“Jane King” is very much present in these poems, though never in obvious autobiographical ways. She is the observant eye taking in the beauties and droughts, climatic and human, she sees in St Lucia and in the semi-public lives of her neighbours. Hers is also the inward eye that plumbs dream states, the unconscious and the alarming darkness that the free-floating imagination sometimes reaches.
If the poems selected from her previous collections, In to the Centre and Fellow Traveller have a greater focus on the absurdities of race, the traps of history and the dread context of Caribbean postcolonial politics in the 1980s and early 90s, and witty acidic poems on gender and male betrayal, Performance Anxiety takes further those signs in the earlier collections that Jane King is a distinctively original explorer of the inner person, and of the world on the margins of perception.
In the new poems, organised around the metaphors of spectacle, performance and vulnerability, there is a reaching for a vision that offers some map to being “lost in this strange century”. This is sought in the dialectics of birth and death and in remembering the vision of the child “innocent as clay” in the midst of adult despairs. Not least is vision sought in the making of the poem itself, the “frail boat” that if built wrong, surrenders to the sea, but whose risky venturing may lead to clarity. As the tree teaches in the poem “The Performer Gains Some Comfort from a Tree”, it is “what’s softest, most vulnerable [that] conquers drought”.