Between Giants by Ashley Capes, Ginninderra Press. 2012
To read Ashley Capes’ poetry is like standing on your veranda or in your lounge room, or anywhere for that matter, and simply finding the poetry that lies in the every day. In fact, Capes acknowledges this fact in stating he will ‘keep sucking poetry from small things” (‘a table set for thousands’), a statement that sets the tone for his latest offering Between Giants nicely.
This type of work is expertly balanced and a breath of fresh air amidst the countless collections of difficult and unnecessarily thesaurus-laden modern poetry. Capes has an impressive ability to reflect on the every day and make it so much more in his lines and sentiments, sourcing beauty and food for thought in even the most mundane of things, in a voice that feels genuine, assured and intelligent. As Jane Williams states on the back cover, Capes’ poetry “[favours] sincerity over artifice and meaning over wordplay”.
Finely tuned, vivid and accessible, Between Giants goes further in expanding the reputation he has established in his previous collections, Pollen and the Storm, Orion Tips the Saucepan and Stepping Over Seasons, exploring a range of experiences, topics and landscapes.
The fantastic opener ‘transitions’ displays to the reader that they are about to be taken to a different cultural landscape by the poet, and as the collection progresses, it is clear this landscape is Italy, namely Rome.
The standout poems in the collection are derived from these overseas travels, such as the excellent “St. Mark’s Square” which closes the collection:
we eventually have to stop,
as people invariably halt
to stare up at bronze, replica horses
their jeep-like cameras
right in the middle of the flow
Here he applies his unforced, Australian poetic voice with the unfamiliar and beautiful imagery of Italy from his point of view. This creates somewhat of a poetic travelogue and is possibly Capes’ best work to date. This view is verified by the inclusion of his poem ‘archaeological moment’’ in John Tranter’s The Best Australian Poems 2012 (Black Inc.), where the simple discovery of an old coin in the dirt while on holiday in Italy becomes a brilliant exploration of the changing in the land, and the monumental travel of lost objects through time:
a penny has come thousands of miles
to hibernate in the dirt
it’s not worth much
but neither is it worth nothing
The poem then forwards into a future where the coin is left behind, waiting to be rediscovered by future travellers:
years later when moving house
and neither one goes back for it
the penny can close its tiny eyes
and wait for a more archaeological moment.’
The non-travel poems are also strong, always keenly observed, exploring connections between people and places, and deriving beauty from streets, nature and even popular culture, such as in ‘stubble’, which references Clint Eastwood’s facial hair in A Fistful of Dollars, and ‘the colour purple’, which compares Australian nature to ‘a lost set piece from The Wizard of Oz’. It is this ability to find poetry in virtually anything that makes Capes such a fine observer of our modern world and the way we inhabit it.
The subtle and comical monologue ‘acceptance speech’ is a standout in which Capes thanks several acquaintances from his life for their various contributions to his wellbeing, displaying the range of his work and drawing from things generally not associated with poetry:
actually, while I’m here
I’d like to thank my dentist
for standing up to my recklessness,
even if the remorse
of the sugar-junkie never lasts
This piece is an interesting take on something we have all witnessed, and demands to be re-read and paralleled with our own lives.
Between Giants, a reference to witnessing the old structures of Rome, is a fine title for this collection, as there are plenty of big and memorable moments within the covers, and also an appropriate representation of Capes as a poet: between the famous names, the giants of Australian poetry, Ashley Capes stands most impressively.
More importantly, Between Giants reminds us that wherever there is life, in Rome or in Australia, there is always poetry and vice versa.
Robbie Coburn is a poet and writer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published in 2012 and his first full collection Rain Season is forthcoming from Picaro Press this year. For more go to: www.robbiecoburn.com
Between Giants is available from Ginninderra Press: http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/poetry.html
Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.