Raspberries for the Ferry by Andrew Wynn Owen

-Reviewed by C.A. LaRue


The last decade or so has seen a revival in formalism, especially amongst women and feminist poets. In an essay on the resurgence of received form (from The Body of Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2005)) Annie Finch writes, “I can think of no more poignant a model for the paradox of boundaries than the way a vibrant living, boundaryless poem flows in the consistent, defining shape of its form.”

For some writers then the goal is to meld words and their meanings into a conspicuous structure so that they are seen as one creature: like laying flesh over bone in the construction of man. But in his debut pamphlet Raspberries for the Ferry (The Emma Press), Andrew Wynn Owen seems to take a cheekier approach, choosing instead to deliberately “play up” the bones as much as their message.

While this makes some of his poems less successful than others, when he nails it, he nails it! As in these lines from “Raspberries”:

Yes, don’t they make you salivate?
That danglingness, their regal nods
To passers-by as if to state
A bloodline running back to gods.
You’d like them to arrive in squads
And drag you screaming to a cell
With sticky fits on each lapel.

These friendly triffids catch your eye
Across a busy motorway
And beckon you to have a try.
Their trimming is décolleté
With underbrush for négligée
And crimpled leaves that make you think
Of Cleopatra draped in mink.

The imagery goes on, and I for one very much enjoy his willingness to experiment with lightheartedness, where some would see it banished as campy. In my opinion, without the necessary “tastes” of his vision, say in these passages—

On form in “Walk”:

So I need a rhythm, a beat, a fold
in vibrations flowing through the feet –
call it repetition, old condition, but either way
I need to make the floor want more…

Or in “The Phoenix and the Tortoise,” regarding rules:

“Nonsense!” said Tortoise [to the Phoenix], “These
Things can be changed in a
Matter of time…

While we’ve been talking, I’ve
Stolen your plumage and
Now I intend to try
Swooping a bit!

Tortoise went gliding while
Phoenix was stripped to the
Tips of his feet.
Let this preposterous
Parable lesson you:
Watch for the Tortoise and
Shelve your conceit.

One can not hope to understand the deeper emotion behind his frolicsome style.

It is in his most deeply emotional poems, in which his talent most truly shines. “The Lay of the Lake,” “Your Smile,” and the pair of letter-poems between the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to name a few, are touching and well-executed without delving into the saccharinity or stodginess of its forebears.

I do hope that the press will consider bringing these out as broadsides sometime in the near future, and perhaps an encore from the plucky “Mr. Owen,” who I am not surprised to hear has amassed a string of awards recently.  How is it that he is only an undergrad?

And how is it that we’ve come to an end? Ah, parting is such sweet sorrow. Let me at least leave you with some of my favorite lines to help prolong the glow—

from “The Lay of the Lake”:

The water is skirting and scuffing my feet,
The water is clicking and sharing a tweet,
The water is ribbons and cashmere and mess,
The water’s a starlet unstrapping her dress,
The water’s your voice, like a stone in my shoe,
The water’s the flow and the substance of you..

and from “Your Smile”:

It arrests me today, happiness spun in skin –
landscape sculpted from life’s lightest discursiveness
and a scene that I, breath-batedly, wait to scan.
I’m a fool for your tongue, neck for your laughter’s noose,
and I’d sing, if I could, tributes in Ancient Norse.
Love, I think you’re the grain ground in my labours’ mill.
I could wither and wilt, waiting for you to smile.
It’s the law of my eye always to seek out charm
and I’d follow your smile far as my feet can run.
I could live on your lips, calling their corners home,
and enshrine all the words, slowly in rhyme and rune,
that you spill like the split-seconding sound of rain.
It’s a marvel to me world has a you within…

Adieu, juicy berries.  Until next time.