Posted in Random Things Tours

Gold Light Shining by Bebe Ashley.

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.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Gravity Well by Marc Rahe

#RandomThingsTours #GravityWell #Poetry #BlogTour

My Thoughts | I haven’t read any new poetry for a long time so I jumped at the chance to read this new collection. For me, poetry is very emotional. It’s about whether a poem connects with my feelings in some way; is the poet describing something I recognise, something I’ve felt or seen? There tend to be certain images that make me stop and think and Marc Rahe’s new collection Gravity Well did all of these things and resurrected my interest in poetry.

Some images made me smile because of how clever they were or because of the beautiful combination of words. In Writer Friend the narrator describes an unsettled afternoon as a ‘forecast-come-true afternoon of cloudy and scattered’. I also loved the Schroedinger reference in Our Shared Life of ‘The bee trapped with you inside/ your helmet in traffic, will or will not’. It made me think of that moment before something happens. In that moment, playing simultaneously in the biker’s mind, are the bee that stings and the bee he successfully releases back into the world unharmed. We get another sense of the in-between reading his poem Stellar, as if moments in time are simply Russian dolls with each possibility stacked within each other – touching but separate:

‘This tree was my favorite the day it rained during my walk. Uncanny when it’s raining and it’s sunny at the same time. As if being in someone’s presence and feeling the presence of their ghost’.

Another line I loved was ‘the air was as wet as dog’s breath’ because it made me feel the humidity of a wet day in August, that moisture hangs like warm misted breath in the air.

There were also themes running through the work that interest me greatly, because of my own writing work which is focused on how the body, particularly a faulty or malfunctioning body, interacts with the world. Rahe has a way of describing age and the changes of the body that are surprising and moving. In his poem Appetite I loved the following section:

‘I’ve been reopened along the same incision

and though metal plates and wires, metal screws,

can only be said to ache, I say

it is the metal in this leg that tells me

the sky is so full of mountains and trenches

as the ocean, metal that warns me

of my own weight held past a certain angle from the center.’

I love how he describes the constant ache of the structure that holds the speaker’s leg together, but it isn’t a negative statement, it’s just something that’s there. Also it’s a way of gauging the world, like I know if my joints ache it’s going to be wet or if my muscles seize it’s going to be cold. The unnatural pins and wires he needs for his limb to work naturally, actually link him to the natural world too – to the heights and lows of the lands, and even how the force of gravity can be sensed as he finds the balance of walking with these metal supports.

In Fable of the Cephalopod he uses humour to describe a sense of coughing up a foreign body, something that feels like ‘an octopus that was trying to wear a sweater’ giving the reader a sense of how stuck it feels, trying to force eight woollen legs from the ‘wrong bronchial tree’. Later he describes the moment of having a blood test, very routine for me and others who are ill, but tense all the same. He perfectly describes that moment when you almost hate yourself for trying to make the medics life easier. When you feel guilty for being difficult, as if you could control the way your veins and body work:

‘at a blood draw my vein resisted the needle. The needle

slipped aside inside my arm, despite repeated attempts. I made,

for the phlebotomist, a joke I hoped would defuse her growing anxiety.’

I felt a connection with parts of the work, and as always with poetry, I know that re-reading will bring further meaning and interpretation, depending on my mood. Poetry’s meaning lies with the readers once it has left the author’s pen. It may well have had an original meaning, but really the beauty of poetry comes out when the reader brings their ‘stuff’ to the poem. I’m sure there are other bloggers who have had totally different experiences with the images and themes but that’s the beauty of it, it can touch a multitude of people very differently. I thought this was an imaginative and thoughtful collection from a poet I’d never read before. It sparked my interest in poetry again and I am looking forward to reading more for the blog and for my own enjoyment.

Other Reviews | Marc Rahe’s luminous poems find grace in acts of intentional remembrance, in turning back to sing ‘what can be seen / looking behind.’ The speaker’s world resembles our own fraught moment–fallen, divided–but never numb. These poems hum with moments of transcendence, between body and weather, air and breath, between today’s pain and the deep wounds of the past. In precise, lucid lyrics, this voice insists that our capacity to feel is what binds us, ecstatically, to our planet and to one another.–Kiki Petrosino

Ever since his first book, THE SMALLER HALF, was published, I’ve kept my eyes open for new work by Marc Rahe, and whenever new work has come, I’ve celebrated, actually celebrated. No poet writing in English today is better at making poems stuffed full of being and of things seen, things heard, things touched, things tasted, and things thought hard about nonetheless quiet. And yet, though they approach silence, these poems resonate, and, like Rahe’s previous work, they will resonate for years.–Shane McCrae

Biography | Marc Rahe is the author of THE SMALLER HALF (Rescue Press, 2010), ON HOURS (Rescue Press, 2015), and GRAVITY WELL (Rescue Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, MAKE Literary Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Sixth Finch, and other literary journals. He lives in Iowa City.