Poems for the People: Robbie Coburn reviews ‘Stepping Over Seasons’ by Ashley Capes

Stepping Over Seasons by Ashley Capes, Interactive Press. 2009

stepping over seasonsVictorian poet Ashley Capes has been a favourite of mine for quite some time now, beginning when I got a hold of a copy of his chapbook of Haiku Orion Tips the Saucepan (2010) and his collection Pollen and the Storm (2008). His second collection, Stepping Over Seasons, does not disappoint.

Capes’ work is distinguished by its searing honesty, uncharacteristic of much contemporary Australian poetry, or any modern poetry for that matter, touching on themes of love, loss, death, marriage, struggles of living in rural Australia and the placement of the poet in the modern world.

As a poet, Capes does not attempt to dazzle or confuse with an elaborate use of pretentious wording that eliminates everyone but scholars, rather presents a series of short poems that remind us of poetry’s true purpose and paint a picture with skilful simplicity.  It is no surprise that Mark William Jackson has stated Capes’ work “will appeal to both lovers of poetry and readers who have been burned by poetry in the past” (http://overland.org.au/blogs/not-assigned/2010/05/review-%E2%80%93-stepping-over-seasons/).

The collection focuses on depicting “the finer details of life” with an emphasis on “change within people and places as seasons change”, creating a broad and powerful body of work.

Capes has the ability to create an evocative poem from something as simple as an object or place, such as his wedding ring in ‘other objects’:

my wedding ring is a plain silver
barrel band. same as dad’s, very modest
and very hard to keep smooth,
with scratches I can’t keep track of
and don’t want to hide. It’s no good pretending

There is something fresh about the feel of this poem, as with the entire collection, with a perspective only observed by the active creative mind.  This is also demonstrated in the award winning ‘farm’, that explores the hardships of drought in small towns with a chilling use of metaphor:

dawn comes like someone embarrassed
to bring bad news, sunlight
very soft on weatherboard.

Perhaps the most moving and clearly relatable poems of all touch upon the darkness and hardship attached to the existence of a writer, such as ‘fujin’s bag’ and ‘late night’. ‘Late night’ discusses the limitations placed upon the artist in poetry with only words to produce an emotion or image. ‘fujin’s bag’ reflects on the displacement of the poet in the modern world while he sits at a desk writing late into the night, calling upon the happenings around him while still confined to the page:

still moulded
to the desk, blinking
back sleep, convincing
myself, somehow
that all this
darkness is necessary.

Personally the greatest triumph in the collection is one of the longer pieces ‘on the road’, that centres on the idea of death as a possibility in day to day routine when driving, and that the bustle of existence and force of habit eliminates thought:

you don’t think about
yourself just behind the glass
in the supposed repose of the white sheet,
belongings in a plastic bag:
one that’s somehow meant to sum you up
or give comfort to loved ones.

This poem also analyses the footprint that is left by the dead, how disposable a life seems to those not personally involved, and the realization that death is an inevitability.

Even when Capes is discussing darker topics such as a lifeless, empty town in ‘small town’, he manages to create and capture atmosphere with masterful simplicity and beauty:

marks on the footpath
don’t fade and the cemetery
never shrinks, only the town around it.

Capes’ output is truly remarkable, publishing high-calibre work consistently in almost every good lit journal in the country and I would go as far as to say this is his best release yet, and one of the best books of Australian poetry I’ve read in quite some time.

Simply put, this is a wonderful collection of astounding work that was recognized with a Commended Award in the 2009 IP Picks Best Poetry Competition that joins Capes’ other poetic achievements for individual pieces, such as commendations in the 2008 MPU Poetry Competition,  the 2009 Rosemary Dobson Prize and a prize in the 2008 Ipswich Poetry Feast Open Poetry Section.

For me, at least, this is a book that demands to be read again and again. I look forward to more work from Ashley Capes, who stands up with the best as one of Australia’s finest contemporary poets.

———————————————————————————

Robbie Coburn is a poet, writer and performer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published by Picaro Press in 2012. He is currently working on a book for children, a verse novel and a volume of memoir entitled Years of Skin.He can be found at: www.robbiecoburn.com

Stepping Over Seasons is available from Interactive Press: http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/SOS.htm

 

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