Slow States of Collapse. Ashley-Elizabeth Best. A Misfit Book. ECW Press. Toronto, Ontario. 2016.
Ashley-Elizabeth Best's Slow States of Collapse is the least apologetic and beautifully maniacal book of poems Today's book of poetry has encountered in some time. Best kind of reminds us, briefly, of a young Judith Fitzgerald's brave Victory (Coach House Press, 1985) and even, momentarily, of Linda Pyke's Prisoner (MacMillan, 1978). Both of these were revelations, brimming with new kinds of daring. But Best has upped that game. Slow States of Collapse is stunningly good almost all of the time. Every once in a while it is great.
I'd Like to Be the Subject
of Your Neck Tattoo
I spent three years
translating his smile,
abandoned words moulding
the silence after our fights.
I thought about him more
in French than I did English,
and even my prized bilingual
tongue could not word his feelings.
A tattoo rounded his throat, curved
behind the soft flesh of his ear --
the faded blue skin read, Betty.
I've known Betty for three years,
have never heard him mention her.
Something too tender to touch.
In the night, I stare her down.
Best's poems wrestle with some dark angels and once in a while a demon shows up to play. Best's poems call these demons out and puts faces on their guilt. Best doesn't seem to be frightened by a single thing.
There is a throbbing sensuality at work in Slow States of Collapse, a genuine swoon when called for but this isn't Penthouse Letters or Red Shoe Diaries. The carnage the collision of love leaves behind in Best's poems is real. This is where "all we can give is a gift of blood on stone."
Best gave Today's book of poetry a hard time. Our recipe of a three poem meal just doesn't seem enough on certain days and today is one of them. It is a hard pill leaving some poems behind. This was one of those days when during the morning read we put things to a vote. During the vote, Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, siddled up beside me like the sweet and considerate associate I've known for a couple of years and playfully/then not so playfully at all whispered into my ear that I was to use her list of three Best poems or Kathryn would "cut" me. "Quick, No one would even see!" Then she smiled like a young Audrey Hepburn and scampered back to her desk with her best wistful grin.
Loving Daddy was like inviting
wasps to nest under your skin.
I grew up believing in the rough
cascade of a watermarked horizon,
never to trust in praise,
to remember how much of our lives
are rounded with sleep,
to thrash the moment from its bone.
No one is coming to save anyone in Slow States of Collapse, that's pretty clear. But in case you were still wondering Ashley-Elizabeth Best puts any rumours to bed. Today's book of poetry simply loved this hard charging, take no prisoners, bridge no bullshit, go down swinging marvel of a book.
There is so much heart at work in these poems Today's book of poetry was momentarily concerned for Best. Then we realized that hearts like these are virtually infinite and possibly indestructible, even if they are burning a bit around the edges.
How to Recognize a Wolf in the Forest
I was just thinking
maybe I have too much time.
I lounge the skirts of a dance floor,
admire articulated spines, bodies
mournful enthusiasm, beats
that thud and fall, yaps of whalesong,
arms porpoising above
the overcrowded dance floor.
I want to build a skeleton of their
stories, grief heaped on the bones
of a schoolgirl's map, dancers
with a painted past.
Some poor girl's man is throwin' leg
with a young brunette. She's pinned
to the wall, her skin dog-eared
and foxed like a well-read book.
No matter how hard I drink or dance,
nothing here ever feels good.
The guy I find myself under later
is sexy in a coked-out kind of way,
body modifications tasteful and
numerous, metal shine roadmapping
his known history.
The need for it has grown.
In my life, I've been loved more than I know.
Oh Canada! To have so many fine wonders. Ashley-Elizabeth Best is the best discovery Today's book of poetry has made since maple-sugar met bacon on a water chestnut.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Cobourg, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Fjords,CV2, Berfrois, Grist, and Ambit Magazine, among other publications. Recently, she was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She lives and writes in Kingston, Ontario.
An impressive debut by an important new voice in Canadian poetry. Ashley-Elizabeth Best's poems are sharp, and smart, and moving. Slow States of Collapse is a collection to savour.
- Helen Humphreys
The words of Ashley-Elizabeth Best send shocks of pleasure into the reader's brain and heart. The poems in this debut collection remind me of Susan Musgrave's early work. There's the same daring, sexiness, and lyricism. Without a doubt, she's a new writer to celebrate and watch.
- Lorna Crozier
Ashley's poetry "riddles the river with dark-wet / pocks of gold light"; she illuminates the terrain of everything we see and yet couldn't before name. Her poetry is liquid and warm, a golden gift.
- Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, author of Status Update
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