I would describe Bebe Ashley’s collection as a poetic collage. It ranges across subjects as diverse as fashion, fandom, and families. Ashley elevates the internet into a poetic subject, puncturing the enduring snobbery of high and low culture. She shows us that the internet and some of its subjects are not the cultural wasteland people fear. Rather it is a window on whatever we choose to view from celebrity culture, to youthful yearnings, obsession, awakening sexuality and Harry Styles. The internet can be the cultural rainbow that lights up our grey lives. The focus may well be on our journey into adulthood, but there is another, wiser, voice too. The voice that knows some of this is momentary and that it is in building connections and communities that we find meaning. She also never forgets the meaning in our own families.
I grew up in the eighties, and we had to drive five or six miles to another village to the newsagent who reserved my copy of Look-In magazine, and then Smash Hits. This was my little window into the world and more specifically Adam Ant. My life might have been very different had I been able to access information and my fingertips. I loved the poem ‘Give Pop Music, Give Peace a Chance.’ It’s a grandmother, standing on a hill with her grandchildren reminiscing about this place, the seasons and her awakening to music and celebrity. As she sits in a sunken garden amongst the bluebells a young ranger starts to point out the beauty of the place. She knows. She knew it was beautiful before he was even born. She remembers that age of listening to music and feeling full of potential:
‘’a telegram from John and Yoko/ The thrill of running coloured chalk through the ends of her hair/She remembers sticking her thumb pad against the pin back/of a badge that served as her first concert ticket.’
She includes notes and allusions to Harry Styles, suggesting listening to his music while reading the poetry here. She starts the book with a quote of what looks like song lyrics, where he talks directly to his fans saying that he doesn’t understand or feel exactly what they do, but that he does ‘see’ each and every one of them. This assures the fans that they are noticed, that he appreciates them and this state of ‘fandom’ which is such a strong feeling as a teenage girl. In her poem The Boy Who the narrator gives a brilliant depiction of the chaos of a teenage party. She meets a boy in a Jesus T-shirt who is hiding in the bathroom to get away from people, but to enjoy the music. She lays in the bath and she listens to a tale of finding a friend ‘who he met in a gay club that he definitely didn’t know was a gay club’ and how this friend offered him their couch to sleep on while things were difficult at home.
Although these are longer poems than haiku, it feels like the poet is trying to do the same thing. All of these are brief moments in time, beautifully observed, and structured. The Boy Who is written as a long stream of consciousness with no punctuation or breaths. It’s like a story you’d quickly tell a friend about the party you attended the other night and where you disappeared to. In the final poem she imagines the object of her fandom in Japan, wearing an embroidered hoody and curls that are in need of a cut. The last two lines describe one such moment:
This is the one I’d most like to meet /Of all the moonstruck moments
This is a beautiful collection of poetry that imagines that rush of teenage hormones, burgeoning sexual feelings and the perfect pop star as an object of affection. There is a reverence and respect to how she describes Harry Styles here that I found really endearing. I loved though how the poet describes he importance of music and how we use it to complement or change our emotions. In Breakdown she brilliantly pinpoints the way we might use songs for heartbreak and it reminded me of my friend who was heartbroken and kept playing Coldplay’s The Scientist over and over in the car until me and her other friend stole the CD to break her mood. We were worried that the repetitive playing of it, was hampering her recovery. Here Ashley writes:
‘There was something serendipitous/ About being heartbroken during the release/ Of a heartbreak album, with the postman/ already tired of square sleeved parcels/ And the neighbours already sick of hearing/ Heartbreaker’s twelve songs on repeat.’
Music does affect and influence our emotions profoundly. If I hear certain Snow Patrol songs I’m reminded of a bereavement I had. If I hear ‘Yes’ by McAlmont and Butler it reminds me of feeling positive, hopeful and full of excitement for a new start in my life. Like most of us I even have mood playlists on Spotify for when I need cheering up, motivating or having a good cry. Ashley captures that feeling as well as teenage fandom and the inspiration she gets from Harry Styles’s lyrics. It’s a very readable and relatable collection, that I can tell I’m going to enjoy with further readings.
Meet The Author
Bebe Ashley lives in Belfast. She is a AHRC – funded PhD candidate at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. Her work can be found in Poetry Birmingham Library Journal, Poetry Ireland Review and others. When procrastinating from her PhD she takes British Sign Language and Braille classes, and writes pop culture articles for United by Pop, specialising in Harry Styles.