Type
Article

Review – Stepping Over Seasons

'Stepping over seasons'Simply, Stepping Over Seasons is a fantastic collection of short poems that will appeal to both poetry lovers and readers who may have been burned by poetry in the past. Ashley Capes has captured themes such as love, loss, longing, suburban streetscapes, the plight of Outback Australia and the anguish of the writer’s life in poems that can be studied for their form or enjoyed for their content.

When you read Capes’ work, a distinctive style becomes quickly apparent; he has an ability to form a poem around a seemingly ordinary object. As Justin Lowe writes on the back cover, ‘You sense you could point to any object in a room and Capes would conjure the ghosts of a hundred pairs of hands’. Capes creates a vivid image of an object and the reader is treated to a reconsideration. This object could be small, like the wedding ring in ‘other objects’, or an entire house, as in ‘shell’, once filled with life and memories, the house is left empty:

our house is a shell again,
not precious
and beach-like, just
a knock for someone else to answer

This poem, as indeed the entire collection, displays an honesty that is rare in contemporary poetry where so much emphasis is placed on craft and polish. Two poems ‘late night’ and ‘fujin’s bag’ expose Capes’ struggles with the life choices of a writer.

‘Late night’ compares writing to other arts such as music and movies, and the frustration that can be felt by trying to extract an emotional response with just lines. The twist is in the closing stanza of the poem is the artist’s dilemma; do we live life or create art:

I guess the great lie of our time is capture-
… everything can be caught, … so we don’t have to appreciate
anything in the moment

The angst of the writers life continues in ‘fujin’s bag’, where the late night routine of the writer is contrasted with the everyday happenings around him, happenings that he is aware of and yet not a part of; his wife goes for a glass of water at 1 am, strong winds blow outside, all the while the writer is:

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

A closing stanza that places in context the solitary life of a writers’ choosing; not book launches or festivals, not drowning in accolades and riches, but late nights fighting sleep while life continues around and without you.

Capes’ skill in capturing the struggles of rural Australia has been acknowledged with a prize in the 2008 Ipswich Poetry Feast Open Poetry Section for ‘farm’ and a commendation in the 2009 Rosemary Dobson Prize for ‘small town’.

‘Farm’ is weighed heavily in metaphors of death as small towns contend with drought:

hills are bone-grey and a cold hand
massages the empty river, no prayers
swim this belly of dust,
no whispers to quicken fruit

Likewise, ‘small town’ describes a vacated town, signs of whatever life the town had are now collecting dirt and any hope of a saviour has been replaced with moonlit dreams:

no one lives down there
where the surf plays dead
and moonlight walks on water

If I was forced to pick a favourite from this collection, it would be ‘by the curve’. A poem of loss, the emotion is captured in the description of a simple tea cup ‘shoe brown inside’. The cup sits in a vacant kitchen, other standard cooking utensils surround it, but the cup stands out as it appears to wait for its owner’s return:

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 any minute

Capes has gathered not only wonderful poems but also a great collection of objects and moments in Stepping Over Seasons. As he writes, ‘everything can be caught’, but I would add that not everyone has the ability to capture, certainly not as well as Ashley Capes can.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!

Comments

  1. Thank you, Mark & Overland!

    One of the best things about the review for me, is that you’ve articulated something I hadn’t realised about my writing – a thematic preoccupation with the writer as ‘solitary.’ And I do come back to it at times throughout SOS, though of course, your review makes poetry seem less ‘alone.’ And my confidence in my ability to capture things has certainly shot up now!

    Ashley

  2. You’re welcome Ashley, and I’m glad that my review could give you another perspective on your work. The high level of confidence you should have in your abilities is warranted.

  3. Thanks for the in-depth review of Ashley’s poetry book. It’s worth mentioning that the collection also won a Commended Award in the IP Picks Best Poetry competition in 2009. IP would of course welcome orders for the book to sales@ipoz.biz.

  4. Thanks for this review MWJ. Great to see Capes profiled. Long overdue, I reckon.

    I’ve been enjoying his poetry for a while, though I must confess I don’t (yet) own ‘Stepping Over Seasons.’ It’d be hard to avoid him actually, published as he is, in almost every issue of the best lit journals around the country. The man’s astounding, if not just through the startling and sustained success he’s had, but in the sheer amount of high calibre work he seems to be producing.

    I suppose you’d have to say, Capes is a natural poet. I can’t imagine him sitting down to write a poem. I imagine him walking down footpaths and crashing into trees as the next sequence of poetry presents itself to him.

    • Thanks Alec, that’s great imagery and I think you’re right, I know he works very hard at what he does but there is something in his work that I don’t think can be taught.

  5. This is a fine review Mark. It expresses exactly how I feel about Ashley’s work… tight, but incredibly natural. I remember when I first read ‘farm’ when judging the Ipswich Poetry Feast Award; it presented itself as the standout immediately. That section you quoted in your review made me shiver…

    • Thanks Graham, and thank you for the insight into the judging process, ‘farm’ certainly delivers a frightening picture of what our farmers are suffering and Ashley drives the picture right behind the eyes.

  6. Pingback: Overland Blog: Review of Ashley Capes’ Stepping Over Seasons « Mark William Jackson

  7. Pingback: New Review of ‘Stepping Over Seasons’ « ashley capes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>