Review | 'When the Sun Turns Green', Jane McKie

Polygon, UK, 2009

Sometimes books appear as gifts in one’s life; When the Sun Turns Green by Jane McKie is such a gift to me. This is one of the most exciting poetry collections to sit on my bedside table, ever, because it speaks to me as a reader and as a poet. McKie is centred in her landscape and history, as are most of us Tasmanian poets, but her worldview is also informed by myth, science and fancy; the body, mind and spirit; story, philosophy and perception. In fact, ‘Here, you breathe in one landscape,/ and breathe out another…’ (Hey Presto!).

This collection is close to my mind and heart because McKie’s poems have bones made of science, philosophy and observation; flesh made of story, myth and history; a heart that beats by asking the right questions; and breath made of words forming meaning, after meaning. McKie lives in a world where light can not only be understood as a wave form and a packet of energy at the same time, but as ‘a quick green life’ (When the Sun Turns Green) where 'every fleck in her father’s iris is a proto-star’(The Perception of Whiteness). McKie’s poems show us how things appear, then she removes a veil of perception (or assumption) and we see the story anew, then she removes another veil and another. I’d like to show this process at work with the poem ‘Bran’. Bran is Welsh for raven, and the Celtic goddess Morrighan was often thought to be present at battles in this form.


speaks in tongues above the battlefield,
beak like a pared stick, cocked
eye on carrion-meat.

His wings are slick black blades
with the sun on them; this day
they are staves for every felled man.

A hundred feathers, a hundred songs.
He has tumbled from heaven to stutter
his mantra again and again –

remember them, oh
           remember them,
oh –

This poem also shows McKie’s facility with language – she has a wonderful sense of sound and play, and her ideas are brought to life by the best words and images. Here are some more of McKie’s images: ‘She could be sharp as an ibis,/ no blunt edges, getting to the eye of a wound/ with barbed words as though spearing/ fish for supper. It was how she survived:’(Grandmother Ikons), ‘The sun breaks trunks/ into staved shadows’ (Clocks), ‘the poppling sea, richer pickings/ than twice-widowed weeds.’ (Triptych), and ‘Singly, I spoon stardust into/ the moon-mouths of my babies,/…/ Drudgery is coloured/ by love, of course:/ what was noise, sings;/ what was grey, glows.’ (Celestial Pabulum).

McKie is a playful magician who can make and un-make the reader’s reality with words. The breadth of her vision is that of a genius-giant, and she allows us to goggle at the world anew from the safety of the page. She is a writer I can trust, and she has renewed my faith in words.