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,
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:
to the desk, blinking
back sleep, convincing
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.