Tag Archives: Ash Davida Jane

Poetry Shelf reading room: A. Davida Jane’s Every Dark Waning

A Davida Jane, Every Dark Waning, Platypus Press, England (2016, second edition 2018)

Platypus Press author page

I keep trying to build a dam—

I keep coming up rainstorm,

I keep coming up flood.

 

from ‘A Study in Restoration’

So many poetry books escape my attention, and then a trail of lucky connections leads me to a new discovery. I find the online journal The Starling is an excellent lead to poets under 25. This year I discovered the poetry of Ash Davida Jane and invited her to send me a Monday Poem (‘Undergrowth‘), write a response to a much-loved book (Paige Lewis’s excellent collection Space Struck), and muse on a poetry topic (‘An Ecopoetics of the Future’). I managed to get a copy of her debut collection, Every Dark Waning, from Unity Books in Te Whanganui-a-Tara where she works. And it filled me with poetry delight.

I especially loved the first section which pulls in the stars, sky, water, fire, breath and breathing. These poems are both dark edged and light fringed. Maybe the poet is talking from a deep secret place that misses things, that feels pain, is full of feeling. The dark core of the poems is deeply mysterious. It will grip your arm or your lungs and you will stay. There are many selves but the poet is the most present: ‘The poet is the most / honest part of me.’ (from ‘An Attempt at an Explanation’). The poet reappears in ‘Apollo 11’:

The stickiness of the

atmosphere traps in

all the words I never

wrote down, and the poet

in me flinches as I soar

into outer space.

And later, in ‘The House of Pindar’, in this book where poetry is both reticent and confessional:

You burn every house in me

but the poet’s—raze them to

the ground and salt them so

they’ll never grow back.

Only the writer remains.

Why do I love this book so much? Maybe its the sharp edges, the nightmares and the monsters, the things that are held in reserve, the way writing poetry and being a poet is so vital, life-saving perhaps, and the way my attention is directed to things I want to retain, to put away for a cloudy day. This from ‘Upturned’:

did you see me tuck the

view into the back of my

mind, putting it away for a

cloudy day when the stars

aren’t there and i can’t think

of a reason to get out of bed.

today, i needed a reason

to get out of bed, and

the moon was the only thing

that came close.

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Turbine | Kapohau, Best New Zealand Poems, and Scum. How to Live with Mammals is due to be published by Victoria University Press in 2021.

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Ash Davida Jane’s ‘An Ecopoetics of the Future’

 

An Ecopoetics of the Future

 

Lately, a lot of people seem to be turning to poetry to work through their thoughts and feelings around the climate crisis. There’s a very specific way nature has been used in poetry for a long time, which is very symbolic and focused on the aesthetics of the natural world as some kind of perfect, untouched source of images. This feels to me like an appropriation of sorts, which ignores the reality of the natural world and our responsibilities towards it, as well as the fact that we’re complicit in a very calculated and systematic destruction of the very places we romanticise.

Of course, there’ve been poets writing with environmental themes for a long time, but the school specifically dubbed ‘eco-poetry’ has only been around since the early 2000s, with a few key works of ecocriticism and anthologies of poems claiming the term. Some ecopoets insist on a very rigorous set of criteria for the subgenre, such as John Shoptaw in his essay in Poetry, “Why Ecopoetry?”: “The second way in which an ecopoem is environmental is that it is ecocentric, not anthropocentric.” To earn the label, he says, a poem must not prioritise human interests. The distinction seems small, but it makes a big difference. If a poem can only be an ecopoem if it disregards human interests, it sets us apart as Other to the environment. It suggests that the devastation we inflict moves in one direction only, outwards from ourselves, and that the impacts are all in non-human spaces.

The reality is that we live within the environment. We are not separate from nature, no matter how much it can sometimes seem like it when you live in a city. The perpetuation of that idea is incredibly dangerous, as it allows us to believe that, in the years to come, as the earth warms, we’ll be fine. It’s become clear that sympathy for the planet’s other inhabitants is not enough to inspire change within our (colonial, capitalist) human systems. For us to implement other, less damaging ways to live, we have to recognise that within our lifetimes, our lives will be worsened—some far more than others, but everyone’s in some way. So, what’s the point of an ecopoetics that focuses only on human action and non-human consequences? It is too late for that.

It also shows a blatant and dangerous disregard for the indigenous peoples who live with the land rather than just on the land. It’s important to recognise the necessity of work like Stacey Teague’s poem “toitū te whenua”, which is a decolonisation poem and a climate justice poem, because the two things are inseparable:

 

sacred soil                               settler guilt

the past speaks grief                             the water speaks pollution

the public sings                       in the colonial landscape

the womb of the earth is full of protest

 

As essa may ranapiri writes in their poem from the same collection (Te Rito o te Harakeke, edited by Rangatahi o te Pene, Hana Pera Aoake, Sinead Overbye, Michelle Rahurahu Scott and essa may ranapiri), “where we stand is where we will always / stand / on the whenua that we are / and are one with.” Tangata whenua are part of the land, and so there can be no ecopoetics without tangata whenua.

With the current trend towards environmental poetry, it seems important to ask what we want from this kind of work. One of my favourite poems about the environment is Vanessa Crofskey’s “There’s Real Manuka Honey in Heaven” from issue 7 of Starling, which includes this brilliant image:

 

a global conference of bees will be livestreamed strapping on

army helmets khaki stripes and matching jet packs

then flying off into the stratosphere in tiny astronautical booties

 

 

The poem ends with “the tuatara [singing] a eulogy to the end of the anthropocene” and the cockroaches, who we all know can live through anything, “[waiting] for spring.” It’s the perfect mix of humour and very real devastation, without just saying the same things that everybody else has already said. The world in Crofskey’s poem is the complete opposite from the idyllic landscape of the Romantic or pastoral poets, and humans are very much present. Otherwise how could we take any kind of responsibility for the damage?

Another approach is that of Joy Harjo, whom I doubt James Shoptaw would call an ‘ecopoet’, though hers is some of the most moving writing about the natural world I’ve ever come across. In “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet”, Harjo tells us to “Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people / who accompany you. / Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought / down upon them.” In “Talking with the Sun”, she writes, “Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the / earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.” Harjo isn’t only writing about non-human interests, because in her poems human and non-human interests are one and the same.

I’m interested in a school of poetry that doesn’t restrict or close off possibilities for writing about the environment, while also acknowledging that every piece of writing being written or read now exists in a world in crisis. Like humans, poems do not exist in a vacuum. Everything we read is informed in some way by our lived experiences, and the writer’s lived experiences, and since everybody shares the very big experience of living on Earth, it seems vital to recognise that in the poems we read and write. Moving forward, as we continue to make sense of the natural world through poetry, we must keep asking the question—what do we want from this work?

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Pōneke. Some of her recent work can be found in Starling, Peach Mag, Scum, The Spinoff, and Stasis. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, is due to be published by VUP in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ash Davida Jane’s ‘undergrowth’

 

 

undergrowth

 

at dusk the birds by the road

are loud as a fire                      so much noise

from such small lungs

we say

it seems impossible but what’s worse is

we should be able to hear this anywhere

the branches

always ripe with nests

in spring

 

birdsong so big

we could almost dance to it

but the next day

we’re overheating in the park

& everyone’s too busy worrying

to notice our spot under the trees

I’m imagining a giant ballroom with

this leafy canopy for a roof

the floor a pool of cool green light

 

nobody’s been here for centuries &

most of the birds are gone too

but an ant crawls

across the cracked marble

& somewhere in the silence our buried

forms turning

back into earth             are still

in love

& the flowers pick themselves

up & carry on

 

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Turbine | Kapohau, Best New Zealand Poems, and Scum. How to Live with Mammals is due to be published by Victoria University Press in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Ash Davida Jane on Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Lewis_SpaceStruck.jpg

 

Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Sarabande Books 2019

 

I learn the universe is an arrow

without end and it asks only one question:

 

How dare you? I recite it in bed, How dare

you? How dare you?

 

It seems strange to be writing about poetry right now, while everybody struggles with huge changes to their daily lives. And don’t @ me, I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in writing poetry—I know art is important, but it matters in a completely different way to things like food and housing and medical care. The thing is, this book of poems feels essential. It gives us a whole new perspective on the world—revealing even the most ordinary things as something precious and strange. “Every experience seems both urgent and / unnatural,” Lewis writes, which reads almost as a premonition, printed months ago and truer now than ever.

The first of Paige Lewis’ poems I ever read was “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm,” and I was completely charmed from the offset. As the playful tone disassembles into something more fractured and frantic, the poem outgrows itself and starts to take up too much space on the page, breaking out of its couplets. I love the beautiful oddity of the poem’s narrative—“two men / floating in a rocket ship are ignoring their delicate experiments,” they are turning their ship around and coming back to Earth for you. You will take one as a winter husband and one as a summer husband.

This poem does something I’d never read in a poem before—it turns against the authority of its own narrator’s voice. It asks why you should do what it says, even when it can offer you everything:

do you want to know Latin

okay                now everyone

here knows Latin                     want inflatable             deer

deer!

 

You can stand and walk away even as it speaks. You can ignore the men, the deer, the rocket ship. You can leave your sweater behind, even though it might be cold.

 

The collection’s opening poem, “Normal Everyday Creatures,” is just as brilliant, and points to how the voice of the poem controls its perspective, playing a game with us—“I’m going to show you some photos— / extreme close-ups of normal, everyday / creatures.” This voice is a generous guide, offering hints, promising to revise the game. I find it oddly comforting to have—at the very beginning of the book—such a clear acknowledgement of the power the speaker has, to direct our attention to or away from certain things. There’s an honesty in it that makes it easier to trust the speaker, as they ask us to follow them into the dark (and the rest of the book):

And when the path grows too dark to see even

the bright parts of me, have faith in the sound

of my voice. I’m here. I’m still the one leading.

 

Throughout Space Struck, small pockets of the divine appear in ordinary places. St. Francis takes off layer-upon-layer of robes in the corner of a studio apartment. The poet’s bed turns into the “Chapel of the Green Lord,” sacred in all its dishevelment. God’s secretary leaves an exasperated message telling you to “Get real, darling. If He answered all prayers / you’d be dead five times over.” She’s busy but sympathetic, taking a moment out of her day to warn you. These men will take every inch you give them: “if you offer a sorry mouth, they’ll break it.”

And just as the transcendent becomes commonplace, very specific everyday things suddenly seem holy. What an extraordinary thing to be on a train, “approaching the station where my beloved / is waiting to take me to the orchard, so we can // pay for the memory of having once, at dusk, / plucked real apples from real trees.” How strange, to pick fruit with your own bare hands. Stranger still to have to pay money for the experience.

In one of my favourite poems, “The Moment I Saw a Pelican Devour,” the poet asks what makes something a miracle. Is it “anything that God forgot / to forbid”? When women in factories were paid to paint watch dials with radium, they were told “to lick their brushes into sharp points.” This poem reads as a kind of elegy to these women, whose bodies became something unearthly. The miracle, Lewis writes, “is not that these women swallowed light,” but that the Radium Corporation claimed syphilis as their cause of death. They are resurrected here before us, more vibrant than saints, commemorated with dignity and grief.

 

Space Struck is generous with its attention—it focuses in on normal everyday creatures and women lost in time; it pans up to show us the intricacies of admin work in heaven; and it turns outwards to the Voyager space probes. The list goes on, and whatever these poems turn their gaze on they do so with compassion, grace and a hint of playfulness, shining a light on the humanity in everything. The book becomes a showcase of extraordinary things, which seemed, up till now, completely ordinary.

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet from Wellington. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Starling, Scum, The Spinoff, and Best NZ Poems 2019. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, is forthcoming from Victoria University Press.

Paige Lewis is the author of Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Their poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2017, Gulf Coast, The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. Paige currently lives and teaches in Indiana.

Paige Lewis website