst all this flash. You were silence. Words
may wink, each sentence make its small advance.

Can I really not pretend, lever not one single detail
with such nerve, such savoir faire, a wish to please
this damaged love, this viral, unnecessary god.

From our garden the zeal had poured away
so I don't remember why we started.
Broken breath revealed the white wound beneath.

I purified my heart with courage and indifference.
I wander in my doubter's method of the way.

Homeland, Everywhere

Was I designed to live in my head
or be ungainly in the rue?
Twisty guts of roads, see-through
maps annotate the north of my skin.
Lands of cloud haze, wooden doors.
And did sadness begin upon boulevards
where statues trick Glory's verdigris and gold?

I'd have to live here within my own.
Recover nothing out of drastic surgery.
The new is never the now. Bow to the meridian!
Flakes in the crypt disturb the axes of everyday.
Glass towers needle gothic dark.
The quotidian radio sings a universal language.
“Someone out there?”

Images of the Revolution

What country doesn't love us?
Where to hide, where to stand.
We talk under a bridge
under gold statues in afternoons
light flooding the blond faces
of each building along the curve.

Ripples of water traffic with sky.
There's dark in the never-ending stairwell
the ghost of cold on the third floor
at Rue Lancret, smells of varnish and stone
a patina reveals itself everyday
perhaps in use before the revolution.

And today in the Marais
flowers appear beside bullet holes.

Lines and fire

Grot among root
Still thaw
But the chill
Crawls a glimmer
Dawn dark's cold
Hasten and haze
Hill line's blur

Ground brown
Seed furred
Branch flare
Splay to orange
Ochre and flange
Year's fit
Now for fire

The future

How massive seems the sky inflated with pages
fever folded into piffle journalism, it is more
than to be coped with. Come love me then
if thou art famished.
If the fire has gone from art.

And music, well, its dire straits are everywhere
the nurture of tattoos across kid bellies
each fresh in the white discharge of phoneland
distext of modern teeth and tongues.

If I'm receiving you that I may be filled.

And later, to be kissed by the sea
amongst salt and dogs, a bulging sun.

Our hunger swoops upon our dreams.
The revolution is in the messagebank.
Taste the devil's details! And let's see.

The new laws

streets, air's breadth

but come inside

to discuss
seduction, rather than

what's in voices
heavy, lifting

hoping this weather

just another one
of our tantrums

walking out the door

The dress sonnet

I have taken off my little dress, there's no scope
for me within it, there are things
that fall down the body, like breath and the texture
of the flap. This is a button I can't do.
I don't want to argue on the easy side. 'Don't expect
an audience or a reveal.' O, the little dress
shimmers in the near breeze as I'm falling down
my body and, at last with my ear to the ground.

It's too late in the season to please as wind removes
my feathers and shaves my bones with that first whip
of change, and each winter, if it comes along, do I
need its great coat, will I have done with cumbered sleeves?
Sometimes I could do with the humour of a petticoat.
O, let me part the clouds, let me in.

Songs of the unguarded

All confessions lie in the accounts
and each shell is hidden.
There are certain demands to being a visitor
(of course, I was lonely).
The city had its goodbye signs
desire summed up in property
carrying our various droughts
loves that surpassed cliché.

I walked in decreasing circles
(of course, I've turned it around now).
Underneath the cosmetic there was shine
a pregnant harvest and a dollar sign
hammer, rock and blow
(now I understand how hard).


If speed is death, it figures
under the circumstances, in blinding rain
as twilight arranges its geography
through its miles of rustling plains.
The harbour has buried the kiss
(I remember youth as artificial)
and facts are round as reality
breathing like faithful dogs.

The hide and seek of history
encouraged all our false papers.
It was hard to go on without makeup
(only then I was truly lonely).
A mountain doesn't blame its height
water falls with memory.


There is a number easy to ignore
it is stored in the bones
but what has happened to my edges?
(I am never anxious among them.)
Skin peels when it ends
stripping away the winter
remember, parties were driving home
past all the concrete landscapes.

The regime was finally finished
(but still it coats me)
this year, that year, due mondi
(I still have the faintest wound).
It's hard to ride the invincible
harder to shatter the jazz.


Background shapes into weather
where the horses are perfect
in fallow wastes, beyond the verandah
the golden song is of death.
Where are the lonely when you need them
(I've hidden in their crevices)?

Fecund mangroves emerge along the canal
there's pressure on valves of the heart.
Mortality and love, inseparable
like longing at the foot of a peak
which hears distance in the insect chime
(I have been blown like this).

The intervals are now unguarded
(I wade into the midst).

You go away as summer

moves inside me — breathe rattle breathe —
an embryo floating on sky, your card
adds to your call, as I'm thinned to blood reality
far from the city where they cover Oscar
with kisses, hide Alice behind the stone.
There's a loss of continuity this time of the world.
Green praise rustles avenues, pollen fine hair falls
gear and shuffle clearing my hill of mistakes.

I will have you back in this latitude
that's fair, ample in sky and ground.
Despite the drag of seasons
finally the weather opens its arms.
A new version of blue will be blowing
summer skin into our hands.

One night

— after hours
One night falls, the cold glare lit
that not a cloud, polished sheets
moon forms hills, previewed spirit
breaks much blew, darkness, horizon.

Green network, branches, dowsing sleep
cavities, stained glare cracking silence.
Burnt the light, unperceived, entrap
disorder below full moon, exhausted.

Wrapped in covers, moulded through
moon in-drawn, blown the light
edging pavement, hummocks, diffuse
go inward, during, exhausted, regain.

Unsparing or timid eye of sleep
deplete the night, escape, rolled on.

— deep hours
One night black, rolled on, escape
gloss on branches before resignation
sun or cloud tide broken under
examined colour, fretted light.

Unperceived damage, o what lapses!
Buoyed decay, disturbed with frost
door and night, distant sweepings
as became all these green knots.

To sleep if you burn while in-drawn
vacate wood, cracked by peace
within, the bush looks surface
stain, scribbly bark, broken underfoot.

Breaches dark hills, listening gate
waked up, the rise, sun-wasted.

— dawn hours
One night's colour, sun-wasted
lucent, ignites through windows
extreme deflection, perfect bright
the ruptures of very skies.

Assemble density, that small root
a rope to flank dawn, to light
green with tide, moved far from forests
here, more loss, I cover dark.

Era illuminated, older haze
before sun, water, surface
continent track along cold peace
an automobile waked up, rolled, ascent.

Colours phase, moon losing form
day lit, window, laughter.


Perhaps the grip's become less firm
life not lived than might be
as if I'm no longer living in my room.
I've lifted, lied, made things fly
out of mornings into flarish noon.
All the leaves in the garden burned.
Where's the example when there's none?
All spare minutes are consumed.

I talk my way out of possession
and settle in the bland square suite.
How light feels when things are gone
even if windows are obstinate.
When the future knocks on its demand
I can imagine ways I'll be found.

A snap in time

There's no such thing as an innocent day
but an important emptiness still ticks the kitchen.

I think of tomorrow, how a new day opens
but first grope's for coffee, the last milk. Say!
Where's time if a clock's dead, it's been eight fifteen for days.

I've written deliberately on scraps with a leaky pen
of actual golden time, old friends hoarded, forgotten.

I'm lazy, a drowsy cat watching lizards play
but a cavity within keeps insisting the catch
no matter, trains are late, traffic tuned to chaos.

To be not anxious nor irritable, checking a watch
everything says so much, stance, gesture, dress.

All this fire is from mutual heat, a single match.

It's this standing apart, watching, that's curious.

Self portraits among friends

We've rearranged skin, ourselves and objects.
There's something about pinks, greens, a glow of the substance.
We spill over the table, the vase, the frame.
Legends of the mirror stare back, a little behind their own cloud,
Nothing neat in living within this fashioned thing.
Interior assumes the outside, garden, dust ochres.
The self is more than a stare.
Something's always thriving here, woven, arrived, and arriving.

Turn to your surroundings, these intimacies of objects, the strength
           in your arm and these different testaments, muscle and jug,
           fine petalled veins.
How much could each line truly show as the crowd presses
           to the glass?
“The wildflowers are in bloom” within rooms that part, that float—
           flour, salt, dust, pollen, human scale and scurf, threadlets
           of paper and wool tangle in the light — the thousand ways
           particles fall, the thousand ways you don't hear them.
Or alternate with ink on rag, curling with hair on the brush ready
           to absorb someone's gaze, a feast of shells, gifts for eyes
           and mouths.
In the wishing there's bristle, scratches through the flat space
           paper's sallow pink.
As the day moves on, there's no black and white.


What can be said this side of a cheek where direction is always
           towards dissolve in oil, in history?
What is said on each stained postcard?
And where things are placed this time, unlike day's necessity
to the left where light comes into it, are these forms of human
When the artist finishes, here's the open palms on the cloth.
And then, the other, the night, forms of its biography.
How does one centre on a kiss, which one, good and bad
           within, surface, central?
Here you've left an opening.

Is the sun shining, the wind one of those stunning westerlies,
           drying ink before it reaches intentions, laying thought
           in its dust?
The shape of a face is a kind of protection.
The unsettled, backward face, assuming we are ourselves.
How simple can be the air between us.
Something will break, perhaps this is normal.
We may not know what we really meant.

after 'Portrait in the Mirror', Margaret Olley, and 'Self Portrait at 24', Donald Friend

Out of a field

In writing me, flowers interrupt conclusions
though they don't advance more than a weight of dreams.
There's a jump between messages (taken as green).
I feel traffic pushing resistance, as walls enter me
applauding a burn in change, inviting rain as beaten.
After that — peace — then a fine parenthesis of nerves
as out of doubt the sweet debris falls, parts of form
that spreads me through the mortal world.

Is the private individual a symptom or a problem?
Still, rain identifies hills, or rain disappears layers.
I go now where words tear into a memory
and cold hours mate with the interior's words
observed in the dust, but along all the tripways
layers of colour bathe the morning with savour.

Breathless in season

The glistered heat becomes banal
as names shimmy on the memory shrine.
I attempt a wishful clarity that orients
the heart, tho' my two-bit memoirs decline,
retreat or erupt as if sudden interior bacchanal
could work amnesia or prevent
struggle with hills. I want to survey
clouds, in hope rain would bestow

its soft sting, or something braver
than logic's need to know,
that useless regret cease its parley,
or I'd act beyond my own behaviour.
A fear of nothingness begets unrest
and breath that never was, now expressed.

Things I learned in Bay 13A

That sleep is imagination and I was immaculate
among understudy revenants in unknotted gowns
waiting for some allegro of welcome breeze, between
a pressure of feet and the incandescence of the asterisk.

That sleep is neither fantasy nor sensible.
It is a shed flower that balances then falls to the left-
hand side, the sharp pleasure is a phantom
with a ruinous smile, in the sideshow of blips and bings.

That sleep is a contract of itself although beauty
isn't right anymore, the canula blooms a tattoo
within the shadow of my inner arm, so I know I'm here.

What is scary, if the darkness that is being cannot die
nor will it change, though all are changed? And I find
on this graph the image of my heart is there.

To absent bodies!

Where is the
vanishing point of
cloth? Whose body
will it increase?

The material falls
away. Who has
drunk and who
has left? Nothing

is the same.
The raptness washes
over you, waves

in the weft.
We are never
free of body.

Absent hands, here
“drink to me”.

— after 'Sewing Machine', Donald Friend

To praise air

It's a raising of terrible peace, or desire in a wet eye.
It's sky's consideration, fall of slow patience
a private victim, the tender nipple, a right piss-off.
Ventilating distant consequence, beyond paper
far and nothing — to have dreamed! An engaged tone
desperation waked up, a blue tobacco, drugs
voiceless, a pilot's appeal, shiver for brains
a page's peroration beyond the paraphrase.

Last request, flanks of angel dust, one more gasp
of ventolin, fucking, clamour, and tracks impelling towards
the everything-machine, shooting a load, or unloading.
Elasticity, excess, things for the scared, a dreamer's being
a basket of thrills, a damp reverie, something halting
included/ misunderstood/ for nothing/ but


Summer is very large and cinemas fill with stone
but about me and about your feet is the friendliness
of breath, lowering.
We hop through trails and small valleys of suburbs
not worried at how the glass turns.
All the words in newspapers show concern
a reassuring commitment to disrepair
and other entertainments, the nonsense that collects
over loops of rifles, at the black core of it.
The old back-ups say 'get stuffed'
but I still get high on breath, a woman
the transitions on your lips.

OK, I admit I collect my own nonsense, still
but carry it to balance all with each hand.

* * *


Some of these poems, often in earlier or variant forms, have appeared in the following journals and chapbooks:

Agenda (UK)
c-side CD Mix 01
The Famous Reporter
Fold Unfold, Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2005 Kindred Spirits: Olley and Friend, DiVerse/National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 2006

A number of poems were also originally written for the Poetryetc snapshot project.


'Out of the car park': Thanks to Frederick Pollack for suggesting changes.

'You go away as summer': In Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are buried together, however Alice's inscription is on the back of the tombstone.

'A snap in time': reworks portions of an earlier poem 'Eleven fifteen', a sequence of eleven 15 line poems originally published in Flagging Down Time, Five Islands Press, 1993, and reprinted in Screens Jets Heaven: New and Selected Poems, Salt Publishing, 2002.

* * *

Jill Jones is a poet and writer who lives in Sydney, Australia. Her work has been widely published in most of the leading literary periodicals in Australia as well as in a number of print magazines in New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Britain and India. She is also widely published online. Her latest books are her fifth full length work, Broken/Open (Salt, 2005), which was short-listed for The Age Book of the Year 2005 and the 2006 Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, and three chapbooks, Fold Unfold (Vagabond, 2005) poems written in response to paintings; Where the Sea Burns (Picaro, 2004); and Struggle and Radiance: Ten Commentaries (Wild Honey Press, 2004).

In 1993 she won the Mary Gilmore Award for her first book of poetry, The Mask and the Jagged Star (Hazard Press). Her third book, The Book of Possibilities (Hale & Iremonger), was shortlisted for the 1997 National Book Council 'Banjo' Awards and the 1998 Adelaide Festival Awards. Screens, Jets, Heaven: New and Selected Poems won the 2003 Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize (NSW Premier's Literary Awards).

She has collaborated with photographer Annette Willis on a number of projects, including c-side, and also Sea Shadow Land Light, a multimedia presentation first delivered at the On the Beach conference held by Edith Cowan University at Fremantle in February 2004.

She was a co-founder, with Laurin McKinnon, of BlackWattle Press, and in 1995 she co-edited (with Judith Beveridge and Louise Wakeling) A Parachute of Blue, an anthology of contemporary Australian poetry. With Michael Farrell, she co-edited a selection of Australian erotic poetry for a 2003 edition of Slope online magazine. She has been a film reviewer, journalist, book editor and arts administrator.

She maintains a weblog Ruby Street, as well as two websites, her home page and poems extracted from her weblog off the street

To order books by Jill Jones

From Salt Publishing:
Broken/ Open

Screens Jets Heaven

From Vagabond Press:

From Wild Honey Press:
Struggle and Radiance

Reviews of Broken/Open:
By Peter Boyle in The Famous Reporter
By Angela Gardner in foam:e

Reviews of Struggle & Radiance:
By Peter Minter in Jacket
By Maria Christoforatos in Cordite

Other on-line references to Jill Jones's poetry:
Poetry International Web
Australian Literary Resources