Renée Ashley, primarily recognized for her lyrical prose poems, does not disappoint in Subito Press’ Because I Am the Shore I Want To Be The Sea. Less prosy than previous works, Because I Am the Shore sets out to imbue intangible, mercurial language with euphonic qualities steeped in nature, bodies & display of shared vein amongst mankind.
The language continually mutates, possessing a vitalizing unpredictacality that stuns & modulates Ashley’s readers. The form supplies a sense of being turned upside down & further building momentum with constant enjambment as well as a lack of punctuation. We move through poems so speedily, one senses an infiltration of almost subliminal surreptitiousness creeping up, a dizzying, mounting panic.
One can’t be entirely sure of the ambiguous “you,” “she,” “we,” & a slew of other minor characters referenced throughout Ashley’s poems, but the usage continues contributing to a feeling of interconnectedness the rest of humanity as well as flora/fauna share in her poems through physicality. Are we the we? Is Renée Ashley the she? Does it even matter? As Ashley puts it:
“every view is just one view/…we are the indefinite article”
The inability to be defined is reflected in the flux of the work itself, a constant flow & bombardment of vernacular. One minute the reader is someone “selling christmas balls to old ladies,” & a canine loving ghostwriter the next.
“But fear is like/bread: essential Begotten and braided in the human/rope How can we face that without alarm We can’t hear/it coming not the beat itself—only what shudders at it touch Totem of ruin Our history in a/length of goddamned meat”
The reprise of history, inevitable destructions & shared experience tether us together. In this poem, fear is the rope that bonds us, one of many collective & unavoidable experiences doomed for repetition.
In her poem [my father is ashes], we are thrusts into familiar & communal emotions:
“We are electric I know our conductor He is a very sad/man We are not in a field of cosmos We are not in a/field I’m only telling you that when the message leaves/the body I do not know what to make of the world I/make you up from the little I know with almost with/soon Is it possible the thing I love most is guilt or that/you are gone? We are such pain and we are utterance We/are a strange thing in the air You are so imperfectly dead”
In this poem I see the struggle with salvation, pining love, self-sabotage, or maybe even a direct message/reference to god, either way the feelings are universally experienced by most human beings at one point.
There is a certain morbidity felt in this connection to the rest of the world. While haunting & lovely, macabre awareness persists of being left behind/forgotten after fulfillment & of course reminder of the ephemeral quality of human life.
“Nothing leaves this world without somehow/breaking without sharing itself all over again All of that/which we call beauty will change—”
Overall, Ashley’s work has spun into a direction that rivets & reminds its reader of their humanity lycanthropically, emotionally, tangibly & otherwise.
Buy it from SPD: $16
Liz McGhee is an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder.