Sometimes, you read a poem and you can’t stop thinking about it for months. And maybe I’m being too sentimental, but I haven’t stopped thinking about those damn lemmings in Ashley Capps’ collection Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. The poem, like the collection, is heartbreaking in so many ways. It’s about failed expectations, and trying to muster up the willingness to survive. It’s about dysfunctional families, and the oftentimes absurd world we live in. It’s brave, despite its desperation.
In the title poem “Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields” readers are introduced to the speaker’s aunt, Karen, who commits suicide. The speaker recounts the suicide, as well as the family’s subsequent reaction: “no one knew what to do / with all that anger, / or in the end how not to blame her” (lines 23-25). Later in the poem, the speaker compares Karen’s suicide to the lemmings who “threw themselves / en masse into the sea” (lines 28-29). The last three lines though, is where the gut-wrenching, sob-everywhere reaction happens: “and so were lost forever, / even though they thought it was real, though / they thought they were going home” (lines 51-53). And this, dear readers, is why you shouldn’t read poetry. Just kidding.
The rest of the collection is no less than beautiful. It’s bizarre and wonderful. There’s a sense of humor and biting irony that carries us through until the end. In the poem “Washing the Brain” readers are thrown into the weird and electrifying world of Ashley Capps: “I am washing my brain / because, while relatively small, / it has been much handled” (lines 2-4). Using her excellent sense of detail and narrative, the speaker shows readers all of the wacky places her brain has been to: “a sequined circus / performer who juggled it with steak knives / in the dark” (lines 12-14). The sense of imagination and oftentimes borderline surrealism Capps presents readers with is stunning.
And although I can’t talk about all of my favorite poems in Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields I recommend reading the poems “Live Feed” (because Jesus), and “The Sign Said” (because phone sex and toenail clippings).
It’s also not possible to finish this blog post without talking about the cover, which is fantastic in so many ways. It introduces readers to the magic and sharp wit that they will fall in love with upon opening the collection. In total, it’s just 67 pages of poetry but this is a collection that everyone should have on their bookshelves.
Buy Capps’ collection here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about The University of Akron Press: “The University of Akron Press seeks to acquire innovative content that advances scholarship. These materials can be in traditional or digital formats. We especially are interested in works that are interdisciplinary in nature, shed light on new areas of research, and apply findings to real-world problems. We look for titles within the following areas: law, organizational studies, politics, psychology, sustainability, and technology, including polymer science.
As a regional publisher, we are interested in titles about Ohio history and culture in the broadest sense.
We also publish two books of poetry annually, one of which is the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize. We will consider literary collections based around one theme, especially collections of translated works. Poetry collections by a single author must be submitted to the Akron Poetry Prize for consideration.”Check out their website here.
(Cover of Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields courtesy of the UA Press. I do not own this photo.)