Poem Friday: Ashleigh Young’s ‘The bats’ resonates with such clarity

Ashleigh_Young (1)

Photo credit: Matt Bluett

Poetry Shelf now has a new feature. I always wanted to post poems on the site but I wanted to give everything else a chance to settle in first. I was on the judging panel recently for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and assembled a list of suggestions for Sam Hunt. It seems fitting for an  award that honours such a fine poet as Sarah that I was so invigorated by the range and vitality of local writing from established writers to writers new to me. Moved in fact. I had around 65 names in my notebook under the heading : ‘want to read the book!’ Glorious. But in this tough environment for poetry publishing, I wondered how many would end up getting into print and getting the wider audience they deserve.

Poem Friday (like a sister to Tuesday Poem) is where I get to pick a poem that l have loved in my reading travels and with permission post it (so no submissions please). I am also taking a cue from Best New Zealand Poems and inviting the poet to write a sentence or two about their poem.

I have invited Ashleigh Young to launch the new feature (which seems apt in the light of her recent good news).


The bats

There is a kind of person who locks your shoes

inside of their house, and that is a person who is distracted


and who you see now through the window talking to his wife,

his face a protective shell grown fast around the phone.


The rush of not knowing someone at all lifts you

into the trees with the cicadas, your body too a bright clapping.


These are the situations through which you’ll get older

when you would like to walk home but your shoes are locked


in someone’s house, when you imagine sprinting down a driveway

as your back is pelted with rocks. These are unnecessary situations


because maybe you would have grown older anyhow, and likely

you do not need to cut your heart into two soft slippers to wear;


should need only to blot it with a paper towel as if it were

a bloody nose, all that blood turning to cold breath soon. Notice how


this person’s dog shows its affection by exploding into dangerous

shards in your arms. How much time do we have? None, very little


only some. But let yourself be lifted into the applause of the trees.

Let the applause be in anticipation of the slow motion


of him coming out of the house, quietly as a road cone

placed on a statue’s head at night.


Let his body be held, and graffitied, and prised apart.

Let the applause continue, even when it’s getting dark


even when it is dark

even when the bats come out.


© Ashleigh Young


Ashleigh works as an editor in Wellington and is currently working on a new collection of poetry and also a first collection of essays. Her debut collection was entitled Magnificent Moon. She has just been appointed Editor at Victoria University Press.

Author’s note: I have a fixation with cicadas, specifically with the way cicadas sound at the height of summer. It’s an urgent, panicky, overwhelming sound, always on the edge of total chaos. I was interested in how that sound might translate into a human feeling, and set out to write a scene about one possibility, when a kind of strange personal situation becomes amplified out of all proportion. And the bats? Well, I got to thinking about what the opposite of cicadas might be. I arrived at bats.

Note from Paula: Every now and then you fall upon a poem that fills you with such heart-stopping awe you just have to sit awhile and wait. That’s how I felt after reading this poem. Ashleigh’s poem leads you into the trees with the cicadas—into that glistening moment when the pitch of the cicada hits its summer zenith and all manner of subterranean feelings get to work on you. Yes, it leads you there, but then it leads you, surprisingly, lithely, into the jaw of difficulty. Where things go awry. And this is where the poem is glorious and light—in its movement into the enigmatic shade (an oxymoron I know). Its layers radiate out from the veiled situation, a bad situation you suspect. I love the gaps, the strangeness, the idea of someone locking someone’s shoes in their house. There were lines in this poem I wanted to hold in my mouth until they dissolved because they resonated with such clarity, beauty and deft phrasing (‘your body too a bright clapping’ ‘situations through which you’ll get older’). I also loved the lullaby-like repetition at the end that provided a point of solace along with a point of surprise (the bats).

2 thoughts on “Poem Friday: Ashleigh Young’s ‘The bats’ resonates with such clarity

  1. Michelle Elvy

    Wonderful new series. I love how you write about this poem, too, Paula – heart-stopping awe. Indeed. This is the kind of poem that makes me wish I wrote poetry like this. Stunning.

    “…let yourself be lifted into the applause of the trees.” — wonderful line and image.



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