The Immortals (Jenny Pollak)

Artist’s Statement

This video poem is a work that began as an immersive sculptural installation comprised of three video projections falling across the floor, walls and ceiling of the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in Sydney.

The central and major component of the work is an epic poem I wrote which imagines the ultimate demise of human civilisation as part of a natural and inevitable evolutionary cycle — a future in which we, by virtue of our recycled atoms, continue to have a stake.

The Immortals

Let it begin like this:

not with minutes or hours 
but with the sea
and the first breath
sailing away.

Let it begin
with air and light
and the fabric of the stars
and the first song.


Perhaps it’s the high tide or the unaccustomed heat.
Perhaps I am tired of sitting
in one place too long.

I have imagined the whole mess of civilisation
telescoped in
from a distance, near at hand

through the wrong end of that instrument
like a miniature,
through shadowed glass.

Held it close, one eye squinting,
the entire span of human existence
held in the ball of the palm

like some sad jewel examined
for the beauty of its flaws.

Come with me now into the ocean,
look how humanity recedes.

This is where the dream begins—
with this dim spiralling down
as if movement was enough
to breathe life into the inanimate form.

Don’t be dismayed by how things fall,
this is where the dream really starts,
with a vision.

There’s time to leave before it gets too rough.
There’s time to sit and listen
with your heart.


Today I can’t help reading the waves. I’m not clairvoyant.
The only claim I make is a residual flair for holding my breath and swimming
with my eyes open.

Imagine the sea, its blue/green light. A pattern of waves like stained glass
falling. Imagine a mosque,
a church,
a synagogue;

the sea
like heaven.

Remember gills, the thrum of your blood. Recall the rush of water coming in
until you’re one hundred percent

Imagine the sea as an animal
its sheer wall a sensitised screen, a gigantic negative,

the image developing slowly in the dark; the ocean’s salts
fixing and holding what you thought could never be fixed
or held.

Imagine a chant beginning with breath, its slow dance
on the beat of a heart.

Imagine this:    

all our breaths.
Our children’s and our children’s children’s—sons and daughters/daughters
and sons

your mother’s
and your father’s breath, and all the animals and plants, and going back
in time to the first cells.

Imagine a song beginning with plants. Their chloroplasts
whispering to the stars
in unison. 

Consider the tune that we share with the dinosaurs, our long bones
colliding in the dark
like submarines.

Imagine, if you can, the weight of possessions, how easily they spiral down,
insisting on the song   
of atoms.


Everything that’s ever been exists as song. A cyclical force. A chorus line
that never stops. As inevitable as the next
‘best’ thing.

This is the same sea,
the same clouds
circumnavigating the globe, 

this is the same rain falling, the same star dust
still forming
the same clay being formed—

to ashes and dust
into dust.

Something other than the artefact
remains. An echo
of voice.

There’s music in the swing that falls, there’s static in the wheel
still turning. Something of us
is inherited here.     

Imagine the beast, how slowly it breathes. 
Every exhalation is a lull, a pause in the tale.
They say drowning is sweet.

The animal breathes 
but we look like we’re going

At some point, maybe sooner than we think,
maybe later,
the animal will wake up.   

between two deep breaths
we are gone.


To close one’s eyes for the last time
and then
to be like earth

to end with nothing     or the promise to begin
like dust        or ash
enlist the chemistry of the stars 

to be a part of something larger than a single life
to reinvent
hold history in the palm
of what was once
your hand     to leave your life
as open
as it began 

to exert nothing 
to become the working stuff
of physical law

to travel
beyond one’s own impetus
for the purposes of the earth

to be a working part
(of the engine) of the unknown

to forget one’s own appetites  
bear witness 
to be compliant     
like water is      its willing surface
adopt the intangible
clarity of blue  

to let a force exact its will         be ruffled      
be smooth
to be like gas      ignite
to liquify            to fall 

to spiral endlessly
as in a dream          to dissolve
to follow the prevailing current
to remain still
if necessary 
let oneself be used       regardless
of consequence
allow the elements
to pass through  

to be
without will
consumed by mass 
to enter      particle by particle 
the capillaries of the plants

to be like rock       like sea   
like cloud  
to be a part of this

to dissolve        liquify
to fall endlessly
to earth


This is what the world has given us, 
this perpetual gift to let go one’s life.
To reinvent the inherited

Look at the waves,
how willingly they roll.
Every wave is spilling
its own impulse.

Don’t be dismayed by how things fall,       
this is where the dream begins— with this dim spiralling down
as if movement was enough
to breathe life into the inanimate (soul).


And here we are. Marvellous in our skins.
all our sorrowful bones.

See how the ancestors shift their form
as if the sea had always fed the ambitious

See the waves rising up.
from their beds.

Here we are
seductive and predictable
continuous in our disingenuous skins

appearing to leave our bones and cast off 
our finite shells.
Our stiff suits 

complicated and erroneous
facsimiles of the original


Jenny Pollak has been a full time artist for most of her life, focusing her arts practice in photography, sculpture and video installation. In 2012 she began a poetry practice and has since been shortlisted for various poetry prizes, including the ACU Poetry prize, the Adrien Abbott Prize, the NUW Fair Australia Prize, the Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the Dermot Healey Poetry Prize, the Fish Poetry Prize, and the O’bheal Five Words Poetry Prize. In 2013 she was placed third in the inaugural ACU Poetry Prize, and in 2015 and 2016 (respectively) she won the Yeats Poetry Prize and the Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize. Her poetry has been published in Meanjin, Cordite, the Australian Poetry Journal, the Stilts journal, and various anthologies, including the Grieve Anthology, Australian Love Poems (Inkermann & Blunt), and Australian Award Winning Writing 2017. A collaboration with the UK poet Philip Gross resulted in the publication of Shadowplay (a 62 stanza poem) by Flarestack Poets (UK) in 2018. To see more from Jenny visit her website