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|Famous Reporter # 16|
'Taking Queen Victoria to Inveresk'
Poems by Tim Thorne
(Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, 1997)
It is hard to imagine how anyone other than Tim Thorne could have undertaken the position of poet-in-residence at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and produced this excellent collection of poems. As a well-published poet, past community arts officer, with an interest in art and history, Tim easily deals with the themes that are a natural part of museum and art collections, i.e. research, construction, artistic composition and restoration. These, of course, are important to the poems, but what are central to the works are Thornes own concerns: with what can be found behind the surfaces of things (whether of ideas, objects or history); and with the injustices we as a society ignore or hide.
Taking Queen Victoria to Rocherlea is one of many poems which deal with these concerns, pointing out the cosmetic layers we as a society place upon such things as memory and historical perspective embellishments which lose their freshness over time.
In this poem, the sepulchral lithograph of Queen Victoria which had earlier been enhanced with lead white, now looks gilded, cheeks daubed yellow. The lithograph is likened to that Tasmanian layer of history which saw both the museum and the maternity hospital named after Queen Victoria; and about which todays local populace no longer cares.
An extra dimension is cleverly added to the poem; the conservator explaining the poor state of the lithograph is named Vicki. She is, away from the museum, a belly dancer, and during the conversation still wears her make-up from a lunch-time performance. Like the lithograph, she too has, as the accompanying photograph of a belly dancer in regalia reveals, a decorative external layer.
In this, as in many of the poems, Thorne suggests the ability of history to undo our decorating plans. Years jaundice more than pigment . And Vicki the belly dancer is different from the lithograph: for her as for society, there exists a more wholesome layer under the wrappings, below the layers of artificial loyalty, prettified history and uncertain memory:
As usual, Thornes work includes a witty humour and a love of word-play; for instance, when he talks about the good old ineffable (in Low Tide); the fact that the gulls are not gulled by this (Low Tide); or :
All the poems are worth reading and re-reading, but for me some work better than others. I feel Tim Thornes poetry is at its best when it is sharpened by his sense of the historical and his sensitivity to past and present injustices, as in his poems Comrade Revenant (about the Inveresk railway yards), The Last Muster of the Aborigines at Risdon, Sydney Cove (a trading ship), and Bound to Please (about the way womens fashion throughout history shape[s] the fantasies of men, i.e. Allure/is always fashioned for control.). My favourite is Led, wherein the poet humorously poses a conjecture about the future of those who carried Tea caddies lined with lead about the British empire:
As a bonus, the book includes an article on the unpublished and possibly unknown poems of Eric Scott (1899-1986), once Director of the Queen Victoria Museum.
This book is beautifully presented, the illustrations to the poems are brilliantly apt. At first, one could be deceived into thinking that Taking Queen Victoria to Inveresk is merely a book for dipping into, viewing the photos and paintings, with the poetic text as an adjunct to the illustrations. However, like a theme that comes out strongly in Tims poems, the surface belies the interior. Tims poems are worth a great deal of looking at, and reading into.