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Stepping Over Seasons

Ashley Capes


Stepping over Seasons artfully depicts the finer details of life, encapsulating change within people and places as the seasons unfurl. In ‘Overlook’, Capes argues that it’s much easier for great poets to romanticise the world’s most classic cities by poetically and playfully ridiculing his own not-so-romantic Australian hometown.

Asserting that, in this digital age, everything can be recorded in some way, the poem ‘Late Night’ claims there is no longer a need for people to appreciate things “in the moment”.

The poem ‘Leaking’ describes the love seeping out of two people with the momentum of a leaking tap.


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ISBN 978191479328 (Paperback)
64pp; 140mm x 216mm; Released Oct 2009
Poetry AUD $25 NZD $28 USD $18 GBP £12 EUR €14
ISBN 9781921869785 (eBook)
Poetry AUD $13 NZD $15 USD $9 GBP £6 EUR €7
 

Reviews

I decided to get serious about poetry last year (and by serious I mean skill up, write, rewrite, resub. and read).  Part of that plan was seeking out current Australian poets and reading their work.  Something you’d think easily done in the era of the internet.
It’s been and continues to be an interesting journey.  But it’s not been a particularly smooth one.  Australian poetry still seems somewhat fragmented to me as something of an outsider, islands of culture rather than one big continent(and perhaps this has advantages).  The Best Australian poems series by Black Ink certainly helps but I have been steadily making my way around these various communities, and know that what’s to be found in these is not the full story. 

Ashley Capes was featured in one of these tomes, but I don’t believe that’s where I first came across him.  Perhaps it was Twitter or his blog. In any case I feel as If I have come to his writing without the imprimatur of some college professor or a salon like group of poets meeting in a bohemian cafe(please, poets still do this don’t they).  I think these kinds of discoveries, the ones we make ourselves without the influence of others are important, they allow a genuine connection.

Stepping Over Seasons is Capes’ second collection and I am late to the party( it was released in 2010) and if I were to pick one defining feature of this collection, it is his striking ability to present clear imagery succinctly, to let just the right amount of words carry the feeling and point of the poem.

That and he can take the most mundane of objects and imbue them with meaning.  Maybe he’s just deploying focussed attention, developed through his work with Japanese forms of poetry like Haiku and Senryu, which I know he’s a dab hand at.
A case or poem, in point is the first in the collection:

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
the marriage is perfect, no use
hanging all our memories and every
step of the future on just one symbol. other
objects speak of love, too. the weeping
maple we’ve shifted to every house, the
cup we fill with knives and forks
or the handwritten address you gave me
the night we met, walking the city
and flinging orange peel into hedges, things
that endure, things that have lines
and marks to prove them.
 
I am suspicious of ebullient expressions of emotion, they can easily ring false (it depends on the Poet and what you know of their life an experience) but Capes is often understated in his expression of sentiment. "All this Ink" speaks of the struggle of writing, of hoping and believing that this writing is going to lead somewhere:
 

if I sit up tonight and all this ink
becomes poetry, I could point the wheel
to a place we’ve never been,
watch Venice sink a little more
or show you stability in three bedrooms,
and looking back, you wouldn’t see
smoke stacks or the front door.
 
and "August Rain" sketches out beautifully the reality of being in that position where sometimes the only thing you can do for some one is be present. This is not not to say that the collection is all reserved, contemplative poetry.  There’s some cynicism and criticism that comes through in Overlook, a piece that criticises the great poets who romanticise their cities, a piece that challenges them to find in Capes’ home town “…   a moment worthy of haiku, where sewerage and the paper mill meet.”

I laughed out loud at "Sunrise Today" which dryly eviscerates morning television variety shows. Four years on this poem is still right on the money, proof of every claim that Capes lays at their feet.

But I return again to his ability to focus, to deliver succinct, and inspired observations. A stanza from Small Town could be the epitaph of half the regional towns of South Australia with

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

These three lines speak more truth about my experience of rural towns than anything you’ll find by Banjo. 

In one of those serendipitous moments I happened also to be reading a Ted Chiang short story about a society in which we have the ability to record and recall everything and anything we experience (imagine being able to prove that you had indeed put the toilet seat down).  Chiang is seductive in that piece, in that I almost feel that such a thing(as he outlines it) wouldn’t be so bad.  Then I read Capes’ "Late Night", and suddenly the seductive reasoning was a little more shaky. It ends with…

I guess the great lie of our time is capture –
it’s comforting to believe
everything can be caught, recorded
and remembered,
so we don’t have to appreciate
anything in the moment.
 
Stepping Over Seasons continues to resonate with me.  Just in writing this review  I experience that aha! moment again as I pluck out quotes for you.  This collection had a very high hit rate for me.  Capes I find to be a keen observer and communicator with his poetry, it’s some of the most enjoyable free verse I have read.

– Sean Wright, Adventures of a Bookonaut

Victorian 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). With his second collection Stepping Over Seasons, he does not disappoint.

Capes’ work is distinguished by its searing honesty, uncharacteristic of contemporary Australian poetry, and 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 presenting a series of short poems that reminds 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”.

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

 

In his latest collection of poetry Ashley Capes mines the quotidian. The seasons play an important part in the life of the poet as he moves from "no whispers to quicken fruit" ("dawn") through the "sagging tent ropes" of "slow moon" to "these / people and their autumn-house hold together" in "autumn-house." Detailing the typical emotional routines of life today – marriage, home, a bus ride, a farm, the small town, the intersections and intrusions of the issues of the day, and the occasional time for thoughts about nature, death and God, Capes explores the links between nature and human nature. He typically writes simple one- or two-page poems with little or no punctuation. His introspective moments are triggered by rain, the moon, mushrooms, night, sunrise, butterflies, an echidna, autumn, grass seeds, and particularly small town life.

His style, not surprisingly, is lean, employing one-paragraph poems, or poems with short stanzas. Within these parameters Capes is good at what he does, while a few poems step outside his normal range: the surreal longer poem "leaking," for example, or the clever poem "on the road," contrasting the narrative of driving with the thoughts of what would happen "if they found your body." And Capes' issue poems, few in number but well-constructed, include the poem about the act of writing "take five," and "black comedy" where the focus is on death:

or will I, in fact, be able
to laugh at my body as it's lowered into a hole,
for some reason
in a suit in a box with
a pillow and my teeth probably
very clean and maybe
whitened too,
in case wherever I'm going
I'd need a great smile?

Much more representative is "overlook," regarding great poets, who "romanticize their towns" contrasted with Capes' home,

with street corners and marigolds
painted in vomit

industrial strength
cigars, puffing second-hand
smoke into the sky

three inland surf shops
dozens of bars, six fast-food chains
and one theatre

Capes lives in the world: "from the river / the echo of our fishing trips / and dark lines / polishing the shore." ("tar and white paint").

Capes' language with all its sensuousness is the language of spontaneous overflow. Factuality goes along with the feelings and the emotions and there is an evident sobriety present in the poems. He builds his verses, several with headlong continuity and fitting compactly phrase to phrase and line to line, so that his poems present an overall visual impression of clarity. This solidarity is an aspect of sensibility. Capes is perfectly aware of the fleeting nature of experience, yet equally aware of its reality. So he takes things as they come: savours them, ponders them, feels them and fixes them in durable verse, as we see in "bitches brew":

once, at the gate,
bragging about loneliness
he made a bow out of blue ribbon
and hung it above her headstone
murmuring to the wind.

In this particular passage the final effect is aesthetic prompted by stylization of the persona and the image of the headstone in the final line. Characteristically Capes exemplifies an acceptance of the whole of life, of his own humility – toughly, zestfully, serenely. In the first part of the two-part poem "botanic," he writes about the park "full of photographers" and also full of readers, ibis, people and a "Chinese couple / posing for wedding photos." But beyond this tranquil scene lies the city with its sirens, streets humming with threats and the casino. His equity is in simply being alive to the sights and sounds that surround him.

Capes' poetry is, in fact, as eminently social as it is personal. It registers with a touch of irony the people at a hotel pool: "a man opens a window / grunt riding / beads of sweat down his chin" ("royal on the park"). The poem "by the curve" records with humour the man waiting for a loved one to return:

a teacup sits on the sink
shoe-brown
inside, imagined marks
where you held it,
not by the handle
but by the curve, to fit a palm
aching from winter

The final poem "the jacket" offers an arresting image of "a filthy spring jacket" left lying on a chair which the reader feels must be of importance to the poet for

in the jacket
you linger in traces
and I rake them with my hands
collect every scent.

Here is a poet who writes with immense clarity and real verbal music on the main themes of life – love, loss and death – with humour and sensitivity.

– Patricia Prime, Another Lost Shark

 


ACapes

Ashley Capes

Ashley teaches Media and English in Victoria. Prior to this he worked in community arts and music retail, while completing studies at Monash University. Ashley sings in a band and is slowly learning piano. He is currently addicted to Studio Ghibli films and spends a lot of time reading the haiku masters like Basho and Issa, along with his favourite Beat poets, particularly Ferlinghetti.

His work can be found in a range of Australian publications. Most recently his poetry has appeared in Island, Westerly, Cordite and the bi-lingual journal Red Leaves. His haiku has appeared in Stylus Poetry Journal, Notes from the Gean and Paper Wasp. In 2002 he co-founded Egg(Poetry) and currently works on web publications holland1945 and kippi, while moderating online renku group Issa’s Snail. Ashley’s first collection of poetry was pollen and the storm (2008).

Somehow throughout university he managed to continue reading, writing and listening to poetry, films and music, especially the haiku of Issa and Basho and the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Sample

by the curve

a teacup sits on the sink
shoe-brown
inside, imagined marks
where you held it,
not by the handle
but by the curve, to fit a palm
aching from winter

and the rest of the kitchen
looks a little strained –
ant-killers nest against
the foggy window and
cutlery stands like a palisade

but somehow your teacup
shrugs off pain
with a sweeping shadow
cast low over the dish-rag,
to me it looks like you might
return at any minute.

 

Links

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