In her latest collection of verse, South Australian poet Erica Jolly explores the connection between science and art, as well as taking aim at injustice.
At the beginning of her book, Jolly acknowledges she is on Kaurna land. At a declared age of 82 years, she is an elder in her own right: of poetry and education.
Jolly graduated from Adelaide University with honours in history, then taught and held curriculum positions in secondary schools for 40 years. She gained her Masters in English Literature from Flinders University in 1978, and over the years she has been elected to that university’s governing council and academic senate, helped establish and combine various faculties and schools, been an official university donor, and supported a student bursary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
As well as having her work published in many literary journals, Jolly has authored four previous books: two on South Australian social history, and two of her poetry. The second of the latter, Challenging the Divide: Approaches to Science and Poetry, was exactly that – a challenge to perceived, age-old divides between science and art. The venture, Jolly says, was a “complete failure”.
Nonetheless, she adds weight to her case with Making a Stand, which was launched by Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist and has been praised by Flinders University Emeritus Professor of Anatomy Ian Gibbins.
In poems such as that about the journey of a rock called Earth through space and time, the subject is science’s, the words poetry’s:
Was I being told the story of that dynamic fiery core
pushing up from the depths all that time before
bacteria formed in oceans so long before
that first moved landward, in so much
thrusting, crushing, lifting motion?
Those familiar with Jolly’s work will also see another trademark. Politicians, individual or combined, big business and errant nations are all targets in what the writer’s publisher describes as her “poetry with guts”.
I find Jolly on her best ground here, when it is the heartfelt that is speaking along with the viewpoint. In the following verse, the poet sees wrongs through the vehicle of a fellow poet, Chilean Pablo Neruda:
I see him there denied the right to mourn
the death of his good friend in those last days.
Instead he must hear the tramp and shouts
of soldiers turning his garden upside down.
I see him lying there while Pinochet’s men
destroy his peace by the sea that filled his poetry.
Here, on the other side of that Pacific ocean,
I read the story of this poet’s resurrection.
He will be restored: ‘Poetry will fall from the sky’
they say. ‘There will be joy, laughter in carnival.’
But for me, in this land where we prefer war
I take in the words he spoke to his tormenters.
As they hunted for weapons in his grounds, he said
‘The only weapons you will find in this place are words.’
With graphics by artist and illustrator Maureen Prichard, and a preface by sister poet Jennifer Strauss, Making a Stand is a volume of fine reading.