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Guest Review: Studzinska On Ashton

Agnieszka Studzinska reviews
The Other Side of Glass
by Gail Ashton

If you have ever imagined what life might look like through glass then Gail Ashton’s collection The Other Side of Glass is a journey towards that. The poems in this collection are sometimes tilted, we think we see one thing but maybe are looking at something else, sometimes there is shimmering clarity and other times, a complexity of meaning permeates through the work. In the poem, ‘She knows’, we enter a strange and otherworldly place of knowing or perhaps not knowing ourselves or the world we inhabit. This spacious poem, chisels language to sculpt a metamorphosing self:

….she is destined for the small life: the grammar of nighfal, lillies,
crawl of skin, fall and flutter of heart. Things she knows verbatim,
heard, unseen. Words that won’t lie down.
                                                                             What floors us everytime

The strangeness of language is captured in the poem, ‘Still some way to go’:

You were the kind of girl to eat magnolia and know the
subtleties of beige. Me I dreamed of chaos, the outrage of a polar
sky. The poem could be described as an ode to love, I am done with love, it’s
disappointments…..,  says Ashton and she leads the reader to follow a’ Wet snout to a
pitcher of ice, snow-hole, a growl of lightning bluer than the arctic snow. And still some way to go.

Ashton’s writing in this collection reflects different shades of meaning in this world, we move gently from one subject matter to another. In ‘Still Life’, Ashton captures the moment of stillness. She creates a distance between herself and the reader as well as the closeness she brings through her surprising images, which flow from one line to another, to paint an evocative still life moment.

It’s the small things, snags of lemon grass
in a voice, once the waterfall of a spine

and I am caught

light on the back of a hand,
in an evening that comes with a  shock

of citrus, bass notes blue   jazz patchouli

and flocks of humans

falling through a window
to the outside of my skin.

Her work is both assured, and rooted in what may be personal memory in ‘Emigrating to South Africa’ and in ‘In the garden’ as well as unassuming; ‘In praise of days’, a simple poem on friendship; encompassing what others often steer away from in the collection, a straightforwardness, we know where we are. This familiarity cannot be said of the poem ‘Signs,’ its silence preys on nature and the semantics of waiting:

                    moments on which a day might turn
Like deer, liquid as the slip of water separating us

                                                watched for
                                                never come

The lexicon of Ashton’s poetry is vast and skilful.  She is a poet that you will re read with intrigue and like her poem, ‘Something,’ find yourself observing the starkness of humanity:

This is the way of all of us:
slow fade, skeletal at the last

Agnieszka Studzinska has an MA in Creative Writing from the UEA. She teaches and edits a local community magazine. Her debut collection, Snow Calling (Salt) was shortlisted for the London Poetry Award in 2010. She is currently working on her second collection.
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