28 January 2013

Tuesday Poem: 'Afternoon with Jane' by Ashleigh Young

Afternoon with Jane

Being a friend, Jane said, ‘You’re
the whole package!’
No one had ever
called me a package
before. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m a package,
of sorts.’ Or I hoped to be one,
one day – bundled together, on
my way.

Jane said, ‘Don’t be silly,’ and was beautiful
in the high-backed chair, wearing her enormous black skirt
and crinkly leather boots (like dead balloons, but beautiful
on her particular feet), a thick clot of hematite
beaded round her neck, and her blown-glass hair

in a plait.
It is possible to stare and stare at Jane
who is beautiful in such a way
that one never grows bored
but some do grow sad, in her company.
I stared, and felt myself go

sad – there would be no surprises –
as my resolve opened,
dispatched itself in pieces.
‘Stop,’ Jane said, ‘stop writing
your lists and go out and do
something. Ask out Nose Boy – ask him his name.
Go diving.’

‘It’s hopeless,’ I said, and echoed
‘It’s hopeless,’ because that is the nature
of hopelessness; echoing itself, bending in on itself
through an infinity of selves, like a room
full of mirrors: every surface
mounting another to breed millions more.

‘It is not,’ Jane said, ‘It is not,’ because that is the nature
of hope, she said: it refracts
hopelessness, and fills you –
as a mailroom, piled high with mail –
with many more hopes, all waiting to be posted
into the present tense: it's

a room fat with letters
many wrongly addressed but all destined
to travel –
she said this, my friend Jane,
her explanation gorgeously wrought
but ultimately unwrappable;
she narrowed her cut-glass eyes
as if she thought she could see
the names and addresses
of all the mail bundled in me.

Ashleigh Young's debut poetry collection, Magnificent Moon, was published late last year by VUP. She grew up in Te Kuiti, and has not long been back in Wellington after a couple of years living in London, where she worked as an editor at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Her poetry and essays have been published all around the place, and she won the 2009 Adam Foundation Prise for her essay manuscript Can You Tolerate This. She blogs at eyelashroaming.com. For more about her, there are a couple of fabulous interviews online at The Pantographic Punch and Three Islands Magazine.

For my first Tuesday Poem of 2013 I wanted to share something from Magnificent Moon, which I finished reading over the Christmas break. I'd been sneaking a poem here and a poem there, but when I had the time I just devoured the rest in the space of an afternoon. And then I was a bit sorry to have finished it, because the poems had been such lovely companions. (I also found that the poems sent me spinning in my own poetic directions - I wrote three or four poems - or drafts of poems anyway - the afternoon I finished this book). Never mind, there are many re-readings to come. What makes this book and these poems so charming an appealing is its voice - lively, contemporary, quirky, funny and just when you're disarmed, it'll turn out to be really incisive and meaningful as well.

I chose to share 'Afternoon with Jane' because, as well as being my favourite poem in the collection (and I guess because it's my favourite poem in the collection), it epitomises those qualities. It starts off really chatty and specific, with someone called Jane, who I have no doubt is an actual friend of the poet (though whether that’s true or not really doesn’t matter, it feels true). Quite possibly this poem begins with a conversation they actually had (again, not that important), but it spins so beautifully off in little eddies, to finally it follows its extended postal metaphor, which begins with the common phrase 'You're the whole package', so far that we end up in a surreal image of hope (and the poet) as mailroom full of mail. It's a gorgeous blend of very specific with universal, or perhaps rather specific leading to universal. I find the images of hopelessness as 'bending in on itself/through an infinity of selves, like a room/full of mirrors', and of the nature of hope: 'it refracts/hopelessness, and fills you -/like a mailroom, piling high with mail' exquisite and quite haunting. I also love how it's full of little questions: Why does looking at Jane sometimes make people sad? Why is the narrator feeling hopeless? And who is Nose Boy? (Thanks to Tim Upperton for reminding me of the importance of that question.) There's so much in this poem - minimalist it isn't, and I love it for that.

I hope you'll check out more of Ashleigh's work, if you haven't already. And you can check out a whole new bunch of Tuesday Poems from the hub blog over here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/


Mary McCallum said...

Yes, Helen, I love this one too. I read it online a while back and kept wanting to go back to it. It is the sort of poem that sends you spinning off into your own thoughts about poems and how to write the best sort of poem which is both intimate and global and uses language to tease out the connection between the two.

Aren't you the most wonderful reader of poetry.?Any poet would be thrilled to know their book was in your hands - the care you take. I may have to get this one. Cheers.

Mary McCallum said...

*it is also the sort of poem ...