Jennifer Maiden, The Fox Petition (Giramondo 2015)
Like all Jennifer Maiden’s books for several years now The Fox Petition has a huge cast of historical and fictional characters, as well as some living politicians and a couple of non-human entities.
Most of these appear in Maiden’s dialogue poems. Julie Bishop makes her debut, and so do father and son act Keith and Rupert Murdoch. Making return appearances are Kevin Rudd and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who seem to be forever on an aeroplane; Tony Abbott and Queen Victoria, whose relationship is becoming even more tense; George Jeffreys and Clare Collins continuing their adventures, this time in the Greek financial crisis and with refugees from Syria; Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, still flirtatious and remonstrative in pretty equal measure.
I think the Hon. Carina Monckton, created by the inhabitants of the Carina Galaxy, has appeared in an earlier book, but I’m positive that the Harvard School of Business has not been seen before his chat here with Julie Bishop.
Then there are the Diary Poems, so called because they seem to ramble like diary jottings, though those appearances are hugely misleading. Many other characters get a guernsey in them, including Tanya Plibersek, Gillian Triggs, Penny Wong, Joan Baez, Labor politician Melissa Parke (Maiden’s ‘favourite politician / now’) and eighteenth century Whig Charles Fox (her ‘favourite politician / of all time’).
Heavily populated though the book is, it has an extraordinary coherence. The title refers to a recent protest against measures in New South Wales making it illegal to keep a ‘newly acquired fox’, even if neutered and vaccinated, and also to Charles Fox’s defence of habeas corpus during the Napoleonic Wars. What links the two, apart from the word play (of which there is a lot) is Maiden’s passionate dislike of the single-minded self-righteousness she has previously called ‘ethical security’, which here is represented literally and metaphorically by Biosecurity: the goal of being safe from germs, feral animals, refugees, and moral complexity of any kind.
As my regular readers know, I’m a fan. I love the voice of these poems. A Maiden poem characterically feels as accessible and even as interactive as a chat with a friend about the TV news, making you laugh and perhaps confirming your prejudices.Then extraordinary lines emerge, such as:
it is vital to be Australian, which
seems to mean rat poison and a flag.
Something else has been going on behind the chat. It is, after all, poetry made from the stuff of the nightly news, that pushes the reader to think and feel in new places. Did I also mention that it’s fun?
The Fox Petition is the twenty-first and last book I read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
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