by Lewis Buxton
Moonrise’s publisher, As Yet Untitled, is an ‘independent press that specialises in limited edition, handmade works that embrace the breadth of possibility in the book’s form’. The book is beautifully made, a fragile thing one worries about reading with a cup of tea too close. Interesting then to consider the fragility of the book’s form with the robustness of the poems. Moonrise, by Ella Chappell, is a book about sex and love and flowers and moons and stones and good nights and bad nights and scientific theories and the gravity that pulls at us all. These aren’t new themes. But that’s what I like about this book; there is at once a familiarity to it but still a newness in the words, a fresh light on the scene.
Let’s start at the beginning, with a poem called Between the moon and me there’s a zinnia which describes NASA growing a flower in space. In delving into the inner workings of this scientific experiment Chappell finds fertile ground for metaphor:
‘Eyes are a problem in space –
no gravity to drag the moisture around the sockets.
Roots are a problem in space,
Petals are a problem in space –
no gravity to pull beauty in a certain direction.’
I like poems that teach me something, even if it’s as simple as what a zinnia is. But also poems that, even if I were too lazy to Google ‘zinnia’, would still leave me with something learnt about love, about sexual fantasies, about science, about how beauty grows in a vacuum.
The book continues to pick different theories to explore, weaving scientific logic into the craftwork of metaphors. In the first of a series of poems that track the moon, 01:41, 40% waning crescent, Chappell brings the terminology of science and a rich poetic image together beautifully:
‘I’d be happy for this moment to be crinkled up into a thousand years.
Our hands would hold at the rate of an unfurling fern, and slower.’
In our society, we’re taught early on that science is about objectivity and art is about emotion. We’re presented in pop culture with Big Bang Theory stereotypes of a man-child with no empathy, whose exploits are curtailed by the actress across the hall who teaches him emotional intelligence. It is refreshing therefore to read poems that find love, not just of science, but in science, that blurs the line between science and art.
poems that find love, not just of science, but in science
The book carries on in this vein with an impressive range of poems, and includes a series of night photographs. These are splashes of light, often indistinguishable as natural or electric, which now literally blur the lines between science and nature. At this point I would like to bring up a minor practical quibble: there are no page numbers or contents page. It’s not a long book by any means, but poems are like biros and can easily get lost so I always like to make a note of which page a good poem is on. The symbols in the corner of each page — which track a moon cycle through the book — are delightful but not useful when struggling to find that nice stanza about excitement and happiness being different things.
But Moonrise isn’t all waning crescents and waxing bodies. What Chappell is particularly good at is taking two seemingly oppositional things and plaiting them together into a poem. A flower growing in space and sexual fantasy, Donald Trump and childhood joy, philosophies on happiness and the crimes committed in night clubs, all swirl together to make an exciting and politically interesting body of work.
This collection has a gravity that keeps drawing me back into it’s orbit. I’ve been re-reading the poems because they are comforting in their absurdity, confusing in their clarity but most importantly they are entertaining. Poems like Honey or My childhood joy vs donald trump are fun to read — they have jaunty rhymes and are playful with the poetic form. Too often as adult readers, especially adult readers of poetry, we forget to find the fun in reading. Assertively tied to the science, the feminism, and the elegant craft, this book has a joyful, amused and sensitive voice.
Moonrise is a limited edition. As Yet Untitled make beautiful books but they don’t make many of them. This encapsulates what I like about poetry and what I like about this book in particular: something that doesn’t grab for the mainstream but pushes the boundaries of our culture and our art. So if you want it, get it fast.
Featured image via AYU