In Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea, Ashley’s fifth full-length collection, her narrator, through highly compressed, lyrical prose poems, engages in what she calls the “imperfect discourse of an unfinished world.” Neither conventional nor radically experimental, these poems use syntactic ambiguity and metaphor to compress the philosophical observation of a life into image and back out again; underlying narratives are often denuded of literal action and grounded allusively; they are poems that evoke feeling but not sentiment, story but not history.
“Except for every thing we’re interchangeable” writes Renee Ashley, humorously exposing the limberness of language to express insight in paradox, using words to bend understanding inside out. In tautly wrapped prose packages, Ashley makes lyric precision express the errancy in logic, and demonstrates how the real will trump our attempts to contain it, though we are endlessly tempted to try. “The rabbit was stew Hard not to wager abstraction after that.” With no periods to clarify the ends of sentences, she lets form remind us that nothing ends neatly, the way we’d like it to. These language vessels navigate a fecund privacy made eerily public, arriving with iconic force. Yet, “vessels” on their way to safe landings, they are not. As she tells us: even “call it a vessel….And it sorries….pipes all over the ark are breaking.” Uncanny is every glimpsed otherness, be it in the guise of “aborted” “twins,” or “crippled chipmunks” or the “ghost text appear[ing] in waves.” Does it trouble us? Does un-reason’s proximity confound? Clearly, if it does, the problem is our own, “the one-legged birds stand on their one leg The world is not broken The world is local Singing in its spinning dish” Come inside these poems, and you will hear it.
Renée Ashley is the author of five full-length collections of poetry, two chapbooks, a novel, and numerous essays. She is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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