Winner of the 2005 Akron Poetry Prize
In her first book, Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields, Ashley Capps sounds like the voice of a fresh generation of poets, where the familiar turns suddenly elliptical, straight talk goes engagingly crooked, and the lyric negotiates with the matter-of-fact. Desperate for something solid to believe in, Capps still mistrusts authority, feeling disenchanted with God, family, eros, even her own impulsive self. And yet while the absence of faith hints at despair, these poems often achieve, almost in spite of themselves, an odd buoyancy. Playful, fearless, wary, there’s a dazzling resilience in this book. One poem can make a grand and eccentric claim, “I forgive the afterlife,” while another takes as its title something humbler and more poisonous, “God Bless Our Crop-Dusted Wedding Cake.” No matter how adrift this poet may feel, poetry itself remains her anchor and lifeline.
I love the scorching details of Ashley Capp’s poems, as well as their withering honesty, their modesty, their crazy imagination, and their cunning. And I love their moral stance and their gracefulness. From time to time I feel that it’s all been done and the new poets have nowhere to go, but then I come across a poet like this and I know the art is living. If I looked for a single adjective to describe her poems, I would come up with the word “courageous.” She has already achieved a great deal.
Sometimes poetry is able to bring us the news of how people survive—not necessarily through its content, but, as here, through its transformational means. Ashley Capps tackles the desolations of spirit and personal history with such astonishing vitality that the green tangle of music, sadness, and formal resourcefulness of this book seems not only redemptive, but heroic.
“We are human & alone,” reads the penultimate stanza of “To My Friend Grievous,” “but someone / is playing a tambourine, yes, & a tuba.” Everywhere in this brilliantly conceived and crafted debut collection, Ashley Capps shines her unique light on a world rich in paradox. Again and again these stunning poems give testament to Thomas Moore’s famous dictum that the beast at the center of the labyrinth is also an angel. This book breaks my heart, even as it mends it.
—Cathy Smith Bowers