Apr 18, 2014

eBook Review- Stepping Over Seasons by Ashley Capes

stepping-over-seasons

I decided to get serious about poetry last year (and by serious I mean skill up, write, rewrite, resub. and read).  Part of that plan was seeking out current Australian poets and reading their work.  Something you’d think easily done in the era of the internet.

It’s been and continues to be an interesting journey.  But it’s not been a particularly smooth one.  Australian poetry still seems somewhat fragmented to me as something of an outsider, islands of culture rather than one big continent(and perhaps this has advantages).  The Best Australian poems series by Black Ink certainly helps but I have been steadily making my way around these various communities, and know that what’s to be found in these is not the full story. 

Ashley Capes was featured in one of these tomes, but I don’t believe that’s where I first came across him.  Perhaps it was Twitter or his blog. In any case I feel as If I have come to his writing without the imprimatur of some college professor or a salon like group of poets meeting in a bohemian cafe(please, poets still do this don’t they).  I think these kinds of discoveries, the ones we make ourselves without the influence of others are important, they allow a genuine connection.

Stepping Over Seasons is Capes’ second collection and I am late to the party( it was released in 2010) and if I were to pick one defining feature of this collection, it is his striking ability to present clear imagery succinctly, to let just the right amount of words carry the feeling and point of the poem.

That and he can take the most mundane of objects and imbue them with meaning.  Maybe he’s just deploying focussed attention, developed through his work with Japanese forms of poetry like Haiku and Senryu, which I know he’s a dab hand at.

A case or poem, in point is the first in the collection:

other objects

my wedding ring is a plain silver
barrel band. same as dad’s, very modest
and very hard to keep smooth,
with scratches I can’t keep track of and
don’t want to hide. it’s no good pretending
the marriage is perfect, no use
hanging all our memories and every
step of the future on just one symbol. other
objects speak of love, too. the weeping
maple we’ve shifted to every house, the
cup we fill with knives and forks
or the handwritten address you gave me
the night we met, walking the city
and flinging orange peel into hedges, things
that endure, things that have lines
and marks to prove them.

 

I am suspicious of ebullient expressions of emotion, they can easily ring false (it depends on the Poet and what you know of their life an experience) but Capes is often understated in his expression of sentiment. All this Ink speaks of the struggle of writing, of hoping and believing that this writing is going to lead somewhere:

 

if I sit up tonight and all this ink

becomes poetry, I could point the wheel

to a place we’ve never been,

watch Venice sink a little more

or show you stability in three bedrooms,

and looking back, you wouldn’t see

smoke stacks or the front door.

 

and August Rain sketches out beautifully the reality of being in that position where sometimes the only thing you can do for some one is be present. This is not not to say that the collection is all reserved, contemplative poetry.  There’s some cynicism and criticism that comes through in Overlook, a piece that criticises the great poets who romanticise their cities, a piece that challenges them to find in Capes’ home town “…   a moment worthy of haiku, where sewerage and the paper mill meet.”

I laughed out loud at Sunrise Today which dryly eviscerates morning television variety shows. Four years on this poem is still right on the money, proof of every claim that Capes lays at their feet. 

But I return again to his ability to focus, to deliver succinct, and inspired observations. A stanza from Small Town could be the epitaph of half the regional towns of South Australia with

marks on the footpath

don’t fade and the cemetery

never shrinks, only the town around it.

These three lines speak more truth about my experience of rural towns than anything you’ll find by Banjo. 

In one of those serendipitous moments I happened also to be reading a Ted Chiang short story about a society in which we have the ability to record and recall everything and anything we experience (imagine being able to prove that you had indeed put the toilet seat down).  Chiang is seductive in that piece, in that I almost feel that such a thing(as he outlines it) wouldn’t be so bad.  Then I read Capes’ Late Night, and suddenly the seductive reasoning was a little more shaky. It ends with…

I guess the great lie of our time is capture –

it’s comforting to believe

everything can be caught, recorded

and remembered,

so we don’t have to appreciate

anything in the moment.

 

Stepping Over Seasons, continues to resonate with me.  Just in writing this review  I experience that aha! moment again as I pluck out quotes for you.  This collection had a very high hit rate for me.  Capes I find to be a keen observer and communicator with his poetry, it’s some of the most enjoyable free verse I have read.

I encourage you to discover Ashley Capes for yourself.  You can buy the collection in paperback and eBook form, or you could encourage your Library to purchase it like I did.


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Galactic Chat 45 _ Jonathan Strahan

Just in case you don’t subscribe to the Galactic Chat feed or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, here is the interview that I did with Jonathan Strahan last week.

This week Sean chats to moonlighting Mullah of Coode Street Jonathan Strahan about his career, the direction of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field and his latest year's best from Solaris.

Other topics covered include:

  • How Jonathan compiles his anthologies, what processes he has in place to counte act bias
  • The changes in Small Press Publishing
  • Where he sees the field going.

Jonathan can be found at:

The Coode Street Podcast and on Twitter.

 

You can download from here or play the episode below:

eBook Review - The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8.

BEST SFF 8I tried last year subscribing to a number of online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines in a vain attempt to try and get a handle on the field in its short form.  I still have a digital pile of unread magazines that I probably won’t make it to, what with being a reviewer, producer and a creative myself.

That’s one reason why I find works like The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8 handy.  It’s a curated volume of some of the best works of the year, in the field.  For sure it’s Jonathan Strahan’s idea of what’s best and he’ll naturally have a different idea to other long running editors but I personally have found this particular volume to provide ample comfort, challenge and diversity.

There are works that are simply enjoyable and what we expect from well known authors; Abercrombie’s story Some Desperado featuring Shy from his Red Country novel and Gaiman’s off kilter fairytale, The Sleeper and the Spindle jump to mind. 

Not having read any Greg Egan before I was delighted to find Zero for Conduct engaging, accessible and in line with the growing trend to present gender and cultural diversity. Prior to this story I had an impression that Egan might be a little too “hard science” for my tastes, but if he has longer work in the same vein as this short, I’d gladly read more.

M. John Harrison’s Cave and Julia, created a sense of enjoyable unease, and probably deserves a second reading because I got lost in his prose the first time.  If your are the kind of reader that thinks Science Fiction is all about ray guns and rocket ships then you might check out Harrison’s work to witness some stylistic diversity.

Ramez Naam’s work Water, is one of my favourites, a story that takes current trends and extrapolates.  You get an interesting and believable concept taken to its logical conclusion and in turn are obliquely encouraged to reflect on the present.

Ted Chiang achieves something similar with The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, where he presents the scenario of a society where we are able to record and recall almost instantaneously every waking moment.  He explores the ramifications of such through the narrator , a journalist who is exploring the use of such technology himself while at the same time presenting a parallel story of the effect the introduction of English writing and written technology on an oral culture.

Both Naam and Chiang give you stories that keep you thinking long after the story has ended.

Priya Sharma’s Rag and Bone, turns us away from science fiction toward a distinctly Dickensian Weird.  This tale has a nice twist to it which I think elevates it from being just another, albeit very well realised and written, outgrowth of Steampunk/Alternate Victorian genre meshed with the weird.  This story makes me want to track down more of Sharma’s work.

The inclusion of Charlie Jane Anders The Master Conjurer, is proof that writers of Speculative Fiction have a wicked sense of humour and works to bring some levity and offers contrast with some of the darker or serious works.

I am pleased to see Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Fade to Gold included.  Sriduangkaew is one of the only short fiction writers I have managed to keep track of in the past year.  A fan of her science fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to see a work here, fantastical in nature, riffing off (what I assume) is Thai folklore, I was instantly reminded of some of the work Paolo Chikiamco collected in his anthology of Philippine Fantasy, Alternative Alamat.

The goodness continues with a Kiernan, an Ashby and an Ian Macdonald to name but three.  I tip my hat to Strahan (and to the writers he’s selected) because he’s presented a good representation of the field, he’s made me feel comfortable with the inclusion of works that fall in line with my tastes and presented works that showcase other parts of the genre, even authors I am not familiar with.  I get a sense that there’s a certain forward momentum with what he’s presented.

There’s enough material out there I’d say, to give a readership an entire collection of works not much different to an anthology collected a decade ago.  But the genre is moving on, with sub communities launching their own generation ships off in different directions, some boldly exploring the new, others staying a course.  Its nigh impossible to hold a full picture of everything contained within the Speculative Fiction universe but I think Strahan like a wizened navigator, can and has, presented us with an excellent guide.

 

This review copy was based on an electronic Arc provided by Solaris.

Readers can purchase a copy of from Booktopia or if you are quick you might be able to enter into a draw to win a copy here.


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