Poetry Review: VI by Ashley Capes

I have been a fan of Capes' work for some time both as an epic fantasy writer and a poet.

While VI is the first collection of his poetry since 2012, it feels like I have been reading at least one work by him a year.

In the time since I  reviewed him last, I began writing and publishing poetry and we have shared tables of contents. Ashley has also published my work, along with other far more well known poets in the Poetry and Place 2015 Anthology.  

So there's an acquaintance that bears acknowledging, an acquaintance that's hard to avoid in poetry circles mind you, especially in a small community such as Australia.

The collection has a different feel to it, that's for certain.  I have deliberately not gone back to reread my other reviews of his work, relying only on memory, but VI  strikes me as far more personal than his other collections.

There's a notable absence of Haiku and its associated objective, distanced stance.  river mist is about as close as we get to the shasei (sketch from life) popularized by Masaoka Shiki.  stage show yellow is reminiscent of his early works depicting an Australia perched on the edge -the edge of the bush? the edge of decline?

cicadas play back-to-back sets
emptying their entire bodies of music

I walk a town sweltering
beneath yellow gels
like a stage show set in mexico

No, when I say more personal, it's not that Capes hasn't written in detail about his life, travels and growing up in a setting that I can deeply relate to, it's that VI  seems to let the reader in much closer.

I have always liked Capes' use of sound and his willingness to be a little more impassioned or infused with emotion, than the Australian poetry landscape generally seems to allow (if you ask me, I feel a distinct pressure in my own work to be emotionally subtle).  To me, on the whole, Australian poetry feels dry compared to contemporary English or Scottish works - an effect of the environment perhaps?

In VI  Capes doesn't baulk at "letting" some emotional blood.  In spoons:

give us more than appointments
to  make other appointments
and the stab wounds of the bills that go with
as red blooms
in vase after vase of plastic flowers
and spare room:

- just toys really, some cheap, some cute
and all to be sealed in a larger
plastic coffin

That being said there's enough variety in VI to get an overview of Capes' works to date.  If this were the only book of poetry a reader bought they might miss out on his skill in writing Haiku but certainly not the "eye" that writing Haiku seems to develop.

His style, the use of sound, the subtle lyricism, the accessible diction would work equally well on page or stage and I'd like to see more poetry that follows in this fashion.

Capes has struck a good balance here, enough of a progression from earlier work to interest long time readers, and enough work stemming from earlier approaches for new readers to get a good sense of the breadth of his ability in one tome.


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