A review of Passages by Jenni Nixon

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

by jenni Nixon
Ginninderra Press
May 2022, ISBN-13: 9781761094316, Paperback, 94pages

It is not every day that I get to review a book which contains poems on topics that are historical, political, memories, social commentaries and environmentalists topics. Passages by Jenni Nixon touches on all of these topics. Passages is divided in three sections titled “arrival and departures: thomas and jane rose”, “another voyage: george and selina kershaw” and “write now: journal”. As the title of the section Nixon does not utilises capital letters in the book, something that it is currently fashionable. The first section starts with the arrival of eleven tall ships into Sydney Cove – Gadigal land, from the first page the poet demonstrates her strength as a poet and as a person who loathes injustices. The poems also demonstrates that she has conducted an impressive research about the first years of the colony as well as about her ancestors: 4th great grandparents as well as her 3rd 2nd and 1st. 

Nixon not only utilises historical facts she also imagines how life must have been as a migrant in those early times. Her lines of poetry take the reader deep into a non-reality in a way that you see the past like in a film. What I am saying is she creates vivid images, not only this she also, in a very subtle way, touches your emotions. The following excerpt will illustrate what I am saying:

puxey farm in Sturminster newtown dorset
thomas and jane rose (4th great-grandparents)
leave farm with four children   niece and milkmaid
choose five month voyage to other side of the world
on small property were too many mouths to fee
(thomas rose: most respectable of these people
apparently best calculated for a bona-fide settler)
perilous stagecoach journey of fear what lies
strange ‘new’ land   never to see home again

The rest of this section continuous in the same vein, with poems about everyday life, and incursions by indigenous as well as convicts who were in search for food. Many poems have a political comment or criticism about the abuse of the first nation people and the convicts. Nixon also has included in this section a photo of Rose Cottage near the Hawkesbury River, a cottage built by her ancestors and which it is still standing.

The second section of the book it contains only a few poems about her great-grandparents, the Kershaw family, who arrived in the colony in 1841 on board of the Columbine ship. The poet includes here a photograph of the family and some of her memories visiting her grandfather’s house.

“Write Now Journal”, the last section, contains many poignant poems which will awaken in the reader memories of world events, feelings of anger for injustices, or perhaps pain for the human suffering. These are certainly not poems overflowing with sentimentality. Nixon has total control of her words, and is measured and diligent in creating and intelligent and elegant narrative in poetry form, whether she writes about helping a neighbour, the compulsory acquisition of hundreds of homes for the construction of tunnels or other environmental concerns. Other topics covered by Nixon include world events such as the movement of refugees because of persecution and poverty, the treatment of refugees in Australia, the murders in Tiananmen Square, all turned into poetry covered by very thin veil of anger and cynicism. The poet highlights injustices including domestic violence, death in custody, drug addiction, brutality against homosexuality and mental illness are all examined by Nixon’s idiosyncratic skills.

There are in this collection a series of poems based on memories, some painful others cherished, the reader will find these memories in powerful, sad and moving poems. The collection of poems is completed with a poem about a rescue cat, a dog tale and a lorikeet named Lucy as well as a series of poem honouring dead poets. Passages demands a slow and careful reading, just a few pages at a time, with time to cogitate, absorb, think. It’s a terrific collection.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet who writes poetry, fiction, poetry reviews and plays. The author’s books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the WisteriaA Call to the Stars translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and WordsRenacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish). Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney.