How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young
Wellington: Victoria University Press (2019). RRP: $25.00
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell
Ashleigh Young’s lyric exuberance is all over this collection, whether it’s choice of topic, choice of words, or both thrown together out of sheer joy in the absurd.
Words come instead when we’re waiting for sleep.
There are too many turkeys there are
too many turkeys We push our hands
into our eyes to round the words
into a herd to drive away
but the words too many too many
run, in disbelief, back and forth turkeys
across all our yards … (‘Turkeys’, p. 55)
Her language flows as though fluency were the only thing in the world worth worrying about – and this is reinforced by the many images of water – porpoise in the Thames, eels in nearer rivers, lots of rain.
Silence will lead us into the rest of our lives
which are deep pools where we cannot touch our feet
and cannot move our arms so much, … (‘Process’, p. 59)
Five of the poems are ‘Contributor Notes’: they begin in a swamp, grow as a tree (That’s my silence on the tree/ I grew it p 3). Then, I just need a bit of time// to finish cutting this tree down (p 36). And then again the rain: We can’t throw our voices far enough/ to get the rain to come here. (p 54)
At the last, the tree is gone
and then the leaves come nosing in here,
all don’t mind me. …
I am waging war on the future
by refusing to use any of the time we have available to us (p 85)
All these trees, all this rain – do they add up to a philosophical statement or is Young just having a really good time messing around with words? Maybe poets like to multitask?
‘Contents’ is a five-page poem based on the table of contents in Margery Kempe’s Book. Kempe was a fifteenth-century mystic who travelled from Norfolk to the Holy Land and back; her spiritual and logistic adventures are rambunctious, noisy, and totally genuine. She may be the first of the roaming English eccentrics whose memoirs are still healthily in print: Hester Stanhope, Isabella Bird, Margaret Fountaine – inspired by quite different passions but single-minded and uninhibited in carrying out their passions. Kempe’s divinely inspired weeping (fluid again) made her noticed:
Some men wished she was in the harbour
some men wished she was on the sea in a bottomless boat.
Other ghostly men loved her and favoured her the more. (p 76)
Meanwhile, back in Wellington, another poem sets the questions in a bureaucratic assessment up with irreverent, irrelevant answers:
Did the event help to increase
your long-term international
If so how
You leave the room for a moment
and when you come back, not only
has the jug come to the boil
but someone has died.
The lesser greens start to fray as
a new jug of green comes out of the soil. … (‘If So How’ pp. 44-45)
Lack of respect is as vital a poetic form as is serious ode-making – perhaps even more, especially when handled by a poet with Ashleigh Young’s skill. This collection is a well-crafted and hugely enjoyable addition to her existing work, and I look forward to seeing more poetry, more essays, whatever.
In other words, here’s hoping for turkeys all the way down.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015 and Field Notes was published by Mākaro Press in 2017.