A quaint chapbook of poetry, A Minstrel’s Musings (published by Diminuendo Press) is fleshed out with lively illustrations by A. R. Stone. It’s Sarah Ashwood’s first collection of poetry. As she notes in her forward, it covers a variety of topics, from fantasy to the personal.
The poetry is nice and fluffy, for the most part. Pieces like “Fishing With Grandpa” and “Simple Pleasures” are examples of her light-hearted writing. In a similar vein, “Escape” has the potential to be a decent children’s song, with its catchy chorus that is repeated in every stanza: “I watched a ship sail on the bay / I wondered where it’d go today.” Another such poem, “Dance of War,” makes for a decent chant.
There are elements of the poetry, however, that turn me off. The barrage of questions throughout the book makes me want to ask my own question about why the poems are so passive. In “Questions,” that’s exactly what the author gives us, “Then who am I? / And who are you? / And what…?” which propels me to inquire why she chose not to use the space in a more creative way.
Repetition also gets in the way of enjoyment. The technique does not work for many of the poems even though it’s applied to most of them. When I read “What a Book Can Do,” I want to cut away the onslaught of “I read of… I read of… I read of…” and find such poems difficult to finish reading. There are exceptions, like “Letha’s Rose,” which utilize it well. I want to hear the author read this poem at an open mic.
The visual presentation itself is another distraction from the writing. The illustrations are at times disproportionate; for example, some of the women have male weight-lifter arms (ie: the drawing for “A Mother’s Heart”). Some of the drawings are set next to the wrong poems, which is confusing on first read. On some pages, the text overlaps images in ways that simply do not work (“Questions”). Added to that, there are typos in poems such as “Mercy” (dedicated to “Merty”) that leave me thinking that the production of this chapbook was a rush job.
Despite the awkward appearance, there are several poems that stand out and highlight the author’s potential. One particularly interesting piece, “Lady,” starts out with the moon and ends with bleeding, and the illustrations for it work great. Another poem, “Binding Curse” offers memorable lines like, “Power’s a curse and want is blind, / Sin’s a grip that ever binds,” which redeems all the noted glitches. Among the more worthy pieces, “Dragon Cell” is a short, humorous piece that gets a chuckle.
Ashwood offers a decent effort for her first chapbook. I’m looking forward to the second one, to see if she gives more depth to subjects like imprisonment, which she touched upon in “Ensnarement.” Hopefully, she’ll leave out some of the direct questions in the next instalment.