Jan Dean

Tuesday 29 May 2007 0 responses

As a resident of Cardiff, Lake Macquarie, Jan Dean has published widely in journals, anthologies and the literary pages of newspapers. She has won prizes in local and national competitions, and her poems have been selected for inclusion in the Best Australian Poetry (UQP) and The Best Australian Poems (Black Inc). With One Brush includes a selection of her previously published and awarded poems.

Jan gives some credit for her return to poetry in 1996 to six-months spent as an exchange teacher in Tanagura, Japan. She taught visual arts for thirty-five years after training as an Art/English teacher at the National Art School, East Sydney and Sydney Teachers’ College. Jan has served on the committees of regional writing groups, including six-years as the first female President of Poetry at the Pub (Newcastle) Inc. She is currently Vice President of the Hunter Region Fellowship of Australian Writers.

With One Brush was winner of the 2007 IP Picks Best First Book Award.

I could hardly believe when reading this manuscript that the author could sustain the luminous power of the poetry, and yet she did: each poem built on those before, with seemingly effortless grace, turning visual art, and especially that of the impressionists, into poetry.

In between evocative poems which explore artists, their work, and different mediums, such as “The Body and Brushes with Blood”, “Signed Auguste Rodin”, and “The White Curtain”, Dean’s poems are occasionally about fruit: the opening “Six Persimmons”, which on first reading immerses you in the sensuousness of the overripe fruit so you cannot see beyond it, but on further reading yields fruit you can actually pluck, it’s so real. “Skin a Fig” makes erotic connections between the fruit’s texture and human skin, more erotic still when the fruit are hidden away at the end. Dean also writes about the occult and archaic, from “Banquet” which take us to a hell or purgatory too intoxicating to be terrible, to “The Woman in White’, in which we encounter a female spectre whose connection to the preceding poem intrigues: could she explain why women were so inextricably absent from Dean’s hell? The connections Dean weaves between her poems, and in individual poems, hold rich secrets worth unravelling; the fact that she gives little away about their meaning makes them more appealing.

The collection’s great strength is the uniqueness of the changing perspectives Dean imagines for her poems: each time we leave the world of painting behind we are momentarily disappointed, but the new subject or device soon makes us forget. Particularly interesting were “The Dream Paster Muses”, which shows us the world from the vertiginous point of view of a man who plasters advertisements on huge billboards. Dean herself is a visual artist in a number of poems best described as word paintings: “The Door in the Wall” asks us to imagine what is hidden behind a mysterious door: we can see a love garden, a refuge, and also much more: all that the protagonist desires. “Acrobat” is a still life interior, but animated, and a panoramic view from the room where the artist stands, walls hung with art, trees bending outside, the children in their playhouse, until a great tsunami comes. Most vivid is the scene in “The Reading”, where we are brought right into the room as the poet witnesses a historic reading of Les Murray’s.

If Dean has a message through With One Brush, it is gently given: perhaps it is about the cycle of things, how, in “Script of Sorrows”, we might return to a world less mad, and more at peace. By the end, in “Creeping” and “Sensations”, we learn what we had suspected, that Dean’s view of things is hopeful, that the world can regenerate, and even that we can return and be given a second chance:

Waiting in amoebic form we’ll stay
floating along in boundless time, until
our shore leave comes…
and revitalised, we begin again

Amidst the conflicting visions of our times, a voice like Dean’s is needed, because she is able to see things with compassion and hope, even in the poem “Banded Rail”, in which a dead bird is brought to the poet. This prompts her to imagine the bird’s point of view in a truly ethical moment where we experience that spine-chilling sensation of seeing with another’s eyes, when she acknowledges: ‘for us to meet, you had to die.’ Existing in Dean’s world, even if only for the duration of a book, is experiencing a world in which many more things are alive than most of us had imagined, even a painting.

IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd.)

Aftermath by Jan Dean

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